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Home :: Archive :: 2014 :: March ::
Sonnet 18: Gender and Date

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.153  Thursday, 27 March 2014

 

[1] From:        John Drakakis < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 26, 2014 at 1:58:35 PM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Sonnet 18: Gender and Date 

 

[2] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 26, 2014 at 3:10:15 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnet 18: Gender and Date 

 

[3] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 26, 2014 at 3:13:52 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnet 18: Gender and Date 

 

[4] From:        Ian Steere < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 27, 2014 at 9:03:58 AM EDT

     Subject:    Sonnet 18 

 

 

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

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

Date:         March 26, 2014 at 1:58:35 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Sonnet 18: Gender and Date

 

I think that both Amy Greenstadt and David Basch are right here, insofar as these sonnets play with the sonnet’s form and content. Imtiaz Habib’s observation is correct but it does not mean that the sonnets are addressed to a patron in other than a general courteous sense. Perhaps we should think of these sonnets as what Roland Barthes would call ‘writable’ texts—texts that invite the reader to look more closely than in the case of ‘readerly’ texts and the processes of composition. Collapsing them into a biographical narrative limits their appeal and misses this point. This doesn’t rule out Plato at all, but the sonnets ‘play’ in the Derridean sense with different permutations of addressee and with everything that flows from the speaker’s adjustments in order to deal with a wide range of topics that we don’t usually find in the sonnet before Shakespeare (do we?).

 

Cheers

John D 

 

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

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

Date:         March 26, 2014 at 3:10:15 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnet 18: Gender and Date

 

>what commentators miss is that the so-called young man that the 

>poet addresses here and in later sonnets is in fact the friend the 

>poet later identifies (Sonnet 144) as “the man right fair,” his better 

>angel and spirit. This friend’s angelic, “eternal beauty” that “will 

>not fade” is that of a “spirit,” the higher soul that the poet received 

>(and all youth) receives at about the age of puberty.

>

>And what do you know, the woman is also an angel-spirit, the 

>poet’s (and our own) given-at-birth lower soul, “the woman 

>coloured ill,” which accounts for our terrestrial appetites.

>

>No doubt, this view will come as a shock to those who have 

>grown up thinking the personalities addressed in these sonnets 

>are real persons the poet loves. The overall conception of these 

>poems is to show ourselves (mankind) as dominated by these 

>forces vying for supremacy within us but which are better when 

>brought into balance.

 

I suppose the commentators who missed this include serious scholars who devoted substantial portions of their professional lives to studying the sonnets, such as Stephen Booth, Helen Vendler and Katherine Duncan-Jones. How obtuse of them!

 

Seriously, the sonnets do lend themselves to this sort of allegorical fancy, and it will not “come as a shock” to those who find that Romeo & Juliet is a polemic promoting solar energy, that Measure for Measure is intended to illustrate the virtue of the gold standard, that Shylock’s bond was cleverly devised by him to assure Jessica her patrimony, that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a disguised history of Titus’s first century defeat of the Judean insurrection or that the Pyramis & Thisbe interlude in that play is an allegorical passion play. Compared to those discoveries, and others like them, this view of the sonnets sounds almost reasonable.

 

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

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

Date:         March 26, 2014 at 3:13:52 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnet 18: Gender and Date

 

>To the question of what evidence that the poem was addressed to a 

>man, one response could simply be to point to the stated dedication 

>to Wriothesley.

 

Of course, it was the narrative poems, not the sonnets, which were dedicated to Wriothesley.  If this is a contention that Master W.H. was Wriothesley, it should be made explicitly, and defended if possible.

 

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

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

Date:         March 27, 2014 at 9:03:58 AM EDT

Subject:    Sonnet 18

 

John Drakakis says (in relation to the Sonnets, SHAKSPER March 25): “there have been many biographical contortions gone through simply in order to produce a coherent narrative from a collection that is, in terms of a story, incoherent.”

 

The first part of this assessment is clearly true: the last not so.

