Many illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets present a romanticised picture of heterosexual love, which skates over the tensions and ambiguities at the heart of William Shakespeare’s poems. Artists often seem to ignore the fact that Shakespeare’s love poetry is playful and subversive, and that many of the sonnets are addressed to a young man.
This version, printed in 1959, is bolder and more edgy. The characters in Mary Jane Gorton’s woodblock prints are androgynous and complex. Their passion is clearly mixed with pain and uncertainty.
This small selection of sonnets was published by New York’s Pauper Press – a publisher known for its letterpress books, illustrated by respected contemporary artists. Nick Beilenson, the son of one of the company’s founders, said many of the books were sold ‘at prices even a pauper could afford’.