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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: August ::
Sonnet 89
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1571  Monday, 23 August 2004

From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Aug 2004 12:22:22 +0100
Subject: 15.1560 Sonnet 89
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1560 Sonnet 89

 >>The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, for example, dates ...
 >
 >The continued use of a rose metaphor is not the core part of the
 >argument; an attack there leaves the central thesis, Lady Mary's
 >involvement with WS, untouched.

I do wonder, however, how the "continued use of a rose metaphor" came to
be mentioned at all, since merely opening a concordance on the word
"rose" clearly shows that these metaphors did not stop suddenly in
January 1599 as you claimed.  Does this mean that the person who created
the argument made no effort to check the number of "rose metaphors" in
the plays or to compare the January 1599 date with the dates of the
plays at all? - in which case what is the point of a supposedly
scholarly argument based on false statements without research?  Or did
he simply set out to date the plays in a way that would support his
argument? - in which case the argument has no value, since you could
prove anything by shifting the dates of the plays around to suit a
chronological argument.  This argument is not only wrong, but could
apparently not have been produced by anybody who had actually examined
the plays themselves, so why was it included in the major argument at all?

 >Consider this:
 >
 >In sonnet 144, WS suspects that the fair youth, HW, might be trying to
 >bed WS' mistress, the dark lady. But, reasons WS, he will not know for
 >sure unless the dark lady gives HW syphilis (i.e. "fires him out").
 >
 >144 tells us volumes about the relationship between WS and HW. First,
 >that WS would not warn HW that the woman has the pox suggests that they
 >were not good friends. The bigger deduction to make, however, is that
 >since WS and the dark lady were lovers, and according to the sonnet the
 >dark lady had syphilis and HW did not, therefore, WS and HW were not
 >lovers.

As I said before, "Yet another pretty story to explain the Sonnets, with
as little actual evidence to support it as any other".  You are
doubtless aware that nobody can agree with the firm interpretation of
virtually any of these sonnets, let alone with the biographical
speculations that you are making.  You are therefore constructing a
string of vague assumptions and hopeful guesses and somehow suggesting
that these are actually firm statements of fact.  Now, stories about the
"true meaning" of the Sonnets are invariably entertaining and
thought-provoking, and therefore worthwhile, the one thing they most
certainly are not are statements of fact, or even statements of things
that we can safely assume.  Most - as with your statements above -
amount to little more (and little less) than the writing of interesting
historical fiction.

I have no intention of getting caught up in arguments about this topic
at this time, since these arguments simply go around in circles.  You
*could* be exactly right in your assumptions and guesses, although you
would have to be miraculously lucky for that to be the case, and you
must be aware that millions of alternative arguments could and have been
produced that have exactly the same plausibility (or lack of
plausibility) as yours, and could not logically be differentiated from
them in likelihood in any way.  Since only one such argument could
possibly be the entire truth, and two contradictory arguments cannot
both be true at once even if both have the same level of possibility,
the obvious conclusion is that either all - or the vast majority - of
the claims that are made about the biographical background of the
Sonnets are false, and that consequently your claims are also most
likely to be false.

The only reason I had for responding to your original post at all is
that among all the claims that can never be entirely proved or disproved
(and which might therefore be considered relatively pointless to debate
- except for the pure sake of debate, which is no bad end in itself, as
long as the participants know that that is what they are doing) there
are claims which are apparently manifestly and obviously false.  Such
arguments have no place anywhere, and should either be defended (with
statements of fact and citation of sources) or dropped.  The other ideas
have no particularly close relationship with provable fact in any case,
and must therefore be assessed by other standards.

 >WS' worst fears are realized when HW comes down with a case of the fatal
 >canker (syphilis), in sonnet 99, (with further discussion of this in
 >other sonnets). This is perhaps the most purely bitter and cynical
 >sonnet in the lot, and WS put the message into a 15-line sonnet so us
 >dopes would be sure to understand the significance.
 >
 >However, if I can direct your attention to sonnets 34-36, WS is
 >delicately confronting the person who originally infected him with the
 >pox, clearly a social superior and not the dark lady. He uses the rose
 >metaphor here, too, in referring to that guilty party. Now, obviously,
 >HW did not infect WS with the pox, but someone else of the rose metaphor
 >did. There was only one other person of the same budding name and of the
 >same House of Roses, and that was Lady Mary.

