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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Sonnet 116
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0398  Monday, 11 February 2002

[1]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Thursday, 10 Feb 2002 19:19:29 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 08 Feb 2002 13:07:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116

[3]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Feb 2002 18:07:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Thursday, 10 Feb 2002 19:19:29 -0800
Subject: 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116

Kerrigan calls this a "much misread sonnet" and I agree.  It is full of
bewildering irony.  It also uses allusion to the Elizabethan Common
Prayer Book, seaman's experience, legal-ese and even accounting - "...
worth's unknown ..."(8).  It also shows one of Shakespeare's great
themes which was doubt of faith.  Hamlet is driven mad by it.  But
almost the whole poem is a wonderful, strident affirmation of the power,
strength and triumph of love until the last word of the 12th line.  "...
until the edge of *doom*".  He seems to be saying that the final state
of all human souls is perhaps not "judgement day" but possibly dark
oblivion; that we are all doomed.  But then judgement day was called
"doomsday - as in "The Doomsday Book", but it's still an ambiguous word
to use.  But an underlying theme says more than the obvious - which is
why it is so often misread.  Love is described as something unyielding
time and time again as if Shakespeare was wishing it to be impervious to
doubt - no impediments (2) love does not alter (3) or bend (4) ever
fixed (5) never shakes (6) the star [unmoving pole star] (7) not time's
fool [forever young] (9) love alters not (11).

But the final two lines are a heartbreaking shift in tone - a painful
acknowledgement of his doubt of faith.  As in Richard III's treatment of
Hastings, *if* is a very powerful and dreadful word.  And here it is
again threatening Shakespeare's own state of mind.  He might be saying,
"Perhaps the above 12 lines are total nonsense - if so, everything I
wrote was nonsense - the love I had (and everyone else's) merely animal
lust set up by nature to procreate the specie."

SAM SMALL

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 08 Feb 2002 13:07:06 -0500
Subject: 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116

I don't pretend to have the definitive answer to this conundrum, but it
might be helpful to examine the poem as an exercise in logic:

The quatrains develop a thesis: Love is immutable.  In the couplet WS
tests the thesis with a null hypothesis -- i.e., if my thesis is wrong
(that is, if love is mutable) then it must follow that:

            (1) I never wrote anything, and

            (2) (a) No one ever loved anyone, or
                  (b) I never loved anyone, or
                  (c) I never loved a man.

Now, the first test -- WS "never writ" -- is not only an absurdity it is
a non sequitur, unless I am blind to a connection between the existence
of WS's literary output and the alleged immutability of love.  Does this
suggest that the second part of the test is equally ridiculous, and the
author was telling us that the question of whether he or anyone else
ever loved has no relationship to whether or not love is immutable?
However, if we assume the connection, then the null hypothesis is
disproved and the thesis confirmed -- since WS patently did write, love
must be immutable.

The second test can be considered as a tautology.  If love is not
perpetually the same, then no one ever loved anyone because I have
defined love as being immutable, and since it is mutable then the
definition can't be satisfied.  (The same is true for meaning 2(b): WS
can't have loved anyone for the same reason.)

But what about test 2(c)?  If love is changeable (which it clearly is
for most people), WS never loved a man.  Is the opposite also true?  If
love is unchanging was WS homosexual?

As I said, I don't have the answer.

By the way, I agree that "error," "prov'd" and "writ" are legal
allusions (not necessarily equitable).  The pertinence here escapes me.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Feb 2002 18:07:43 -0500
Subject: 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0382 Re: Sonnet 116

Clifford Stetner asked, regarding Sonnet 116,

> Is the question whether "no man" is subject or object? If so I would
> read the ambiguity as ambiguous.

There is no way that 'no man' could be an object in this sentence; it's
the subject of the second main clause: " ..., nor no man ever loved." In
fact, there is NO object in this clause, 'loved' being used as an
intransitive verb, here. As I asked earlier: Where is the ambiguity if
not in the use of 'writ' (abbreviation of 'written') as a past tense
verb rather than its normal use as a past participle?

Paul E. Doniger

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