The head of one of Britain’s top universities has criticised Sir Patrick Stewart after he refused to read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets because of ‘political correctness’.

The actor, 81, skipped several poems about the Bard’s ‘Dark Lady’ and one referring to a ‘woman colour’d ill’ during his recitation of a sonnet a day for online videos during the first Covid lockdown.

Sir Patrick, celebrated for his Shakespearean performances, explained that he disliked the attitudes conveyed in these verses – or struggled to make sense of them.

Professor Sally Mapstone, 64, the principal of St Andrews University in Scotland, praised the actor’s decision to read the sonnets, which she found ‘very salutary’.

But speaking on a podcast for the Scottish Arts and Humanities Alliance she added: ‘I didn’t think he was right to skip a couple in a rather politically correct way, frankly.

Sir Patrick Stewart and wife Sunny Ozell at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, September 2021

Sir Patrick Stewart and wife Sunny Ozell at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, September 2021

Sir Patrick Stewart and wife Sunny Ozell at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, September 2021

‘I think he should have just read them and let people make up their minds but, as he said, it was his choice.’

Some of the Shakespeare poems that Sir Patrick skipped are among a group known as the Dark Lady sonnets.

Although the subject of the verses is unknown, and still sparks debate, it has been suggested by some scholars that she may have been a woman of African or southern European heritage.

Other theories suggest that Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ could have been Mary Flitton, who was known for having several affairs with Elizabethan nobleman.

Professor Sally Mapstone, 64, the principal of St Andrews University in Scotland, said she did not think Sir Patrick was right to 'skip a couple in a rather politically correct way, frankly'

Professor Sally Mapstone, 64, the principal of St Andrews University in Scotland, said she did not think Sir Patrick was right to 'skip a couple in a rather politically correct way, frankly'

Professor Sally Mapstone, 64, the principal of St Andrews University in Scotland, said she did not think Sir Patrick was right to ‘skip a couple in a rather politically correct way, frankly’

In one of Sir Patrick’s videos he told viewers: ‘I am skipping [sonnet] 131 because I don’t like it’.

Sonnet 131 features a description of a dark-skinned woman as the ‘fairest and most precious jewel’ and continues: ‘Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place. In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.’

He also missed out sonnet 66, which includes the line ‘maiden virtue rudely strumpeted’.

The actor, who is best known for his appearances in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the X-Men superhero films, justified his avoidance of the ‘complex’ sonnets from 133 to 136 saying he couldn’t understand them.

Some of the poems by William Shakespeare (depicted above in a painting from around 1612) that Sir Patrick skipped are among a group known as the Dark Lady sonnets

Some of the poems by William Shakespeare (depicted above in a painting from around 1612) that Sir Patrick skipped are among a group known as the Dark Lady sonnets

Some of the poems by William Shakespeare (depicted above in a painting from around 1612) that Sir Patrick skipped are among a group known as the Dark Lady sonnets

He said: ‘I’ve struggled and struggled and failed to make sense of them. I’m not going to pretend that I do make sense of them. I’m just going to leave them unsaid.’

In 2020 Sir Patrick, a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, described how he started the daily sonnet readings to ‘help people get through this terrible time’.

‘I remember my mother cutting up fruit for me when I was a little boy saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ – so I thought, ‘why not a sonnet a day?’ he said.

Which of Shakespeare’s sonnets did Sir Patrick Stewart skip reading? 

Sir Patrick Stewart decided against reading the following six sonnets – including five which are part of the Dark Lady sonnets from 127 to 154: 

Sonnet 66

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,

As to behold desert a beggar born,

And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,

And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,

And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,

And strength by limping sway disabled

And art made tongue-tied by authority,

And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,

And simple truth miscalled simplicity,

And captive good attending captain ill:

Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,

Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

Sonnet 131

Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,

As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;

For well thou know’st to my dear doting heart

Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.

Yet, in good faith, some say that thee behold,

Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;

To say they err I dare not be so bold,

Although I swear it to myself alone.

And to be sure that is not false I swear,

A thousand groans, but thinking on thy face,

One on another’s neck, do witness bear

Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place.

In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,

And thence this slander, as I think, proceeds.

Sonnet 133

For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!

Is’t not enough to torture me alone,

But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?

Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,

And my next self thou harder hast engrossed:

Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken;

A torment thrice three-fold thus to be crossed.

Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,

But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail;

Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;

Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:

And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,

Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.

Sonnet 134

So now I have confessed that he is thine,

And I my self am mortgaged to thy will,

Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine

Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:

But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,

For thou art covetous, and he is kind;

He learned but surety-like to write for me,

Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.

The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,

Thou usurer, that put’st forth all to use,

And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;

So him I lose through my unkind abuse.

Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:

He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.

Sonnet 135

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,

And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus;

More than enough am I that vexed thee still,

To thy sweet will making addition thus.

Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,

Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?

Shall will in others seem right gracious,

And in my will no fair acceptance shine?

The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,

And in abundance addeth to his store;

So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will

One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;

Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

Sonnet 136

If thy soul check thee that I come so near,

Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,

And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;

Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.

Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,

Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.

In things of great receipt with ease we prove

Among a number one is reckoned none:

Then in the number let me pass untold,

Though in thy store’s account I one must be;

For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold

That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:

Make but my name thy love, and love that still,

And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will’.

Sonnet 144

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman colour’d ill.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil,

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

And whether that my angel be turned fiend,

Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;

But being both from me, both to each friend,

I guess one angel in another’s hell:

Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

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Source: Daily Mail

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