2012

The Venus & Adonis Dedication

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0516  Thursday, 13 December 2012

 

[1] From:        Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 12, 2012 4:11:28 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Ven. Dedication 

 

[2] From:        Julia Griffin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 12, 2012 5:45:43 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Ven. Dedication 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 12, 2012 4:11:28 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Ven. Dedication

 

On Wed, Dec 12, 2012 , Ian Stere wrote:

 

>We now know that these assessments are, in all probability, 

>badly incomplete or plain wrong. Evidence, in the form of the 

>Dedication, points to a highly intimate relationship between 

>poet and an aristocratic, effeminate young Narcissus.

 

I would suggest that a more appropriate way to set that statement might be “I believe that these assessments are, possibly, incomplete or wrong. To me, there is evidence in the Dedication that suggests . . . .”

 

I would also suggest that many other readers, equally scholarly, might find no evidence of a “highly intimate relationship” but merely a client/patron relationship.

 

I fear that Mr. Steere, like others who occasionally raise their heads on this forum, has found a hobby horse, and is insisting on riding it in complete disregard of the weakness of the evidence on which he’s built his floor.

 

I suspect this is another case of “Sonnet 20 is clearly homo-erotic, so obviously Shakespeare must have been involved in homosexual relationship(s).”

 

I would appreciate suggested sources of scientific/scholarly discussions of sexuality in the Elizabethan era; my (admittedly non-scholarly) understanding is that “sexuality” as we worry ourselves about it today was not significant until perhaps the mid-19th century.

 

Mari Bonomi

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Julia Griffin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 12, 2012 5:45:43 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Ven. Dedication

 

On sexy Southampton, etc. -

 

Has Dr. Steere read Anthony Burgess’ novel Nothing Like the Sun?  As I remember, it’s all there . . . Schoenbaum thought it was silly.  (Well, what he said was: “Burgess comes before us as novelist, not scholar, and he is entitled to the biographical irresponsibilities of art.”—Shakespeare’s Lives, p. 562).

 

Julia Griffin

 

Early Modern Sexuality

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0515  Thursday, 13 December 2012

 

[1] From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 12, 2012 11:52:17 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: EM Sexuality 

 

[2] From:        Jess Winfield <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 13, 2012 2:42:38 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: EM Sexuality 

 

[3] From:        Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 13, 2012 8:53:01 AM EST

     Subject:     Early Modern Sexuality 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 12, 2012 11:52:17 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: EM Sexuality

 

>>trying to assess Shakespeare’s sexuality based on his work

>

>Why try?

 

Obviously, for the same reason we try to assess his religious sympathies, political disposition, etc. So that we can claim he was one of us. I agree it’s silly. It is self-evident that Shakespeare was a straight libertarian atheist.

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Jess Winfield <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 13, 2012 2:42:38 AM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: EM Sexuality

 

I suspected my comments would be controversial, but I didn’t expect a dogpile from both ends of the New Critical/New Historical spectrum. What fun!

 

I shall attempt to answer, and succinctly. Understand that I’m not a scholar. With apologies to those who think biography is off-limits: I am a working playwright, actor, director, producer, and writer of fiction. And yes, I’ve made a decent living at all those things at some point my adult life. Shakespeare has been there with me every step of the way. I hope that will count for something. As a sometimes-avid reader of this list, I have a cursory knowledge of scholarly issues and trends. So . . . 

 

Conrad Geller asks:

 

>Isn’t the notion that you can determine aspects of an author’s life 

>from his works termed the Biographical Fallacy?
 

Well, it was. But is that not an antique, New Critical POV?  Have we not moved beyond that? Where is Greenblatt when I need him?
 

>Why would anyone make an inference about an author “from his work”?

>A writer’s work is the product of his imagination. He takes on a character

>and writes as from that character. 
 

Of course you mean “his or her” imagination. So sad that all commenters on my post thus far are male. But I digress.

