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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: The Sonnets
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0810  Monday, 17 April 2000.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Apr 2000 08:36:37 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

[2]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Apr 2000 08:36:37 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

[3]     From:   Douglas Chapman <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Apr 2000 11:46:47 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0765 Re: Sonnet 20

[4]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Thu, 13 Apr 2000 20:25:53 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

[5]     From:   Jocelyn Emerson <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Apr 2000 21:34:15 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

[6]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 15 Apr 2000 17:31:28 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0707 Re: Sonnet 20

[7]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 15 Apr 2000 17:41:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Apr 2000 08:36:37 -0700
Subject: Re: The Sonnets
Comment:        SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

Oh Ed, really,

>Sean Lawrence's response to Douglas Chapman's post is
>defensive and uncharitable.

Douglas Chapman's attack against scholars was snide and uncharitable.
By concentrating on  problems, he dismissed all the good work done by
Sean, yourself, and others.  At worst, it was mean and arrogant.  At
best, it was ignorant of your good work.  Sean's reply used almost
Parliamentary courtesy given the provocation, and is to be commended.

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Chapman <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Apr 2000 11:40:47 EDT
Subject: 11.0780 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0780 Re: Sonnet 20

Sean Lawrence writes:

>>But it's a shame when that line becomes reality for you.
>
>Actually, I'd say that it's authenticity.  It's when all lines become
>equal that the true risk of theory makes itself manifest in cynicism.
>Or when "towing the line" becomes only towing the line, not actually
>challenging oneself and questioning one's ideas.

Point taken. I agree. I meant that towing the line is the problem. See
below.

>Well, I guess that makes you a materialist, at least in the normal,
>broad, definition of the word.  But before you go about complaining how
>much contemporary criticism distorts the work, you might want to look at
>all you're leaving out in reducing Shakespeare to just another
>contestant on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

The point was that not I, necessarily, but Shak. was the materialist,
who evidently cared very little for academia. Smart man.

Where did the Millionaire comment come from? I did no such thing. In
fact, I intended to point out that Shak. was NOT merely some
ivory-towered intellectual. Otherwise he would have pursued a career at
Oxford or Cambridge or teaching rich kids; he was famous enough. I
intended no implication that that was all Shak. was about. In fact as we
know, he was involved in the middle of all that life could offer someone
(not of royalty) in Renaissance Britain. He took life by the wholesale
yard. He may have known "little Latin and less Greek" but he knew life.

>Shucks.  If teaching and thinking are antithetical concepts, I guess
>that we have nothing to learn from Socrates, the pre-Socrates, Plato,
>Aristotle, etc., who all taught, or from the scholastics, who held posts
>in medieval universities.

Interesting you had to go back to ancients like Socrates and
"modernists" from medieval universities for examples of authentic
teachers. My point is that if most of today's teachers were to teach
like Socrates, he/she would probably meet the same fate from angry
protective parents and deans. It takes the bravery of Socrates to teach
thought not filtered through acceptable values in any given institution.
Few exhibit such fortitude. That is a fact, not a complaint. Such
self-imposed censorship is why I left teaching. I applaud those who
remain to do what they can.

>Time to start over, I guess, with learning remaining occult and
>unshared. Or perhaps fall back on Newt Gingrich, who couldn't cut it in
>academia.

Strating over from scratch is about what the education world needs. It
is not about to happen. And if it did, in today's anti-intellectual
climate, it would undoubtedly be worse, not better. (Can you tell I
think much of Dr.  Botstein?)

That Gingrich couldn't cut it in academia may be a plus for him, it may
not.  What is disturbing is the implied snobbery that academia is a goal
and an arrival. It is not life itself. Isn't an academy for training,
not self-aggrandizment?

