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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Sonnet 20
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0707  Wednesday, 5 April 2000.

[1]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 11:49:09 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Sonnet 20

[2]     From:   Harry Hill <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 12:04:39 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

[3]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 11:25:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

[4]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 20:18:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

[5]     From:   Martin Green <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Apr 2000 09:59:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

[6]     From:   Judith Matthews Craig <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 5 Apr 2000 03:12:51 -0500
        Subj:   Sonnet 20


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 11:49:09 EDT
Subject:        Re: Sonnet 20

I, like Marilyn Bonomi, admit to being puzzled by the phrase "homosexual
advance on the audience."  I am also intrigued, since I've directed PER
and that particular coloring never occurred to me.  Is there more to
this?  Would Ms. Craig elaborate?  Is this idea somehow linked to
Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty in any way?  This is a sincere request for
elucidation, by the way.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
http://shenandoah.peachnet.edu/nctc/

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 12:04:39 EDT
Subject: 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

The sonnet that goes by the number 20 is neither homosexual not
heterosexual in their presently accepted meanings. It is instead a
formal, intricately constructed sexual poem; to categorize it venereally
in any other way surely defeats its text.

That it could be considered misogynistic in its criticism of a female
custom of wearing facial makeup and behaving in a fickle fashion cannot
be fully denied. But such talk has always been heard in bars and
locker-rooms and other places where men gather themselves. This is a
male-bonding poem, if you like. One gent is saying to another much
handsomer one, "Listen, you're a stunner, you know, as well as my friend
and helper. If you were an actual woman, my love for you would have to
expressed genitally. But nature gave you a prick instead, and that just
ain't my game. But I still say that I love you more than any woman who
uses that prick."

Shakespeare does say it with more beauty; his poem is a monument to
nonsexual male love, I can see no doubt about that. From my adolescence
on, I have often heard elements of it in Wilde's infamous speech to the
court about the love of older for younger men.  Organists with the
traditionally insatiable appetite for choirboys are not all paederasts,
nor all hockey coaches who pat bums molesters. Poets who write to boys
do not all desire them. Many years ago a celebrated Canadian poet,
editor, wiccan and critic stopped me in the parking lot of the
University of Victoria to tell me he loved me and gave me a beautiful
kiss on the forehead. He was neither homo-nor bisexual. He was an older
man in a sexless infatuation with a young actor and teacher.

Gay readings of this sonnet reduce it while many others are blinkered.

    Harry Hill
    Montreal

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 11:25:25 -0400
Subject: 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

Bruce R. Smith, "Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural
Poetics" (U. of Chicago Press 1991) p. 250: "The tone, however makes one
wonder just what the persona's 'purpose' is. Does he find other parts of
the beloved's anatomy more commodious?"

Location, location, location...

Dana

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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Date:           Tuesday, 4 Apr 2000 20:18:58 -0500
Subject: 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

Since I asked to debate Sonnet 20, I will tackle the replies of Marilyn
Bonomi and Clifford Stetner on the issue of homosexuality in Sonnet 20
as I see it.  It seems to me that a sonnet is written in context-not
providing one like a complete play.  Obviously, there is a speaker and a
situation, and I feel that it is meaningless to assume that the speaker
is not Shakespeare meditating on his love interest-probably the Earl of
Southampton.  You may want to come up with another context, but I will
just rely on countless fine minds who have decided that is probably the
situation in the Sonnets, since we have one known dedication addressed
to the Earl of Southampton, another early poem, Venus and Adonis.    My
principle authority here is S. Schoembaum, William Shakespeare:  A
Compact Documentary Life (New York:  Oxford UP, 1987).  Schoembaum
devoted his whole life to the study of the documentary evidence for
Shakespeare's life, and while he may have left out certain documents
(Katherine Duncan-Jones notes one in her introduction to the Sonnets), I
don't have the time or inclination to emulate his feat.

