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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: August ::
Re: Sonnets
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1377  Thursday 5 August 1999.

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 Aug 1999 09:21:51 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1362 Re: Sonnets

[2]     From:   Frances Barasch <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 Aug 1999 12:45:28 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1370 Re: Sonnets

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 Aug 1999
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1370 Re: Sonnets

[4]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 5 Aug 1999 08:37:38 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1370 Re: Sonnets

[5]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Thursday, August 5, 1999
        Subj:   Re: Sonnets


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 Aug 1999 09:21:51 -0400
Subject: 10.1362 Re: Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1362 Re: Sonnets

Karen Peterson-Kranz wrote:

>I've always wondered if it not be more productive to look at them
>as possibly directed to a number of different people.

We sometimes forget that the narrative we have come to regard as
unifying the sonnets is largely a matter of inference.  Sonnet 144 tells
us:

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 colored ill.

This synoptic pause in the action suggests that the narrative we seem to
see unfolding in the currently favored ordering of the sonnets reflects
the author's intention, and that only two personae are addressed
throughout the cycle.  However we are still only looking more or less at
a pile of still photographs which we string together to make a movie by
projecting onto them a unity that is not inherent in the individual
texts.  And, as you suggest, the "man right fair" is identified as a
"spirit," and a spirit may manifest in different people at different
times (not all of them necessarily male).

Michael Skovmand wrote:

>How on earth could Sonnet 20 refer to Queen Elizabeth? How could the
>effeminate male youth described in the sonnet  refer to a woman, since
>[Nature] "pricked thee out for women's pleasure" i.e. furnished you with
>male genitalia, the consequence of this being that  Shakespeare/the 1st
>person of the sonnet  may love the youth but cannot be practising sex
>with him ("Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure" ?

Analyzing the sonnets feels to me like trying to hack a path through a
swamp.  The more I clear out of the way, the more tangled the underbrush
becomes.  If we take the plot and characters treated in the sonnets at
face value then sonnet 20 is clearly addressed to an effeminate male
only.  But the synopsis of sonnet 144 suggests that fair youth and dark
lady are not flesh and blood people (or people only) whose identities
have eluded centuries of scholarship, but that moral principles are
being treated.

Spenser tells us explicitly that his sonnets are addressed to three
Elizabeths: wife, mother and queen, which places him in the tradition of
Dante praising Beatrice and Petrarch, Laura.  Such multilayering is part
of the sonnet tradition: Samuel Daniel's Delia, if she is a real woman,
is also a thinly veiled anagram of the Platonic Ideal.  Drayton's Idea
is veiled even more thinly.  Given his own ephemerization of his
characters in sonnet 144, why shouldn't the fair youth be equally
capable of connoting more than just a fair youth?

Sonnet 20 is written to a "master-mistress," and I would suggest that
that title can describe a female monarch as aptly (and more acceptably)
as an effeminate male patron.  The master-mistress might be placed in a
three part hierarchy after the mode of Spenser by recourse to the
Platonic hermaphrodite who sits somewhere above Queen Elizabeth on the
Great Chain of Being.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
C.W. Post College
www.columbia.edu/~fs10/cds.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances Barasch <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 Aug 1999 12:45:28 EDT
Subject: 10.1370 Re: Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1370 Re: Sonnets

William Sutton <
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 > asks: " Hello, is it not true that
this is the first recorded use of 'prick' in a sexual sense"?

 No, it's not.  Try Chaucer's Reeve's Tale (ll. 4231 in Fisher's
edition):

  "Withinne a while this John the clerk up leep,
    And on this goode wyf he leith on soore.
    So myrie a fit ne hadde she nat ful yoore;
    He priketh harde and depe as he were mad."

Of course, the above is a verb rather than noun, but close enough I
think.

The above, btw, does not rule out even earlier uses ???.

Cheers, Frances Barasch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 Aug 1999
Subject: 10.1370 Re: Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1370 Re: Sonnets

>A quick look at the other sonnets on marriage doesn't reveal
>any others
>so obviously addressed to a man as these, but the fact that the
>first 17
>sonnets pretty clearly form a series and that the themes and
>attitudes
>(and often phrasing) in 3, 7, 9, and 13 are echoed in many of
>the others
>suggests to me that they're all addressed to the same person.
>
> Bruce Young

How about the Virgin Reader (rather than Virgin Queen) approach to
sonnets 1-20 (which, regardless of an overall coherence to all 156, do
form a neat group)?

After ploughing through 1-17, your actual 1609 Jacobean reader gets to
18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and thinks, Oh, lord, at
last a straightforward heterosexual love poem.

Continuing with 19 ("Devouring time, blunt thou the lion's paws"), he's
quite happy till he gets to the discomforting ""Him" in line 11.

Sonnet 20's Unfortunate Appendage hammers (if I may be permitted the
locution) the point home.

Whereupon, he closes the volume and retires with an acute case of sexual
misidentity to re-read the Amoretti (no doubt wondering how Spenser's
future wife would react when she discovered that those sonnets were
really addressed to Queen Elizabeth).

Robin Hamilton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Thursday, 5 Aug 1999 08:37:38 +1000
Subject: 10.1370 Re: Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1370 Re: Sonnets

Bruce Young writes:

>I'm not dismissing the possibility that the Sonnets may be addressed to
>or allude to a variety of persons (if indeed they are autobiographical
>at all), but I'm surprised no one has mentioned that Sonnet 20 is not
>the only one clearly referring to a male friend.

Well, yes, of course.

By "the Sonnets" it is unclear whether all of the group published in
1609 as "Shakspear's Sonnets," just the "young man" group, or the subset
of the latter, 1-17, the "procreation" group is the object of reference.

1-17 have fairly consistent internal evidence suggesting that they
probably were intended as some sort of group.  When precisely they were
composed, when/if revised, and under what conditions they were produced
remains less clear.  If one accepts 1-17 as a group, then yes, it
becomes quite obvious that the addressee, either fictional or actual, is
gendered male.  I am choosing my words carefully here; note that
"gendered male" is not the same thing as "physiologically male."
Probably in this case the primary addressee was both gendered and
physiologically male.  However, in considering allusions to other
figures in the sonnets-which might be satiric, epideictic, socially
constructed, or psychologically unconscious- a gendered male addressee
allows the possibility of allusions to physiologically female
individuals.  Elizabeth might be a possibility, not only because her
initial reluctance and ultimate refusal to marry and procreate created
some social anxiety, but also because this very refusal strengthens her
own self-fashioning as a sometimes-male-gendered "Prince."

Forgive me.  I digress.

Yours in the tropics,
Karen Peterson-Kranz
University of Guam

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Thursday, August 5, 1999
Subject:        Re: Sonnets

Many of the issues of this discussion of the <I>Sonnets</I> are
addressed in my piece on "The Reception of the Quarto" in the
Renaissance Electronic Texts edition produced by Ian Lancashire and
myself
<http://library.utoronto.ca/www/utel/ret/shakespeare/1609inti.html>.

Of interest, Malone asserted that the first 126 poems were addressed to
a man and then qualified this assertion with "such addresses to men,
however, indelicate, were customary in our author's time, and neither
imported criminality, nor were esteemed indecorous" (20.241). If I
remember correctly, my notes are at home, Malone also glosses "prickt"
in Sonnet 20 as chosen or selected as in

          What? do'{{s}t} thou roare before th'art prickt.
           (<I>2H4</I> TLN: 1714 3.2.178)

          The{s}e many then {{s}h}all die, their names are prickt
            (<I>JC</I> TLN 1854: 4.1.1)
 

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