Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Goethe’s Garden House

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking to The German Shakespeare Society in Weimar. Their conference was on the Sonnets.

Professor Dympna Callaghan of Syracuse University, New York was also among the specially invited speakers.

Weimar is an extraordinary place and exudes literature, art, philosophy and music from its very fabric. There was a flourishing of literature in the late eighteenth century, thanks to its patron-duke, Karl August. Goethe and Schiller both lived and worked there.

But as one walks around there is evidence of Bach, Nietzsche, Liszt, Cranach, Thomas Mann, and Shakespeare.

Dympna and I differ in our approach to the Sonnets. She is more willing to accept that 126 of the poems are addressed to a male subject (the so-called ‘young man’ of Sonnet criticism), whereas in the work I’ve done with Stanley Wells, we only find twenty sonnets which address a male subject or subjects, real or imagined.

But it was great to be able to talk about the Sonnets – and particularly Sonnet 126 – in the upstairs of Goethe’s garden house….

You can listen to what we spoke about by clicking on the sound-post below.

Sonnet 126
O thou my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold time’s fickle glass, his sickle-hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering as thy sweet self grow’st –
If nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose: that her skill
May time disgrace, and wretched minutes kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain thee but still not keep her treasure.
Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • VJ

    Thank you for allowing us to eavesdrop on your Weimar discussions. Very interesting!

  • Ian Steere

    Professor Callaghan’s sympathies are not irrational, since (by the same criteria) not one of the poems in Sonnets 1-126 is addressed to a female subject. A balance of 20 to zero suggests some significant gender bias, which is worthy of exploration. As it happens, there is considerable evidence for the proposition that all 126 poems were devised for a male addressee – see for example “The Biography in Shakespeare’s Sonnets” at the website,

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