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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: October ::
Sonnet 125
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0930  Thursday, 19 October 2006

[Editor's Note: When a thread creeps or leaps from marginality to 
nonsense, it is my job as editor-moderator to say enough. So, ENOUGH! By 
the way, some years ago, while working on the reception of the Sonnets, 
I read a significant number of books in the Folger Library's collection 
speculating on the "meaning" of the Sonnets. Some of them are beginning 
to sound sensible compared to some of the speculation here. (Nota Bene: 
Forbis, John F. The Shakespearean enigma and an Elizabethan mania. New 
York, American library service, 1924). -HMC]

[1] 	From: 	Norman D. Hinton <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 12:18:07 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[2] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 14:44:47 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[3] 	From: 	John Briggs <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 20:47:58 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[4] 	From: 	Nigel Davies <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 22:32:46 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[5] 	From: 	Peter Bridgman <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 22:50:34 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[6] 	From: 	Nigel Davies <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 23:10:06 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[7] 	From: 	Nigel Davies <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 23:25:50 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[8] 	From: 	Peter Farey <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 06:37:37 +0100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

[9] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 22:52:21 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

[10]	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 11:00:15 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Norman D. Hinton <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 12:18:07 -0500
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

It is truly amazing how many conclusions people are coming to about 
Sonnet 125 with no evidence whatever.

I always told my graduate students "In the absence of data, speculation 
is not acceptable. You can speculate when there IS data, but not when it 
is missing."

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 14:44:47 -0400
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

Bruce Young provides a partial list of passages in which Shakespearean 
characters express traditional Christian notions.  But those are the 
pronouncements of CHARACTERS who may also express other views which 
might or might not reflect the author's own opinion.

Contrary citations can be marshaled.  For example, Jupiter Himself 
appears in Cymbeline, as does Diana in Pericles.  Apollo is a real 
presence in Winters Tale.  Hymen and Hecate even make appearances in 
plays set in Christian times.  Gloucester tells us "the gods" (not one 
solitary "God") kill us for their sport. And so on.

Shakespeare, living in a Protestant country at a time when Catholic 
dogma was forbidden to be preached, presented a ghost from Purgatory in 
a play set in what was a Catholic country at the time of the events 
portrayed.

Surely, we cannot assume that WS was a devout Anglican -- or a devout 
anything else -- on the strength of the evidence of what his characters 
say.  On the contrary, his willingness to treat paganism with as much 
respect as Christianity in the plays set in pagan times suggests to me 
that he did not personally feel wedded to any fixed form of religion and 
might well have doubted them all.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Briggs <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 20:47:58 +0100
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

Bruce Young wrote:

 >(1) Though we have no window into his heart, isn't it true that, after
 >retiring to Stratford, Shakespeare served in his parish as a "lay
 >rector" (one of the laymen who helped run the parish)?

No, no, no!  That's a howler - albeit excusable enough for someone at 
Brigham Young University!  Being a "lay rector" just means that the 
Rectory (i.e. the office of Rector) is in lay hands - I don't remember 
the details in Shakespeare's case, but it meant that he had purchased 
land that entitled him to a share of the rectorial tithes (with the 
obligation to repair the chancel of the parish church), with the added 
perk of being entitled to be buried in the chancel.  It had no religious 
significance (or service obligations), except that such a person would 
normally be regarded as at least passively being a member of the Church 
of England - and certainly not a recusant.

(The default position in England is that the parish priest was the 
rector, and received the rectorial tithes.  But many livings came into 
the possession of monasteries and other religious houses, who retained 
the office (and tithes) for themselves, appointing a vicar to the parish 
who only received the vicarial tithes.  At the Dissolution of the 
Monasteries, the bulk of those rectories passed into lay hands, along 
with their tithes. The rector is responsible for building and 
maintaining the chancel of the parish church, the parishioners for the 
nave.  Tithes have long been abolished, but the chancel repair 
obligation remains, and occasionally still catches out a lay rector 
unfortunate enough to buy the wrong piece of land!)

John Briggs

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nigel Davies <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 22:32:46 +0100
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

Bruce Young wrote:

 >...Nigel Davies greatly overstates Shakespeare's supposed
 >"secular outlook on life, devoid of religious leanings,"
 >and "well clear of religious devotion, practice and ceremony."

