Has so much changed about love and love affairs since Shakespeare’s times? Are questions of infatuation any different, and differently answered? What have looks to do with it, and what about wrinkles and ageing? And what about deceit, manipulation and jealousy?
William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) fame, of course, rests on his numerous comedies, tragedies, history plays, and romances making him the most widely performed – and appreciated – playwright worldwide of all times. But not only experts also celebrate him for adopting the strict form of the 14-verse-long sonnet. Calling his appropriation merely adoption, however, falls short of his innovative project. Having already acquired dramatic fame on London’s stages it was not enough for him to mechanically and predictably adore a beloved lady in further versions of the Petrarchan sonnet.
Instead, he created an altogether unique poetic cycle encircling and dissecting a tense love triangle, including the questions mentioned above so familiar to contemporary readers, but not deeply discussed in previous sonnet versions. His radical portrayal not only celebrates the beauty of a fair young man, thus presenting homoerotic infatuation, but also the alternate love to a dark lady sinisterly luring the two paramours. This ménage a trois of rivalry is further enriched with, amongst other themes, reflections on ageing and the transience of life, sometimes somber, but at times also triumphant.
And especially this combination was what fascinated our class 13 Sa of Staatliche Berufliche Oberschule Ansbach so much that all student teams produced own independently creative versions of six of the most famous sonnets. The task was not to outdo the numerous translations into German of the oftentimes far from simple language and imagery of the originals, but to compose fresh negotiations, be they called translations, or mediations.
Spanning centuries our mapping of the sonnets also proved helpful when assessing Oscar Wilde’s novel of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray, in the later school year as some motifs of the Renaissance sonnets resurface in the gothic tale, not least the question of everlasting beauty so intensely haunting also the cultural contours of the present.
Recording our diligent students’ readings and supplying these clips with a backdrop of visual motifs such as from Schwanberg and Kitzingen often combined with water structures provides them with both a shared Franconian localization and a contemporary appropriation of the traits and motifs of mortality initially presented more than four centuries ago. We are especially thankful to Harmonia Mundi for granting us the right to use for our production pieces of the Deller Consort’s Shakespeare Songs making the recording breathe even more intensely the musical atmosphere of Elizabethan times.