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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: August ::
Re: Sonnet 112 (Greening); Milk
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0649.  Tuesday, 2 August 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Piers Lewis <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Aug 1994 10:43:53 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   S.112
 
(2)     From:   Martin Mueller <
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        Date:   Monday, 1 Aug 1994 15:03:12 -0500
        Subj:   Milk
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Aug 1994 10:43:53 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        S.112
 
I offer the following in the hope that it will go at least part of the way
toward answering Bill Godshalk's questions.
 
My first response to Everett's essay was simple delight at finding an
exception to the rule about contemporary reference:  Shakespeare never refers
(directly at least) to any person of his own time, except for the reference to
Marlowe in AYLI and now this one to Greene in S.112.  Then I noticed that the
pun on 'greene' enriches both the line and the poem as a whole by complicating
the relationship between the speaker and spoken-to, the 'I' and the 'you'.
Everett's gloss, "With you as a lover, who needs Greene?" gets it about right,
it seems to me.  The rest of her essay extends and amplifies this insight: that
for this poet at least, love cannot be simple or clear or direct.  It is an
important essay, it says something important not only about this sonnet but, by
implication, about the sonnets as a whole, and we should not allow ourselves to
be put off or distracted by the occasional obscurity of her prose.
 
The difficulty of this sonnet, Everett says, is related to the difficulty of
its subject:  the doubleness and duplicity, ironies and ambiguities of love
which can connect us to others or isolate us from them, shrinking or enlarging
the boundaries of our social worlds.  (Some of the other reviews in this issue
of TLS explore this subject also.)  Love can be a consuming passion and it can
consume us, the beloved as well the lover.  Any time you make another your
all-in-all you run certain risks:  the obvious risk of betrayal, the not so
obvious risk that one of you will be obliterated, absorbed by the other. That's
what the joke in the last line is about.
 
"You are my All the world," says the speaker of this sonnet, so who else should
he hear his shames and praises from?  Yet the word 'shames' jars us slightly:
should we expect, as a matter of course, to be shamed as well praised by those
we love?  Perhaps:  if you make your beloved your all-the-world, you give her
or him absolute power and must expect that it will be used, sometimes well,
sometimes badly, which is the way it is with power. That is the lesson that the
speaker "strives" to learn for he can't make the other his "All the world"
unless he does:  "You are my All the world, and [therefore] I must strive to
know my shames and praises from your tounge [alone]."  It is not an easy lesson
to learn, however; it takes self- discipline, he has to work at it.  So the
next line repeats the lesson, dutifully: "None else to me, nor I to none alive"
and here's where things get really tough because in order to narrow the world
down to a single person he has to shrug off his responsibilities, obligations,
duties to everyone else--all those whom, in the normal, natural, changing
course of life, he (like everyone else) rights or wrongs i.e. treats justly or
unjustly, which is everyone, all the world.  In particular, he not only has to
turn away from his other friends and associates but he has to accept the fact
that by doing so, by hardening (i.e. steeling) himself towards them, he will be
injuring some and helping others.
 
I admit that this is not an entirely satisfactory reading of lines 7 & 8 but
it's the only way I can make sense of them.  And the rest of the poem follows
from it.  For if you've made up your mind that no one but your beloved matters,
you inhabit a moral abyss where no other voice can reach you and you become
deaf to the needs, claims, pleas of others.  We don't need to know that "Adders
sence" may derive from the deaf asp of Psalm 58 to know that this is not a good
place to be, but it does have its advantages:  what a blessing to find oneself
suddenly deaf to critics and flatterers!  Everett glosses the next line, "Marke
how with my neglect I doe dispence", as "Watch me getting out of my neglect of
you" (or "your neglect of me") but I don't see how that can be quite right.
This laconic instruction faces both ways: back, over the way the speaker has
managed to distribute his neglect of others' voices so as NOT to have to hear
his critics and flatterers, and forwards to the last, ironic twist of the
poem's central conceit in the final couplet:  far from being consumed by love,
the speaker has so thoroughly consumed his beloved who has become virtually a
part of him, that he or she has simply disappeared and is no 'greene' is the
first indication that this lover--Shakespeare, we presume--is a
sleight-of-hand-man who can quietly, coolly take back with one hand what he
gives in seemingly passionate abandon with the other.
 
Looking back over this laconic, difficult poem, we can see that it is, in part,
a poem about not giving in to the all encompassing demands of love; about
holding back and keeping a corner of the self in reserve; about a sort of
duplicity, indeed, which is Everett's point.  The pun on 'greene' is the first
indication that this lover--Shakespeare, we presume--is a sleight-of-hand-man
who can quietly, coolly take back with one hand what he gives in seemingly
passionate abandon with the other.
 
Piers Lewis
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Mueller <
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Date:           Monday, 1 Aug 1994 15:03:12 -0500
Subject:        Milk
 
I must say that all my skeptical instincts about anthropological field reports
come to the fore when I read that  "Hottentots (Khoisan) equate Milk with feces
and urine because in cattle the milk comes from approximately the same part of
the cow's body."I am sure the Khoisan know that cows do not pee through their
udders, and I also suspect that they see the resemblance between nursing babies
and calves. So if in that culture milk is in some ways like feces and urine, I
would suspect that in this culture people find it inconceivable that anybody
but an infant would drink milk and the idea of an adult drinking milk of
another species appears as in some way obscene. Or perhaps there is another
explanation. I don't know the literature, but I expect the explanation to
involve fairly complex ideas about milk as an appropriate food for non-infants.
 

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