• Oscar Brown, Jr.

WHEN I DISCOVERED SHAKESPEARE

When I discovered Shakespeare’s sonnets I was nearly thirty-five years old. I had probably had exposure to them during those six or eight years when high school and college were constantly requiring the study of “The Immortal Bard.” The high point came when I saw Paul Robeson in the title role of “Othello.” It was at the University of Wisconsin in 1944. We had just finished studying the play in freshman English class and so I was familiar enough with both its language and plot to immensely enjoy the presentation at the University Theater, in Madison. It was later that I was to learn that the iambic pentameter Shakespeare used was to be found also in the Blues. For example,


Shakespeare: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks”


The Blues: “I love to hear my baby call my name”


Each line of verse has the same meter. This encouraged me to compose an entire book musical wherein all the dialog employs this sonnet form. The musical stage play, titled CRECIE, is written in iambic pentameter with rhyming quatrains throughout. It was tedious, at first, but I persevered and by the time, in 1960, when a friend quoted from a Shakespearean sonnet, I was emboldened enough to undertake writing one. With its fourteen lines, the form was compact but left me room enough to deliver a message.


A set of poetry I call THE OUTPOURING is my most expansive use of the sonnet form in nearly twenty years. Nearly two hundred sonnets came pouring forth from April 9 to May 10, 2003. They came as a result of the political thinking I had been doing at the time. It suddenly occurred to me that remaining in America had been a big mistake for the slaves. The abolition of slavery in 1865 should have prompted an effort by the former slaves to get just as far away from their condition as possible. Instead, we were held under the premise that “slaves could” be made “citizens.” This, on several counts, was unconstitutional.


OBJ’s set of sonnets titled: THE OUTPOURING will be posted here. Please check back.


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