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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: September ::
Re: Sonnet 114, Fire
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No.0748.  Monday, 26 September 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Matthew Vail Smith <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 13:46:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0743  Qs: Sonnet 144
 
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 15:44:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0743  Sonnet 144, "fire"
 
(3)     From:   Greg Grainger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 23:18:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0743  Qs: Sonnet 144
 
(4)     From:   Leslie Harris <
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        Date:   Thursday, Sep 22 16:10:27 EDT 1994
        Subj:   Sonnet 144, line 14 query
 
(5)     From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Sep 1994 10:52:39 +0059 (EDT)
        Subj:   RE:  Sonnet 144, line 14
 
(6)     From:   Piers Lewis <
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        Date:   Saturday, 24 Sep 1994 14:30:19 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   s144
 
(7)     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Sep 94 19:55:52 -0500
        Subj:   sonnet 144, line 14
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Vail Smith <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 13:46:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0743  Qs: Sonnet 144
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0743  Qs: Sonnet 144
 
In response to Mary Tyler Knowles's question about 'to fire':  I don't think
that 'to fire' in anyway connotes that there is something morally reprehensable
about the female reproductive organs and the orifice attended thereto.  Rather,
I think it is the recognition and a rather clever way for a VD sufferer to say,
"It burns when I pee."
 
To be fair, perhaps we could blend the two theories so that we can read the
verb, "to fire," as "It burns when I pee and that orifice is to blame!"
 
By the way, I do not know this burning sensation first hand, thanks.
 
Matthew Vail Smith
Hobart College
Geneva, New York
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 15:44:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0743  Sonnet 144, "fire"
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0743  Sonnet 144, "fire"
 
Mary Tyler Knowles may wish to look at Stephen Booth's long note on this
passage in his edition (p. 500). Booth suggests a good deal of verbal play is
going on here, but he doesn't give any analogues to "fire . . . out." In LLL
(3.1.63) Shakespeare uses "fir'd from a Gunne." Could the submerged image be a
projectile fired from the barrel of a gun? I leave the details to your
imagination!
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Greg Grainger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Sep 1994 23:18:06 -0400
Subject: 5.0743  Qs: Sonnet 144
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0743  Qs: Sonnet 144
 
> I have just been teaching the sonnets and hoped someone could help me
> with the use of the verb "fire" in the last line of #144's couplet. The
> gloss in both my old Signet edition and in my newer Folger Library
> edition suggests that "fire my good one out" means "to communicate
> venereal disease."
 
>  So where does this sense of veneral disease come from?
 
It's a guy thing.<g> Various forms of VD cause inflammation of the urethra; in
males this causes a vary painful burning sensation while urinating. (This is
what I have been *told*, you understand.<g>)
 
One of the standard questions I used to be asked by the family doctor was, 'Any
smarting or burning of the urine?'. I never knew what he was talking
about.<sigh>
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Leslie Harris <
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Date:           Thursday, Sep 22 16:10:27 EDT 1994
Subject:        Sonnet 144, line 14 query
 
Hi, Folks.
 
This is in response to Mary Knowles' question about "Till my bad angel fire my
good one out."
 
Now--let me assure you that I'm not responding from personal knowledge (and I
pray that it remains that way).  However, I imagine the "fire" image for
venereal disease has to do with the burning sensation men feel in a certain
part of their anatomy when they're suffering from venereal disease (primarily
painful urination, I think).
 
Part of the fun behind the title of Beaumont's "The Knight of the Burning
Pestle" is the pun on "pizzle" or "bull's penis" (as the helpful note in my
Fraser and Rabkin edition states).  Rafe (as our fearless knight) thus suffers
from venereal disease--another reason for his burning emblem.
 
Booth (in his edition of the _Sonnets_) gives lots of other great readings for
that line.  It's a great edition!
 
Hope this helps.
 
Leslie Harris
Susquehanna University

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(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Sep 1994 10:52:39 +0059 (EDT)
Subject:        RE:  Sonnet 144, line 14
 
As far as I know, the `fire' reference refers to that burning sensation in the
private parts, caused by venereal infection -- as in, eg., THE KNIGHT OF THE
BURNING PESTLE.  Jonson, Middleton, Marston, and many others joke endlessly on
this theme.
 
Helen Ostovich
McMaster University
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
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Date:           Saturday, 24 Sep 1994 14:30:19 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        s144
 
Mary Tyler Knowles:
 
I wonder if the sense of the last line isn't, either: "he'll find her too hot
to handle and will get out of there--out of her placket, out of her house, out
of this relationship"; or, more plausibly, "she'll eject him in a rage when she
finds out what a rat he is-- like firing a fox from its den."  Either way, the
speaker's doubt is resolved:  he'll know he's been betrayed--not so much by his
bad as by his 'good' angel--by the fact that he (or it?) is no longer on
friendly terms with the other, the 'bad' one, so called. I don't think we ought
to take editorial glosses on the sonnets too seriously; we can read the OED too
and 'venereal disease' is certainly not the only possible or even the most
plausible meaning of 'fire' in this poem, which sets out to explore an analogy
and a question, not a fact.  (Nor is 'vagina' the only possible meaning of
'hell', which was also the middle base in Barley-Break, a game something like
Prisoner's Base.)
 
"Two loves I have", he announces in this first line, "of comfort and despair",
one of whom is fair the other dark ("colored ill"), but which is which?
Conventional assumptions (fair=good, dark=bad) might seem to suggest, as he
says, the conventional roles of good angel and bad angel:  thus, "The better
angel is a man right fair,/The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill." According
to the conventional scheme, the woman as bad angel is the tempter; and what
does she tempt him into?  Despair, of course, a grave sin.  And how does she do
it?  By corrupting the good angel i.e. seducing him:  "Wooing his purity with
her foul pride".  (Or is it "fair pride" as in the version that appears in
Passionate Prilgrim?)  But who seduces whom?  If purity is seduced by foulness
it's because it wants to be; maybe this fellow isn't so pure after all.  So the
source of despair for the speaker is not the woman but the "man right fair",
the supposed saint who betrays him and willingly becomes a 'devil' and worse;
and the source of comfort, ironically, is the woman colored ill who smokes out
this hypocrite.  Lilies that fester, as we know from S94, smell far worse than
weeds.
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
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Date:           Friday, 23 Sep 94 19:55:52 -0500
Subject:        sonnet 144, line 14
 
Sorry if this is late in arriving, but we've just gotten back in session and
all those OTHER people who weren't here this summer are slowing down our e-mail
system horribly. Stephen Booth's edition of the sonnets (Yale, 1977) has an
extensive gloss on line 14. Joseph Pequigney's book *Such Is My Love* (U of
Chicago Press, 1985) also discusses the sonnet in several places. Hope this is
helpful.
 
Chris Gordon (missing her mail)
University of Minnesota
 

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