My principal motive for saying this is the content of the Sonnets. WS is 
not reticent in expressing his views on a variety of subjects that are 
close to the bone including masturbation, informing the young man that 
he has been anatomically designed to have sexual relations with women 
not men, graphic lust for the dark lady, etc. One might reasonably 
expect any religious inclinations he has to manifest in these graphic 
sonnets yet there is a striking absence of religious material. Not only 
does he use Biblical phrases to deify his subject, his view of what 
happens after death is not angels, resurrection, after-life, re-birth, 
meeting one's maker, but dwelling with "vile worms" and the void after 
death. On its own this is distinctive but in the context of 
contemporaries like Donne, and his "Death be not proud", it is quite 
striking.
 >Four thoughts in response:
 >
 >(1) Though we have no window into his heart, isn't it true
 >that, after retiring to Stratford, Shakespeare served in his
 >parish as a "lay rector" (one of the laymen who helped run
 >the parish)?

Agreed. But I am dubious as to whether the motive for this was religious 
service or the tithes benefit.

 >(2) There are many references to and representations of "religious
 >devotion, practice and ceremony" in the plays and sonnets.
 >So whatever Shakespeare may have thought of these, his mind was
 >certainly not "well clear" of them.

I agree they are present in the plays but I believe they are absent from 
the more insightful and personal sonnets. He speaks of bearing the 
canopy in Henry VIII, for example, but his personal sentiments towards 
that act in 125 are starkly different.

 >(3) His "re-purposing of Biblical and religious phrases"
 >is not "virtually blasphemous," except perhaps to very strict
 >or oversensitive minds.  Many religiously inclined writers,
 >including in Shakespeare's time, have used religious phrases
 >and ideas metaphorically, symbolically, dramatically, or poetically.

Agreed. But at least his own use of them is to deify the subject, not to 
use them in a religious context.

 >(4) The sonnets and plays include plenty of straightforward
 >expressions of religious feeling and belief.
 >For example (picking just a few among hundreds)...

I make a clear distinction myself between the fiction of the plays and 
the personal sonnets. Isabella as a character who wishes to be a nun 
will speak in religious terms, for example, but those sentiments and 
language are not in the sonnets.

 >And some, as the following, seem to take for granted religious belief
 >in a way that cannot be explained away as simply "in character":
 >
 >Sonnet 55: So till the judgment that yourself arise . . .
 >[i.e., until judgment day when you are resurrected]

I see this as addressed to the young man and reflecting his apparent 
beliefs. I accept it could also be a belief attributable to the author 
but the second person subject of this sonnet and the unequivocal views 
expressed elsewhere as to what the author believes is his fate at death 
generates reasonable doubt as to whether the author shares this view.

 >And of course there's the will, starting with: "In the name of
 >god Amen I William Shackspeare,

Is this a reflection of religious devotion or legal custom?

Nigel Davies

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Bridgman <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 22:50:34 +0100
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

Jim Carroll thinks it is "wild surmise" to suggest that Shakespeare's 
Catholic upbringing might've made it unlikely that he would write 
pejoratively about eucharistic processions.  Peter Farey also finds my 
idea laughable.  I'll admit that as no eucharistic processions are 
mentioned in the works we can only guess at WS's attitude towards them. 
  However, as WS makes several references to other pious Catholic 
customs, our guess is a good one.

 >From TMOV we have the old Catholic custom of praying at wayside 
crosses ...

STEFANO:  She doth stray about
By holy crosses, where she kneels and prays
For happy wedlock hours.   (5.1)

In Troilus we find the banned 'creeping to the cross' ceremony from the 
old Good Friday service ...

PATROCLUS:  To come as humbly as they use to creep
To holy altars.
(Troilus 3.3)

In the Winters Tale we find the Catholic custom of having religious 
jewelry blessed by a priest ...

AUTOLYCUS:  They throng who should buy first, as if my trinkets had been 
hallowed, and brought a benediction to the buyer.
(WT 4.4)

It is interesting that the above references seem to come spontaneously 
to WS's mind, without any necessary link to context.

What was WS's attitude to praying to the Virgin Mary - i.e. praying the 
rosary?

QUEEN MARGARET:   But all his mind is bent to holiness,
To number Ave-Maries on his beads.
(2 HVI 1.3)

BUCKINGHAM:  When holy and devout religious men
Are at their beads, 'tis much to draw them thence.
So sweet is zealous contemplation.
(R III 3.7)

Or the Angelus? ...

INNOGEN:  ... At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight
T' encounter me with orisons - for then
I am in heaven for him.
(Cymbeline 1.4)

Or his attitude to banned pilgrimages? ...

QUEEN MARGARET:  Tell me, good fellow, cam'st thou here by chance,
Or of devotion to this holy shrine?
(2 HenryVI 2.1)

WS even mentions the 'pax bread'.  This was blessed by the priest at 
Mass and taken home by those not receiving communion.  It was then used 
domestically as a sacramental, like holy water. ...

