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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0898  Monday, 12 May 2003

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 2003 12:30:55 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 May 2003 13:42:19 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[3]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 2003 12:21:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[4]     From:   Claude Casper <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 2003 13:25:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[5]     From:   Greg McSweeney <
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        Date:   Friday, 9 May 2003 14:18:51 -0400
        Subj:   Thanks for the Sonnets Info.

[6]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 May 2003 00:44:25 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[7]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 May 2003 11:06:49 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[8]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Friday, 09 May 2003 22:56:49 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

[9]     From:   Lloyd A. Norton <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 May 2003 12:03:08 EDT
        Subj:   The Problem of the Sonnets!

[10]     From:  Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 May 2003 19:22:12 -0400
        Subj:   A Problem like the Sonnets

[11]     From:  Dori Koogler <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 May 2003 01:37:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Friday, 9 May 2003 12:30:55 -0400
Subject: 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

This is in response to John W. Kennedy vituperative jumping to
conclusions---the same sort of paranoia he castigates in his
mean-spirited post.

I have never for a moment doubted that Shakespeare was the Swan of
Avon---though I have "proved" that he was actually Elizabeth I, tongue
in cheek, and heard all the arguments for believing that he was one
historical figure or another. However, WE DON'T KNOW, and as a scholar,
I do not make declarations of certainty where no certainty is possible.
Unless you have information about Shakespeare's biography to which the
rest of academia is not privy, you can't prove his identity in any
empirical manner that would stand up to the test of reliability any
better than the Baconians or any of the other Anti-Stratfordians
can---or if you can, please do so, for the edification of the rest of
the lunatic fringe that lacks your convicted illumination. (Perhaps, Mr.
Kennedy, you ought to re-evaluate your own assumptions, before you fly
off the handle at others.)

Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 09 May 2003 13:42:19 -0300
Subject: 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Terence Hawkes asks,

>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.

Of course you're right, but why the inverted commas around "feelings"?
Do you suspect that nobody really has any?

The parallel with Bridget Jones's Diary seems relevant.  It too, after
all, is a fictional simulacrum of a private, even confessional work.

Cheers,
Sean.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 9 May 2003 12:21:51 -0500
Subject: 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

  Cliff Stetner writes:

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

Since this is the second time this aphorism has appeared, I have to ask:
what the hell is an emotion that "no one has ever felt"? Is there
something you can do with emotions besides feel them?

Cheers,
Frank Lee Puzzled

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Casper <
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Date:           Friday, 9 May 2003 13:25:54 -0400
Subject: 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

>>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.

Hardy has remarkable judgment & I have found it easy to accept his
rulings for & against my personal tastes, so trust he will sort things
out in our interests.  But, this is such a hot-button issue, I must
voice my concern.  As Thomas More informs us, silence concurs. I also
find the "anti" crowd peculiar, and have given my reasons why
previously.  For most, though not all, it is a flaw in critical
thinking, and just as pro-lifers are often just as fervent about
advocating the death-penalty without sensing even apparent
contradiction, something that many have observed, the "antis" seem to
attach themselves to other aberrant views that may very well be
considered pathological.  But, we must beware of such notions,
especially ones that are self-serving.  A certain buffer zone [Hardy's
wonderful judgment] allows true questioning to keep our knowledge from
authenticating itself.  Denial is just as pathological.  The best
example is our current discussion regarding Peele and the great
contribution of such scholars as Brian Vickers. If one gets too
confident then the emerging field of collaboration might be mistaken for
irrational rejection.  Not being a real Shakespearean scholar myself, I
am thankful that my understanding has evolved to consider that
authorship question in a broader light in recent weeks.  It remains to
be seen just where scholarship will take our understanding, but the
profile of our Author has been redrawn before our eyes.  I found Bate's
review in last weeks TLS (see Vickers' response in this week's) a
wake-up call not to be complacent.  Anyone "threatened" by a question
should examine their fragility, and find true confidence.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Greg McSweeney <
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Date:           Friday, 9 May 2003 14:18:51 -0400
Subject:        Thanks for the Sonnets Info.

I'm overwhelmed by the response to my question about teaching the first
section of the Sonnets. I want to thank everyone who posted and who
emailed me privately for their valuable opinions and bibliographic
leads; they will certainly open up my approach to the inconvenient #1 -
#126. (What a resource this forum is!)