 

Geller’s is a peculiarly academic misapprehension. It’s a cliché, but working writers know that you can truly only “write what you know.” You can cloak it, tweak it, mask it in a different period, replace humans with vampires or hobbits, nobles or kings and queens.  Sure, you can invent some “stuff—” gadgets, devices, worlds; but the combination of emotional resonance and verisimilitude that drives art derives SOLELY from the real world. Imagination, even in a genius, has limits. Could Shakespeare have written Jane Austen? No. Vice-versa? Perhaps. Credibly, beyond the smell-test of scholars? Doubtful. Could either write a Star Trek movie? Of course not.
 

On the other hand, could the scholars here determine, simply by reading MSND, that Shakespeare was not in fact an Athenian of the pre-Classical era, but most likely an Elizabethan Englishman? I hope so, or scholarship is doomed.
 

So: let’s agree that we can infer things about the author from his or her work. Which brings us to sexuality.

 

Harry Berger Jr. responds to my:

 

>>trying to assess Shakespeare’s sexuality based on his work
 

with:

 

>Why try?
 

Aside from the obvious “Why not?” (the essential curiosity that drives all human inquiry) . . . 

 

Shakespeare’s sexuality has relevance if for no other reason than understanding the Sonnets. To deny this is (in regard to what is quite obviously a tale of sexual triangles) is, to my mind, arbitrary and academic folly.
 

Having received today, via e-mail, a lengthy tome from another ersatz scholar with a “unified theory” of the Sonnets based on the life of a certain noble-who-shall-remain-nameless, I think it important that we here on Earth acknowledge the biographical implications of said Sonnets . . . if only to keep said $@^&@®ians from the gate.

 

Gabriel Egan has weighed in with the most thoughtful response to my iconoclasm. Whether sexual preference is closer to “hard vs. flat earth” or the slippery, self-referential slope of “consciousness” is, in fact, debatable, despite my too-bold claim that nature has won out over nurture. The debate is ongoing. But the “when did you decide to be straight?” school is in clearly in the ascendancy, at least in the US.
 

To respond to Egan’s plea for citations: Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation By Simon LeVay, New York, Oxford University Press, 2011, is, I think, the most comprehensive recent survey of the subject. From a review by Richard Lipperton, Cal State Fullerton: “LeVay takes an unabashedly biological perspective in his book, arguing that sexual orientation is likely to be strongly molded by biological factors, particularly the early (prenatal and perinatal) influence of sex hormones.” Link to said review here: 

 

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-011-9997-1/fulltext.html
 

Mind you, I don’t have any skin in this particular game, except for my next novel (which I hope to get reasonably right) about sexual, literary, and political triangles in the Sonnets.

 

Which I, a Writer, shall birth Athena-like from the genius of my own invention, without any recourse to the trivialities of personal biography. Really.

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 13, 2012 8:53:01 AM EST

Subject:     Early Modern Sexuality

 

Jess Winfield has received responses to the effect that one cannot reasonably make an inference about an author from his work. However, one reasonably could, if that work were found to contain (or constitute) the author’s personal correspondence to a friend. And such inferences would surely come into play (for better or for worse) if they were perceived to have a bearing on the wider thesis.

 

I offered a hypothetical scenario which included the following amplification: “[Shakespeare] is either fully hetero or thereabouts”. I might instead have said: “[Shakespeare] is carnally attracted solely to women, or, if not exclusively so, only occasionally to ingles”. I had several reasons for choosing the former presentation—but I would be interested to learn if the latter would have offended analytical sensibilities and, if so, why. I apologize in advance to any vegetarians who might have a beef.

Early Modern Sexuality

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0513  Wednesday, 12 December 2012

 

[1] From:        Harry Berger Jr <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 11, 2012 12:44:14 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality 

 

[2] From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 11, 2012 1:14:33 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality 

 

[3] From:        Conrad Geller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 11, 2012 2:16:05 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality 

 

[4] From:        Markus Marti <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 11, 2012 3:54:00 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality 

 

[5] From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         December 12, 2012 4:37:55 AM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Harry Berger Jr <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 11, 2012 12:44:14 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality

 

>trying to assess Shakespeare’s sexuality based on his work

 

Why try?

