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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0880  Friday, 9 May 2003

[1]     From:   William Sutton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 May 2003 06:54:58 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0851 How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Sonnets?

[2]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 May 2003 10:50:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[3]     From:   Cliff Stetner <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 May 2003 11:01:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[4]     From:   Ira Zinman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 May 2003 12:02:28 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[5]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 May 2003 13:14:55 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[6]     From:   Phyllis Gorfain <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 May 2003 16:08:33 -0400
        Subj:   Teaching sonnets

[7]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 2003 00:14:37 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Sutton <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 May 2003 06:54:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 14.0851 How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Sonnets?
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0851 How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Sonnets?

Dear Greg,

Take them into the sexually provocative language of the sonnets and
highlight the fact that there is an obvious hetero sex f***ing around on
his wife affair happening with the Mistress of the sonnets.
Specifically compare sonnets 56 and 151, both heavy in erotic innuendo.
Use sonnet 20 to judge whether or not he was homosexual. The triangle
affair sonnets take place between 40-43 and 131-137. The evidence is
then for bi-sexual affairs but the tilt in my mind is heavier on the
side of heterosex. Maybe just teach the Dark Lady sonnets ie 127-152.
The Manningham anecdote is also an indicator that all is straighter than
we luridly imagine. Besides that who cares: these sonnets are more about
immortality through verse than they are about sex.

Ok, that's my say on this subject, I'm curious as to what others think.

Yours,
William S.
www.iloveshakespeare.com

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 May 2003 10:50:25 -0400
Subject: 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Carol Barton <
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 > wrote:

>The third is that, since we don't even know who he was (for certain)

Yes we do.

I thought this garbage was excluded on SHAKSPER.  Three times now I've
swatted anti-Stratfordian stealth propaganda here, but now it seems
they're coming out into the open.

If this is going to continue, I see no reason for the SHAKSPER list to
go on.  news:humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare will do as well, and
doesn't require Hardy's labor.

Let there be no doubt about it.  Anti-Stratfordians (apart from the
uninformed dupes) are insane.  Each and every one, upon examination,
proves to be a textbook case of paranoid schizophrenia.  I came here to
discuss Shakespeare with some relief from constant interruption by these
sick people.  Now I'm beginning to wonder if it was worthwhile.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cliff Stetner <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 May 2003 11:01:10 -0400
Subject: 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Felperin, Howard.  "The Dark Lady Identified: Or, what Deconstruction
can do for Shakespeare's Sonnets" (57)

"To the vexed question of whether some of the sonnets celebrate
homosexual love, for example, [Northrop] Frye advances a uniquely modern
answer: it doesn't matter.  When read in terms of the convention of
Elizabethan sonneteering, within which mistresses are invariably female
and fair, Shakespeare's sonnets, offer no less than two masterly
variations, two unprecedented moves in the ongoing game, by introducing
two presiding mistress-muses, a 'lovely boy' and 'a woman coloured
ill'.  The Sonnets have less to say, that is, about 'experience',
particularly Shakespeare's own, than about poetry and its conventional,
archetypical, and ever-recyclable subject matter."

To quote Claude Caspar quoting Santayana on another thread: "The
emotions most movingly portrayed are ones no one has ever felt."

It's important to remember that Shakespeare was a dramatist. He invented
dramatic situations, characters, narratives, and dialogues. The highly
conventional structure of his sonnet cycle, with its four character
plot, is not consistent with a series of spontaneous emotional responses
to his own sexual relationships, distributed to his private friends, and
then collected by an insensitive mercenary publisher. It is however
consistent with a carefully crafted coherent poetic work, designed to
create the dramatic illusion of the spontaneous journal of the love
agonies of real people.

Nowhere else is he ever accused of speaking with his own voice, and
anyone who contends that this is the exception has the burden of proof.
A sonnet cycle was obligatory for anyone with pretensions of being a
great poet, and Shakespeare surpassed his predecessors. That male beauty
is more ideal than female beauty and that souls in heaven are
hermaphroditic were Platonic truisms. On the other hand, it isn't normal
for a lover of an unattainable heartless beauty to want nothing more
than for their love to marry someone else and have children. I can't
make sense of the cycle as a peek into his diary. When I read the fair
youth as a narcissistic projection of his own fading youth, and the
desired offspring, his own literary work, the poems make sense. If the
sonnets are autobiographical, I can only think how fortuitous that
Shakespeare's beautiful boy was as cruel as any Laura.

The genre plays on the seductive obscurity of the background narrative
to draw in the readers' analytic focus. Shakespeare's sonnet cycle seems
to me an anatomy of a poet, struggling against self-love, an
unappreciative audience, faltering patronage and the tyrant time to
achieve a noble immorality by emulating his own ideal (the rival poet).
Contrary to its explicit claims, no one is immortalized by it but
Shakespeare, and nothing is begotten but one of the great works of
English poetry.

Cliff Stetner
CUNY

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ira Zinman <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 May 2003 12:02:28 EDT
Subject: 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Dear Greg McSweeney,

The problem with the Sonnets unlike the plays generally is that they are
not often perceived and taught  with the depth and range  of
interpretation that would be obvious with a HAMLET or OTHELLO, for
example.

The sonnets must be interpreted on the levels explained by Dante and
expressed by Spenser and other contemporaries of  Shakespeare as
follows:

There is a 1. plain or literal meaning; 2. an alleghorical one; 3 a
moral and lastly;4 the esoteric or anagogical meaning.

