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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Sonnet 116
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0365  Thursday, 7 February 2002

[1]     From:   Chris Stroffolino Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Feb 2002 11:09:59 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 94

[2]     From:   Roger D. Gross <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002 14:17:40 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Feb 2002 17:39:30 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

[4]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002 16:38:20 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

[5]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002 20:42:55 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino Stroffolino <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Feb 2002 11:09:59 -0800
Subject: 13.0355 Sonnet 94
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 94

> Has anybody here in those list seen that new book by the British poet and
> critic J. H. Prynne in which he talks about Sonnet #94....

It's a 100 page book length close-reading and/or divagation on the
sonnet; quite engaging.....Curious if anybody has any thoughts on it?

    Thanks, Chris Stroffolino

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger D. Gross <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002 14:17:40 -0600
Subject: 13.0355 Sonnet 116
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

> How do fellow SHAKSPERians interpret the grammatical structure of the
> final line of Sonnet 116? KDJ is silent on the ambiguity,

Please help me.  I don't understand what problem you see here.  It seems
perfectly straight forward.  (I know, that proves I'm hopelessly
enslaved to tradition, to the point of blindness.)

I have performed this sonnet a few hundred times for a wide variety of
audiences.  It is one of their favorites, partly because it is so clear.

What ambiguity do you see in the syntax?  To me it seems simpler than
most.

What causes makes you feel that you must cast aside the evident meaning
and look for something veiled?  (I know, "evident meaning" is a myth.
Actually, in my book I call it "the fallacy of  meaning on the face.")

Sincerely, I would like to be educated on this.

Roger Gross
U. of Arkansas

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Feb 2002 17:39:30 -0500
Subject: 13.0355 Sonnet 116
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

>I don't have
>Booth to hand but no doubt someone will e-ticipate me.

writes Alex Went.

And, yes, Booth indeed has a long general note (387-392) on the sonnet,
which I will not attempt to summarize here. He does, however, notice the
homosexual innuendo in the sonnet. Helen Vendler (488-493) has a short
essay on 116. She comments on the couplet on page 491: "The couplet . .
.  is at once a legal challenge in equity and a last refutation . . . of
the position [sic!] of the young man. . . . The poem entertains, in the
couplet, the deconstructive notion of its own self-dissolution; the
impossibility of error is proved by the contrary-to-fact hypothesis, I
never writ."

And neither Booth or Vendler seems to dwell on the ambiguity of line 14,
which can mean "I never wrote, nor ever loved a man," or "I never wrote,
nor has any man ever loved." I don't see anyway of resolving the
ambiguity, and I suppose it is one more example of Shakespeare's fatal
Cleopatra.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002 16:38:20 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0355 Sonnet 116
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

> How do fellow SHAKSPERians interpret the grammatical
> structure of the
> final line of Sonnet 116?

I take it you mean line 14, and not the entire couplet?

Booth mentions line 14 only in passing, but he does say quite a lot
about line 13, and about Sonnet 116 as a whole (the commentary on 116
runs from p. 384 to p.  392 in my paperback Yale University edition,
1977).

On line 13, he writes of the "constructive vagueness of Shakespeare's
use of "this" and demonstratives in general throughout the sequence.
This would seem to lean toward the "universal" sense.  He notes, quoting
Tucker, that "error" is a legal term: "Since the commonest use of this
legal sense is in the phrase "writ of error" (a legal order for the
reexamination of a case in which a judge is thought or known to have
made or allowed an error in the proceedings), there is incidental and
logically gratuitous wit in the juxtaposition of *error* with the verb
*writ* -- the past tense of "to write" -- in line 14" (386-387).

Going to the problem of a particular subject vs.  "universality", this
might be of interest.  Booth writes of the entire sonnet, "None of that
is at all complicated until it is explained.  The lines do not demand
any explanation; they are immediately clear, but they derive much of
their power from being both simple and straightforward and
simultaneously so complexly wondrous that beholder and beheld are
indistinguishable from one another in a  statement that makes their
ordinary relationship perfectly clear" (389).

So, Booth *seems* to be implying in his comment on "beholder and beheld"
that subject and object, particular and universal, are perhaps meant to
be intermingled and ambiguous.

Another, not perhaps related note: I always find it interesting, when
trying to puzzle out a particular sonnet problem, to look at the sonnets
preceding and following.  Curiously, 116, which is manifestly about the
unchangingness and "ever-fixedness" of love, is preceded by 115 which is
about the impossibility of love EVER being constant because it is, at
least in the poet-persona's voice, always growing: "Love is a babe".
117 picks up immediately with an echo of the legal language of 116:
"Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all / Wherein I should your great
deserts repay".  Which is followed by language which, in contrast to the
(legal?) confidence of 116, invokes images of violating bonds, being
"transported" away from the beloved's sight (117:8) in penalty for
"errors" (117:9 -- the same errors denied in 116?), and in the couplet a
final "appeal" that the beloved not "shoot" at the poet, since his
"errors" occurred as he "did strive to prove / The constancy and virtue
of your love" (13-14).  The last, indeed, sounds like an after-the-fact
defense of the (supposedly) universal assertions made in 116, but this
time brought down to the particularity of the poet's subjectivity.

Cheers,
Karen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Feb 2002 20:42:55 -0500
Subject: Sonnet 116
Comment:        SHK 13.0355 Sonnet 116

I'm not sure, not having seen the Arden III or Kerrigan's introduction,
what ambiguity you are referring to. The only thing I find unusual in
this sentence is the use of 'writ' instead of 'wrote' (past participle
for simple past tense). The 'this' in the "if-clause" is clearly a
reference to all the speaker's comments on love and time.

Abbott doesn't seem to mention the use of 'writ' for 'wrote' anywhere
that I can find, either in his sections on participles or his sections
on subjunctives. Frankly, it never bothered me before; the sentence
seems quite clear grammatically, otherwise (by the way it's the last TWO
lines that make up the whole sentence).

Paul E. Doniger

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