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 11, 2012 1:14:33 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality

 

Jess Winfield wrote:

 

>While this may be true, it needn’t preclude us from trying to assess

>Shakespeare’s sexuality based on his work, nor positing opinions 

>about it. Current science suggests that sexual preference is not 

>environmentally determined, so what Shakespeare’s contemporaries 

>thought of their own behavior, while interesting, is a different subject 

>than his sexuality. One might as well suggest that possible mental

> disorders in early modern individuals are best discussed in terms of 

>imbalance of the humours. I’m sure there’s an academic term for such 

>a fallacy.

 

Isn’t the notion that you can determine aspects of an author’s life from his works termed the Biographical Fallacy?

 

(Discussing possible mental disorders in early modern individuals in terms of imbalance of the humours would indeed be fruitful, as that would have been the paradigm constraining the reporting of symptoms.)

 

John Briggs

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Conrad Geller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 11, 2012 2:16:05 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality

 

Why would anyone make an inference about an author “from his work”? A writer’s work is the product of his imagination. He takes on a character and writes as from that character. 

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Markus Marti <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 11, 2012 3:54:00 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality

 

I really don’t care how famous people (do or did) pee, shit or fuck (excuse my French) and what other “disgusting” but actually normal things they do or did in their spare time. “Sexuality” and “sexual preferences” (and so forth) in our modern sense are very late 19th century terms if I am not mistaken.

 

Sexual preferences and sexual behaviour in general is a great field to investigate in cultural studies, and as an old lecher I am all for it, but it has not much to do with literary studies and it is terribly unfair to judge people of former ages in which these terms were not known.

 

Markus Marti

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 12, 2012 4:37:55 AM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality

 

Jess Winfield claims that

 

> . . . what Shakespeare's contemporaries thought

> of their own behavior, while interesting, is a

> different subject than his sexuality.

 

Putting it like this suggests that there are two things existing at once: a person’s real sexuality and what they think their sexuality is. This distinction works well for many branches of knowledge, so that for example there was the real shape of the Earth (roughly spherical) and what people thought its shape was (flat). But such a hard distinction doesn’t work well for self-reflexive topics like consciousness and sexuality.

 

To see why not, imagine our topic were not sexuality but indeed consciousness. It would scarcely make sense to distinguish between ‘what Shakespeare consciously thought’ and ‘what Shakespeare consciously thought he consciously thought’. While we may all be mistaken about our mental processes from time to time, even Freud would concede that we are entitled to consider ourselves the foremost authorities on at least our conscious minds. (Indeed, Freud’s ‘where id was, there shall ego be’ is predicated on this confidence in the autonomous power of the conscious mind.)

 

Since a considerable part of sexuality is likewise self-reflexively conscious, Winfield’s claim that we can consider early moderns’ sexuality as something entirely distinct from their view of their sexuality is clearly overstated.

 

In any case, Ian Steere’s claims about Shakespeare’s sexuality aren’t confined to what Shakespeare really was but also encompass (if I understand him right) what Shakespeare thought of himself. That makes the early modern view of sexuality a relevant topic for Steere and renders his uncritical application of our ideas of sexuality vulnerable to the charge of anachronism.

 

Jess Winfield makes the very interesting announcement that:

 

> Current science suggests that sexual preference

> is not environmentally determined . . .

 

I’d be very interested to receive citations of the science on this topic. I find that I often make such a request on SHAKSPER and seldom does anybody write back advising me to “Read xxxx and yyyy . . .”. Instead SHAKSPERians seem to assume that my request is only rhetorical. It never is. I’d genuinely be grateful if Winfield took my request literally and passed along some references, and I really would go away and do the prescribed reading.

