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Shakespeare Celebrity Sonnets

October 1, 2012 2:14 p.m.

Kim Keeline, Ph.D. in English literature from USC with a specialty in plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Publicity Director for the San Diego Shakespeare Society

Related Story: Shakespeare Celebrity Sonnets


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST JOHN: Shakespeare may have been more proud of his sonnets than he was of his plays but most of us are more familiar with his great body of work for the stage. However more than 150 sonnets were published on love and loneliness, death and the deeper meaning of life. The Shakespeare Society of San Diego celebrates Shakespeare's sonnets at the old Globe next week and today we will get a little foretaste of what is in store. My guest in studio is Dr. Kim queue line who is a PhD in English literature from USC with a specialty in place of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. She's also the publicity director for the San Diego Shakespeare Society. Welcome.

KIM KEELINE: Thank you.

ALISON ST JOHN: Kim, to clarify, we know that Shakespeare thought more of his sonnets than his plays.

KIM KEELINE: He didn't get them published during his lifetime. People treated them like soap operas they were popular entertainment, they love them but they did not think of them as literature. So the poetry that he did he did a couple long poems and his sonnets, these are the sorts of things he would have been more proud of. This is what real poets did. This is where you could get attention for, patronage for, money for. He didn't get much money for the place and he wouldn't have gotten the sort of start up that we associate with him now. The plays are what is known for. The sonnets go yes he wrote some songs and poems what we love about the sonnets is they are so wonderful and accessible.

ALISON ST JOHN: I must say I was listening on our website, Beth Accomando produces has put some wonderful links to some of the examples of the sonnets and listening to them I feel like oh my goodness these are so beautiful I really want to hear more of them so I recommend that people go to the website and check out this event. Tell us what is celebrity sonnets.

KIM KEELINE: It is the annual event for the San Diego Shakespeare society and what we do is we invite celebrities from different fields, theater, radio, TV, and then they come up and they do one or two sonnets. What we love about it is that they do it in ways that express what they are good at. If they dance, then they may dance while a sonnet is being read. If they are sick is a fat people turn sonnets and balance. Into rock songs. We've had them done as duets. We've had drums and just wonderful different ways of doing the sonnets. We've had one group that did jazz and bongos.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay let's hear an example. This is sonnet 147 from Dave Reavis. Gives us an idea of what to expect and what not to expect. This is not just someone standing at a podium reading a poem.

[Music playing]

My love is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

[Music playing]: All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay, so that is an example of some of what you might hear when you go to the celebrity sonnets event. It is not just reciting old problems in Shakespeare's a master of metaphor, wasn't he?

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely.

ALISON ST JOHN: Remind us what is a sonnet.

KIM KEELINE: It was a type of poetry that at the time Shakespeare is doing it was new and exciting they were experimenting. 14 lines. So it is very short. It's usually broken up into quatrains which are groups of four. So the first four lines usually set up whatever the concept is, the next four exporter may be took a an opposite approach, the third set of four usually either really take a different swing at it, or continue that and there's a couplet at the end that sum it up and maybe give a twist or a new way of looking at what has come before.

ALISON ST JOHN: And just looking at the sonnet is quite dense, there's a lot to get, isn't there?do you think that people can really related to these right away or does it take sort of sinking into a whole different way of thinking about the English-language?

KIM KEELINE: I find it very accessible because they are short and because they tend to be a little bit simpler than some of the place which can get very long very complex plots you don't have to worry about the plots. You are hearing about one persons experience of love, with passing of time, with aging, with concerns about John C and five rivalry about whether or not his poetry will stand the test of time these are all things I think we can kind of understand. Depression. He has a really wonderful son which we will hear Jonathan McMurtry do at the celebrity sonnets about feeling envious and jealous and depressed about how everyone else is happy and how miserable the sonnet person is and what brings them out of that is thinking of his loved ones. And it's just an amazing piece in 14 lines.

ALISON ST JOHN: You said you have quite a range of performance you just mentioned Jonathan McMurtry so you (inaudible). Once tell us about those

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely we have as I said all sorts of different age ranges as you heard just now duty-free this will be doing it with people dancing to the song you just heardbut we also have a group of young people from lease. Productions and they range in age from seven on up and they are wonderful actors and actresses are trained to learn musical theater and acting in such with her productions.

ALISON ST JOHN: Let's hear a quartet of children doing sonnet number 18.

NEW SPEAKER: Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

ALISON ST JOHN: That is delightful and that one was about love and obviously that's a very popular (inaudible) what else did Shakespeare write about?

KIM KEELINE: Shakespeare wrutes about the feelings of betrayal when he sees his lover, his mistress interested in another man. He writes to a young man encouraging him to marry and have children so that his line can't continue because we all die and he says that would be so tragic considering how wonderful this young man is so that's continue so his family can continue. He writes about the lasting nature of poetry. He is very concerned about his own age and how that affects whether or not his mistress will love him. The interesting thing about Shakespeare's sonnets is that we tend to see poetry as an expression of the poets in her life but for Shakespeare's time it was about the ability to get into different characters and to write about things in a way that were interesting and appealing. So we don't know Shakespeare himself felt these things but he certainly knew what they felt like so he could express it in a way that they would express what he considered his character's emotions.

ALISON ST JOHN: And some effort. So could the time he wrote them but they sort of come in and out of vogue is that true

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely in the 17 and 1800s sonnets in general were not interesting and Shakespeare's sonnets were hardly ever read but then they came back into fashion and people saw Shakespeare's sonnets and thought these are really good examples. They had just started up before Shakespeare's time the Italians had written them and that they came to England and England went oh, wow, we are going to do even different styles so they did different rhyming schemes and really approached sonnets as this new and exciting piece of poetry.

