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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: February ::
Greenblatt Discussion Forum
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0238  Friday, 4 February 2005

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 03 Feb 2005 09:28:20 -0600
        Subj:   Fwd: SHK 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum

[2]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Feb 2005 15:46:47 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum

[3]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 03 Feb 2005 20:12:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Thursday, 03 Feb 2005 09:28:20 -0600
Subject: 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
Comment:        Fwd: SHK 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum

 >Alastair Fowler reviews Will in the World in Times Literary Supplement,
 >4 February 2005 No5314. The piece highlights the fictive/factual,
 >speculative/historical boundaries of Greenblatt's peculiar brand of
 >creative scholarship, concluding rather impatiently, "How did the
 >intelligent Greenblatt come to write so sloppy a book?"
 >
 >Cheers,
 >Julia

There is perhaps an agenda of some kind here; Fowler wrote a famous
negative review of Renaissance Self-Fashioning ages ago (1980?) in the
TLS, that I still use to teach (as Graff would have it) the conflicts.

Frank

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Feb 2005 15:46:47 -0000
Subject: 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum

Julia Crockett wrote:

 >Alastair Fowler reviews Will in the World in Times Literary
 >Supplement, 4 February 2005 No5314.

Unfortunately, Fowler pours scorn on the suggestion that Polonius's
"'beautified' is a vile phrase" is a reference to Greene's "upstart
crow" jibe.  Was that conjecture current before Peter Bridgman made it
here on 24 May 2004?  If not, did Greenblatt get it from SHK 15.1106?
In which case, the later discussion I had with Steve Sohmer over whether
Shakespeare himself played both Julius Caesar and Polonius (and on the
number of in-jokes in both plays) came too late for inclusion in
Greenblatt's book.

John Briggs

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 03 Feb 2005 20:12:22 -0500
Subject: 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0229 Greenblatt Discussion Forum

M Yawney's makes some good observations. He notes that there does not
seem to be anything perverse in the Sonnets about the poet's love for
the young man, while in fact there seems something dark and unwholesome
about his love for the woman. On these observations we would agree.

The real question concerning the Sonnets is whether these are real
individuals the poet is describing. Some scholars have argued against
this, as I do.

In fact, aside from the Lord God addressed in the mode of the Psalms,
two of the persons addressed are angels, each representing a guide for a
human inclination. Thus the female addressed is man's lower angel, given
at birth, and representing man's amoral inclinations to preserve and
satisfy himself and to be attracted to the opposite sex. The attraction
is so powerful that it leaps over imperfections and makes us blind to
these.  This is so typical and is why readers on the list can report
that they have observed that characteristics of the poet's relationship
with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets are descriptive of other male-female
relationships found in the plays, for example, in Anthony's attraction
to Cleopatra.

The young man of the Sonnets, the "dear boy" that the poet loves, is
none other than the poet's higher soul, an angelic version of himself.
This is his higher angel, the higher soul given by God, the Creator, to
all human creatures at about the age of 12 and it is this angel that
accounts for our higher moral and loving aspirations, to return to the
Lord after death. Without this angel, we would remain self-involved
savage beasts, with appetites no better than that of the animals.

As instilled by his higher angel, the poet wants to be Godly, good,
moral, and just. The poet even prefers his higher angel to his lower,
but he finds that his lower angel, his lower soul, represented by the
Dark Lady, tempts him earthward. It is a common human problem and you
might say, normal, what most of us are about. Read all about it in
Sonnet 144 and this love has nothing to do with the poet having a
homosexual attraction.

The moral of Shakespeare's SONNETS is that it is good that we have both
natures. A lower angel is needed to instill in us living, animal
appetites. Otherwise we would fail to reproduce. As Benedict declares in
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, "The world must be peopled." (Think of the
young man in the first 17 sonnets who is stuck on high, asleep to his
animal nature that needs to be stirred.) Also, without a lower nature we
could not summon up the passions to aggressively look out for our
interests or mobilize the ferocity to protect ourselves. At the same
time, it is good that we have our higher angel to raise us from the
level of the savage beast and make us capable of participating in a
loving relationship and in a just, civilized world.

In sum, we need both our God-given angelic natures and must love both.
Shakespeare's Sonnets describes a world directed by God, in which each
human being attempts to balance these inner forces. All life is the
balancing of these forces and the successful life is their successful
balancing.
All this and more, with subtleties, are discussed in my book on the
SONNETS, THE SHAKESPEARE CODES. I note the source of these concepts, the
absent keys that made analysis by many critics futile, and I explain
some of the seeming contradictions that appear in individual sonnets and
how these fit in with the others, the rival poets and others too. This
analysis was facilitated by the decryption of a variety of the the
poet's "codes," a process which should be of interest to the "code
busters" among us who will find it fascinating to learn what the
resourceful poet came up with.

Of course, there were reasons why the poet had to communicate secretly
in the way he did. Had he been more explicit, he surely would have found
himself burned at the stake, his throat cut, or expelled from the
country-not very attractive alternatives.  Being secretive was the best
he could come up with and still praise the Lord he loved with all his
heart and soul. It all makes very good sense when the poet's situation
is known. Here is a profound commentary on the human condition by a man
who fathomed this condition more deeply than anyone before.

Peter Bridgman asks about the Tetragramaton. In the Hebrew, it is
represented by the letters Yud Heh Vav Heh, the cognate of our letters
YHVH. This is pronounced with the V sounded as a V or a W, depending on
community. The Bishops and Geneva Bibles, according to Peter,
transliterated the name as 'Iehouah' with the "I" representing the "Y."
This pronunciation can be made with the Hebrew letters when these are
voweled YeHoVaH. Note that the Elizabethan "u" is the "v" and that this
is also pronounced as a "w" so this version amounts to the same thing as
in the Hebrew.

Julia Crockett brings Alstair Fowler's review of the Greenblatt book to
our attention. Greenblatt illustrates how not knowing about the
historical dots to be connected makes for false images.  Greenblatt is
very good at giving a picture of Elizabethan life and thought and some
aspects of Shakespeare's thought, but books like his will need to be
revised drastically.

Maybe someday we will get to doing this, though it may mean giving up
the Shakespeare we imagine and are attached to. The trade-off may be for
an even more profound one than the one we know. We reject the wisdom of
a Shakespeare at the penalty of our own loss.  But will love alter when
alteration is made? I hope not.

David Basch

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