Early Modern Sexuality

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0518  Friday, 14 December 2012

 

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

     Date:         December 13, 2012 4:45:53 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: EM Sexuality 

 

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

     Date:         December 13, 2012 8:12:05 PM EST

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality 

 

 

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

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

Date:         December 13, 2012 4:45:53 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: EM Sexuality

 

Jess Winfield asks, “Where is Greenblatt when I need him?”

 

Not in the ranks of serious biographers of Shakespeare, I hope. But that’s a question for another day.

 

Tad Davis

 

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

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

Date:         December 13, 2012 8:12:05 PM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Early Modern Sexuality

 

Larry Weiss is slightly off the mark here. Shakespeare was, of course, to the left, politically. And he was a woman.

 

Julia Griffin

Shorthand and the Game of “Fetch”

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0517  Friday, 14 December 2012

 

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

Date:         December 13, 2012 1:42:07 PM EST

Subject:     Shorthand and the Game of “Fetch”

 

Though I’ve never had a dog, I am seeing the fun of the game “fetch” that Gerald Downs and I seem to be playing. Once more, he throws out sticky examples of corruption, and I scamper out into the field to bring one or another of them back into the charmed circle of “not-corruption.” Tail a’wagging, tongue a’lolling, what I carry back may be a little slobbered, and it may not even be the same stick as was thrown, but I do mean well.

 

Today’s sticks, my fellow puppies, are (1) the g-r-r-e-a-t stuffed apothecary ALLIGATOR passage in R&J and (2) the relative proximity of Q1 and Q2 to Brooks’ Romeus and Juliet.

 

Round (1) Toss! So I run out to look for the ludicrously obvious corruption claimed by Gerald Downs and others that is to be found in the Q1 passage describing just what is “stufft” in the different versions of Romeo’s memory of the poor Apothecary, whose

 

 . . . needie shop is stufft

With beggerly accounts of empty boxes;

And in the same an Aligarta hangs,

Olde ends of packthred, and cakes of Roses

Are thinly strewed to make up a show.

 

Here in Q1, “stufft” can mean also “supplied with stuff,” or “comprised of” as “my household stuff,” not necessarily “crammed to full capacity,” as appears to be the different usage in the Q2 version, “an allegater stufft”:

 

 . . . And in his needie shop a tortoyes hung,

An allegater stuft, and other skins

Of ill shapte fishes, and about his shelues,

A beggerly account of emptie boxes,

Greene earthen pots, bladders and mustie seedes,

Remnants of packthred, and old cakes of Roses

Were thinly scattered, to make vp a shew.

 

Different or unexpected usage is not the same as corruption. Except if your goal is to implicate difference as corruption. Fredson Bowers somewhere claimed, as self-evidently true, that “Editors edit,” so they can’t leave anything indeterminate or undetermined. The Corruption Detectives? They detect corruption, of course. 

 

And since corruption is s-o-o-o bad, R.G White and Gerald Downs seem to sneer at the errors they see in the textual variants. Though I may have gotten this wrong, Downs quotes White where White wonders whether “Sh’s ever describing an apothecary’s shop as stuffed with beggarly accounts of empty boxes is at an end when we . . . see [in Q1] how he was led to stuff the shop instead of the alligator.” So of course we are encouraged to believe that the Q1 text must be corrupt. (Pardon my messy recovery of Downs’s quote here.) Let me fetch further. (I think the quote indented below indicates that at least part of it is to be understood as having been written by Downs, though my own transcribing again may have fudged the case):

 

“And what was Shakespeare thinking? ‘I got it! Stuff the alligator for Q2! What will I (or Steven) think of next?’ Let’s let Shakespeare off the hook. Q1’s stuffing is a memory turkey.”   

 

I think White for Q1 and Downs (at least by ridiculing my suggestion that Q2 derives from Q1) denigrate the images of the apothecary’s shop found in both Q1 and Q2, or they’re simply ascribing those images to intervening non-authorial agents who left messy footprints. Again, I may be wrong here, but it seems that, for White, Q1’s stufft shop can’t be Shakespeare’s, and as for Downs’ evaluation of Q2, it is just too silly to contemplate that Shakespeare would have converted “stufft shop” to “An allegater stuft.” And if I follow Downs’ overarching argument, the “real” Shakespearean work lies somewhere prior to both Q1 and Q2.  

