While we’re on the subject of helpful Shakespeare books for the AP English Literature & Composition classroom, I should make mention of a classic in the field of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: the majestical, fretful, capaciously stupendous Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Stephen Booth (Yale, 1977 and 2000).
Closing in on 600 pages, this tome reads the Sonnets about as closely as is humanly possible. Frankly speaking, I pick it up with equal delight and dread — delight because of the sheer exuberance for language it displays, and dread because it makes me feel as if I just learned the rudiments of English.
Booth’s explications and analyses cover the widest as well as deepest ground and present remarkably cogent cases for interpretations. There is such a treasure trove of learning here — erudition at its choicest and most breathtaking — that reading through it (one almost cannot ‘read’ it) is like jumping into the most bracing, dangerous waters imaginable, leaping breathlessly out, and yearning, almost, to jump in again.
Taken in small doses, this can be a marvelous assistant when it comes to students’ attempts at understanding the Sonnets, and, it goes without saying, assistance is what we typically need when it comes to the idiosyncrasies of Shakespeare’s language.
As I routinely tell my students, as I presume Booth does his, “We all need the notes. I need them, my professors needed them, you need them.”