Some Thematic Patterns or Compositional Tactics in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Poet as "Time Warrior": 15, 18, 19 (compare with 60), 55 (!), 60, 65, 73, 74, 107, 116 (compare with 55), 126 (the "deficient" twin of #33 (the "superfluous").

How many ways can a poet subdue time by logical tricks, syntax, and meter?  In what ways do poets make worlds?  In what ways to poems alter readers' perceptions of time, space, identity, and existence?

Love vs. Regretful Memory or vs. the Beloved's Flaws: 29, 30, 33, 35

How does love shape memory?  How do regrets, flaws, and other evidence of emotional injury affect love and the memories it infuses?  What are poems as devices to make language and ideas memorable?

Word Games (compare Sidney's #37 on "rich"): "this" and "that" in 18, 55, and 74; "Fair, kind, and true" in 105; "will" in 135, and "to lie" in 138.

How does language manage to make meaning using arbitrary signifiers, especially the unstable ones like indicative articles ("this," "that," "these," "those") and pronouns ("I," "you," "he/she/it," "they," "we") that only "mean" by referring to other words which, Shakespeare may have realized long before Derrida, are unstable signifiers, themselves.

The Act of Writing as the Poem's Secret Subject (compare Sidney's #1 and others, and Spenser's #1 and 75): 18, 19, 55, especially 65 (emphasizing the poem as a physical object composed of "black ink" on white paper), 71, and 74 (the last two "this line"); 116's "Time Warrior" in mock denial; 130 "un-writing" the sonnet to mock rival poets.

Reading ordinarily takes place in ignorance of the moment of composition, but when we read about the poem's writing, we are reading two poems--one a finished product and the other an imagined process-in-motion.  What happens in the mind between the moments when a poem starts and is completed, and what is a poem's "afterlife" in memory after the reader has performed it?  What is a poem's "lifespan" in the mind and memory?  What is its "lifespan" as a kind of virus in the language, designed to reproduce itself in successive readers' experience?

Poems That Deliberately Break the Rules of Form: 126 (only 12 lines, all pentameter couplets [aa, bb, cc, etc.], on the subject of Time's threat to cut short the beloved's life); 33 (ends with a hexameter [6-foot] line describing the acceptance of flaws in nature and the Beloved).  Compare these "sonnets" with Sidney's Astrophil and Stella #1, which describes the poet's overloaded mind with a stream of exotic competing metaphors in hexameter lines, rather than pentameters, or #6, which also is entirely in hexameters critiquing other poets' reliance on Petrarchan conceits, classical allusions, and pastoral conventions to describe their Beloveds.  Surrey's "The Soote Season" also violates the typical sonnet rhyme scheme like 126, using only two rhymes (ab, ab, ab, ab, ab, ab, aa), but it contains 14 lines like a typical sonnet.

Poets break formal rules relatively infrequently in early literature.  Rule breaking becomes a norm for English C19 poets, who experiment with free verse (unrhymed and unmetered), sprung or slant rhyme, and intentional fragments, and for C20 Modernist poets, who try to reshape the form and purpose of poetry each time they write, often making "metapoetry" about the making of the poem or the reader in the poem (e.g., "The Wasteland").  What kind of challenge would it be to make these experiments alone, centuries earlier, when all around you were writing fourteen-line poems in regular iambic pentameter that rhymed abab, cdcd, efef, gg every time?  What message are you sending to future poets and readers about the possibilities of the art?