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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: June ::
Re: Sonnet 144
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1512  Wednesday, 12 June 2002

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jun 2002 13:18:46 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1507 Re: Sonnet 144

[2]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Jun 2002 01:04:21 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1507 Re: Sonnet 144


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jun 2002 13:18:46 -0400
Subject: 13.1507 Re: Sonnet 144
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1507 Re: Sonnet 144

Regardless of the order of composition, if the sonnets were originally
circulated among Shakespeare's private friends, they may have been read
in any order by any number of people before the publication of the
quarto.  Some may have been read by many people while others may not
have been read at all. We can compare this hypothetical scenario (which
I'm not sure I accept) to a t.v. series like Friends that goes into
reruns. One night I find Monica playing house with Tom Selleck and the
next she is discussing marriage with Chandler. I infer a narrative
progression of some kind, but the episodes not being numbered, I have to
use clues from the dialogue and the appearance of the characters to
figure out which episode came first and what kind of plot elements must
intervene. The more episodes I watch the more the metanarrative comes
into relief which in turn nuances the reading of each new episode.

I agree that the problem with the concept of psychomachia is that it
tends to evoke an anachronistic psychoanalysis of the modern
self-contained subject in respect to a premodern genre.  For us,
conflicting drives that construct individual ego psychology are purely
internal. Rather than the morality play good and bad angels, the French
Platonists of the Pleiade would have referred to the higher and lower
Venus, principles that do not reside in the individual psychology but
are functions of the metaphysical structures by which the individual
soul connects to the World Soul. Not I but we and the World have two
loves. It may be that Shakespeare's cycle puts an end to the genre by
expressing the deconstruction of the Platonist metaphysics through which
the premodern world view was passing into the modern.

Sonnet 144 is incongruous in respect to the metanarrative of the cycle
in that it gives us the author's voice addressing the audience directly
(or perhaps musing to himself) rather than the poetic voice addressing
one of the characters of the plot. It seems to act as a sort of synopsis
rather than an episode. It therefore does not express a chronological
point in the diachronic narrative but resumes the metanarrative itself
as a complete synchronic situation. As such it tends to argue against
the reading of the sonnets as individual spontaneous responses to the
poet's immediate personal relationships and in favor of the cycle as a
thematically coherent text whose characters represent metaphysical
principles rather than real people.

Clifford Stetner

PS: I also agree with Abigail Quart that we needn't take the poet's word
for his own obsessive monogamy. Petrarch who would have us believe that
he never loved any but Laura felt it necessary to express contrition for
his womanizing toward the end of his life.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Jun 2002 01:04:21 +0100
Subject: 13.1507 Re: Sonnet 144
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1507 Re: Sonnet 144

In teasing out the meaning of Sonnet 144 we have to be clear - as well
as we can - what the opposing physical attractions really were.  I don't
think there is any homosexual rhetoric as Abigail Quart sort of
suggested  ". . .  London was a smorgasbord of blonds . . ."  Not being
a homosexual I have to take a guess here, but I think they refer to
their sexual activities in much the same way as us hetero majority do.
There seems to be a theme in the sonnets that love with the young man is
relaxed (except when betrayed) pure, rational, idealistic and
esoterically beautiful.  With the woman it is messy, obsessive,
animal-like, out of control and self-gratifying.  This suggests to me
that there was little or no physical contact with the young man.  All
Platonic.  Which gives rise to another thread that perhaps Shakespeare
was pandering to a Greek affectation much in fashion with the nobility
of the day.  Either way it suggests a disquieting problem that
Shakespeare might have had with women's bodies.  Or did he pick this up
from his supposed ultra-Catholic monk-like education?

SAM SMALL
http://www.passioninpieces.co.uk

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