I always love the use of "Now obviously" and similar statements in this
sort of argument, as the speaker invariably makes wild guesses and
assertions that are by no means obvious at all.

Do I really need to point out that not only have you not established by
any sensible standard that you know which people these poems are about,
but that in claiming that these poems (Sonnets 34-36) are about the
"Pox", that the person addressed in these poems is a "social superior",
that the person addressed must be a woman (do you not realise that one
can catch venereal disease from a homosexual relationship and that many
people argue that Shakespeare had a homosexual relationship with the
young man?), that anybody referred to using a "rose" metaphor must be a
member of the Wriothesley family (your only evidence connecting that
name with Shakespeare's use of rose metaphors having been demolished -
since you cannot show that he only used the metaphors before the
Countess's remarriage, and since it is very obvious that both
Shakespeare and other poets of this period and most other periods
routinely used virtually identical rose metaphors without reference to
the Wriothesley family of any kind whatever), and even your assumption
that Shakespeare is giving an account of his own experience, you are
ignoring the fact that most people would not support you in all of these
statements, and a good number would not support you in any of them.
Since any one of these statements being false invalidates your argument,
the fact that you cannot prove any of them to be true makes the argument
astonishingly insubstantial.  The Arden edition, for example, assumes
that all of these Sonnets are about the "Young Man", pointing out that
"34.  This sonnet continues the theme and imagery of 33, with the
speaker betrayed by his young friend, addressed as the sun".  Since
Sonnet 33 clearly refers to its subject as "my friend" and "he", this
alone is enough to make your reading of Sonnet 34 most unlikely.

 >We know for historical fact that Lady Mary had the pox, according to Sir
 >George Carey's PS in a letter to his wife in '94 regarding the Lady
 >Southamton's upcoming nuptials to Lord Heneage.
 >
 >The historical evidence seems to agree with this interpretation.

The historical evidence agrees with this interpretation because you have
constructed your argument around the historical evidence.  If Lady Mary
had not had the pox, or there was no suggestion in the historical record
that she had, you would either have interpreted these sonnets in a
different way, or would have found yourself another candidate.  While
creating an argument based in reading biographies and other historical
sources, you should be careful not to create a circular and worthless
argument.  Saying "My argument must be true because it is agrees with
historical facts" when you have carefully constructed your argument on
the basis of those historical facts, and would happily have constructed
a different argument if the historical facts had been different, proves
nothing.

 >Now I'm wondering what my Oxford Companion has to say about it.

The Oxford Companion agrees with the Arden that the first 126 Sonnets
are about the young man (hence contradicting your reading of Sonnets
34-36 in which you claim the young man does not appear).  As for your
attempt to create a biographical story from the Sonnets, the Oxford
Companion argues that "To read Shakespeare's sequence in the hopes of
decoding an implied story ... is inevitably to do violence to the lyric
compression and self-enclosure of the individual sonnets which compose
it ..." and seems critical of 19th century readings of the Sonnets which
were "preoccupied with their alleged biographical content at the expense
of their artistry".

 >Dan Decker
 >
 >PS. Lady Mary filed 144 among the dark lady sonnets, and 99 into the HW
 >sonnets. She may not have been fully aware of the situation, or she may
 >have done it on purpose.

These should not be statements of fact, as they are merely statements
drawn from your imagination.  You have no evidence that Lady Mary saw,
read, or touched any of the Sonnets, let alone that she was responsible
for the collection that arrived in the hands of the Printer.

 >Also, in 34 WS confronts Lady Mary saying that if only she had warned
 >him he could have worn a "cloak" (i.e. condom), and in 35 he accepts his
 >responsibility for his infection. In 36 he writes of Lady Mary's
 >outrageous position that because people know he's infected, she cannot
 >be seen with him, lest it reflect badly upon her. Poor guy. For his
 >part, WS continued to love her, as only poets love.

Except that once again you have nothing to offer which would support
your reading as more correct than any other, and you utterly fail to
account for the apparent continuity between Sonnet 33 and 34, the first
of which clearly addresses its subject as a male friend.

Thomas Larque.

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