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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Shakespeare's Personal Faith
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0739  Tuesday, 19 April 2005

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Apr 2005 08:00:42 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[2]     From:   Dan Decker <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Apr 2005 11:15:29 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Apr 2005 12:38:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[4]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Monday, 18 Apr 2005 18:38:07 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0716 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[5]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Sunday, 17 Apr 2005 14:43:29 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Apr 2005 08:00:42 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Edmund Taft writes, "Barring some great discovery, say, a letter from
Shakespeare where he states that the sonnets are autobiographical, we'll
never know for sure how biographical they are. But it makes no sense to
assume that they are not autobiographical at all. As Bill Arnold points
out, the name and the puns on 'Will' surely do not exist in a vacuum!"'

Bruce MacDonald quotes me, "Oh, really?  Then who is the 'Will' of the
*Will* sonnets, if not our Will Shakespeare?

"Then Bruce MacDonald, writes, "The fact that Shakespeare enjoyed
playing word games with his name is hardly evidence that the speaker and
poet are identical."

Well, Well, well.  Acknowledgment twice, reasonable acceptance of fact
and implication by Taft and denial of fact and implication by MacDonald.

As others have pointed out, MacDonald's acknowledgment becomes in his
continued expressions not proof of his thesis at all.  So let me be
clear, here.

I wrote a book on Dickinson about this entire thesis.  When is a poet
autobiographical and when is a poet not autobiographical?  Well, the
answer is tricky, to be sure.  The famous conundrum goes: "Absence of
evidence is not evidence of absence."  Think out it, for awhile.  For
some of you, this might be hard to do: think, before you write your
response.

In my book *Emily Dickinson's Secret Love*, available at
http://jeffbooks.com/ I wrote: "The reason I have written this book is
to *set the record straight* as I see it.  Everyone has their own
interpretation of what a poem means, if it means anything other than
just *is*!  As a poet, I understand this."

The rest of my book argues that her  circa one thousand *love poems*
are, indeed, autobiographical.  In the case of Dickinson, there is ample
corollary evidence in the biography of the poet to support the thesis.
Surely, there are Dickinson scholars who disagree, as is their wont.
And the bias of those of the disagreement is often overlooked.  If the
autobiographical can be dismissed, then books can be churned out on
interpretations from all over the spectrum.

Nice work if you can get it.  We used to call such work in graduate
school the *Cloud Interpretation School* of poetry!

In the case of Will Shakespeare, the biographical evidence trail is less
weighty than in the case of Dickinson.  In fact, in the case of
Dickinson, the biographical evidence has created deep ravines of thought
supporting one autobiographical interpretation of her love poems vs. all
others.  It appears that in the case of Will Shakespeare the
autobiographical ravines are as deep.  And in both cases there are wide
ravines, each labeled heterosexual, bisexual, asexual, Alter Ego, God,
and a hosts of others too numerous to lament their absence, here.

If we consider Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her *love poems* then
there seems to be little doubt who was the addressee?

Does any of this mean that a whole body of work of a poet is
autobiographical if one poems IS?  Of course not; we are reasonable
scholars, here: hah!  But on the other hand, the dismissal of any poem
by all poets as autobiographical is equally ludicrous.

Remember the caveat:  The famous conundrum goes: "Absence of evidence is
not evidence of absence."

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dan Decker <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Apr 2005 11:15:29 EDT
Subject: 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

The view that sonnets 1-126 were written only to the Fair Youth might be
open to examination.

In sonnet 144 (Two loves have I), WS practically names the fair youth
(FY) and the dark lady (DL) as he suspects the two of them might be
getting together. He goes on to say he will live in doubt till his bad
one (DL) fires his good one (FY) out. That's probably Elizabethan slang
for giving someone the pox. Subsequent sonnets suggest that FY goes on
to contract the disease.

In sonnet 35 WS might be confronting the person who gave him the pox,
suggesting WS already had the pox before the Fair Youth got it. If
that's the case, then WS is not confronting the
Fair Youth, but someone else. Hence, more than one addressee of sonnets
1-126 is at least a possibility.

Dan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Apr 2005 12:38:25 -0400
Subject: 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >Literature in every language is strewn with the platonic, the
 >masochistic, the mystically idealised, the intensely erotic in religious
 >writings about a 'God' in the same way, and largely in the same diction,
 >as writings by and about human subjects

So true!  Consider the manner in which Christ and the Church address
each other in the Song of Songs.  By the way, can someone provide the
accurate English translation of the Hebrew word which the KJV gives as
"navel"?

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Monday, 18 Apr 2005 18:38:07 +0100
Subject: 16.0716 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0716 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

This passage from 'The Stripping of the Altars' reminds me of our recent
Bardolph pyx/pax discussion ...

"A mid-fifteenth century chronicler recorded a spate of robberies in
London churches, in which the pyxes hung over the altars to reserve the
Host had been the only targets.  It was widely believed that the thefts
were motivated by heresy, and indeed the organizer was a Lollard who
boasted at a supper that he had eaten "ix goddys at my sopyr that were
in the boxys"." (p101)

Could WS have had this story in mind when he wrote Henry V?  And did
Bardolph - who served the Lollard Oldcastle - represent Lollardy?

Peter Bridgman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Sunday, 17 Apr 2005 14:43:29 -0400
Subject: 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0723 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Under this theme of Shakespeare's Personal Beliefs, I have long ago
agreed with the view that great poetry and art can be created dedicated
to both the highest and lowest of human activities, a range extending
from the extolling of the most depraved conditions of man to the highest
praise of God. This should no longer be an issue. Nor do I rule out any
subject to be treated in works of art. I have only noted the obvious,
the fact that, depending on what is brought to a work of art, audiences
will be accepting or rejecting of it irrespective of its qualitative
merit. For example, Peter Bridgman pointed out that the readership of
the Sonnets, (great, masterful poems,) was probably affected negatively
by the "unusual" fact that some of this poetry was directed toward
another male. Others have found the subject of God in the Sonnets
distasteful and sure to turn them off.

