The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0279 Monday, 2 February 2004
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Monday, 2 Feb 2004 02:50:47 EST
Subject: 15.0066 A Lover's Complaint & John Davies of Hereford
Comment: Re: SHK 15.0066 A Lover's Complaint & John Davies of Hereford
Katherine Duncan-Jones invited comment on her views of LC:
>I'm a bit surprised that no-one so far has mentioned the strong
>evidence offered by John Kerrigan and by myself in my 1997
>Arden that 'A Lover's Complaint' is a designed component of
>the Shakespeare's Sonnets volume as published in 1609.
She suggests that studies, including hers:
>all strongly support the view that Sonnets and Complaint together
>form a generic whole, with the female-voiced Complaint both
>complementing and contrasting with the male-voiced Sonnets.
I've read through her Arden Introduction again and will offer a few
comments on LC. However, I first noticed a passage I had marked
previously that may be of interest, if not helpful:
The survival of thirteen copies [of the Sonnet Quarto], most in
good condition, suggests that the volume did not undergo the
enthusiastic thumbing that destroyed hundreds of early copies
of Shakespeare's earliest published poem, "Venus and Adonis.
. . . We might also compare the fate of another 1609 publication,
_Troilus and Cressida_ . . . of which only four copies survive.
Assuming that the size of the print-runs was the same, the
evidence of survival-rates suggests that _Troilus and Cressida_
was three times as popular among readers of _Shakespeare's
This logic escapes me. Fewer copies of thumbed books survive than of
non-thumbed. Therefore, the fewest extant copies are evidence of greater
popularity. But one cannot assume equal print-runs; that thumbing
indicates ultimate value, that thumbing is the only significant
destroyer of books, or much else about the survival ratio of thirteen
and four copies -- figures that will not inspire confidence in
statistical circles. Can there be any real value in the above suggestion?
But then again, extension of the inference may be possible.
Duncan-Jones lists a Stationers' Register entry as evidence of
Shakespeare's planned publication of his sonnets, though she says her
suggested use of the evidence is "highly conjectural."
(2) 1599-1600. In the aftermath of the _Passionate Pilgrim_
Shakespeare may have prepared a collection of sonnets which
was entered in the Stationers' Register on 3 January 1600. (12)
Earlier, she spelled out the conjecture:
One piece of evidence has been oddly neglected. It may be that
Shakespeare in fact took immediate measures to put right the
wrong done to him by Jaggard in 1599, if we suppose that he is
the 'W.S." in the following Stationers' Register entry for 3 January
Eleazar Edgar. Entred for his copye under the handes of
A booke called _Amours_ by J.D. with
certain other sonnetes by W.S. (3)
Duncan-Jones goes to some length to justify her remark that it is
"perfectly believable" that the entry refers to Shakespeare's planned
publication of his sonnets. Brian Vickers also remarks on the entry:
There is one other shred of evidence, too enigmatic to be worth
much . . . . [N]o one would want to build a case on those initials.
This is more scholarly circumspect, though Vickers has twice the
initials to build on (J.D. and W.S). Still, there is a way to move
forward. Duncan-Jones notes:
Given the number of popular works that have disappeared
altogether in this period, there is even a remote possibility that
J.D.'s _Amours_ . . . actually did reach print.
We need only assume an edition of any size to infer that _Amours_ was
infinitely more popular than V&A, Shakespeare's Sonnets, or Troilus.
Every book of which there are no more copies was equally popular,
provided we do the wristmatic (0 into 13, 4, or whatnot). There are
more ratios in heaven and earth than we dreamed.
Duncan-Jones says, ". . . it would make perfect sense that _A Lover's
Complaint_ should have been written then as a carefully designed
component of the whole." It seems even to be "perfectly believable"
because in the next sentence she says
What is less immediately apparent is that [LC] is not merely a
formal pendant to the sonnets, but a carefully balanced thematic
counterpart to them. What first strikes the eye are the formal and
stylistic contrasts . . .