Since a couple of contentious issues seem to have been raised by my
question, however, I'd just like to clarify my own position regarding
the Sonnets and their author. First, though no specialist, I wasn't
aware that anyone was still seriously questioning Shakespeare's
identity. I don't, and never have. Second, it is my teenage students who
will be demanding post-modern answers to Renaissance non-questions; for
my part, I am no more interested in the historical Shakespeare's sexual
inclinations or activities than I am in whether or not Chaucer liked
jelly doughnuts with coloured sprinkles on them. (Again, I anachronize.)
Third, I don't take it at all for granted that the persona of the
Sonnets is Shakespeare himself; in fact, I'd be surprised if it were.
The characters and 'plot' of the story feel constructed to me, rather
than autobiographical. As some one said, the immortality of the sequence
is in the verse, not in the speculative identities of the players.

I was interested, rather, in ways of deflecting the irrelevant question
of sexual identity for an audience who cannot conceive of a world
without ontological sexual orientation. Since I'm also doing Hamlet and
Lear (all in a fifteen-week semester) I don't have time to delve very
deeply into Renaissance sexual practice and the tradition of the sonnet
cycle in general. And since texts do in fact confound the intentions of
their authors, creating meaning primarily in the interaction with the
reader, I was concerned especially with my (statistically) 13.7 queer
students who will read #1 - #126 and feel that I've censored or
summarily shut down a discussion that for them is still disgracefully
rare in the academy--even if these are not the texts upon which such a
discussion can be profitably based.

At any rate, I've benefited a great deal from the replies to my
question, and I do want to thank everyone who responded.

Greg McSweeney

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 May 2003 00:44:25 -0400
Subject: 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0869 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

"But that infatuation does not necessarily have as its object a sexual
relationship between poet/poetic voice and the young man to whom the
sonnets are addressed. It seems much more obvious that these are simple
exhortations that the young man should engage upon sexual relations with
women in order to reproduce according to the laws of nature. Imagine the
young man to be Shakespeare's son rather than lover, and the point
starts to become a bit clearer."

Imagine the young man as Edmund Shakespeare, Will's sixteen years
younger brother, the only one of the family to follow him to London and
take up his profession of actor, and it might get even clearer.

Sonnet #1 contains a schoolboy's Latin pun on the name Edmund.
Considering Shakespeare's delight in punning, and his careful attention
to the names of characters in his plays, it would be almost impossible
not to imagine him doing that with such an easy target as his kid
brother's name.

>From an ancient Third Year Latin textbook:

mundus, -i :  toilet ornament, decoration, dress (of women); the
universe, world, earth; mankind.

edax, -acis, [edo], adj. greedy, voracious, gluttonous.

edo, edere, edidi, editum, [e + do], ......give out, put forth; bring
forth, beget, produce; relate, tell, utter; publish, declare, disclose,
give account of.

So let's see: a theme of this sequence of sonnets (if they are a
sequence) is begetting. Then we have, in Sonnet 1, "Thou art now the
world's fresh ornament" and "Pity the world or else this glutton be, to
eat the world's due, by the grave and thee." Yoicks.

Sonnet 2 has "all-eating" which could be considered "gluttonous," right?

Then there is the nervous-making Sonnet 20, a private joke consisting of
14 feminine endings, the only known Shakespeare sonnet to do so. Sonnet
20 picks up the "mundus" definition of "dress (of women)" and runs with
it. The question it brings up for me is whether the subject of the
sonnet might not have been playing women's roles in the plays, whether
it be Edmund or not.

But did Shakespeare really associate the name Edmund this way? Well, his
only other Edmund, in King Lear, is obsessed with his own begetting:

Edmund: This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are
sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own behavior, we make guilty
of our disasters the Sunday, the moon, and stars; as if we were villains
on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by
an enforced obedience to planetary influence; and all that we are evil
in, by a divine thrusting on.  An admirable evasion of whoremaster man,
to lay his goatish disposition on the charge of a star. My father
compounded with my mother under the Dragon's Tail, and my nativity was
under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I
should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament
twinkled on my bastardizing.