Stuart Manger asks my views of the pathological in this context. I would
say that this refers to an aberrant types of behavior reflecting a sick
mind that is unhealthful in itself and deleterious to a person's
functioning. Masochism, the kind that Helen Vendler described as
operating on the poet in Sonnet 40, is just such an unhealthful state.
Depending on how severe it is, this could be very bad and permanently
debilitating or it could be a kind that can be outgrown with maturity.

Concerning Shakespeare's alleged "masochism," it is a condition that
obviously distorts the poet's view of himself and his friend, making
him, ostensibly, to have contempt for himself and to idolize his shallow
friend. Booth and Vendler, renowned literature scholars, are content to
accept this situation as describing the poet and, clearly, they do not
think that the collateral damage of this condition disturbs the poet's
art to any degree. On the other hand, I have my own views on this and
see such behavior as out of character with the demonstrated scope and
reach of the great poet and I find the illogic of the "masochist" view
further supports my own view as a better fit.  What I find going on in
the Sonnets are allegoric dialogues not with a very real young man and a
real woman but with God and other spiritual figures.

Stuart Manger would see no difference in a pathology of "abjectness"
irrespective of whether it is directed toward man or to God. In this I
would agree with him were this behavior in each case to be a true mental
pathology. As applied to the Sonnets, the extreme deference of the poet
to his friend, thought of as human, would seem self deprecating of the
poet in the extreme and worshipful toward a rejecting, shallow, and
vacuous person. It smacks of blindness to reality.

On the other hand, the same behavior exhibited toward the Lord of the
Universe takes on a different character. In the eyes of God, our
striving for wealth and fame is truly meaningless and it is not a form
of self-deprecation when these striving are curbed. What is more, the
worshipful tone of the poet toward his Friend in the face of
disappointments in life here becomes a form of theodicy that attempts to
reconcile man with God's ways.

The worshipful tone toward the alleged human friend seems out and out
debasement while the same worship directed to the friend as God is
ennobling since it curbs the unbridled ego and our own self-involvement
and encourages our highest thought and behavior. This is a form of self
realization since in serving God (or other high ideals) we are conscious
of our powers and remain at full strength and growing.

With God, it is the "Awesome" that is addressed, that which is truly
worthy of our greatest respect and love for enabling our own existence,
enabling our exercise of moral choice and the pursuit of justice and
compassion and the ability to know Him. Though this does involve
obeisance, there is nothing pathological about it in the manner, rightly
understood, in which Shakespeare could be seen to express his views in
the Sonnets.

This still leaves us on the list with the questions we began with: in
reading the Sonnets, are we eavesdropping on normal feudal fealty and
the ravages of erotic passion within moderately or severely sick human
relationships or are we privy to a man addressing his God and other
spiritual forces, reflecting the poet's personal faith? Depending on
which it is, the Sonnets takes on a different meaning and character.  If
we are serious about learning what it is that the great mind of the poet
conceived and not narcissistically pitching our own thoughts to
ourselves, we ought to open ourselves up to alternative views.

For my part, I have not been ignorant of the other side of this
controversy. I had for decades been exposed to the Rouses, the Booths,
the Vendlers, the Fiedlers, the Greenblatts, and the Duncan-Joneses, to
name but a few, before coming to my own conclusion that the poems of the
Sonnets are an allegory like The Song of Songs, which is also a literary
work garbed in erotic language in expressing Godly love.

Shakespeare's allegory sheds light on the poet's views of God and man.
In it, the poet addresses God as well as his own higher and lower
guiding angels (and more besides, like his memorial to Christopher
Marlowe and others). The poet's angels are in the form of a handsome
young man that he loves since he craves the godly holiness and purity
that this angel would guide him to, and in the form of the irresistible
woman that he loves a little less since this angel would bring him down
toward earth.

The Sonnets, among many other things, describes this inner struggle,
which is both erotic and spiritual, as basic in the poet's life and in
our own, with the poet representing Everyman. All of this is conceived
as part of God's plan for mankind. The Sonnets would tell us that both
aspects are necessary for life: without our higher, godly nature, we
become beasts, but without our lower nature and its attractions we won't
reproduce and won't have the aggressive spirit to defend our selves and
to fight injustice. It seems to me that this a splendid picture of the
human condition that this profoundly religious poet's deep understanding
of mankind, nature, and the spiritual has given to the world. We shun
the understanding that the great mind of the poet offers to our own loss.

I have presented to the list some of the evidence for this view. Among
other things, I have shown examples of the presence of God's names in
embedment in some of the sonnets and demonstrated how the poet put his
own name in Sonnet 148 using the same name devices. The repetitions of
these devices and their abundance suggest strongly, if not compel, the
conclusion that this hidden material has been built into the Sonnets by
the poet himself to communicate his personal views.

In any case, I have presented the full story of the allegory and the
evidence that led me toward this view in THE SHAKESPEARE CODES. (Yes,
there is indeed a specific code aside from the embedment!) This book
(and my others) were ordered by some of the top research university
libraries in the nation, among which are Harvard University and the
Universities of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Toronto, which
universities have at least been willing to entertain my ideas and not
dismiss them out of hand.

If the statement of my views is not perfect (and I have myself already
come upon many things I would add and revise), it is at least something
to build on and perfect, if not to be demolished by a superior
understanding. I look forward to that process. I hope readers of our
list will be open to these thoughts as they emerge in our future
discussions.

David Basch

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