Mason English professor Robert Matz recently published a book on Shakespeare’s sonnets, The World of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: An Introduction (McFarland, December 2007). Matz, the new English Department chair, teaches courses on Shakespeare and other Renaissance literature.
What is compelling about sonnets for you?
The sonnets bring together a lot of my research interests: the relationship between literature, rhetoric, and ambition in the Renaissance; Renaissance assumptions about gender and sexuality; and the role of art in society. The sonnets are fascinating because they seem totally familiar to us, and yet in many ways they represent views of art and desire that are unexpected: The sonnet was a tool of social ambition as much as it was of self-expression, and though many readers remain under the misapprehension that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets to a woman, most are written to a young man. This choice can’t be understood as evidence that “Shakespeare was homosexual” in the contemporary sense, but rather has everything to do with a culturally celebrated intimacy among men during the period. The sonnets remain popular with general readers, though often, unfortunately, the same five or six out of the 154 that Shakespeare wrote.