Compare that to Sonnet 14's curious echo of King Lear: Not from the
stars do I my judgement pluck;/ And yet methinks I have astronomy,/ But
not to tell of good or evil luck,/ Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons'
quality;/ Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,/ Pointing to each his
thunder, rain, and wind..."  It's the "thunder, rain, and wind" that
jumped out at me. The associations seem to be clustered: misfortune, the
name Edmund, stormy weather, begetting.....

Shakespeare had a brother young enough to be his son. Would that have
made him feel his age? Was Edmund Shakespeare his only family in London?
Was he apprenticed to Shakespeare's company? Did he do women's parts?
Would his brother have been concerned about his future? We only know
Edmund died in London in 1607, a player, and somebody paid for the
better funeral.

We don't know when Edmund came to London. He was 20 in 1600.
Coincidentally, Shakespeare writes a spate of plays where the brother is
a problem around that time: Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like
It, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, and King Lear. After 1607, with
Edmund cold in the ground and retirement to Stratford and the family he
left behind looming, Shakespeare writes about fathers and daughters:
Pericles, Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and even Henry VIII
had a problem with daughters.

I hear so many arguments here that we can't tell anything about
Shakespeare's private life from his work. Meadow muffins. Edmund was in
town and Will told us about it.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 May 2003 11:06:49 +0100
Subject: 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Interesting that Kennedy himself raises the spectre of the Oxford
(dominated) list. His post, in its selectivity, venom, and ad hominem
attack is reminiscent of nothing so much as the worst excesses of the
Oxfordians there.

But to come to the post itself, and untease it just a little ...

>Carol Barton <
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>
>>The third is that, since we don't even know who he was (for certain)
>
>Yes we do.

Oh dear, oh dear dear dear -- a line torn from its larger context, with
no attempt to even sketch the original context or even acknowledge that
there +was+ a context for the remark?  Naughty, that, Mr Kennedy, and
also a little obvious in the bias you're already importing, in order to
ride your hobby-horse.

As for Kennedy's confident assertion,  "Yes we do."

No we don't.

What we +do+ have is a fair mass of documentary material connecting
William Shakespeare of Stratford with the author of The Plays.  (This is
amply laid out in Samuel Schoenbaum, a name which singularly fails to
appear in Kennedy's venomous diatribe.  Far be it from me to suggest
that Kennedy is ignorant of this obvious resource.  But then, why omit
to mention it in favour of a torrent of generalised abuse?  Frankly, I
really don't know ... )

However, the detailed documentary evidence we have about William
Shakespeare +doesn't+ provide evidence for the interioricity of the
figure of Shakespeare that we have with regard to, say -- to pluck two
examples at almost-random -- Ben Jonson or Walter Ralegh.  Quite
different things.

But to come back to the original phrase that (ripped from its context)
Kennedy choses to hang his incontinent, splenetic (and, frankly, boring)
anti-Oxfordian diatribe on, Dr. Barton's:

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

Rather than being seen as an Oxfordian apologia, perhaps the critique of
the statement above could turn on its obviousness:  despite the detail
we have of Shakespeare's life, there are grey areas -- we assuredly
+don't+ know who "he" was for certain.  Was he a Catholic?  Was he a
Protestant?  A whole series of questions about belief and attitude and
commitment that could be given (relatively) clear answers were we
dealing with Sidney or Jonson or Ralegh are opaque when we come to
Shakespeare.

But ah, Mr. Kennedy obviously has other dead donkeys to thrash, and
isn't concerned with this ...

>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.

How clever of you to notice it -- how stupid of all the rest of us to be
taken in.

>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.

There are two absolutely stunning flaws in the above statement.  One is
its dependence on and adherence to Aristotelian logic and binary
polaries (All Anti-Stratfordians are insane /You are an
Anti-Stratfordian / You are insane) which was superceded long ago in
philosophical circles by Venn Diagrams and Set Theory.

But leaving that aside as perhaps a little specialised and partis pris,
there are Mr Kennedy's Black Swans ...

One at relative random.  While Mark Twain isn't my favourite American
novelist (Melville is) I'm grateful to Mr. Kennedy for providing the
priviledged information that he is "a textbook case of paranoid
schizophrenia."  Or perhaps he was an uninformed dupe?

Learn something new every day -- from now on I shall read _Puddin'head
Wilson_ in a new light.

>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.