 

But wait! The game of Fetch continues: L’il Pup retrieves the relevant passage from Brooks’ Romeus and Juliet:

 

What by no friendship could be got, with money should be 

An apothecary sat unbusied at his door, 

Whom by his heavy countenance he [i.e. Romeo] guessed to be poor

And in his shop he saw his boxes were but few. 

And in his window, of his wares, there was so small a shew

Wherefore our Romeus assuredly hath thought,                       2571 

For needy lack is like the poor man to compel 

[emphasis supplied]  

 

Holding this up to Q1 and Q2, I see Shakespeare tentatively generating images in Q1, derived in part from Brooks vocabulary of “boxes,” “shew,” and “needy,” with Brooks’ repeated references to “poor” sliding into Shakespeare’s “beggerly,” and with the shop itself transformed and fleshed out first in Q1 and then further in Q2.  If we are looking for signs of an author at work, we may see here a text undergoing invention-in-progress in Q1 and then we see it revised for greater pathos in Q2. We’re supposed to recognize or realize how poverty hurts and how it tries to disguise itself with a brave show of empty boxes and unvendible artifacts. I propose that Shakespeare here typically expands into Q1 and expands again into Q2 the specific images meant to convey the impression and experience of witnessed poverty.  

 

But if we believe with White (or is it White and Downs also?), that our task is to scope out a lost original lurking behind Q1 and Q2, and we should merely find both extant texts somewhat ridiculous.   

 

But let’s return to play Fetch, eh? Scamper around, Stevie. Scamper more. Find that corruption stick, Stevie! What? No stick? Woof? Faked out again. But I’ll scamper back to try a different one.  

 

Round (2). Here it was my stick that I tossed that I hadn’t really fairly sorted out. I mentioned that Q1 was closer to Brooks’s poem than was Q2. And Gerald came back with “Erne suggests Q2 follows Brooks more than does Q1. That’s expected of a cut, memorial report.” To counter Erne’s claim, I should have laid out even more findings (like the apothecary shop discussed above) that I’m currently working up.  

 

First Stick Returned: An interesting analysis of Brooks and Shakespeare’s adaptations of the source poem is found in Jill Taft-Kaufman, “Rhetorical Implications of Shakespeare’s Changes in His Source Material for Romeo and Juliet,” in Martin Medhurst, and T.W. Benson, eds., Rhetorical Dimensions in Media (1984), 344-63. Many of the specifically Shakespearean variants in rhetoric and characterization that she describes show up only tentatively in Q1 but are more fully realized in Q2. (Note that this is my analysis; Taft-Kaufman doesn’t work with Q1.) Simply checking Taft-Kaufman’s findings with the Q1 text reveals that Brooks’s Juliet and the Juliet in Q1 for example most often display limited and stereotyped emotions, while the Q2 version displays far more strength, variety, and social/linguistic sophistication. Of course, one may argue that the 1597 memorial puppy responsible for Q1 and some of its flaws failed to retrieve most of the signs of Juliet’s elegant language out there in the super-inclusive field, or one may argue that those kinds of sophistications were all dropped by the acting company (those philistine editorial puppies) in preparing its performing text constrained by audience or actor or time capacities. But somehow the sophistications thus are missing from Q1 (regardless of their not being in Brooks, either), though they are present in Q2. Naughty puppy! 

 

Second Stick Returned: In my continuing search for sense, or at least sensible sticks, to bring back into our magic circle, I bring to your attention also: Jonathan Goldberg, “’What? in a names that which we call a Rose,’ The Desired texts of Romeo and Juliet,” in Randall M Leod, Crisis in Editing: Texts of the English Renaissance (1994), 173-201. After elegantly laying out many of the still unresolved textual enigmas and contradictions, Goldberg semi-concludes: 

 

There never was a final Romeo and Juliet, a single authoritative or authorial version of the play. There were only versions, from the start. Scripts to be acted, they presumed multiplicities and contingencies, the conditions of the theater (189).

 

So I'll likely continue fetching sticks, gnawing on found bones, relishing those sweet and meaty quartos and folios. Happy to play,

 

Steve Urpupowitz

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.

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. 

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