What is it about?

Shakespeare's 154 sonnets have long been viewed as a puzzling collection of poems. Though scholars often argue they should not be read biographically, but rather as a response to the vogue for sonnets that arose in the 1590s, many are distinctly personal in tone. This essay explores what happens to the many puzzles of the sonnets when they are read from a different authorial perspective.

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Why is it important?

Though we are urged to read texts without considering the authors, biographical assumptions have a considerable impact on the way we interpret them, as this paper demonstrates. Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets as if they were written by Christopher Marlowe in exile clarifies a number of long-standing problems that scholars have identified in the sonnets, and results in a strong identification for the sonnets' "Rival Poet".


This article arose as part of ongoing research into arguments used to defend the traditional authorship of Shakespeare's works: in this case, that Shakespeare's sonnets were a writing exercise and should not be read biographically. It is set within the framework of postmodern historiography.

Dr Ros Barber
Goldsmiths, University of London

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Exploring biographical fictions: The role of imagination in writing and reading narrative, Rethinking History, May 2010, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/13642521003710730.
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