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The Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.164  Tuesday, 1 April 2014

 

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

     Date:         March 31, 2014 at 3:19:11 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnets 

 

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

     Date:         April 1, 2014 at 5:19:58 AM EDT

     Subject:    Sonnets 

 

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

     Date:         April 1, 2014 at 6:58:11 AM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Sonnets 

 

 

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

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

Date:         March 31, 2014 at 3:19:11 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnets

 

>there is, I suggest again: no rational reason to dismiss 

>the probability of pervasive biography in the Sonnets. 

 

Sure, let’s accept this probability. But let’s also accept the probability that these are complex poems which invite close reading. The question then is, what sort of biography emerges from the generalizations specifically derived from close reading?

 

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

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

Date:         April 1, 2014 at 5:19:58 AM EDT

Subject:    Sonnets

 

At the beginning of the exchanges on this thread were posed the challenges: what evidence is there (i) for a male addressee of Sonnet 18 and (ii) for the dating of the latter to 1595.

 

In response, I provided relevant evidence of probability—albeit that this suggested an original dating some months prior to the first publication (in 1593) of Venus & Adonis.

 

So far, that evidence remains intact despite testing within this thread (and, over some years, from a wide spectrum of Shakespearean commentators). Consequently, there is little need at this stage to elaborate on my earlier comments.

 

However, it is fun to stray from the subject or to indulge in flights of fancy, unsullied by such gross considerations as “evidence”. I am moved, therefore, to follow the example of David Basch and to offer competing opinion on a line in Sonnet 20, which he has highlighted: “A man in hew all Hews in his controwling” (albeit that David’s note did not reveal that the second “hew” is further distinguished by its italicized reproduction in the original printing).

 

In my 2010 translation of the Sonnets, I rendered this line as follows: A man in kind, all kinds in his control. I reasoned that “hew” could mean”carve” (a sense extant in the English of the time). This sense aligns with the pun perceptible later in the sonnet, which evokes a man as a creation of Mother Nature (by her skilled shaping of raw material): But since she prickt thee out for womens pleasure. (Of course, the pun also depicts the addressee as being equipped with a prick).

 

With this slant, the interpretation of “Hews” as a collective noun - meaning carvings or results thereof - represents unremarkable poetic shorthand. I suggested that the unusual upper case letter, “H”, and the italicization of the word represented the poet’s intention to convey that this collective noun represented a special case of carvings, ie human beings. Accordingly, the line may reasonably be expanded to the form of the following prose: “A man who has manly attributes and who is able to charm people of each sex and every ilk, and bend them to his will”.

 

Interestingly, the line thus interpreted mirrors the characteristics of a young man, described elsewhere within the original printing of Shake-speares Sonnets:

 

That he did in the general bosom reign

Of young, of old, and sexes both enchanted,

To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain

In personal duty, following where he haunted:

Consents bewitch'd, ere he desire, have granted,

And dialogued for him what he would say,

Ask'd their own wills and made their wills obey.

 

None of this, of course, removes the carnality suggested in Sonnet 20, which David is so anxious to avoid.   

 

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

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

Date:         April 1, 2014 at 6:58:11 AM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Sonnets

 

Harry Berger makes an excellent point that radically disrupts any attempt to provide a coherent and knowing narrative for the Sonnets as a developmental sequence. Re-reading them recently I was struck by how many of them seem to echo issues that crop up in the plays. e.g. Sonnet 134 and The Merchant of Venice. We could follow through themes that appear in Much Ado, Othello, and Macbeth. Of course, there is no way of knowing whether these sonnets were written at the same time as plays with which they might be thematically (or even structurally) linked, or whether these are retrospective reflections. It is clear that Shakespeare and co. reworked issues in successive plays but . . . 

 

Also Harry’s point about the identity of the speaker raises some fundamental questions about how we might construct a subjectivity (and a history) and what critical and analytical tools we might use to do so.

 

Cheers

John D

 
 

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