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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: November ::
Biography in the Sonnets

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0315  Tuesday, 29 November 2011

 

From:         Brian Nugent < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         November 28, 2011 10:32:52 PM EST

Subject:      Re: Biography in the Sonnets

 

I agree that the Sonnets contain a lot of autobiographical information but I don't agree that you can read so much into the dedication of some of his books of poetry to Southampton. (Personally I think any references to 'mistress' would have to be Queen Elizabeth because throughout his works he was always careful with correct, polite, aristocratic terminology and that would be it for 'mistress'. I also think the person he is talking to who should get married would naturally be his son, or daughter, who are regularly pestered by their parents to produce a grandson/daughter, especially as heirs in aristocratic families!) If the author was Joyce, or whoever, one wouldn't assume that half the book was based on the person the book was dedicated to. Often, in Tudor times, it was only dedicated to somebody that they thought would reward it with money (and that's irrespective or how gushing the dedication sounds!) it would have no more significance than that.

 

I think a more substantial way of approaching Shakespeare is to work on the new thinking about his religion. Obviously a consensus seems to be slowly emerging that he was Catholic and was secretly standing up for Catholic doctrine throughout the plays. Well if that is so does it offer some insight into his identity? Is he a Catholic champion, can we see that throughout his career? Obviously its quite a stretch to read that into the known life of the actor Shakespeare, who seems more interested in money, but maybe we could get some clues on this from the Sonnets.

 

Well one thing I would point out is that some of the Catholic families who were put under great pressure throughout this time suffered 'attainders' as a kind of prelude to being executed, usually. An Attainder was an Act of Parliament that was passed on some traitor (i.e. a few Catholics in these times) which disinherited him and all his offspring. That last point is the interesting thing about the Attainder, it meant that not only the person himself but all their heirs were disinherited from whatever title they had, it was as if the guilt passed through the person's blood onto their descendants. Because of this phenomenon, and because the aristocratic families had such a fear of the Attainder, they had particular terms for it, including: a blood stain, a blot, and words to that effect.  

 

Well maybe, as a Catholic champion, that happened to Shakespeare and also that might explain his anonymity if you don't believe the Stratford actor story? On that then what about these mysterious references to blots by Ben Johnson (Timber, 1640) describing Shakespeare:

 

"I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shake-speare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted."

 

Also, to get back on track with this thread, I wonder if these autobiographical references in the Sonnets are work considering in this context:

 

25

Let those who are in favour with their stars

Of public honour and proud titles boast,

Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,

 

26

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state...

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

 

36

So shall those blots that do with me remain

 

82

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse

And therefore mayst without attaint o'erlook

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book

 

88

I am attainted

 

109

So that myself bring water for my stain.

Never believe, though in my nature reign'd

All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,

That it could so preposterously be stain'd,

 

111

The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,

...

Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,

 

Ok, it’s true, I admit I have somebody particular in mind here! Not Marlowe though. I was thinking that Ireland might be a happy hunting ground for oppressed, and hence needfull of anonymity, Catholic champions of the 1590-1620 period. It was said, by Sir Nicholas Malby, a governor of Connaught in Tudor times, of the well-known Irish candidate that he "has established O'Rourke [a Gaelic chieftain] in the roomishe religion which rule he holdeth for his only quarrell." (State Papers 63/83/63)

 

[Editor’s Note: A gentle reminder that authorship discussions have no place on the SHAKSPER list.  Brian Nugent is the author of Shakespeare Was Irish! , which can be found in Google Books: http://books.google.com/books/about/Shakespeare_Was_Irish.html?id=LT4VjQzUX40C -HMCook]

 
 

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