ROSALIND:  And his kissing is as full of sanctity as the touch of holy 
bread.
(As You Like It 3.4)

For holy water references, see Lear 4.3 ('holy water from her heavenly 
eyes'), Cymbeline 5.5 ('My tears that fall prove holy water on thee'), 
and Tempest 4.1 ('sweet aspersion of the heavens').  As for the Catholic 
Mass itself ...

JULIET:  Are you at leisure, holy father, now,
Or shall I come to you at evening mass?
(R&J 4.1)

MOWBRAY:  Once did I lay an ambush for your life,
A trespass that doth vex my grieved soul;
But ere I last received the Sacrament
I did confess it.
(R II 1.1)

GHOST:  ... Unhouseled, dis-appointed, unaneled ...
(Hamlet 1.5)

('Housel' was of course the eucharist).

DION:                                  I shall report
For most it caught me, the celestial habits -
Methinks I so should term them - and the reverence
Of the grave wearers.  O, the sacrifice -
How ceremonious, solemn, and unearthly
It was i'th' off'ring.
(Winter's Tale 3.1)

In the setting of the Winter's Tale, the reference is to pagan worship, 
but in its underlying Christian meaning, the parallel is to the 
sacrifice of the Mass.

I suggest that nowhere in the works do we find any criticism of Catholic 
rituals or sacramentals, even though these were illegal throughout WS's 
life.  We certainly find criticism of their abuse (e.g. Richard III 
pretending to pray the rosary) but no criticism of the customs 
themselves. Instead, they are always treated with reverence.

Peter Bridgman

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nigel Davies <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 23:10:06 +0100
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

Sid Lubow wrote:

 >In sonnet 125, the Bard has lost all respect for his "louely Boy".  He
 >calls him a "subbornd Informer", instigated by the fickle Muse, "the
 >carcass of a beauty spent and done", the "reconciled Maide" of ALC.

There is surely only one subject in this sonnet. The "thy" of "No, let 
me be obsequious in thy heart" being the same "thy" of "Hence, thou 
suborned informer! A true soul When most impeached stands least in thy 
control".

Do you not think the tone of Q3 and the couplet are so glaringly at odds 
though? Unless the couplet is a deliberately shocking, contrived and 
almighty final FO to the young man the two do jar.

Nigel Davies

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Nigel Davies <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006 23:25:50 +0100
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

Peter Farey wrote:

 >The poem is, of course, mainly about his love for his friend, but he uses
 >another image to illustrate this, which may be that he is either:
 >
 >1) using the 'Coronation' image or the 'Eucharist' one, but not both, or
 >2) using one of them, but with just a side-glance at the other.

Peter, I think your references to the BCP are indisputable and clearly 
the inspiration for much of the wording of 125. I remain convinced 
though that 125 is contextualised by the James I coronation procession 
and associated canopy, as in Henry VIII, especially when viewing the 
panoramic 123/4/5 triad. As elsewhere I think WS has re-purposed 
Biblical/BCP references to aggrandise his subject who clearly loves to 
be addressed in this fashion. It is surely with some irony that WS plays 
the young man's game in this way and tells him what he evidently likes 
to hear. I have real difficulty reconciling the "pyramids", "state" and 
"pomp" of this triad with anything other than contemporary events 
although part of WS's verbal source is evidently what you have pointed out.

Nigel Davies

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Farey <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 06:37:37 +0100
Subject: 17.0911 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0911 Sonnet 125

Nigel Davies still prefers the "coronation" type of canopy to the "host" 
type, despite my pointing out the extraordinary number of (to me) clear 
references to those parts of the Book of Common Prayer, the Catechism 
and the 49 Articles which are related to the sacrament of Holy 
Communion.  Fair enough.

One or two points though. In response to his quoting the words "state", 
"pomp", "policy" and "politic" in support of his opinion, I pointed out 
that these came from Sonnet 124 "where the effect of political change 
upon *religious* practice", I said, "is just as likely to be what he had 
in mind". In his answer, Nigel says that "I don't think 125 should be 
read in isolation and needs to be seen as part of a broader canvas", but 
this was precisely the point I was making, which I thought I had made 
clear in my first post, which said "My interpretation of the whole thing 
starts by assuming it carries on from Sonnet 124".

Nigel says that "this sweet/savour pairing is a typically recurring 
theme", which it may well be, and need not, as he says, necessarily have 
a religious meaning. I agree. In fact I am reminded of the phrase "burnt 
offering", which is intimately connected with "sweet savour" in the 
bible, but which has entered today's language in a context which usually 
has nothing at all to do with its biblical origin. But when it appears 
among several other references to sacrifice, then I think it reasonable 
to assume that it is doing so in that case too.

