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The Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.197  Monday, 21 April 2014


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

     Date:         April 19, 2014 at 4:58:05 AM EDT

     Subject:    The Sonnets 


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

     Date:         April 20, 2014 at 12:42:44 PM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: The Sonnets 




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

Date:         April 19, 2014 at 4:58:05 AM EDT

Subject:    The Sonnets


Julia Crockett says that there is no reason to believe the Sonnets are autobiographical.


Will she now identify the errors of fact or application in the following argument—already aired in this thread, but so far not addressed? I imagine that she will agree with Step 1, at least - in which case we may also subsequently explore how this impacts on her interpretation of the Sonnets and all of the unusual circumstances of their original publication (referred to in Step 7). 


1. The Sonnets may be interpreted in many different ways. In the absence of his direct guidance, we need strong alternative evidence before we may reasonably infer any of the author’s intentions.


2. Given their style and the variety of subject matter, it is difficult (some have suggested impossible) to establish a coherent narrative sequence from the poems.


3. However, independent evidence of Shakespeare’s cultivation of a young, effeminate-looking patron, Henry Wriothesley, does present at least one credible lead: to the scenario that the poems portray the circumstances of, and developments in, their relationship—privately expressed.


4. With this perspective, and despite the obstacle noted at 2 above, a coherent narrative sequence emerges with minimal further assumption or strain of interpretation. This strengthens the promise of the lead (described in 3).


5. But the emergent story contains some extraordinary content. This feature works for or against the hypothesis, dependent on the availability of independent evidence. If uncorroborated, the bizarreness of the suggested developments will undermine the credibility of the scenario. Otherwise, it will be strengthened in direct proportion to the rarity of the story portrayed.


6. The story at 4 is corroborated by objective, independent evidence associated with Shakespeare and/or Wriothesley. It is not just rare: it is unique. There are no inconsistencies. The scenario at 3 is therefore upgraded from promising lead to probable reality (for more see Biography).


7. The biography thus inferred also provides elegant solutions to a number of otherwise unresolved, knotty problems associated with the Sonnets in their original printing, for example: the strange foreword included by their publisher (for more see A3 at Truths).


8. Consequently, we have the strong alternative evidence sought in 1. This presents a high probability that the Sonnets represent private correspondence from Shakespeare to Wriothesley, subsequently published without their consent.



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

Date:         April 20, 2014 at 12:42:44 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: The Sonnets


Sorry Ian,


You are confusing ‘probability’ and ‘possibility’. Of course, we can speculate, but let me put the issues rather differently. If you see some of the later sonnets in the sequence as evidence that Shakespeare had contracted a sexually transmitted disease, as some biographers do (because he writes forcefully about the topic), what would the romantically inclined critics think of extending that perception to his/her own autobiography? The question of the authenticity of ‘experience’ is not quite as simple as you seem to suppose. We need to do much more detailed ethnographical work before we can speculate intelligently about what ‘life’ in Elizabethan and Jacobean England might have been like, or before we can speculate about those parts of the Shakespeare life for which there is no evidence. What we cannot do is import romantic and post romantic notions of personality and creativity into the argument and claim that they have their origin in Shakespeare’s autobiography as it is claimed to ‘appear’ in his fictions. I am afraid that the either/or argument you entertain falls very far short of any ‘truth’.



John D

Subscriber Update

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.196  Monday, 21 April 2014


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

Date:         Monday, April 21, 2014

Subject:    Subscriber Update


Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers:


I am in the process of doing some long-term planning and thought I would take a moment to inform everyone of the current subscriber data.


Over the weekend, we reached 200 subscribers (Likes) on the SHAKSPER Facebook page <>. For variety, every few weeks I change the profile picture.


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The Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.195  Friday, 18 April 2014


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

Date:         April 17, 2014 at 6:33:21 PM EDT

Subject:    Sonnets




‘Not that I have a right to speak/Not that I have a right to lie.’ I just wanted to add I so agree with John Drakakis. There is no reason to believe the Sonnets are autobiographical. If you put Shakespeare’s Sonnets in the context of, say, for example Spenser’s, then you can see the allegorical conceits in both forms. The other thing about tying Shakespeare to history/autobiography (new historicism at a later date) is that you can largely, conveniently overlook his dramatic philosophy. Cheers

Shakespeare @LibertasU

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.194  Friday, 18 April 2014


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

Date:         April 17, 2014 at 2:18:18 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Online Course


William Junker < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it > wrote,


>As someone who holds a BA from the University of Dallas, I 

>take exception to Appelbaum’s comment. While it is true that 

>incoming students are issued colt revolvers during orientation 

>week, the donning of cowboy hats is highly regulated. 


While I was in Turku, Finland, to speak at the Framing Premodern Desires Conference earlier this month, I learned that graduating doctoral students are indeed given hats, or rather expected to purchase them for rather extravagant sums (and they seem more suited to leprechauns than scholars). But even better: they get SWORDS!  Can you imagine how faculty meetings would go if your colleagues were all issued departmental swords?


