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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: June ::
Hamlet's Feminine Endings

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0249  Tuesday, 22 June 2010

[1]  From:      John Briggs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      June 20, 2010 1:30:51 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings 

[2]  From:      Martin Mueller < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      June 20, 2010 1:38:51 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
 

[3]  From:      David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      June 20, 2010 5:41:49 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John Briggs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         June 20, 2010 1:30:51 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings

Abigail Quart wrote:

>With respect to Mr. Mueller, all the statistical analysis on the
>planet or the full body of Stephen Jay Gould's writings on every
>other topic but Shakespeare will not alter the effect of reading
>Sonnet 20. It's a gag. It's a joke. The joke is emphasized by
>using FOURTEEN feminine endings FOURTEEN. That's the big fat cue
>that something funny is going on. If Shakespeare were using
>FOURTEEN feminine endings FOURTEEN without believing they were
>"feminine" endings or that his friends believed it as well, there
>wouldn't be a joke. And one would have to seriously wonder why he
>bothered.

To me, this suggests that Shakespeare had just read Daniel's 1603 publication,
and was tickled to find them described as "feminine endings". He accordingly
wrote a sugar'd sonnet - regardless of whether his private friends (or the
general public) would get the joke.

That has, of course, no bearing on whether he knew that they were called that
when he wrote "Hamlet" - which seems to contain other in-jokes.

John Briggs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Martin Mueller < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         June 20, 2010 1:38:51 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings

With regard to Sonnet 20 Abigail Quart and I are playing tennis on the same side
of the net. Unstressed endings are statistically rarer than stressed endings. So
if you have a sonnet in which all the endings are unstressed, something is going
on. It's clearly an outlier that calls for explanation. 

But it's a different matter with the other cases that were raised. What rate of
unstressed endings over a given stretch of lines is likely to register as beyond
the threshold value of random noise? 100% over more than ten lines? Absolutely.
100% over four lines? Probably not. 

Those things are subject to empirical analysis. I'll play around with them for a
little while and may report back. 

Terminology is tricky. In music, the opposition of 'major' and 'minor' is
expressed in Latin (and German) as 'durus' or 'dur' and 'mollis' or 'moll',
respectively 'hard' and 'soft'. The major is harmonically stable, the minor is
less stable. Can we speak of the musical system as ruled over by a King of Major
and a Queen or Minor? Are minor keys "feminine"?

That doesn't seem like a good description of Beethoven's fifth or ninth
symphonies. On the other hand, in the Magic Flute, Mozart pretty aggressively
plays with that opposition. The famous minor arias are given to the mother lost
in vindictive hatred (d-minor) and the daughter lost in self-destructive grief
(g-minor). And just to drive the point home, the mother's revenge aria (Der
Hoelle Rachen) and the daughter's grief aria (Ach, ich fuehls) follow an
identical and somewhat unusual pattern of construction. Pamina is rescued from
suicide by the three little boys who sing "Don't" in E-flat major. 

That's sort of like the fourteen feminine endings of Sonnet 20. But it would be
quite wrong to argue from this very special case to a general association of the
minor key with women. 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         June 20, 2010 5:41:49 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0245  Hamlet's Feminine Endings

Sonnet 20 presents, as Helen Vendler notes, a charming "myth of origin" of how the striking
beauty of the poet's friend was originally meant by Nature, the assumed crafter of sexual roles, to
be housed in a woman. But so excellent was the beauty created that a doting Nature changed her
into a man defeating the possibility of a carnal relation between the poet and his friend.

It seems that as part of the sonnet that deals with this theme so playfully, the poet playfully used
the so-called feminine endings for the lines of the poem. In a sense, he changed ordinary masculine
line endings into feminine, a reverse echo of the myth presented.

However, I believe that Shakespeare's larger purpose in writing this poem was to dispel any idea
that the relationship to his friend was in any way carnal, as the poet tells us in its lines. What
causes the problem is that commentators today have ruled out the fact that this friend is not a real
person but a personification of an aspect of the poet's soul, his higher, immortal soul, as contrasted
with his lower, earthly soul, personified by the so-called Dark Lady.

This is a familiar religious concept of a duality in the two aspects of the soul, the angelic and the
devilish-aspects described by Shakespeare about these friends in Sonnet 144. The concept exists
in Judaism as the "good" and the "evil inclinations" but is not exclusive to the Jewish religion. My
thesis about the Sonnets is that, if it is carefully examined, its themes will strikingly emerge of the
dual aspect of man and of the inner struggles that ensue as we aspire to become full, moral human
beings.

Recognizing these aspects in the Sonnets rescues its greatness as a poetic document and enables
its noble ideas to emerge from the dark misunderstandings that some scholars insist on
continuing.

David Basch

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