But I always to look forward to Mr. Lawrence's "Cheers":

With a bow to those who can navigate through academia,
Douglas

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Chapman <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Apr 2000 11:46:47 EDT
Subject: 11.0765 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0765 Re: Sonnet 20

Judith Matthews Craig writes:

>In the interests of "unprotecting Shakespeare" I would like to see an
>argument advanced rather than an ad hominem attack.  Some of us
>"prickless" pricks thought that the "universality of Shakespeare" meant
>that he was more interested in the impact of time on people and events
>or perhaps the value of universal ideas as they applied to the universal
>human condition as depicted in poetry rather than in the depiction of a
>mindless blob of gutter sexuality common to any bestial human willing to
>indulge it.

It seems odd that in merely pointing out a couple of things, a member
feels that she is being attacked. Since I know only 3 of you by name or
reputation, I certainly intended no attacks: personal, ad hominem or
otherwise.

If by "attack" she means that she doesn't like the material as presented
one bit, I must plead guilty. Again, it was not so intended.

The notion that <<depiction of a mindless blob of gutter sexuality
common to any bestial human willing to indulge it. >> is what sexuality
in Shak. is all about is very sad. Sex is not vile nor pornographic:
only in several Victorian minds. Very nice, decent people can and do
discuss sex. If any find that "of the gutter" I honestly must feel
sorrow for the denial of so much in life and in our subject as well.
Life and art and Shak. in particular are much enriched by sex.

<<"Universality is...rather than...">>

"Rather than" is another way of saying "not" or "leave this bit out" or
"exclude." Pardon me for trying to use words in their proper meaning,
but how can an intelligent person try to make "universal" conform to
"well, after we exclude this part"?

I don't understand Craig's use of "'prickless' pricks." Is it an
allusion to being female? Then it's obvious and has no bearing
whatsoever on a statement that Shak. was referring to a boy's sexual
equipment. Shak. was not excluding her by some evil plan. It was the
subject of the moment. In addition to developing great female
characters, Shak. understood all types of men, too. Th at was all I was
saying.

If she meant something different it eludes me.

I guess I was just trying to point out that over-attention to minutiae
can lead into fog. That is not to minimize the importance of small
details - often very important indeed. That was my argument. If I was
unclear I apologize.

"he was more interested in the impact of time on people and events or
perhaps the value of universal ideas as they applied to the universal
human condition as depicted in poetry."

Whatever would Pence or Fowler say about such a convoluted sentence?
Punctuate!?

Douglas

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Thu, 13 Apr 2000 20:25:53 +0100
Subject: 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

> From:           Marilyn Bonomi <
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> A brief query regarding the SEQUENCE of the sonnets:  Do we know w/ any
> certainty that the order is Shakespeare's own arrangement rather than
> the decisions of an editor after the fact?

John Kerrigan makes a strong and well-argued case for the integrity of
the sequence and the reliability of Thorpe as a printer in his Penguin
edition of the Sonnets.  And Thorpe's edition was what readers were
presented with in 1609, without foresight of later attempts to
disintegrate the sequence.

> From:           Judith Matthews Craig <
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>I agree, Robin, that Sonnet 18 could be read as addressed to a woman,
>but in the context of the "poems addressed to the young man, advising
>him to marry" which has been the traditional reading of the beginning
>sonnets (1-126), Sonnet 18 fits the model that I outlined in earlier
>emails-that the speaker of the sonnet is praising the youth for his
>beauty which in the context of highly competitive court life would be a
>"safe" thing to do.

The sonnets encouraging the Young Man to marry (the so-called Horatory
Sonnets) comprise only 1-17 of the first 126 sonnets. At that point
(with 18) the tone and theme changes abruptly.  For the first time, the
addressee of the poems +isn't+ encouraged to marry and beget children.
This allows the reader to take 18 as addressed to a woman (as it still
is often read, as anyone who has taught the sonnets can testify, when
taken out of the context of the sequence).

The first part of 19 allows this misconception to continue, while 20
returns us fully to the Young Man, but in a tone and context quite
distinct from 1-17.

