Shakespeare's Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.536  Thursday, 12 November 2015


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

     Date:         November 11, 2015 at 10:20:01 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare's Sonnets 


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

     Date:         November 12, 2015 at 6:49:31 AM EST

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare's Sonnets 


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

     Date:         November 12, 2015 at 9:05:00 AM EST

     Subject:    Shakespeare's Sonnets 


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

     Date:         November 12, 2015 at 10:23:58 AM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare's Sonnets 




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

Date:         November 11, 2015 at 10:20:01 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare's Sonnets


How sure can we be that Shakespeare is the “onlie begetter” or the only author of all these sonnets? And whether they are all addressed to same person? At least the answer to the second question is quite clear: They are certainly not addressed to the same person! (Have a look at the use of “thou” and “you”! Sonnets addressed to somebody addressed as “you” are certainly not love sonnets). As to the first question: We are not sure whether the first edition was authorized or not. What we know is, that sonnets were always handed around in a circle of friends before they got printed, and maybe some of these manuscripts had additions by readers who also tried to write one before the manuscript was passed on... Did Mr Thorpe get an original copy - the same that Francis Meres must have read, before they were printed?


Markus Marti 



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

Date:         November 12, 2015 at 6:49:31 AM EST

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare's Sonnets


In preparation for writing my essay on the sonnets, (“The Two Roses” New England Theatre Journal, 2010), my approach to gaining a deeper understand of the sonnet series was to write my own. I took opportunity over several years to write sonnets to people, about ideas, to vent, to celebrate and when I had a collection of them I looked back and read them as a whole. They seemed at once to hold together in a single narrative, which they most definitely were not. They seemed to be separate works, too, which they were not as they are a single writer’s view of a single world. There is a striking resonance among them in the use of words and phrases, metaphor and priorities which I ascribe to them having been written by just the one guy. If I were to hand the collection over strangers and ask for an analysis, I’m sure I could only marvel at what they’d come back with. 


Dan Decker



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

Date:         November 12, 2015 at 9:05:00 AM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare's Sonnets


Like Peter Hadorn, I am drawn to the persistent resonances and inter-linkings of the sort described in his last post (SHAKSPER, November 11), with all of which I empathize. Like him, I indulged in an exercise of close focus on each word of the sonnets - which, like his, involved random selection of each poem for examination. [I was attempting to render each of the sonnets using current vocabulary and received English pronunciation, all while retaining the poetic structure and the multiplicity of meanings - an impossible task, but one which did cause me to think deeply, widely and non-sequentially on every word and phrase of the originals].


Of course, as Peter warns, the perception of such resonances may be attributed to unconscious bias (in both author usage and reader expectations). We must constantly check against objective evidence - which is what my arguments on this forum generally seek. Nevertheless, it is fun to speculate, as I do in the following paragraphs.


Peter refers to the batch of sonnets (which contains No. 98) in which the speaker-poet is dallying with other flowers. Line 98.6 reads “Of different flowers in odour and in hew”. Here I see also the “hew” of 20.7: “A man in hew, all Hews in his controlling”. I have argued that its use in this line contains a reference to the carving (in the sense of hewing, with a knife) of Mother Nature (also suggested in 20.10 and 20.12,13).


My interpretation also offers a straightforward understanding of the otherwise mysteriously capitalized and italicized Hews of the same line. The phrase “all Hews” then refers to humans (ie Carvings) of every conceivable attribute. In particular, the phrase embraces women, in contrast to the “man in hew” of the same line. Interestingly, the whole of 20.7 then resonates also with verse 19 of A Lover’s Complaint, reproduced below:


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.


The last line suggests (in secondary, allusive meanings) that the youth’s acquaintances were compelled by his magnetism into over-riding their natural sexual desires or “wills”..... but now I am in danger of rambling too far afield.   


Back to Sonnet 98: the flowers different in “odour and in hew” now look (to me at least) like women (or at least inclusive of women). The symbolism is reinforced by 98.8: Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew. “Lap” was, in context, a term for the female genital area, linked here with “where they grew” or “where they produced children”. We can see this, for example, in Romeo & Juliet, where Romeo says of his first love she will not ope her lap to saint-inducing gold (I,i,211). And Nurse says in ribaldry: No less? Nay, bigger! Women grow by men (I,ii,96).


If one accepts, as I do (based on objective evidence) that the sonnets are probably in essence autobiography, not only does one see a bloom fading from the (originally italicized) Rose of the sonnets, as suggested by Peter. One sees indications (reinforced elsewhere in the poems) that Shakespeare had strong heterosexual drives, which probably disadvantaged him during the earlier phases of his wooing of the Rose.     