At any rate, Sonnet 20 seems to me to indicate Southampton's decadent
life, not Shakespeare's.  In fact, the tenor of the poem is to ascribe a
wry, sophistical argument against Southampton's promiscuity rather than
attraction toward it. The fact that Southampton is royal, privileged,
and cannot be dismissed by the older poet, inferior in social station
and in looks, leads him to flatter Southampton as a member of the court
circle with the only possible form of flattery-Southampton's
appearance.  The speaker's dislike of "false women's fashion" (line 4)
reveals his dislike of promiscuity in the only sexuality he approves
of-"woman's pleasure" (line 13).

Moreover, the lines quoted by Ms. Bonomi "Till nature as she wrought
thee fell a-doting,/And by addition me of thee defeated" (lines 10-11)
seems to say plainly that nature dotes on this man, not Shakespeare, as
a lover.  He goes to the absurd length of stating overtly that nature
added "one thing to my purpose nothing" (Southampton's penis [line 12])
and moreover, "pricked thee out for woman's pleasure" (line 13).  The
last line, "Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure" (line
140) seems to me to be a politic way of saying to a much younger man
whom the poet must entertain, flatter, and cajole to keep his position
in the court circle that he "loves" as admiration of beauty, not as a
homosexual attraction.

Gary Schmidgall in Shakespeare and the Poet's Life (Lexington, Ky:  UP
of Kentucky, 1990), delineates the "concerns" (174) necessary for
"courtly thriving" (174) , timeserving, waiting, anxiety, dissembling,
etc. necessary for a man of " 'public means' " and an aristocrat (173)
in an atmosphere of "corrpution and, more important, self-corruption to
which the ambitious were invited by the sheer effort of competition"
(170).  Spenser left this world in disgust and Schmidgall (with whom I
agree) sees Sonnets 124 and 125 as "farewells to the 'ruffle' of court
life" (173).  Schoenbaum notes that the tone of the dedication to the
Earl of Southampton of Venus and Adonis is one not of "servile"
self-deprecation but that it contains an "undertow of confidence" which
argues "no great intimacy" (173).  Southampton would have been nineteen
at the time of this dedication and Shakespeare almost twenty-nine.

In short, my argument is that a case can be made for a courtly,
sophisticated tone of flattery of the only quality he could safely
"paint"-the young man's beauty, as necessarily adopted to succeed in a
brutal world rather than a real sexual attraction.  The difference in
social situation and worldly comforts would be tremendous-leading to
attraction in itself.  If one were a sensitive poet holding horses for a
living, anything not smelling of manure would look good.  The "love"
mentioned in line 14 of Sonnet 20 is the same amorphous "love" of Sonnet
124:

        If my dear love were but the child of state
        It might, for fortune's bastard, be unfathered,
        As subject to time's love or to time's hate,
        Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.
        No, it was builded far from accident;
        It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
        Under the blow of thralled discontent,
        Whereto th'inviting time our fashion calls:
        It fears not policy, that heretic,
        Which works on leases of short-numbered hours,
        But all alone stands hugely politic,
        That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers,
                To this I witness call the fools of time,
                Which die for goodness which have lived for crime.

"Fashion" (line 8) has the same unstable ring as it has in Sonnet 20,
contrasting the nature of the poet's love that neither "grows with heat,
nor drowns with showers" (line 12) nor fears intrigue ("policy, that
heretic" [line 9]) with a sense of the eternal and dislike of "crime"
[line 14].  I cannot believe that a poet, who calls others who "witness"
(line 13) the nature of his love "fools of time,/Which die for goodness,
who have lived for crime" [lines 13-14], is caught up in a homosexual
attraction.  A better argument would be that he is writing his way out
of a shifty, compromising situation with all the flattery and easy grace
an older man might muster for a younger man whose promiscuity he
dislikes and who is his social superior.   In a "make or break it"
world, sweet flattery can lead to one's undoing-a constant theme in the
plays and one that I just saw last weekend in the potentially homosexual
world of Richard II.  I think the evidence of Shakespeare's entire
corpus-and the Sonnets is in the direction of manliness and growth
rather than in sultry dissolute attraction for known sexual "crime."

