Literary Criticism

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Two Loves I Have

A New Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

J. D. Winter is a schoolmaster by profession. From 1994 to 2006 he lived in Kolkata, India, where he taught and wrote for The Statesman, and translated Bengali poetry and prose (Anvil Press publications). He has translated the Anglo-Saxon epic ‘Beowulf’ and the Middle English poem ‘Pearl’ into modern English. His UK published books include: ‘Song Offerings’ by Rabindranath Tagore; ‘Bengal the Beautiful’, a sonnet-sequence by Jibanananda Das; and Calcutta Song, an account of living in Kolkata.

Perhaps the most astonishing set of personal poems ever written, Shakespeare’s Sonnets have both delighted and puzzled readers down the ages. Two Loves I Have is a reading of the sequence that brings the four characters involved to life. The ‘fair, kind and true’ young man to whom the majority of poems are addressed, the woman ‘as black as hell, as dark as night’ who dominates a part of the narrator’s inner landscape against his will, the narrator himself, who at times is unexpectedly wholly at ease with his mistress, but at other times is sunk in a form of self-loathing, and whom nothing on earth will deter in his devotion to the young man ... these three play out a drama as fierce as that in any of the author’s plays. And the author himself, at some remove behind the narrator, is the shadowy fourth character. Did he invent the young man and the Dark Lady? Did he adapt an existing situation in his life or indeed record it simply as it was? Whatever the historical fact, which can never be known, the poetic situation is enthralling. Without insisting on any particular view, Two Loves I Have (from sonnet 144) allows the reader a vista of the whole sonnet sequence, and a sense of its shifting currents.

J. D. Winter carefully elucidates each individual poem, thus enabling the reader not only to come to terms with their outward meaning but to appreciate the rhetorical flow and the poet’s idiosyncratic use of the sonnet-form itself. The sonnet sequence has been a comparatively neglected part of the Shakespearean canon. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016 is an appropriate time to shed a new light upon the poems.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-796-4
Paperback Price: £15.95 / $22.95
Release Date: April 2016
Page Extent / Format: 320 pp. / 216 x 138 mm
Illustrated: No




Bibliographical Note

J. D. Winter reads Shakespeare’s sonnets as poems rather than coded biography, and his book magnificently demonstrates that it is within the poems that life is truly to be found. These are wise and gracious commentaries which establish a beauty and interest of their own even as they freshly reveal the almost infinite meaning and beauty that Shakespeare made out of fourteen lines.
Ewan Fernie, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, UK

Author J. D. Winter, a translator of Bengali literature, offers a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s sonnets, intended to make the sonnets more accessible to students and general readers. Winter discusses their strengths and weaknesses, paying special attention to the rhyming couplets at the end of each poem, and looks at both their rhetorical composure and their personal meanings.

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