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

Date:         November 12, 2015 at 10:23:58 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare's Sonnets


Peter Hadorn (11.11.15) brings evidence that elements of individual sonnets shed light on similar thoughts elsewhere in other sonnets. This suggests if not reveals that there is a relation and coherence among the 154 poems. This should not be surprising coming from the supreme poet since a poet of his caliber would likely create the Sonnets to comprise a coherent whole and a unity as a literary object.


The problem has been that commentators have failed to understand the “whole” that the poet has brought forth. Some commentators have rightly understood that the “friends” of the Sonnets, namely the young man and the dark lady, are not actual persons addressed but characters from the inner life of the poet. To me this has suggested that these are allegories of the higher and lower souls of man. The poet, portrayed as an ingénue in the early poems, prefers his higher soul since it brings him close to God and a higher plane of living. But as the early sonnets disclose, this makes him unfit for life’s responsibilities to procreate and deaf to the sage appeals for him to change.


The answer to this deficiency is the magic aura of the alluring Dark Lady, pulling the young poet back to terrestrial life. The comic aspects of this is the poet’s surprise at how irresistible is her temptation. What the poet is telling by this account is that both these “souls, spirits” (son 144) are man’s “friends,” vital to a successful life. This is so since life dominated by the higher soul makes man angelic and unfit for terrestrial life. However, life dominated by the temptations of the lower soul makes man bestial. The point is that a successful life must blend the two and curb the distortions that result when one of these aspects, in extreme, dominates and overwhelms the other.


This is the basic matrix of the Sonnets within which each poem sheds light on the Godly ordained life as well as shedding light on the literary “whole” the poems convey. To ferret out all these details requires deep analysis by many sensitivities to bring out these separate aspects.


The problem has been that commentators fail to regard that the poet has a religious personality that finds it important to tell the world about these matters. He is just not the arch secularist that has been erroneously assumed.


David Basch





The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.535  Thursday, 12 November 2015


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

Date:         Thursday, November 12, 2015

Subject:    Hiatus 


Dear Subscribers,


I will be away next week at BCBS without Internet service. 


I will send out a Newsletter tomorrow should there be submissions, and then Newsletters will continue starting with November 23, 2015.







Shakespeare's Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.534  Wednesday, 11 November 2015


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

Date:         November 10, 2015 at 5:00:00 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Sonnets

Although our university library subscribes to Shakespeare Survey, the latest issue has not yet come in so I appreciate Mr. Steere’s summary of Professor Wells’ article.  I would like to address the notion of the poems as a miscellany—a collection—rather than as a sequence.  Although I am sympathetic to that view, I too, disagree.  As I have indicated before, much of my approach to the sonnets is indebted to Stephen Booth’s “An Essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” especially his first chapter.  He points out that whether it’s an image, a word, an idea, etc., these “threads” seem to weave their way in and out of the sonnets, connecting them together in subtle ways.  And I agree with this.  Since last January (when I taught an independent study on Shakespeare’s poetry), I have been slowly memorizing the sonnets—not in order, but randomly, though I do an equal number in each of the “tens.”  I now have 78 memorized—half plus 1.  But my point is, that as I do, I keep having “aha!” moments, seeing connections.  Are these seeing things there because I want to seem them there?  It is a constant danger. 

Here are two examples.  Recently I learned 125 and I was instantly reminded of 7: “pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent” and “each under eye doth homage to his new appearing sight.”  Should I make this connection?  And if there is a connection, then clearly the bloom is off the rose (so to speak).  Does that mean, then, that there is narrative progress of a sort?


I firmly believe that Shakespeare wrote these sonnets in such a way that the reader feels compelled to make connections.  Even the way they are printed on the page in the Quarto—in parts—compels us to go on to the next one and “try to make sense” of the whole.  I wish that there were evidence that Shakespeare knew Petrarch’s poems because as I get to know them I think they do the same thing: compel us to hear “echoes” throughout the collection and to try to make sense of the whole.


Here’s my second example.  We all know 116.  But this line: “or bends with the remover to remove.”  What does that mean, exactly?  It is like one of those many lines that seem slightly out of focus, as it were.  We sort of know what it means, but not exactly (see also 5.12 and 15.4).  But then I read 25.13 & 14: “Then happy I that love and am beloved/ Where I may not remove nor be removed.”  And now I understand the line: the speaker-poet is firmly within the beloved’s heart as the surrounding sonnets suggest.  But now my antennae are sensitive to the word “remove.”  Surely in 44.6, it only refers to physical distance: “No matter then although my foot did stand/ Upon the farthest earth removed from thee.”  But what about 97.5: “And yet this time removed was summer’s time.”  I have to wonder does it refer exclusively to physical distance?  Or is there also emotional distance?  After all, this occurs in a batch of sonnets in which the speaker-poet is dallying with other flowers.