Judy Craig

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 Apr 2000 09:59:30 -0400
Subject: 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0696 Re: Sonnet 20

Sonnet 20 is the subject of a chapter in my "Labyrinth of Shakespeare's
Sonnets" published in 1974. The premise of the book is that in the
Sonnets, Shakespeare expresses in puns many things that would be
indelicate (or perhaps dangerous) to state directly. Chief among these
is the expression of the physical love of the poet for a youth.  Sonnet
20 is full of such puns, culminating in the observation that "[nature]
prickt thee out for womens pleasure" which can also be read as "[nature]
prickt thee out for we men's pleasure," the "women/we men" pun being not
uncommon in Elizabethan times. Read the book! (Long out of print.)

Martin Green

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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Date:           Wednesday, 5 Apr 2000 03:12:51 -0500
Subject:        Sonnet 20

I just wanted to add another thought to my post about Marilyn and
Clifford's argument for Shakespeare's homosexuality based on Sonnet
20--I woke up a 2 am to put this reading of lines 11-12 in the mill.

Lines 11-12 read:

        And by addition me of thee defeated,
        By adding one thing to my purpose nothing:

We went on to gloss the "one thing" as Southampton's genitals. However,
another reading my be superimposed.  Nature, who "wrought thee" and
"fell a-doting" (line 10), is the subject of these lines in that
reading.  But the dense wording of lines 11-12 could also support the
reading of Southampton being the homosexual coming on to Shakespeare as
an unwelcome lover.  "[M]e" or Shakespeare defeated the homosexual
purposes of the young Southampton by nature's addition of the penis
which to Shakespeare's purpose was "nothing"; in other words, the
purpose of the young man was homosexual in intent which made
Shakespeare's purpose, "my purpose" "nothing."

Schoenbaum suggests this reading by calling the speaker of Sonnet 20 the
"heterosexual celebrant" (A Compact Documentary Life, 179)--a
characterization that would have been unnecessary if there had been no
undertone of unwanted homoerotic love.  On page 270, Schoenbaum notes
that
Oscar Wilde, another homosexual, "resuscitated [W.] Hughes for his
sublimated homo-erotic fantasy The Portrait of Mr. W. H." by isolating a
clue in Sonnet 20: "A man in hue all hues in his controlling."  This
reference in Sonnet 20 is surely to the young man and gives the
homosexual
aura to him and not to the speaker or Shakespeare.  Moreover, the
dedication of Venus and Adonis to the young earl contains the explicit
"title-page motto . . . 'Vilia miretur bulgus: mihi flavus Apollo/Pocula
Castalia plena ministret  aqua.' 'Let base conceited wits admire vile
things;/Fair Phoebus lead me to the Muses' springs' " (174).  The theme
of this early work, a young man who refuses to be seduced by a goddess,
might confirm Shakespeare's refusal to be seduced by the charms of
higher beings (at least on the social scale) as well as the theme of the
other work dedicated to the earl, The Rape of Lucrece (Schoenbaum,
177).  This work counterpunctually treats "the subject of Eros gratified
through the successful violation of a sober matron" (177).  Assuming
that the Sonnets were written during this time period, the seduction
themes are "oddly contrasting" (177):  a young man refusing seduction by
a goddess and and a virtuous wife killing herself over rape.  Hardly a
homosexual theme.

I am not an Auden scholar and have asked this list before what to make
of the NYR article on Shakespeare and Auden (March 23, 2000) in which
James Fenton wonders why Auden never came to publicly acknowledge
Shakespeare as a homosexual.  Katherine Duncan-Jones takes up this
question in her introduction to the Sonnets; however, she comes up with
a different reading than mine on Shakespeare's sexuality by resurrecting
a document that Schoenbaum makes no mention of and which dates the
majority of them later than the above reading would indicate.  I am in
the process of working out a rebuttal of that argument because I think
she is wrong and that there is evidence to prove it.

If anyone knows of other sources for this debate-I am far from a
library-I would welcome them, since I am adhering to the readings of
older scholars against the newer one of Katherine Duncan-Jones.

Judy Craig

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