I selected Shakespeare’s Sonnet 106 in part because it is my favorite one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Ever since I first encountered it I have really enjoyed the imagery and the subject matter, as well as the beautiful language. Additionally, I thought that it would be apropos for this assignment given that in the sonnet, Shakespeare looks back on subject matter that was popular in the Medieval Period. He describes beautiful ladies and chivalrous knights. For this reason, I thought it would be an interesting poem to illuminate because he is remarking on the type of content that would be in Medieval illuminated manuscripts. I wanted my illumination to reflect this as well. When I thought about what I wanted to depict in my illumination of Sonnet 106, I had the illuminations that decorate Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript in mind. The illuminations in that manuscript include images of knights and horses in the depiction of the Green Knight after his decapitation in King Arthur’s hall. Additionally, there are depictions of chivalrous interactions between knights and ladies in the illumination featuring Gawain feigning sleep and Bertilak’s wife. These illuminations were part of what inspired me to focus on the line in the sonnet “In praise of ladies dead, and lovely knights” (Shakespeare 4). This line lent itself to illumination because it allowed me to be inspired by the Cotton Nero A.x illuminations. I combined the idea of a knight and horse and a chivalrous interaction between a knight and lady into one image to reflect both the sonnet and the illuminated manuscript.
I also added a marginal detail of a clock (at the suggestion of my partner) to bring in the theme of passing time in the sonnet. In particular, I think the clock is appropriate to the line “in the chronicle of wasted time” (1). I decided to have the clock draped in vines both to capture the idea that a lot of time has passed, and also to reflect the frequent use of floral imagery used in Medieval illuminations. The clock serves as a reminder that this poem is in part is partially about connecting the past to the present in an attempt to capture the beauty of the woman Shakespeare seeks to describe. This is also part of the reason why I positioned the knight in a position of giving respect to the lady in the poem. Although Shakespeare says the poets of the past could not have expressed the beauty of his subject, by including a lady with the knight treating her in a chivalrous manner I hoped to convey the respect and awe that Shakespeare has for his subject. Also, I outlined the drawings in black ink to reflect part of the illumination process depicted in the video we watched in class.
This activity made me realize the challenge of attempting to capture the essence of a whole poem in just a few illustrations. As we learned in class, real illuminators only had a very limited space to work with in many cases, and even without having that restriction, it was still a challenge to decide what type of images would best reflect the content of the poem. Since Sonnet 106 has several themes and images, narrowing down what I wanted to portray in the illumination was really challenging since I felt like I could have filled pages with illustrations for this poem. This shows that the relationship between text and image is deeply intertwined, so much so that deciding what parts of this relationship should be depicted is rather difficult.