Shakespeare's Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.533  Monday, 9 November 2015


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

Date:         November 8, 2015 at 12:55:22 PM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare's Sonnets


Following Stanley Wells’ plug earlier in this thread, I splashed out some £78 to acquire the hot-off-the-press Shakespeare Survey 68 (Professor, if you or your staff read this note, please let it be used to claim fair commission from CUP).


I read his article, ‘My Name is Will’: Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Autobiography. It was refreshing to find, inter alia, no mindset against autobiography, no predisposition towards authorized publication and no unbalanced assessment of, or resistance to, puns and sexual allusions. Instead, true scholarship. Thank you, Sir, for a good read. (It was well worth the money! Those interested in the osmosis of ideas and language between Marlowe and Shakespeare will also find within the Survey two relevant articles, whose content I thought impressive).


On the evidence which he brings to his Sonnets article, I am in almost complete agreement with Wells’ arguments. At a minor level, I have yet to share his belief that Sonnet 145 refers to Ann Hathaway or his leanings on Sonnet 26 (suggested as a missive to accompany the manuscript of Lucrece) - but the accuracy or otherwise of these theories is insignificant to the wider picture. Where we differ materially is in the identification (or range) of evidence considered germane to the analysis of the poems and their origins.


This difference in evidence employed brings us, in part, to different conclusions. The professor thinks that the sonnets are probably a “miscellany” or “collection” of poems, including some autobiography, perhaps aimed in part at Henry Wriothesley - but generally composed with large variations in muse, motive and circumstance. He sees no evidence that they are a “sequence” (albeit that he recognizes small sequences within the larger body of the collection). He suggests that the ordering of the poems followed a classification devised privately by Shakespeare for his own satisfaction and that publication was probably unauthorized. He offers no explanation for their arrival in print.


By contrast, and to use Wells’ terminology, I conclude that Sonnets 1-126 are a sequence, though I agree that Sonnets 127-154 (and ALC) form a collection (including miscellany). I  suggest that all of the poems were supplied to Henry Wriothesley under ramifications of a campaign by Shakespeare to secure an intimate relationship - the latter to promote his primary goal of patronage. The ordering of the poems on printing may have followed an original pattern preserved in the original bundlings of manuscript poems (initially stored under Wriothesley’s control) - or Thorpe may have had guidance from the supplier of those manuscripts, Mr WH (of whom more below). 


I have also suggested (I think originally, but certainly independently) that it was Wriothesley’s recorded feud with his second stepfather, William Hervey (the “WH” who, in this scenario, instructed Thorpe), which fueled the mischief of a publication which neither poet nor primary muse would have wanted. This argument (only available if one accepts that Sonnets 1-126 were directed at Wriothesley) is reinforced by its unusual ability to explain all the nuances and peculiarities of Thorpe’s introductory address without resort to manipulation of letters or strains of parlance.  


All of these differential propositions are founded on evidence which has not been considered within the professor’s article. However, it is difficult to do justice to this absent material in just a short note. Instead, since it was tabled for consideration earlier in this thread (see, for example, here - 3rd post down), I should like to illustrate my point with just one piece of that evidence: the Venus & Adonis dedication, directed towards Wriothesley by Shakespeare in his own voice. 


This address includes some dozen ambiguities of expression. The secondary meanings cohere to provide a disguised theme of resentment and remonstration. Indeed this theme hangs together better than the overt theme of obsequious dedication. Its coherence and the sheer volume of puns suggest that the wish to incorporate the disguised theme was a prime driver of Shakespeare’s choice of words. Its messages, having regard for the historical circumstances, then point to an extraordinary relationship between the pair: one that is mirrored with improbable exactness by content within Sonnets 1-126, read as autobiography and as a sequence.


I should add that my argument is disturbed by none of the observations on the poems within the article. These include, for example, references to dating assessments and the apparently extended period of time over which the sonnets were written. And there is nothing in the content of Sonnets 1-126 which would disqualify consideration of these poems as a sequence of compositions, directed towards Wriothesley. Indeed, his history provides other powerful parallels to reinforce the concept. 





SBReview_23: Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.532  Monday, 9 November 2015


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

Date:         Monday, November 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_23: Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays




Tina Packer, Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. xvii + 336 pp. US$13.99. (ISBN-13: 978-0307700391)


Lori Leigh Victoria University of Wellington


Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays is the result of a stage production of the same title and of Tina Packer’s long and impressive career as an actor, teacher, and founding artistic director of Shakespeare & Company, a performance and training center in Lenox, Massachusetts. Packer’s book undertakes to trace a trajectory of female characters in Shakespeare’s writing. This is often done through attempts to draw parallels from Shakespeare’s life experiences and the kinds of female characters or feminine themes/threads he created at any given time—from the start of his young adult career through to his last plays written in “retirement” in Stratford. The end result is a kind of map of Shakespeare’s changing attitudes toward women with plot points from his life inserted along the way. Of course, Packer is also drawing heavily on her years of experience as an artist performing these works—a wealth of indispensible knowledge.