-Lois Leveen

My Life on Stage with Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.193  Friday, 18 April 2014


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

Date:         April 17, 2014 at 8:12:08 PM EDT

Subject:    My Life on Stage with Shakespeare


[Editor’s Note: The following is an extract from the Independent’s extract of Rory Kinnear’s My Life on Stage with Shakespeare. –Hardy]


Rory Kinnear’s My Life on Stage with Shakespeare


When I was very little I didn’t want to be an actor. I wanted to be a butcher. Or a goalkeeper. Early in my adolescent years I took the risk of appearing as Sir Epicure Mammon in The Alchemist and Pandarus in Troilus and Cressida and then, finding to my young astonishment that I was getting attention and some praise for my performances, I began to think that acting might be a better fit. My father had been an actor, but he had died when I was 10, and so in lots of ways I had to discover it all for myself.


One of the things that I discovered, and which became clear especially when I was at university and working on Buckingham in Richard III and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, was that what I got most excited by was the rehearsal process. It seemed to require identifying the particular conundrums that a play and character threw up, the various forks in the road ahead, examining them thoroughly, and then making a decision. There wasn’t necessarily a right decision – especially, as I discovered to my delight, with Shakespeare – but there had to be a decision. I tend to approach parts initially just by thinking about them, and then afterwards I try to figure out what works well in the doing – they’re two different disciplines really, for me – and then I try to marry them up to get a wholly successful and coherent performance, which then needs to fit in with the design, direction, other actors, and all the other aspects of a production which must combine so that everything is working together and everyone is trying to tell the same story.


One of my first professional jobs was as Caliban in The Tempest. I then worked at the RSC for a season, as Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew and Caius Lucius in Cymbeline, and then I did Laertes at the Old Vic in 2004 with Ben Whishaw in the role of Hamlet. There followed a Shakespeare- less break of six or seven years before I did Angelo in Measure for Measure at the Almeida in 2010.


Shakespeare wrote his characters precisely, and yet there is room for each actor to find his own Angelo, and also – as I was then to discover his own Hamlet, his own Bolingbroke and his own Iago, too. I had the opportunity to revisit Hamlet in the title role a little later that year at the National Theatre. I had already been quite familiar with the play, having encountered it at school and having taken the opportunity to write on it during my English degree. Acting, though, requires a different skill set than academia.


Shakespeare gives his actors quite a lot of open-endedness within which to work: you’re not often given much back-story, and you’re certainly never guided by him to any particular decision. You have to make your own.


Consequently, there’s a lot of thrashing about involved in figuring out how to create a character with a full life, including relationships that have already been formed and those parts of his life that have already been lived – and then connect that full life, largely of your creation, with Shakespeare’s creation, the character’s lines.


What surprised me most with Hamlet was that, having gone through that rehearsal process, it wasn’t until the first time I performed it in front of an audience that I realised that it’s only in relation to that body of witnesses that Hamlet discovers himself. If you’re rehearsing in a white room, doing those soliloquies to a wall, even though it’s quite self-reflective and leads to a number of important insights, you’re not really getting anything back.


To actually lead an audience of 1,200 people through those soliloquies and to be open-hearted in how you share them is incredibly moving, and I was surprised at the effect that had on me during the first week of performance. The rehearsal process had actually been quite isolating, since, as Hamlet, I’d spent seven weeks cut off from everyone: not only is Hamlet on stage most of the time and so excluded from the backstage experience, but the charting of the play is the deterioration of his relationships with everyone else (except for maybe Horatio, but even he gets it in the neck sometimes). Since they know the play so well, the audience tends to be ahead of him in terms of what he’s thinking; as a result a lot of the time Hamlet seems to be playing catch-up with what everybody else already knows.


As a result, although at times I would hear contented sighs – and frequently people saying Hamlet’s lines along with me – I also had people say to me afterwards that it was only after a while that they realised that I was doing such-and-such a speech. I suppose it can be surprising to discover these well- known words in the context of the narrative of a play, rather than as verbal set pieces. I suspect that secretly we might believe such great – and famous – outpourings of eloquence and wisdom should be heralded by a pause in the action and a suitable fanfare.


[ . . . ]


With each of Shakespeare’s plays, the same cast and the same director could sit down again mere months after they’ve done a production and come up with a totally different production: the readiness is all. I’m sure that for each role I would want to give a very different performance now. But however I did them, I would still want to focus on those moments when the characters become something they weren’t before. I would want to try to hold on to who they were, with all the weight of their histories, and yet follow them in the successive moments of becoming who they are, as they are faced with those big questions. They are questions we all face in our own lives: questions about beliefs, and trust, and power, and how to do the best we can with whatever unexpected circumstances life throws at us.

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