Okay, this takes a bit of chutzpah. Recently I started thinking about writing a story about someone who finds a lost Shakespeare sonnet in an inherited trunk of old papers. That was several weeks ago. I haven’t written the story yet, because first I had to have a fake Shakespeare sonnet. I’ve been writing one and researching 17th-century spelling, punctuation, and typography to make it look realistic. The font in the graphic example, “JSL Ancient,” is derived from 17th-century printings and matches closely the typography of Shakespeare’s quartos, folio, and Sonnets publications. I have the font files if you want them — regular, italic, and bold. I downloaded them for free.

I want to praise these two websites for the resources they make freely available to study this stuff:

  • Shakespeare Online, which enables you to search all poems and plays for text, as well as provides full text, annotations, introductions, and well-informed commentaries
  • the facsimile images of the sonnets and plays at Internet Shakespeare, a service of the University of Victoria and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

To anyone interested in examining Shakespeare’s real sonnets closely, I recommend the critical works of Stephen Booth of the University of California at Berkeley. In particular I’m glad I discovered Shakespeare’s Sonnets: edited and with critical commentary by Stephen Booth, which includes a facsimile of the original printing side by side with Booth’s own editions, followed by background and line-by-line discussion; and his Essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, an extremely close reading of the formal, linguistic, and logical patterns in the sonnets. I tried to keep the observations in those books in mind as I composed this fake.

Here’s the result. The premise is that this poem was written to fit thematically and rhetorically in between Sonnet 120 and the current 121. The sonnet would be set in 17th-century type, the page scrawled with a note from the printer to the effect that if the author decided to insert this poem it would require renumbering all the subsequent sonnets.

I give it here first in plausible 17th-century spelling, punctuation, and typography; then as a modern editor might set it up to help a reader understand the metrical features.

(Now, in modernized spelling and punctuation, and some metrical keys:)

Sonnet 121

Before thine eyes hurled fire o’er wall and gate
To roast thy parchèd prisoner from above,
I never saw my Heav’n so hot with hate
Who sometime soothèd me with quenching love.
Until thou creased thy visage in dark rage
And scratched that inky scowl across thy brow,
It still had been the fair unfurrowed page
Where turned I laughter with a feathern plow.
These bitter terms, sharp bartered and bought dear,
To no true loving state may tendered be;
’Tis an unsteady union feigned in fear,
Enmity cloaked in forcèd amity.
     Burn we this compact ere its ink may dry,
     And rinse with weeping where the ashes lie.

Works Cited

Booth, Stephen. An Essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New Haven: Yale U. Press, 1969. Print.

——. Shakespeare’s Sonnets: edited with analytic commentary. New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 1977. Print.

“Facsimile Viewer Home.” internetshakespeare.uvic.ca. University of Victoria: Friends of the Internet Shakespeare Editions. Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare Online. shakespeare-online.com. N.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

© 2012 Greg Bryant under the Creative Commons

About Greg Bryant

I teach writing and literature at Highland Community College in northeast Kansas.
This entry was posted in poems. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fakespeare

  1. Khadija says:

    Wow, this sounds really interesting! Love the idea for your story. As a writer, its intriguing for me to see the process that other people go through to create the finished product.

  2. belexus says:


  3. jim babcock says:

    Upon Reading Sonnet 121

    Thy plumed nib hath taken wing
    and harkens to a poesy past,
    metres my willing mirthful heart to sing
    to skillful, left-handed verse dispatched.

    –Ben Johnson

  4. Greg says:

    Or false or true, thy name compell’th regard.
    True friend, true thanks from this false-namèd bard.

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