I am not sure why Nigel assumes that my own interpretation, which I have 
not actually given, takes it as an indication that Shakespeare was a 
Catholic. I fully agree with his point that the Sonnets utilise 
"[b]iblical (and associated) phrases to aggrandise or deify the subject, 
not God". In fact I think that is precisely what he is doing this time 
too. I would say that the whole thing is essentially irreligious if not 
downright atheistic.

As an example, lines 3 and 4, which up until only a few days ago still 
puzzled me, I now see as quite clearly indicating a rejection of any 
possible after-life. To explain:

  3  Or layd great bases for eternity,
  4  Which proues more short then wast or ruining?

I now see that line 3 is based upon the words of the 1559 Book of Common 
Prayer (Holy Communion): "laying up in store for them selves a good 
foundacion, against the time to come, that they may attayne eternal 
lyfe". In fact, faced with putting the BCP quote into one iambic 
pentameter, I don't see how one could do any better!

Since the "which" in line 4 refers to eternity,  he must be saying that 
"eternal life" turns out to be even shorter than 'waste or ruining', in 
other words that life proves not to be eternal after all.

Peter Farey
http://www2.prestel.co.uk/rey/index.htm

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 22:52:21 +0000
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

On the canopy in Sonnet 125, Peter F. responds undeterred:

 >"The poem is, of course, mainly about his love for his
 >friend, but he uses another image to illustrate this, which
 >may be that he is either:
 >
 >1) using the 'Coronation' image or the 'Eucharist' one, but not both, or
 >2) using one of them, but with just a side-glance at the other.
 >
 >What  he is certainly *not* doing is to give equal weight to both of
 >them, which would (in my opinion) have totally wrecked the poem."

But Peter, would you deny Vincentio his friar's hood?

Joe Egert

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 18 Oct 2006 11:00:15 -0400
Subject: 17.0919 Sonnet 125
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0919 Sonnet 125

The last round of discussion was very enlightening as it exposed aspects 
of the Sonnets that seem in conflict.

No doubt, the "sweet boy" of Sonnet 108 cannot be the "lovely boy" of 
Sonnet 126 if the "sweet boy" is the poet's indestructible higher soul. 
So who then is the "lovely boy" that is reminded of his mortality? The 
seeming inconsistency would bring many issues to the fore.

My surmise is that the "lovely boy" is same "boy" addressed in the first 
17 sonnets and urged to procreate. This "lovely boy" is the poet himself 
at an early stage of his development, addressed again in Sonnet 126, 
concluding the first series of sonnets.

So who is doing the addressing in Sonnet 126? It would seem that there 
are two voices doing the addressing in the Sonnets. One of these is the 
poet as he is on earth. The second voice is the poet's mediating 
spiritual self.  This is the self that mediates between a person's 
higher and lower souls.  As surmised Arthur Acheson, a Shakespearean 
critic of the last century, this is the voice of the poet addressing 
himself, which he noted occurring in Sonnet 77. I have embellished 
Acheson's insight. (I note that Sid Lubow has touch with a similar 
understanding of the Sonnets as being the poet in dialogue with his selves.)

The voice doing the addressing in Sonnet 126 is the spiritual poet, the 
mediating aspect of the poet's spiritual selves. Like everyone, the poet 
has a higher self, the idealized "sweet boy," and a lower self, which is 
personified the "dark lady." It is the mediating level of soul that 
integrates the upper and lower souls. As Nigel Davies observed, Sonnet 
126 contains the poet's name in lines 6 and 7 (will, Shek...spur), 
perhaps signifying that it is indeed directed to and about the poet himself.

Among the sonnets, some will be the poet as himself addressing these 
selves and also addressing the Lord and some other friends that the poet 
identifies in relevant sonnets. In these, the poet will comment on his 
condition, the life he knows, and will express his love and appreciation 
for these friends, especially his sublime love of the Lord, found in 
Sonnets 29, 30, 31, 91, and others.

Another set of sonnets will be the voice of the poet serving as his own 
spiritual guide, an expression of the voice of the mediating level of 
his soul. Here the poet will advise himself about conduct; urging 
procreation and reminding of the temporary nature of human life, as 
noted for Sonnets 1 to 17, 77, 126.

I believe that most of the sonnets will be covered within this scheme 
and shows that the collection of 154 sonnets to be a coherent whole 
expressing Shakespeare's understanding of the nature of man and the 
world in which he is set.

No doubt, there are many refinements that need to be introduced for 
further clarification. But if we ignore such dimensions that some on 
list seem to sense we will have a lopsided view of the poet as a man in 
thrall to his passions and we will neglect his profound insight on the 
spiritual dimensions of life, a neglect that many critics seem intent to 
be about.

David Basch

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