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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Shakespeare's Personal Faith
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0716  Thursday, 14 April 2005


[1]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 17:43:24 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[2]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 18:31:26 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[3]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 12:25:25 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[4]     From:   Dan Decker <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Apr 2005 10:18:29 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[5]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 23:28:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 17:43:24 +0100
Subject: 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

David Basch writes ...

 >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.

Dante and Beatrice?  Yeats and Iseult Gonne?

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 18:31:26 +0100
Subject: 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Bruce MacDonald writes ....

 >In all his rantings, Basch ignores the fact that (as any reasonably
 >alert college freshman knows) the speaker in a poem is not the poet.
 >Helen Vendler carefully makes this distinction and sees the sonnets as a
 >working out of a little drama (surprise, surprise-who would have thought
 >that Shakespeare thought dramatically?).  She wisely does not attempt to
 >use the poems to uncover Shakespeare's "real" beliefs about anything,
 >least of all any religious feelings.  She recognizes that the "I" of the
 >sonnets is a character, as much as Lear or Hamlet or Rosalind or anyone
 >else in the plays is a character.  We'll probably never know the exact
 >relationship that the "I" has to Shakespeare himself, but it's a sure
 >bet the two aren't identical.

If this is true, the "I" of the Sonnets must be Shakespeare's least
successful dramatic creation.

Whereas 'Venus and Adonis' and the 'Rape of Lucrece' went through
numerous editions, the Sonnets had only a single edition, to which WS'
contemporaries responded with a resounding silence.  This silence was
partly due to the fact the Sonnets appeared in a plague year, but it was
also due to the fact that love poetry addressed to another male was
somewhat unusual.  To say the least.

Peter Bridgman

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 12:25:25 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Bruce MacDonald writes, "In all his rantings, Basch ignores the fact
that (as any reasonably alert college freshman knows) the speaker in a
poem is not the poet. Helen Vendler carefully makes this
distinction...She recognizes that the 'I' of the sonnets is a character...."

Oh, really?  Then who is the "Will" of the *Will* sonnets, if not our
Will Shakespeare?

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan Decker <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Apr 2005 10:18:29 EDT
Subject: 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >>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?
 >
 >Yes we can. Let's see how you explain away Sonnet 110.

Only if we accept the unsupportable position that all the sonnets in the
collection were written to two people. And the other unsupportable
position that WS wrote them with the simple and single-minded objective
of unpacking his heart.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Wednesday, 13 Apr 2005 23:28:54 -0400
Subject: 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0703 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Shakespeare's Personal Faith

A number of persons on the list were good enough to respond to my
comment on the problems associated with the poet's mysterious friend of
the sonnets (4/13/05). In response to my observation that, were this a
relationship with the alleged young man, it could be termed masochistic,
Robin Hamilton observes, "these things happen."

This is true enough, but I would point out that the frequency of such
relationships does not make them any less pathological. As I have tried
to explain, such relationships bespeak impairment that could have an
impact on distorting perceptions of oneself and the world. This is
possibly a serious matter when it afflicts someone who is engaged with
the highest of human thoughts and feelings.  But as I noted in my last
posting, if that is what the situation was, so be it. But if it was not
that way we ought to know that too and not jump to conclusions.

So what do individual sonnets tell us about the poet's relationship with
his friend? Take the couplet of Sonnet 78 in which the poet declares of
his friend:

[13]  But thou art all my art,and doost aduance
[14]  As high as learning,my rude ignorance.

Here is the poet, a supreme poet/intellect, allegedly telling the young
man, a person indifferent to him, that he is all his art.  Isn't there
something wrong with the poet's psyche if this unhealthy situation is
the way it is? But note how the situation is clarified and amended when
it is recognized that this is the poet's praise of God whose inspiration
has led the poet to such heights.

Next, look at Sonnet 40 in another address to his friend:

[9]     I  doe forgiue thy robb'rie gentle theefe
[10]    Although thou steale thee all my pouerty:
[11]    And yet loue knowes it is a greater griefe
[12]    To beare loues wrong,then hates knowne iniury.
[13]      Lasciuious grace,in whom all il wel showes,
[14]      Kill me with spights yet we must not be foes.

If it is the young man that the poet is here hopelessly in love with, he
sure has got it bad and that ain't good. As we read, the poet forgive
his friend's "robbery" and pleads how bad it is when it is a loved one
that is inflicting grief. Yet we find the poet willing to suffer this
from his friend even unto death and the poet rejects the idea of
becoming his friend's foe.

