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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: July ::
Re: Identity of W.S.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1581  Wednesday, 3 July 2002

From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Jul 2002 16:47:22 -0600
Subject: 13.1568 Re: Identity of W.S.
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1568 Re: Identity of W.S.

Ed Taft still thinks that lines 561-68 of "A Funeral Elegy" contain
"atheistic sentiments" because they say (in Ed's paraphrase) that "Fate
denies the weak hope of the speaker to see William Peter again, after
death."

But the lines don't say that Fate denies the hope of seeing William
Peter after death; they only say, as Sean Lawrence points out, that Fate
denies (presumably for now) the full possession of what the speaker
desires (being with his friend).  That's not a statement of atheism;
it's an acknowledgment of reality--when someone dies before I do,
they're no longer here where I can enjoy their presence fully (if--as
Sean doubts--that's even possible with our living friends).

Ed Taft does not address my main concern, which is how even ambiguous
lines could be interpreted as atheistic in a poem that repeatedly and
explicitly expresses religious faith.  (I'm thinking of
references--among many others--to "the day of Judgment," to "Christ" as
the one who "Gave sweet redemption," by "off'ring up his blood / To
conquer death by death," and to "Those Saints before the everlasting
throne, / Who sit with crowns of glory on their heads.")  It would seem
that, even if the poet has any doubts about his own future state, he
clearly affirms the general scheme offered by Christianity, including
the conquest of death through Christ's death and resurrection and
postmortal judgment for all and rewards for faithful "Saints."  How much
more explicit would the poet have to get to avoid the charge of atheism?

Ed gives one further reason for thinking the poem is atheistic: its
emphasis on Peter's living on in reputation.  But to live on in "name"
does not preclude Peter's living on "in his proper self" (the poem
refers to both in exactly those words).  Shakespeare makes a similar
reference to a double "eternizing" in Sonnet 55: "So till the judgment
that yourself arise, / You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes."
Reputation is a temporary form of earthly survival for those who
continue to exist in a realm beyond our reach, but who will resume their
full existence on judgment day

 

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