What I'm suggesting is that (among other things) Shakespeare is
exploiting his audience's expectations of the conventional relations
between the men and women, and in the course of 18-20 subverting this.
The remainder of the sequence should be read in this context.  Whatever
else Shakespeare's sequence is, it +isn't+ a conventional deployment of
male admiration for a woman (as we find in Sidney, Greville, Daniel,
Drayton, Spenser-I could go on).

Robin Hamilton

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jocelyn Emerson <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Apr 2000 21:34:15 -0600
Subject: 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

Just a quick response to Marilyn's query; Katherine Duncan-Jones has
excellent essays arguing for the authorial sequencing of the 1609 Thorpe
Quarto, and that we should really refer to the sequence as SHAKE-SPEARES
SONNETS since that's the quarto's title. She bases her arguments on the
fact that Thorpe was Jonson's editor, the threatres were closed because
of the plague so S. would need some bank right about then, etc. (It's
been a very long time since i've read these articles, & I do them real
disservice here--) They're great pieces. She also draws on them for her
Arden intro.  (or the other way around-I don't have the latter in front
of me.) Here's the cites: (critical opionion) "What Are Shakespeare's
sonnets called?" Essays in Criticism, Jan. 1997, vol. XLVII, no. 1; not
exactly on point, but related is another critical opinion "Filling the
Unforgiving Minute: Modernizing SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS (1609) in Essays
in Criticism, July 1995, Vol. XLV, no. 3; finally, directly on the
money-"Was the 1609 SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS really Unauthorized?" in The
Review of English Studies, ed. R.E. Alton, Clarendon Press, 1983:
151-171. There may well be more recent pieces, but I hope this will help
some.-JE

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 15 Apr 2000 17:31:28 -0400
Subject: 11.0707 Re: Sonnet 20
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0707 Re: Sonnet 20

warning: lengthy post ahead

Robin Hamilton:

>18, "Shall I compare thee ..." For the initial readers, leafing through the
>Thorpe Quarto for the first
>time, a possible reaction would be that at last, here we a have a poem
>addressed to a woman.  Sonnet 19, >"Devouring time ...", seems to carry this
>on  -- till suddenly in line 11 we have the disconcerting and
> revealing "him".
>Sonnet 20 could be considered as the concluding, if not necessarily
>conclusive, moment of this part of the >sequence.

It could also be a transition from the master sonnets to the mistress
sonnets.  It is also possible that master and mistress represent two
aspects of the same persona (isn't this what the term master/mistress
means?)  I think it's not so clever to figure out that sometimes a prick
is just a prick, but if it isn't in this case, the sonnet could be
addressed to a lover of either sex.  And thus continues the gender
confusion which is a central theme of the cycle.

Judith Craig:

<snip> It seems to me that a sonnet is written in context-not
>providing one like a complete play.

Even if this were true, it neglects the context of the complete cycle,
which, in Shakespeare's case is not, as is often held, the afterthought
of editors, but is marked off by conventional devices as following a
long tradition of sonnet cycles dating back 300 years to Dante and
Petrarch (which tradition serves as another context in which the poems
should be read).

>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.

"Obviously" there are neither.  Just a bunch of words on a page.  The
"speaker" is a character, provided by the reader's imagination on the
basis of presuppositions (see, language ain't the only one) and
syntactical constructions.  If you claim that a poet can not write in
someone (real or invented) else's voice, I differ, as I have done it
myself, and it's not that hard.

At best, we can say that Shakespeare is meditating on the love interest
of the "speaker" he has constructed by implication.  Whether that
speaker is voicing the poet's own sincere personal sentiments regarding
his own "self" (one of those words that is over represented in the
sonnets) remains to be demonstrated.  Reading these poems is like
hearing one side of a telephone conversation: the reader is inevitably
drawn into a study of who is speaking, to whom, about what, on what
occasion, etc.  After 300 years of sonnets, the poets could anticipate
such reader responses and nothing prevented them from manipulating them.