To this end, Women of Will is structured like a play: in five acts—complete with a prologue and epilogue.  In Act 1—the earliest plays—women are either viragos to be tamed or virgins to be won. In Act 2, women shift from being mere objects of manipulation to sharing equal status as lovers in sexual/spiritual partnerships with men. By the third act, women take on even more agency: “all endeavor to tell the truth about what they see and hear. They are courageous” (5).  When we move into the fourth act “all hell breaks loose” (6). Women “are not interested in truth; they are interested in power” (6). It is a dark world where both men and women risk being annihilated by selfishness and hunger for status. In Packer’s fifth and final act, Shakespeare tells a different tale all together. The women—primarily the daughters—redeem the mistakes of the male protagonists.  The act-by-act chronological order, beginning with the earliest plays and closing with the late plays, is a useful structure for telling the story of Shakespeare’s developing relationship with his female characters.


In ‘Act 1: The Warrior Women: Violence to Negotiation’, which focuses very briefly on the early comedies but primarily investigates women of the history plays, Packer demonstrates, despite the predominant motifs of male-dominated politics and wars, how “Each woman shifts the balance of power—and breaks up the monotony of the way men fight” (48).  The section on Margaret is particularly insightful as Packer shows the evolution of her character through all four plays— from a young French woman running around on the battlefield to an English queen running the kingdom much more so than her husband, and finally to a widow living on the fringes of the palace in Richard III teaching the other women how to lament and curse.  It is fitting that Packer’s audition piece for the Royal Shakespeare was Margaret’s “molehill” speech, as she seems to have a deep understanding of the character that could only come from years of intimacy with the role. 


‘Act 2: The Sexual Merges with the Spiritual: New Knowledge’ links the plays that feature lovers’—and therefore heroines’—names in titles: Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra.  For the first time, men and women are equal partners. This is also the first time Women of Will begins to heavily romanticize Shakespeare’s life to hypothesize about the writer’s treatment of women in the plays.  As a practice-led researcher, I am interested in Women of Will when Packer’s theatrical experience is used as evidence to support claims and less engaged when the book draws heavily upon theories of Shakespeare’s personal life.  To this end, it’s a shame that a feminist book such as this relegates Anne Hathaway (once again) to the older woman, the wife Shakespeare got pregnant, and whom he couldn’t possibly passionately love as he did the Dark Lady.  


‘Act 3: Living Underground or Dying to Tell the Truth’ focuses on the women in the cross-dressing comedies, the women in the tragedies (Ophelia, Desdemona, Cordelia), as well as the women in the two problem plays: Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well.  


‘Act 4: Chaos is Come Again: The Lion Eats the Wolf’ discusses the other women in King Lear (Goneril and Regan) and ties them to Volumnia and Lady Macbeth. Oddly, Timon of Athens is also included in this section. There is no discussion here of female characters as Timon only has two bit parts for women in it, but the play is used for Packer to continue her connection of Shakespeare’s life to his plays and argue that Timon conveys Shakespeare’s disenchantment with London life and denotes a breaking point. 


Finally, Imogen (Innogen), Hermione, Paulina, Perdita, Marina, and Miranda—the women of the late romances—are explored in ‘Act 5: The Maiden Phoenix: The Daughter Redeems the Father’. Whereas Shakespeare was drawn to the idea of the hero in the earlier plays, here Packer contends Shakespeare is aligning himself with the artist and the restorative powers of creativity. Daughters are phoenixes, artists who offer a possibility of redemption and resurrection, new life—usually atoning for the sins of their fathers. I agree with Packer that The Winter’s Tale “holds Shakespeare’s deepest effort to understand how women understand the world” (280); further, it’s a formidable argument to suggest the collaboration of the three women in the play—and their ancient archetypes of “the mother, the witch, and the virgin”—bring about the catharsis of the play. 


What is disappointing about the final chapter of the book is Packer’s dismissal of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play that scholarly consensus now confirms is a collaboration between Shakespeare and Fletcher. This seems particularly unusual as she includes Henry VIII.  Since The Two Noble Kinsmen contains more roles for women than any Shakespeare play since Richard III and offers two very interesting female characters in Emilia and the Jailer’s Daughter it is unsatisfying to omit this play which certainly could have assisted Packer’s overall thesis:  Shakespeare’s increasing aptitude for depicting multidimensional women on stage. 


But this omission undermines what is excellent about Women of Will. The breadth of a work that covers the entire canon of Shakespeare is commendable. Packer has written about (almost, see above) every work and therefore unpacked (pun intended) a wealth of information on Shakespeare’s female characters. It’s astounding really, and I cannot think of another work that accomplishes this feat.  Women of Will is an enjoyable read and a welcome addition to works about Shakespeare’s women. 




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