 

Sonnets 1-126, read in order of their original printing, do provide at least one coherent story: that of the dysfunctional relationship (spanning several years) between a common poet and his socially superior (and wealthier) Friend. Here it is:

  • In Sonnets 1-17 the Fair Friend of the poems is a beautiful, effeminate-looking youth, reluctant to wed. He is urged, almost ad nauseam, to marry and sire a son. The poet teases his wasteful masturbation.
  • The relationship and affection between Friend and poet deepen through Sonnets 18-23.
  • Disquiet and separation unfold in Sonnets 24-32. The hard-up poet begs for support from his wealthy Friend.
  • An unspecified lewd betrayal of the poet by the Friend is bemoaned, but forgiven, in Sonnets 33-35.
  • The poet acknowledges the risk of scandal via Sonnets 36-39. He glumly accepts that he must stay away from the Friend.
  • In Sonnets 40-42 a distraught, now reluctantly forgiving poet reproaches the Friend for bedding (or continuing to bed) the poet's girlfriend.
  • Sonnets 43-51 portray further periods of separation regretted by the poet. However, in Sonnet 48 appears the first hint of a theme of jealousy, which eventually comes to predominate.
  • Temporary reconciliation and joy between poet and Friend (in Sonnets 52-55) are superseded in Sonnet 56, which hints at the Friend’s distraction by lust elsewhere.
  • In Sonnet 57 the poet complains of the Friend’s selfishness. Thereafter his jealousy becomes a pervasive theme, although he attempts to balance his complaints with interspersions of flattery and patronage poems. Eventually, however, he is driven to insult (in Sonnet 69), which affront he attempts to defuse in Sonnet 70.
  • Sonnets 71-74 are themed on the poet’s death. In this context they suggest wry, self-deprecating and witty attempts to placate an angry Friend, who has responded that, to him, the poet is dead.
  • With this clever groveling the poet obtains a stay of dismissal—but continues to flounder. Finally, in Sonnets 78-80, he directly acknowledges the source of his jealousy: a rival poet, who has been the better gratifier of the Friend, both in verse and (as we shall see in the poet’s implications) sexually.
  • The poet produces more patronage poetry in Sonnets 81-85, albeit spiced with barbs on the exaggerations of the Rival and the tastes of the Friend. In Sonnet 84 he insults the latter for a second time.
  • Suddenly, in Sonnet 86, the Rival is gone. The poet seems assured that the absence is permanent, and he never again alludes to the rivalry.
  • In succeeding sonnets the poet struggles to recover the Friend’s goodwill, plunging bitter depths in Sonnet 94. Equanimity returns in Sonnets 95 and 96. However, the relationship is less intense and more distant. There are signs in Sonnets 97-103 of significant periods of non-communication. Sonnet 103 suggests the poet has run out of inspiration.
  • Sonnets 104-107 burst upon the reader with renewed vigor. The poet evokes his early relationship with the Friend and suggests that the latter is as beautiful as ever—despite the trauma of a “confined doom” (in Sonnet 107), from which he has unexpectedly escaped.
  • An apparently more mature and rather timeworn Friend is unimpressed. In Sonnet 108 the poet is forced to defend his unrealistic portrayal by attributing this to a love “which weighs not the dust and injury of age”. He uses a pet form of address to maintain this conceit, but from now on he is on the defensive.
  • In Sonnets 109-125 the poet drops any pretense of the Friend’s eternal youth and beauty, as he is forced almost continuously to contest charges of disloyalty. As the sequence draws to a close, he reacts ever more strongly with wounded pride and righteous indignation.
  • In Sonnet 125 the poet rejects the now-hostile Friend, to bring to a close the story of their relationship. Sonnet 126 cleverly draws together several of the preceding themes, in an envoi of regret and finality.

In contrast to other biographic interpretations, the above requires no great prerequisite leaps of faith or imagination. The story flows, for the most part rather naturally, once it is accepted that the poet was (in the early years at least) hopeful of patronage, sought from the Friend. The tale represents, however, an extraordinary sequence of events and circumstances—surely unique when taken in the entirety.

 

Strikingly—and again in contrast to other biographic interpretations—each of the several key, unusual features of the story, including the two triangular affairs and the general dysfunction of the relationship, is mirrored in independent evidence associated with William Shakspere of Stratford and/or his only personal patron, Henry Wriothesley. There are no inconsistencies with historical data—and the inferred biography of the Sonnets provides the only coherent explanations to date for all the oddities of their publication in 1609.

 

Those interested in testing these assertions may do so via the article from which the above summary was extracted, The Biography in Shakespeare's Sonnets.

 

Most students of Shakespeare’s history are content to accept inferences thereof—provided that the logic is sound and the perceived probability of truth is sufficiently large. For example, most accept that he was almost certainly a pupil for several years at the grammar school in Stratford. There is no direct evidence of such attendance, but the probability of its occurrence is too high rationally to dismiss, having regard to circumstances. Based on the evidence outlined above, I suggest that the probability of pervasive biography in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is of a similar order of magnitude.  

 

 

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