>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,

You could only do so by ignoring the "countless" fine minds who say it
probably isn't.

>since we have one known dedication addressed
>to the Earl of Southampton, another early poem, Venus and Adonis.

This would lead us to the hypothesis, but it hardly serves as proof.
Are we then to read all the poems as dedicated to him?

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, <snip>

And so was keenly interested in identifying the historical personages
hidden behind the poetry.  But he never argues that there must always be
such, and a study of the tradition of the genre reveals that for other
poets there often seems not to be, and so it still remains to be
demonstrated that there is an historical rather than a fictional love
affair being depicted.  I doubt the possibility of such a
demonstration.  Furthermore, if I should write two sonnets addressed to
'lord of my love' on two different days, I may bloody well have switched
lords in the intervening devouring time.

>At any rate, Sonnet 20 seems to me to indicate Southampton's decadent
>life, not Shakespeare's.

This is an interesting theory, but let me ask you.  Do you always take
one person's side of a disagreement without ever hearing the other
side?  Haven't you noticed that, in matters of love, very few people
have the power to be objective?  People's feelings get hurt; they
exaggerate their wrongs; they misconstrue people's intentions.  How can
you be so sure that Shakespeare, spurned, didn't set out vindictively to
besmirch the kid?  Wouldn't it be unfair to the memory of the good Earl
simply to take the poet at his word without hearing the poor boy's side
of things?

> In fact, the tenor of the poem is to ascribe a
>wry, sophistical argument against Southampton's promiscuity rather than
>attraction toward it.

Let's be fair: against some unnamed person's promiscuity (in theory, not
fact).

>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).

So when he says your face is pretty like a girl, but your heart is not
false like one, he is really shaming him for being false?  Then you
agree that the words need not be taken at face value.  It's possible to
say one thing and mean another depending on the "context?"  In that
case, Southampton, reading the sonnet would recognize the irony in the
praise of his true heart.  The meaning of the text would slip and shift
between approval and disapproval depending on who was reading and what
knowledge they brought to the reading.

>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.

It says only that nature's selfishness has prevented them from being
lovers.  He does not specify whether it is social sanction or desire
that the addition has removed.   By not specifying, ever, he leaves open
the possibility that it is the former.  Why do so if he is so intent on
dissuading the Earl's homosexual advances?

>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.

Again, a good way to defuse a homosexual's interest in you is with a lot
of veiled references to his penis.

>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.

I agree that the relationship with Southampton-whatever it may have
been-can not be concluded to be anything more than a conventional
aristocratic patronage.  I only need a fictional homosexuality to
explicate the sonnets completely so I disagree that either poet or
patron's desire is demonstrably present.

>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.

I agree that this case can be made.  But making cases and making
assertions are two different things.  One implies possible readings that
the text supports, and I agree that these are multiple, the other
implies one explanation for the narrative progression of the poetry as
an autobiography (accurate and unbiased) consisting of events in the
poet's love life (around one individual).  Suppose there were other
explanations for the presence of this narrative as one of a number of
superimposed narratives involving the same gender and sexual identity
issues that appear in the plays in a discourse involving the nature of
love in all its metaphysical implications.  Perhaps the inevitable drive
to identify the personae on either end of the telephone is being
manipulated here to force us into confrontation with the deepest truths
of our own identities.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 15 Apr 2000 17:41:41 -0400
Subject: 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0794 Re: The Sonnets

>Marilyn Bonomi:
>Do we know w/ any certainty that the order is Shakespeare's own arrangement
>rather than
>the decisions of an editor after the fact?

Many, many editors.

The poems imply their own sequential order to a large extent (although
there is room for disagreement regarding a few).  The large division
into three distinct movements generally acknowledged seems intentional
(although, as Robin Hamilton suggests, the borderlines may be blurry).

Clifford
 

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