The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0383 Wednesday, 22 April 1998.
Date: Tuesday, 21 Apr 1998 12:09:36 +0100 (BST)
Subject: In Tribute to Maragaret Demorest
In Tribute to Margaret Demorest
I met Margaret Demorest through 'Shaksper' and was privileged to
correspond with her for a few weeks before her passing. I believe that
her concept of a calendar in Shakespeare's sonnets will come to be seen
as a significant contribution to Shakespeare studies.
Kent Hieatt's identification of a calendar in the heart of Spenser's
"Amoretti", corresponding to the 47 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter
Sunday, has won widespread acceptance. Margaret suggested that there
are correspondences between events in years 1501-1609 and Shakespeare's
sonnets 1 - 109.
For sceptics I would suggest that Shakespeare had a precedent. At least
one editor of Sidney, Katherine Duncan Jones, (The Oxford Authors)
remarks on the odd-placing of sonnet 75 in "Astrophil and Stella".
This, as KDJ and everyone else agree, refers to the Treaty of PicQuigny
in 1475 (not 74 as implied in her notes) whereby Edward IV received an
annual pension of 75,000 crowns from the French King Louis. The 75 in
1475 and 75,000 would explain the position of this sonnet. Others have
linked the reference to 'Sir Phip' in 83 to Sidney's knighthood, which
he received in 1583. So far as I know those who identified these
historical correspondences weren't trying to justify a calendar theory.
I do not suppose that there have been many similar claims of such
historical correspondences, therefore the date/number correlations in
these instances appear significant. Calendrical considerations seem to
account for the positions of these two sonnets.
Given such a clear precedent we may approach Margaret's claims for a
calendar in Shakespeare's sonnets. She claims that the calendar
relates, in substantial part, to the Tudor succession. I give just one
example, sonnet 37:
As a decrepit father takes delight,
To see his active childe do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortunes dearest spight
In 1537 Henry VIII rejoiced at the birth of a legitimate male heir. In
the same year he suffered from an acute leg infection (reference
available). To Margaret's observations I would add the words in this
'do crowned sit' and 'ten times happy'
The OED traces the Biblical use of 'time/s' for 'year/s' (Rev 12, 14),
which appears in the Authorised version, back to Wyclif's translation of
1382. Ten years later in 1547 Edward was crowned King. The
juxtaposition of 'ten times' and 'happy' is a leitmotific recurrence
from the second and third quatrains of sonnet 6, where these are
specifically and repeatedly linked with the breeding of an heir.
'Intitled in their parts' preceding 'do crowned sit' refers to Edward's
legitimacy. Additionally such commentators as Kerrigan and Booth link
the appearance of 'substance' and 'shadow' in 37 with 53, the latter
corresponding to 1553 the year of Edward's death. The dead boy-king may
be one inspiration for the substance/shadow theme in the sonnets.
This is just one example from many, to which I'll add only by observing
that Kerrigan (Penguin Edition) notes that the 'Rose' motif in sonnet 1
reaches a fulfillment in 109, the latter corresponding to 1609, the date
of publication. The Rose is of course a Tudor symbol.
The concept of a calendar in the sonnets may not sit well with the
traditional majority view that the sonnets were largely composed in the
1590's and that the Quarto was unauthorised. It is however compatible
with the views expressed by Katherine Duncan Jones in the recent Arden
edition of 'Shakespeare's Sonnets' that most of these belong to the
first decade of the 17th century and that the Quarto was authorised.
Shakespeare delights in multiple meanings so the existence of a calendar
in the sonnets need not contradict an autobiographical reading: it may
simply be taken simply as an extra layer of meaning.
I am preparing a longer review of Margaret's work, which I will forward
to anyone interested.
'Name in the Window', Margaret Demorest, 1996, is currently listed at
www.amazon.com, price $18.95.