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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Shakespeare's Personal Faith
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0691  Tuesday, 12 April 2005

From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Apr 2005 01:46:25 -0400
Subject: 16.0646 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0646 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

In the discussion of Shakespeare's Personal Faith on our list (April 7,
2005), I have no argument with Stuart Manger's first paragraph about his
observation that great poetry (and painting for that matter) can be
created to rhapsodize such things as homosexuality, pornography, and
even worse. But surely everyone will have to admit that creations
dedicated to such offbeat themes will be limited in their reach.

Consider for a minute about three ways to think of Sonnet 30. First, it
can be thought of as an ode to the power of friendship, a power so
strong that it can restore the losses of the death of loved ones. At
that level, the poem has enormous reach. But when the issue is raised of
who the poet's friend is, suddenly new forces are introduced. If the
friend happens to be part of a homosexual friendship, not merely a Damon
and Pythias kind, rightly or wrongly, it can be disturbing to the
contemplation of some readers that could affect feelings about the poem
and the poet himself.

Similarly, if the friend in the poem happens to be God, added to the
sentiments of friendship are those connected with religious faith in
this Friend in whose care the souls of the dead are entrusted, minus the
negative feelings evoked in those readers who find such faith unbecoming
to the poet.

I think that we have here three different poems since the overtones
evoked are so different. It is naive to think that these differences
don't matter to various publics. As far as the greatness of the poem as
a literary creation is concerned, I can live with any of these
alternatives, whichever turns out to be the verified case.

However I part company with Stuart Manger when it comes to the
implications to be drawn from the kind of relationship that the poet has
with his allegedly human friend. It is one thing when a relationship is
one of deep, mutual love. It is altogether different when the
relationship is asymmetrical and involves a spectacularly evolved person
who places his love at the feet of an uncaring partner infinitely less
developed in human terms.  Such a relationship smacks of masochistic
pathology and bespeaks someone that distorts reality in failing to
recognize his own worth, let alone fails to discern the character his
partner.

Can we really believe that the great poet would invest an alleged young
friend with the power to become "the grave where buried love doth live,"
to be the one in whom resides the love that was once shared with
departed friends, as he does in Sonnet 31? Only if you also accept that
the poet is mentally unbalanced, unlike what it would be the case were
his love directed to a God Who is indeed "the grave where buried love
doth live." The difference here is enormous since under the alternative
of the young man it would mean that masochistic, homosexual love makes
no difference in the capacity of a poet to engage reality and human
character at their deepest levels. The question here boils down to which
view of the poet is the true one, a poet engaged in a sick relationship
or one showing loving fealty to his God? At stake is an accurate
understanding of human nature, not one that is the product of amateur
psychologists, however accomplished as literary specialists.

Stuart Manger would allege that the issue has been resolved by the work
of literary experts like Booth and Vendler in favor of the young man. I
challenge that view since there is no evidence that the friend of the
sonnets is indeed an actual young man. The initials WH and the "Mr"
before them don't match the condition of Henry Wriothesley (pronounced
Riley) the Earl of Southampton, the favorite candidate, to name but a
few of the problems of such assumptions.

Hellen Vendler merely assumes that the friend is a young man and
tortures her interpretations to fit that mold. Stephen Booth, also
without evidence, shares her view and even in the most sophomoric manner
mars his book with attempts to find sexual innuendo in the Sonnets in
every combination of words in which this is conceivably possible,
reminding one of the kind of reaching that immature adolescents are
given to.

On the other hand, I have prepared a more solid case that the Sonnets
are allegorical and have shown the poet's embedment of names of the
Deity of the Bible in some of the sonnets, filling a whole book on the
subject (THE SHAKESEPARE CODES) with these and other hidden and open
communications by the poet that support this thesis. Hence I would turn
around the thrust of Stuart's assertions in his second paragraph to make
his view the target of his own questioning:

      [Stuart Manger] comes very close to dismissing
      the sonnets on the grounds that unless they are
      directed to [the young man], they are unworthy
      of Shakespeare. Really? I fear it may be that Mr
      [Manger] has already made the a priori assumption
      that it is a series of ... praises to [the young man],
      and if you start from that base, then, yes, indeed,
      there will exist a sub-strate of invincible ignorance
      about any other way of seeing the sonnets, no matter
      what evidence ... is put before you.

Finally, in Stuart's last paragraph, I must earnestly ask why it is
"dispiriting" for him to contemplate the view that the poet is a man
devoted to his God? Why is it "illiberal" of me not to see the poems
Stuart's way and not "illiberal" for him not only not to contemplate my
way but to be "dispirited" at the very idea?

Stuart asks where we go from here? I think we all ought to open our
minds and delve more deeply into the text of the Sonnets for the answers
to our questions and to any esoteric content that is discovered. Such
content, some brought by others aside from myself, tends to prove that
the Sonnets are not simply the direct, spontaneous expressions of the
moment they have been taken to be, but are the considered compositions,
masterfully and ingeniously wrought, of a poet with a larger message to
mankind than afterthoughts on the progression of his specific human amours.

David Basch

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