<sigh>  The only thing that springs to mind here is a directive issued
by the Burghers of Freiburg to the figure who later morphed into Doctor
Faustus: "In that case, go spend your penny elsewhere."

Having spent really much more of my admittedly not exactly precious time
on this post than I intended, may I be permitted a little acid of my
own?  Not directed at any particular person but simply tossed into the
air, and if the hat falls, and fits, wear it.  A line torn from its
context in a poem by the Scottish poet Alan Jackson:

"Idiots are freelance"

Oh, and as one last tiny point -- it was singularly unfortunate for Mr
Kennedy to pick on a remark by, of all people, Dr. Carol Barton, to
spike

 his King Charles' Head on, since Dr. Barton, curiously enough, shares
his views on Oxfordians.  There is a difference however -- Dr. Barton,
when she deigns to, states the anti-Oxfordian pro-Stratfordian case with
wit, cogency, and courtesy.

Enough said.

Robin Hamilton

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Friday, 09 May 2003 22:56:49 -0700
Subject: 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0880 Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Cliff Stetner made the observation:

"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."

There is many a place where Will's voice can be found. Hamlet abounds
with Will comments.

As to the sonnets, I am reminded of hearing a comment by A. L. Rowse
that he thought William to be a "homosexual of the mind." Who better to
comment than Rowse?

On a practical level, I have taught the sonnets many times and find it
an excellent exercise in forensics. I tell the students nothing going in
and let them justify their conclusions from direct quotes in the poems.
General conclusions tend to be that William was not a practicing
homosexual (sonnet 20 usually clinches this); may have slept with
Southampton/Pembroke; is way too jealous of the hiring of rival
Marlowe/Chapman and had the ugliest mistress in Christendom (sonnet 130
also gives Sting fans a thrill).

Colin Cox
Artistic Director
Will & Company

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lloyd A. Norton <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 May 2003 12:03:08 EDT
Subject:        The Problem of the Sonnets!

Hardy: I beg your indulgence, but having put this together, I had to
share!

John Shakespeare found he had a problem -- his sterquinarium! He wrote
his son, William, in London:

Dearest Willy:

My health being ill, I find that I've been fined again for the pile
we've developed before the house!  I'm simply too old to dig and shovel
and cart!  If you were here, all my troubles would be at an
end, for I know how handy thou art with a shovel!  Blessings, your
Father!

A few days later, he received a letter from his son:

Father!

For Heaven's sake DON'T dig up that pile!  That's where I buried my
diary on the writing of the sonnets!  There are those that would have
them!  Willy

The following day, Southampton's stepfather and a fellow named Green,
not worth a Groatsworth, appeared and shoveled the entire pile onto a
cart and left town over the bridge, having found nothing!

The following day, John received another letter from his son:

Dearest Father:

You'll not have to pay the fine, I'm sure.  It was the best I could do
while stuck here in London on commission.  Hoping that my love's labors
won it for you!  Willy

Lloyd A. Norton (:=)>

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 May 2003 19:22:12 -0400
Subject:        A Problem like the Sonnets

Cliff Stetner writes,

"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'."

Of course. So it follows that Shakespeare's dramatic plan for the
sonnets is to invert/turn inside out the conventions he inherited in
order to mine the genre for all it is worth. Surely this is the same
game plan he uses in many of his best plays. e.g., _Hamlet_ and
_Othello_. (I think he uses this approach in the "problem plays" too.)
So the most reasonable conclusion is that he approached the sonnets as
he approached the plays, as exercises in imagination and in new uses of
form and genre.

It follows that the sonnets are basically like the plays, dramatic
creations that have less to do with Shakespeare real life than meets the
eye. In fact, it would be ANOTHER inversion/innovation for Shakespeare
to have written a sonnet sequence that is NOT biographical, for such a
sequence would set his sonnets apart from the somewhat personal sonnets
of his great  predecessors, Sidney and Spenser.

--Ed Taft

[11]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dori Koogler <
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Date:           Monday, 12 May 2003 01:37:42 -0500
Subject:        Re: A Problem Like the Sonnets

Perhaps this is relevant to the sonnet discussion:

In _Impersonations_, Stephen Orgel says, "The rhetoric of patronage,
gratitude and male friendship in the period is precisely the language of
love."  (Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 42)

So...how was one supposed to tell the difference?  Was the difference
somehow coded into the text?

Dori Koogler

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