The preface to What Fool Would Challenge Shakespeare presents author T. J. King’s justification for writing the 99 original sonnets that follow: “Shakespeare’s sequence is riddled with dozens of sonnets he should never have allowed to be published. […] I offer no such truffles for publication. [A]ny reader fairly judging will award me the higher scores for more substance of thought, ampler genuine insight.”
The problem with such a bold boast is that King’s sonnets read as the very “truffles” he renounces: “real insight giving way largely to pleasing turn of phrase.” For instance, in a representative sonnet titled “Beautiful Woman,” familiar stereotypes about women and their power over men appear: “They surface—flowers of evil, flowers of good—/Inducing in the male a passion blind/ Their power by none able to be withstood.” In “Eavesdroppers Welcome,” King presents the well-worn truism that love gives meaning to life: “Those viewing thy earth as a spinning accident/ I have to guess Love’s sublimity never were sent.” And in “Heart on Sleeve,” King opens with a cliché that is successively reiterated rather than challenged: “Reader, I charge you straight/ To take me with my heart making mess of my sleeve.”
The second half of the book is comprised of six “Appendixes,” each a self-contained prose editorial. Topics range from the author’s contempt for the word “fuck” (“The Mightiest Monosyllable”) to his definition of love as “passionate regard kindled by awestruck contemplation of otherness” (“Au Contraire, Love”). While clearly intelligent and well-read, King presents his ideas in a condescending and absolutist tone that is likely to alienate readers.
The collection reads as two separate books—one a sequence of sonnets, the other a series of pontifications in prose—framed by the author’s audacious claim that his poems are more substantive than Shakespeare’s. While King’s writing shows some technical merits, his promise is ultimately unfulfilled.
Also available in hardcover.