With Dante and Spenser this is taught because the authors expressed that
they wrote on these levels.  In Golding's translation of Ovid's
METAMORPHOSIS, 1567, from which we know Shakespeare borrowed, we also
see in the epistle to the reader that the deeper interpretations must be
uncovered in order to understand the work as a whole.  This idea of a
range of interpretation has been widely covered, so I will not belabor
it.

When I lecture on the Sonnets, which is my main focus in Shakespeare's
works, I include the "plain meaning" and the deeper interpretation.
This has produced very happy audiences who never before had any exposure
to Shakespeare.  As to Sonnet 18, there is the same, and without
teaching or commenting upon the deeper aspects, I believe it would be
like teaching HAMLET as a "story about a mixed up guy who could not make
up his mind" (Gary Cooper in the film souls at sea).
G. Blakemore Evans ed. on THE SONNETS sometimes makes reference to the
other interpretations on the deeper esoteric or more spiritual side, and
I wish he had done more.

If anyone is interested in receiving Sonnet 18, with the deeper
interpretations, I would be happy to email and pls advise if you wish a
word or word perfect version.  I am always ready to correspond on the
subject of the sonnets in general.

Best to all,
Ira Zinman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 May 2003 13:14:55 -0400
Subject: Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

"The poet is obviously emotionally and sexually infatuated with the Fair
Friend."

It ain't obvious to me. Why embrace the absurd modern prejudice that all
literary texts somehow proceed from 'inside' the author and must
therefore constitute an outward expression of his or her intimate,
individual, and personal 'feelings'? It turns the Sonnets into Bridget
Jones's Diary. This may be appropriate in the case of some of the
post-Romantic writing of the last 150 years. It's less likely to be so
with anything much older than that. In any case, don't all texts have a
capacity for exceeding -or confounding- their authors' intentions?

T. Hawkes

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Phyllis Gorfain <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 May 2003 16:08:33 -0400
Subject:        Teaching sonnets

I was just doing an MLA search for Teaching Shakespeare and see this
entry; I haven't read it, but it sounds helpful for this thread.

Charles, Casey.  "Was Shakespeare Gay? Sonnet 20 and the Politics of
Pedagogy," _College Literature_ 25:3 (Fall 1998):35-51.

I also just had my students read Alan Sinfield's, "How to read _The
Merchant of Venice" without being heterosexist," _Alternative
Shakespeares, Vol. 2_ ed. Terence Hawkes.  London and NY: Routledge.
1996. 122-39.  They really found this very accessible article very
clarifying for them in terms of how to talk about "gay" or "homosexual"
or "same sex" love in terms that might have made sense for Shakespeare's
audience and for how to understand issues of same sex love, friendship,
and desire in the period.

Also, one might also look at other longer works, such as:

Smith, Bruce. _Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England: A Cultural
Poetics._ Chicago: Univ. of Chicago P. 1991.  This really helps with
issues of language, values, and questions of desire, getting beyond
thinking of genital sex and into various forms of desire, as a larger
category than love, sex, or friendship.

Halpern, Richard.  _Shakespeare's Perfume Sodomy and Sublimity in the
Sonnets, Wilde, Freud, and Lacan._ University of Pennsylvania Press,
2002.  Not as pedagogically centered as the above article, but a lot of
theory!

Hammond, Paul. _Figuring Sex Between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester._
New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.  I haven't read this one yet
but it has a section on the sonnets.

Phyllis Gorfain
Oberlin College

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Friday, 9 May 2003 00:14:37 +0100
Subject: 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Having spent some considerable time reading and re-reading the sonnets I
can still cannot buy the fact that the poet was either homosexual or
bisexual.  The whole of the 1-126 section has not a jot of sexual
imagery that belies a love of the boy's body.  The 127-154 section is
littered with sexual reflections about the woman's fingers, her lips,
her breasts - and to his own member "blushing stand".  In several poems
in the 'woman' section he refers to his perception - even his eyesight -
being distorted by his red hot attraction for her.  He seems at one
point to be utterly disgusted with his relentless pursuit of her body.
In the 'boy' section his vision is crystal clear and never wants for
control over his poetic imagery.  The boy is a God - the woman's feet
are securely on the ground.

Another striking difference is one of humour.  None at all exists in the
'boy' section, whereas the woman is the barb of many a subtle jest.  A
curious verse from "Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music" caught my
attention:

Think women still to strive with men,
To sin and never for to saint:
There is no heaven, by holy then,
When time with age doth them attaint.
Were kisses all the joys in bed,
One woman would another wed.

The idea that one woman in a state of marriage with another is here seen
as absurd.  Is this a line written my a practising homosexual?  I think
not.

Many people on this list have attested that 1-126 is homoerotic.  I too
have suspected it.  Perhaps we are all being dirty minded and far too
modern.  I agree with Martin Steward in that the Poet's love is born of
the boy's perceived youthful beauty and the catastrophe of its
threatened waste.  In my film project "Passion in Pieces" it gives me a
serious problem in that the poet's attitude is anything but universal.
If your male middle aged neighbour wrote passionate love poems to your
17 year old son you'd probably call the police.  The affected Greek love
of young boys is lost in time only to be awkwardly replaced by the
so-called gay society.

As for the teaching of the sonnets to teenagers I have warned of this
before.  Most teenagers want straight answers to straight questions - in
the Sonnets there are none.

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

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