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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Sonnet 20
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0696  Tuesday, 4 April 2000.

[1]     From:   Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Apr 2000 17:37:40 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0662 Re: Sonnet 20

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Apr 2000 20:08:43 -0400
        Subj:   Homoerotic Sonnets


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Apr 2000 17:37:40 -0400
Subject: 11.0662 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0662 Re: Sonnet 20

Ms. Craig writes:

>If we have a topic of debate here, I would like someone to convince me
>that Sonnet 20 is "a distinctly homoerotic and perhaps homosexual poem."

Shall we start with the fact that the poem is addressed to someone with
"A woman's face" on the "master-mistress of my passion," one who has "a
woman's gentle heart" w/o the "false" elements of a woman's
interactions.  He steals men's eyes and amazes women's souls.  Further,
he was created "for a woman" which in true Shakespearean ambivalence of
language can mean both "to be a woman" and "to delight a woman."

However, to set that line in its context, Nature created him "for a
woman" until she "fell a-doting" and-here is the significant line-"by
addition me of thee defeated"!

Let's look at this.  He was originally created a woman, but Nature fell
for him and ADDED something that defeats the speaker, "by adding one
thing to my purpose nothing"-by pricking (and yes, that is a word for
penis) him out for women's pleasure.  However this addition does NOT
remove the love, only the pleasure: "Mine be thy love"-that is, the
speaker, who clearly is male if the addition of the prick prevents his
purpose, nonetheless has the other's love.  Women get "thy love's use"
for their pleasure, but not his love itself.

Now, male loving male, speaking of how except for the fact that the
other is also male would be seeking pleasure with that male-seems to me
that meets the definition of homoerotic.  If the speaker is indeed
desiring the other's romantic love, then it also is homosexual.

>However, I cannot believe that the
>speaker of this poem is a "constructed voice" of Shakespeare the
>homosexual:

I did not say it was a constructed voice of Shakespeare the homosexual.
I questioned whether we can assert that the voice in these poems (or
indeed in any particular piece of literature) is the poet's OWN voice or
whether it may be a construct, a creation OF the poet who is as much a
character as Mercutio (who may well love Romeo in a romantic/homoerotic
way) or Antonio of MoV (who quite clearly loves Bassanio in a
romantic/homoerotic way) or Achilles of T&C (who not only loves
Patroclos in Shakespeare, but also in Homer, with a love that surpasses
the love of woman).

Whether any or all of these creations (not to mention the whole
homoerotic element of boys playing women disguising themselves as boys
and then in at least one case playing woman with the man he/she loves)
reveals Shakespeare's own sexual nature is far beyond my skills to
determine.

But certainly we can look at the sonnets as a constructed work of
fiction told in episodic poems, with a created voice who is NOT William
Shakespeare at all.  In fact, to assert that any one or group or all of
the sonnets is Shakespeare's own self speaking directly is to present
oneself as an expert biographical detective of the highest order.  I do
not claim any such distinction, believe me.

 >I seems to me that Southampton here is the homosexual, not
Shakespeare,
>especially since he had been advocating marriage for this young man in
>the earlier sonnets.

It seems to me that we all err in assuming that we KNOW that Shakespeare
the human being is speaking to Southhampton the human being in this or
any of the sonnets.  But should we assume that such is the case, then
Shakespeare is saying, in Sonnet 20, that although he cannot procreate
with Southampton, and hence Southampton should marry and recreate
himself, he nonetheless knows that Southampton loves him, even when he
is engaged sexually with women.

>I retaliate with the intended ad
>hominem slur that to the sexual mind, everything is sexual,

Why, thank  you.  I don't take it as a slur; I am glad that even at my
advanced age I still have the capacity to feel desire of the carnal as
well as the intellectual sort.

Further, I don't assert that everything is sexual, nor that everything
sexual is homosexual.  Nonetheless, not everything sexual in Shakespeare
is heterosexual.

>(I can give
>Biblical references for this one).

I'm not quite clear on what makes the Bible the authority for my ability
to
a.  discuss homoeroticism in Shakespeare
b.  feel and distinguish between the carnal and the intellectual both in
myself and in literature.

> Moreover, why did W. H. Auden
>equivocate on such an important matter (see the NYR March 23)?

And Auden, a man himself of same-sex nature, is the authority on this
subject second only to the Bible?

>Moreover, I think the whole context of Shakespeare's entire work negates
>this possibility.

Hmmm... Then you also see nowhere else in Shakespeare's work the
presence of homosocialism, homoeroticism and even homosexuality?  Those
who see none of the above read Shakespeare through a very narrow lens.

>Can you make Cymbeline or Pericles into a homosexual advance on the
>audience?  What about Troilus and Cressida?

Now you've completely lost me.  What is a "homosexual advance on the
audience"?  Including a homoerotic or even homosexual subtext, or overt
text references, is not making an advance of any sort on the audience.
It is presenting one element of human nature, an element, moreover, that
has been part of human nature since there have been humans and which
exists in a number of other species as well.

This list is not a place for discussion of one's feelings about sexual
natures, orientations, preferences, tastes, etc.

It is a place to discuss Shakespeare's works, and Shakespeare's works
contain many references to such topics.

Shakespeare's works, however, do not necessarily tell us about
Shakespeare's own real life sexual behaviors.

Marilyn A. Bonomi

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 3 Apr 2000 20:08:43 -0400
Subject:        Homoerotic Sonnets

>        And by addition me of thee defeated,
>        By adding one thing to my purpose nothing:
>        But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,
>        Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure.  ( lines
11-14)
>
>I seems to me that Southampton here is the homosexual, not Shakespeare,
especially since he had been >advocating marriage for this young man in
the
earlier sonnets.

I would like to respond as I am finally about to complete my paper on
the Sonnets.  The sentiment being expressed is one of regret, as implied
in the verb "defeated," and its object, the poet and his "purpose."  The
purpose implied is sexual conjugation, leading to the general conclusion
that the poem is homosexual.  The graphic references to genitalia
provide the homoerotic element.  The long and short of it (no pun
intended) is that without homosexual desire, there could be no regret.

That was the general view, not mine.  I tend to agree with you that
something else is going on.  As you point out, there seems something
inconsistent in enjoining a youth with whom one is supposedly in love to
go off and marry someone else to breed children who could only further
complicate an already complicated relationship.  While I think the real
meaning of the sonnets is more "deep-brained" (from Lover's Complaint)
than the Venus-like lasciviousness of an old [please insert the least
offensive term you know with which homosexuals refer to each other when
they pursue younger men], I am convinced that the poet works to suggest
that (rather unflattering) reading.

>... to the sexual mind, everything is sexual, (I can give Biblical
references for this one).

Well then.

>I thought it was common knowledge that these drawings were the subtext of
the statue of Hermione coming to life in The Winter's Tale.

Having recently written two papers on this play, too, I am embarrassed
to say that, while I read a lot about statues of Hermes, I never saw
this theory.  Do you have a handy reference?

Clifford
 

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