 

Gabriel Egan

 

The Venus & Adonis Dedication

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0514  Wednesday, 12 December 2012

 

From:        Ian Steere <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         December 12, 2012 8:49:31 AM EST

Subject:     The Venus & Adonis Dedication 

 

In a recent biography, Bill Bryson writes: “William Shakespeare produced a narrative poem called Venus and Adonis with a dedication so florid and unctuous that it can raise a sympathetic cringe even after four hundred years”. He goes on to say: “we know nothing at all about the relationship, if any, that existed between Shakespeare and Southampton”. 

 

Here, Bryson was faithfully (if colourfully) reflecting current orthodoxy.

 

We now know that these assessments are, in all probability, badly incomplete or plain wrong. Evidence, in the form of the Dedication, points to a highly intimate relationship between poet and an aristocratic, effeminate young Narcissus. Its messages suggest that the poet—originally favoured by the aristocrat—was displaced. Moreover, they demonstrate, yet again, his wit. They give us an insight into his character. He was prepared to flatter and grovel with the best when it suited him—but he was no doormat. He balanced charm with calculated reprisal and boldness. He was able to recover (at least in part) his standing with the young lord (as confirmed by the Lucrece dedication). 

 

If the revelations provoke no further testing in this forum, I suggest we may reasonably conclude that members generally: (i) are not interested; or (ii) do not want to countenance them and (unable to contradict) hope that they will just go away; or (iii) give credence (perhaps mildly qualified).

 

I hope to continue the discovery with the begetting of ensuing inferences. However, I do not want to offend unnecessarily. This will happen if I have no audience in Category (iii) above—or if that audience thinks such elaboration unnecessary. Consequently, it would be helpful to have indications from (or of) the gloom beyond the stagelights. Just an “I’m listening” or a “Push off, you oik” will do. 

Previewing a BBC Documentary, “The King and the Playwright”

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0512  Wednesday, 12 December 2012

 

From:        John F Andrews <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Tuesday, December 11, 2012 1:52 PM

Subject:     Previewing a BBC Documentary, “The King and the Playwright” 

 

Previewing a BBC Documentary, “The King and the Playwright,” with Columbia’s James Shapiro

 

 

Speaking of Shakespeare

 

After memorable conversations in September with JOHN LAHR, senior theatre critic for the New Yorker magazine, in October with Hunter College’s IRENE DASH, and in November with esteemed director NAGLE JACKSON, the Shakespeare Guild invites you to a special December 17 preview of THE KING AND THE PLAYWRIGHT, a new BBC documentary by Columbia University’s JAMES SHAPIRO.

___________________

 

James Shapiro’s BBC Series on Shakespeare

    

Monday, December 17, at 7:00 p.m.    

National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South 

No Charge, but Reservations Requested

 

As the author of such award-winning volumes as Shakespeare and the Jews (1996), Oberammergau (2000), 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), and Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (2010), Columbia University’s JAMES SHAPIRO has established himself as one of today’s most prominent scholars and reviewers, with frequent appearances on the Charlie Rose Show and other television and radio programs, and with numerous articles in periodicals such as the New York Times. On this occasion he’ll preview a riveting segment from his latest endeavor, a three-hour BBC documentary, The King and the Playwright, which has been shortlisted for a major TV award in the UK. After Mr. Shapiro screens his fascinating account of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot against James I and his court, and its impact on the chief dramatist for the theatrical company that profited from the monarch’s own patronage, he and the Guild’s John Andrews will join the audience for an engaging discussion of the episode.

___________________

 

Looking ahead, we’ll soon be announcing details about a special GIELGUD AWARD gala to take place on Sunday, April 14, at the GIELGUD THEATRE in London. This benefit will feature many of the luminaries who graced our April 2004 GIELGUD CENTENARY GALA, which occurred in the same venue and was co-sponsored by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. For additional information about these and other offerings, as well as about membership in The Shakespeare Guild, visit the website below or contact

 

John F. Andrews, President

The Shakespeare Guild

www.shakesguild.org 

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