This would be the pitiful complaint of a severe masochist were it
directed to the alleged young man, as even Hellen Vendler describes it
in the first line discussing this sonnet: "The masochism of abjectness
in love here reaches its first peak." But again, the lines are
transformed when it is recognized that the poet is addressing God, a
loving God that allows terrible things to happen to good people. The
sonnet is the poet's theodicy, a justification of God's ways.

To explain the sonnet, what does it mean for God to rob the poet of all
his poverty? We can answer that by thinking about what it is that makes
a poor man poor? The answer is that it is his children that he must
support. In the poet's case, God did indeed rob him of his son, Hamnet,
aged 11. That is a pretty bad sock.  Yet the poet concludes that,
despite such things, man must not become the enemy of God. Such is the
faith of the poet and this is what he, in his wisdom, is telling the
world about how we must confront a world in which terrible things happen
to good people under the eye of an all powerful, loving God.

Incidentally, Vendler notes how reminiscent line 13 is to Job's
statement of devotion to God, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in
him." In fact, Vendler's account is full of religious allusions that she
must subdue by inventing a whole story of the young man's romance with
the lady of the sonnets as a betrayal of the poet, a story that is
completely non historical and pure fantasy.

On the other hand, Colin Cox of our list thinks that the themes of
Sonnets 110 and 111 confirm that the poet was indeed involved in the
kind of unhealthy relationship I have said it was. In answer to him, I
would suggest that he reread those sonnets and he would see that they as
easily make the case that this friend is God. In fact, in Sonnet 110,
the poet actually describes his friend as "God" ("a God in love") and
"my heaven" to whom he has returned after straying, having, I would
allege, been lax in prayer and in his religious obligations.

Similarly, in Sonnet 111, the first line can be read as the poet
declaring that it was for the poet's own sake that his friend has used
fortune to chide him, to chide him, no doubt, for his lapses to correct
him to better behavior. The poet concludes that his friend's pity is
sufficient to cure him of his ills, such being the power of God's pity.

Bruce MacDonald lays down a number of points questioning my motive and
argument. In his first point, he wishes to paint me as a homophobe, with
my disguising this through a discussion of masochism. I must disagree
with Bruce here since I have tried to stay away from the problem of
homosexuality and do sincerely mean to point to the masochism observed
as something negative that could be a serious human impairment in a
creative writer dealing with big ideas and philosophies. Sure, as Bruce
writes, we all may have a touch of this but the poet's condition would
seem more severe than the ordinary were it the fact that he worships
that young man.

In another point, Bruce defends Hellen Vendler as placing space between
the poet himself and the "character" that is the poet as the dramatic
speaker of the sonnets and Bruce also calls attention to Vendler's
marvellous skill in analyzing the literary structure of the poems. While
all this is true, I think he skirts the fact that implicit in Vendler's
analyses is the poet as hopelessly in love with the young man. This
forces her to again and again invent imaginary scenarios that explain
some of the difficulties in understanding the poems that this
perspective leads to. And by the way, I am not alone, as Bruce alleges,
in my views that the poet is addressing his friend, God, and his higher
and lower angels. I may be alone on this on our list, but not elsewhere.

Bruce's final point leaves us with the problem we started with, namely,
what is the truth about the sonnets? Are the sonnets love poems to a
young man and woman or are they love poems to God and the guiding angels
He gives to each man/woman? I have no conceit that it is my preferences
that must decide this issue. I have offered abundant evidence for my
views and would offer more.  Bruce thinks that just because it is not
the view he prefers that I must be wrong. Now is that fair?

Finally, Julia Griffin makes clear what may bother many persons about my
view. It is that the alleged secular Shakespeare that they have been in
love with has actually been inspired by religious beliefs that have been
a balm to his existence in this very troubled world that the poet often
described. In fact, it seems to me that the poet in the Sonnets is
making the case for religion as a vital force that can ennoble man and
make life beautiful.

If I am right about this, is it not important that the world learn that
the great Shakespeare, the keenest of intellects and the most sensitive
of human instruments probing our inner heart of hearts,
had this side to him? The poet may be telling the world something very
important in this that we and the unbelievers among us should consider
carefully. And if this is the man he was, will love alter when it
alteration finds?

David Basch

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