ALISON ST JOHN: And it's a wonderful way to learn how to use the English language isn't it which is why most of us had something about sonnets in our education.

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely because you have to be able to talk about something in a very definite structure and a short form.

ALISON ST JOHN: Let's listen to the sonnet where the spoken word is emphasizes the sonnet 129 read by Kim Strassburger.

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

ALISON ST JOHN: That was Kim Strassburg are reading number 129 and there's actually more than 150 of them, aren't there? It's amazing how many, how prolific he was

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely is not just a 154 in the book, but there are some of them in the plays including Romeo and Juliet when they first meet.

ALISON ST JOHN: I am tempted to ask you, I want to give you an example for us but I will not put you on the spot because they are so familiar some of them aren't they the sort of coming to our conversation some lines from Shakespeare's sonnets and we recognize them and they come up but it is kind of an archaic form of torture. Is anybody still write sonnets?

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely and in fact we have had examples in the best of people coming in with their own sonnets and I could announce that we're going to have a surprise sonnet written for the event as well. So you will hear the new sonnet in addition to all of Shakespeare's.

ALISON ST JOHN: Tell us a little bit about the Shakespeare Society. It's a nonprofit organization run by volunteers?

KIM KEELINE: Absolutely. There's an annual student Festival in April in Balboa Park free student scenes 10 min. of Shakespeare we also have lectures frequently on monthly open readings at a couple locations where people can come in and actually just listen to it being read or actually participate in reading the play right there, acting out) every scene castrate before it starts.

ALISON ST JOHN: Can people get involved by coming to the sonic event and then come back and actually start to be more involved in the activities.

KIM KEELINE: We hope they will.

ALISON ST JOHN: And what kind of people would you say are drawn to the Shakespeare Society?

KIM KEELINE: I think we can all come different ages. We get the students were coming in we think their parents who would be a good education or the parents told them it would be we get a lot of cancer returned to later events especially the festival they get really into doing the student Festival. We get people like me who are academics we get actors, we get just theater goers who realize they enjoy a good night of theater because they could dance and all sorts of different things all in one night. How often do you get that?

ALISON ST JOHN: Define that actually the sonnets are a good way of getting people more involved in Shakespeare who might've thought this is too 16th, 17th century for me and I can't understand it? This is a way of getting more engaged?

KIM KEELINE: I do think so yes because it is so accessible but is also very because we get so many different emotions and thoughts and stuff in a short amount of space.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay now what kind of celebrities are going to be performing at the celebrity sonnets event?

KIM KEELINE: We have all range this year we have group Fox nobly they will be singing sonnet 116 in the Elizabethan style and then we will have things like what you are already likely Skerritt with the kids singing we have David Brin a science fiction author we have T Ctr. Doing a dance is also San Diego Civic youth ballet actors Austin Myers Molly O'Meara, Jonathan McMurtry and I'm also pleased to announce Michael J Nelson from mystery science theater 3000 and (inaudible).com. He's a comedy writer that makes fun of science-fiction films but he is to do Shakespeare when he was first in a. He's going to be doing sonnet 130, Shakespeare's funniest sonnet.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay that sounds like something to look forward to what you say that Shakespeare is becoming more popular in San Diego. I mean is the society growing? How healthy would you say the love of Shakespeare, love of the parties in this town?

KIM KEELINE: I think it's very healthy. We have a lot of different Peter said to Shakespeare in addition to the Shakespeare Society and the society is growing all the time and the festival is getting bigger every year which is why we need people to come out and support us?

ALISON ST JOHN: And we've got all these sonnets on the website, but how many are you actually going to perform not hundred 50, but how many can people expect to hear?

KIM KEELINE: You're going to hear about 26 sonnets.

ALISON ST JOHN: 26 okay and most of them would be read but some of them are music because we heard in the first clip that there was actually some music at it that was not the words of the sonnet I was sort of blended.

KIM KEELINE: Right, because there will be dancers at that point. He's going to be reading assignment and there will be dancers in the background expressing the emotions of the sonnet to that song.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay so let's see here, now this is happening in a week, so just tell us a bit more about when it's happening. It is next Monday, is that right?

KIM KEELINE: Monday, October 8 at 7:30 at the old Globe theater in Balboa Park. We will start selling tickets at 6:30.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay and is the organization pretty healthy, or are you having budget cuts, everybody is struggling these days? Is the organization doing okay with this fundraiser?

KIM KEELINE: We're doing okay but we can do better. I think you're right the economy has been very tough the grants are hard to get in regardless of them all the time why the festival grows so it makes it more difficult for us so we do things like this to try to get attention and money so that we could keep going.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay I'd like to thank you so much for joining us and you can find out more details and I encourage you to go to the KPBS website because there are some examples of what you will be able to hear next Monday night which are really very moving, the sort of thing that make you think you there is a good reason why Shakespeare is just a legend. It continues to be so so, before we go out I just wanted to remind people that tomorrow Midday Edition you can hear Maureen Cavanaugh she's going to be interviewing the two candidates for city Mayor, Carl Dimaio and Bob Filner. So you can catch the debate tomorrow at noon and you will also be able to catch that debate tonight at KBPS television had eight o'clock. So that's definitely one to look for. So let's go out here on one more example of a Shakespearean sonnet. This time it is a musical rendition of sonnet number 140 by teens from the Lee Skerrit productions.

[Singing the sonnet]