Duncan-Jones asserts that LC is "a carefully balanced counterpart," that
is, a deliberately written adjunct to the sonnets. But what one notices
are the "contrasts." Might it be that LC is not a "careful counterpart,"
but a non-related poem as indicated by the very same stylistic
contrasts? Duncan-Jones lists a few aspects of the sonnets that fit the
pattern of 'what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare,' and notes some of those
contrasting characteristics of LC that have always made it suspect. But
this is not her argument.
Through a short series of comparative passages, she posits likeness in
the sonnets and LC.
Apparently a wealthy and promiscuous young courtier, he seems
to be as universally admired and sought after as the fair youth of
sonnets 1 - 126. Compare, for instance, 31.1 - 4:
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts
Which I, by lacking, have supposed dead;
And there reigns love, and all love's loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought buried.
With Complaint 127 - 30:
That he did in the general bosom reign
Of young, of old, and sexes both enchanted
To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain
In personal duty, following where he haunted . . .
Do these passages really compare? In her discussion of sonnet 31,
Duncan-Jones says "The young man is universally loved," and says the
youth of LC is "as universally admired . . . ." But the lines from
sonnet 31 (best read in the context of the series 29 - 31) do not mean
the same as the simple LC, and are instead good example of the nuanced
Shakespearean sonnet. After all, there is a difference between "thy
bosom" & "the general bosom." Different interpretation is indicated. For
example, Booth says:
[I]t is probable that, until the meaning of the phrase is limited by
line 2, Shakespeare's reader would have taken the additional
meaning "beloved by," . . .
It is characteristic of Shakespeare to redirect the reader's initial
response to a line or phrase by changing the meaning with later usage:
"Now is the winter . . . " Where is this trait in LC? These passages are
evidence of contrast, not similarity.
the maiden's seducer is . . . unreliable, and his unreliability is
conveyed in terms of spring weather. Compare 34.1 - 2:
Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day
and make me travail forth without my cloak . . . ?
and Complaint 101 - 3:
Yet if men moved him, was he such a storm
As oft 'twixt May and April is to see,
When winds breathe sweet, unruly though they be.
Though sonnet 34 doesn't mention the spring, we grant the use of weather
imagery in each passage. But the use is different. The two lines of the
sonnet (where the youth is the sun) is no good for comparison but a good
example of Shakespeare's use of proverbs in action. Where is comparable
subtlety in LC, where we learn that when the boy gets mad, he gets uneven?
With much rhetoric Duncan-Jones compares sonnet 152.13 - 14:
For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie.
To LC 327 - 9:
O, all that borrowed motion, seeming oWednesday,
Would yet again betray the fore-betrayed,
And new pervert a reconciled maid.
But the length to which Duncan-Jones goes only shows what we see at
once. The cited passages each have a p-word, but little else in common
-- surely nothing suggesting common authorship.
One may think these citations are a weak start to the "strong" argument
Duncan-Jones alludes to in support of Shakespeare's authorship of LC.
But no, they are her whole argument.
The Arden editor proposes is that Shakespeare authorized the publication
of the sonnets. This can hardly be if LC is included when it is not
Shakespeare. Therefore, argument must be made to show it is. I prefer
cases that make themselves, no agenda attached, and welcome the Vickers
If the sonnet order is suspect, so is Shakespeare's authorization of the
publication. This is a matter of importance. The Arden editor suggests
the order is correct (as she must) with this evidence:
For instance, the embarrassingly anatomical sonnet 20,
'A woman's face with nature's own hand painted', probably
draws on primitive associations of the figure with the human
body, whose digits, fingers and toes, add up to twenty. (101)
Can you dig it? Before we take off our socks, the only digit mentioned
in sonnet 20 brings the total to 21. This is argument that only a mooter
can love. It seems to me that the ancient opinion prevails. Lover's
Complaint is not Shakepseare, and Shakespeare didn't authorize the
printing of his sonnets.
Gerald E. Downs
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