Questions arise about what Paterson is hoping to accomplish in his Commentary on the Sonnets
Shakespeare’s reputation makes his Sonnets hard to approach. Mountains of critical scholasticism loom: a dozen substantial commentaries, countless books and articles. To add to all that is a daunting challenge. But here is Don Paterson, successful poet, Queen’s Medallist, Forward Prize-winner, who has already written about sonnets. He’ll do a popular book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Poor man, what a commission. He knows it, and keeps apologizing (“let me be the first to say that I consider this theory to be garbage”; “that’s the best I can do”; “for all I know”). His solution is to play to his strength and offer a fiction. He’ll imagine someone teaching a Shakespeare class (“If this were a class I was teaching”), yet ostentatiously distance himself from the professional tutors, the “anoraks” and “cabbalists”. That way he can appropriate anorak opinions without getting ink-stained, advance theories and take them back.