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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: June ::
Re: Sonnet 144
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1507  Tuesday, 11 June 2002

[1]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jun 2002 04:58:10 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1503 Re: Sonnet 144

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jun 2002 13:26:32 -0400
        Subj:   Sonnet 144

[3]     From:   Ira Zinman <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jun 2002 21:34:11 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1503 Re: Sonnet 144


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jun 2002 04:58:10 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1503 Re: Sonnet 144
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1503 Re: Sonnet 144

Mari Bonami asked (and was echoed by Martin Green and Abigail Quart),

> How can we be sure the order/numbering of the
> sonnets as we receive them
> from editors is an order Shakespeare himself
> created?

Well, the short answer is that we *can't* be sure.  This is one of the
ongoing, vexed issues of sonnet criticism (and editing).  For anyone who
is interested in a quick survey of the two poles of the debate, I'd
recommend Heather Dubrow's essay, "'Uncertainties now crown themselves
assur'd': The Politics of Plotting Shakespeare's Sonnets" (*Shakespeare
Quarterly* 47.3 [Fall 1996], pp. 291-305), for reasons to doubt the
received order.  On the other side, Katherine Duncan-Jones argues for
accepting the received 1609 Q order in her introductory essay to her
Arden 3 edition (1997, pp. 1-105).  I tend to find Duncan-Jones'
arguments persuasive, but there are valid, albeit contradictory, points
made on both sides.

Martin Green's comments on the tropes involving flowers, scents, smells,
etc., reminded me of a recent, and extremely interesting volume I am now
reading: Richard Halpern's *Shakespeare's Perfume: Sodomy and Sublimity
in the Sonnets, Wilde, Freud and Lacan* (Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania P,
2002).  I would encourage anyone interested in the issues raised by this
thread to take a look at it.

Karen E. Peterson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jun 2002 13:26:32 -0400
Subject:        Sonnet 144

Mari Bonomi and Abigail Quart are surely right that there's no absolute
proof that the order of the poems as Thorpe printed them is the order
Shakespeare wanted. Moreover, the triangle involving the Dark Lady, the
speaker, and the young man may be described as early as sonnets 40-42,
which means that even if the order is right, Shakespeare skips from one
event to another and violates strict chronology, if only briefly.

But the Dark Lady sonnets form a group that seems to tell a coherent
story, and seems predicated on the reader's prior knowledge of the
relationship between the fair young man and the speaker. That
Shakespeare might hint at this story earlier (40-42, 99) doesn't mean
that these three sonnets were written at the same time as 144 or that 99
and 144 are identical.

Sam Small observes of the fair young man that

" Although the boy is now profligate, he is still seen as an angel, the
'stinking lilies' being a warning rather than a description of his
present state."

OK. Or maybe the moral character of the fair young man is a fact that
the speaker doesn't want to face, especially since the speaker himself
is off his high horse now and feels, at the least, that he is engaged in
an unsavory liaison?

Though Martin Green does not agree, I still feel that the case for
psychomachia is a strong one:

"Two loves I have of comfort and despair. . . ."

What if this line refers to the speaker's desire for the fair young man
and the dark lady, respectively?  If so, the poem is about the
"corruption" of "pure" desire by "impure" desire. The pure desire is for
the young man, but the speaker is being won over by his own hellish
desire for the dark lady.

The question of misogyny is an important one, and I don't mean to
minimize it, but the case can be made that the focus is really on (1)
anatomizing the speaker's desire as it is changing from one object to
another, and (2) on the socially constructed feelings that would
necessarily accompany this change in this time period.

The real question, for me at least, is whether or not the speaker's
feelings and attitudes are being critiqued and found wanting. He does,
after all, end up hopelessly looking for "cure," which suggests that
he's gotten himself into one hell of a mess.

--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Zinman <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jun 2002 21:34:11 EDT
Subject: 13.1503 Re: Sonnet 144
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1503 Re: Sonnet 144

What is so great about Shakespeare in the Sonnets and elsewhere is that
there is room for a variety of interpretations.  If we think of the Bard
as speaking on the literal or plain level, it is appropriate to talk
about his relationship with the youth, poet, dark lady etc.

But when we are looking for the levels of allegory or  the esoteric, the
words have to be looked at differently.  A dark lady is not a woman
"colour'd ill" but become the symbol for something else.. something
dark, and not necessarily feminine at all.  In 144, the nature of
"pride" as that which is the "dark" side of the human nature, or ego was
clearly evident in literature and scripture long before as well as
contemporaneous to Shakespeare.

There is room for the literal and the deeper side.  When looking at the
deeper interpretations, the "order" of the sonnets fit coherently, I
have found.

I appreciate all of the comments I have read.

Ira Zinman

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