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Gary Taylor’s Review of New Shakespeare Novel

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.181  Tuesday, 8 April 2014


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

Date:         April 7, 2014 at 5:16:58 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Shakespeare Novel


Jude Morgan’s novel sounds quite dreadful. “Strident need to pee”? I’ll re-read Anthony Burgess’s wonderful “Nothing Like the Sun,” or perhaps the underrated “Bitten Apples” by Fellowes Kraft. 

Cumberbatch Does the Classics

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.180  Tuesday, 8 April 2014


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

Date:         April 8, 2014 at 8:45:38 AM EDT

Subject:    Cumberbatch Does the Classics


The Guardian reports that “Benedict Cumberbatch is to play Richard III on television . . . .[He] is also to play Hamlet on stage in London next year.”


I would like to be expectant, but Cumberbatch’s online poetry-readings give scant grounds for optimism. Take (please!) his rendition of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan at Lines 8-11 of the poem consist of the following quatrain:


And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, 

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; 

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. 


Cumberbatch reads the first of these lines as “And there were gardens bright with sinuous riles.” This glaring mispronunciation is both substantively nonsensical and incompatible with the ABAB rhyme scheme. Cumberbatch may be unfamiliar with the poem, but shouldn’t he know English?


His delivery of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale is even worse. I count at least nine errors, including one in the very first line, where he refers to “drowsy numbness” instead of “a drowsy numbness.” Soon afterwards he yearns for “a beaker of the warm south,” instead of “a beaker full of the warm south.” He absurdly reads “Provençal song” as “provincial song,” mistakes “haply” for “happily,” and pronounces “Poesy” as “Posy” (which is akin to pronouncing “poetry” as “potry”).  “Clustered around” becomes “clustered round,” while “Lethe-wards” is transmogrified into “Leth-wards.” And while Cumberbatch properly scans some of Keats’ past participles as two syllables (e.g., “mused”), he fails to do so with others (e.g., “stained,” “embalmed").


Cumberbatch has speculated that he may suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This might explain a few of his mistakes, but most appear to be attributable to ignorance.  Of course, the directors of these readings are also at fault for being too unlettered or too timid to keep him up to the mark.


As for Cumberbatch’s interpretations, his Kubla Khan is perfunctory, while his meandering rendition of Keats’ Ode skims the surface.  Music is played under (or over) both readings to impart some of the feeling that Cumberbatch fails to provide, and perhaps to distract from his mediocrity.


An actor whose literary knowledge, linguistic awareness, poetic sensitivity, textual fidelity and rhetorical skills are as poor as this would seem to have no business playing Richard III and Hamlet. We shall have to wait and see if his performances, like his poetry-readings, turn out to be a Cumberbotch.


--Charles Weinstein

SAA Features Actors from the London Stage

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.179  Tuesday, 8 April 2014


From:        Actors From The London Stage < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 7, 2014 at 5:16:28 PM EDT

Subject:    SAA Features Actors from the London Stage




After visiting campuses across the United States for the past 10 weeks, Actors From The London Stage will conclude its Fall 2014 tour in St. Louis at this week’s annual meeting of Shakespeare Association of America.


The visit will include two performances of As You Like It and four workshops open to all attendees without pre-registration. Workshops and performances will be at the SAA Conference Hotel


Details are as follows:


AFTLS As You Like It Performances:

  • Wednesday, April 9th at 8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, April 11th at 8:00 p.m.

AFTLS Workshops:

  • Shakespeare and Gender: Playing sexual biformity in As You Like It
    • Thursday, April 10th at 10:00 a.m.
  • The Actor and the Text: Verse vs. prose in As You Like It
    • Thursday, April 10th at 3:30 p.m.
  • A Forest Full of Characters: Extreme casting and the creation of character(s) in As You Like It
    • Friday, April 11th at 3:30 p.m.
  • The Empty Director’s Chair: Collaboration and consensus in the AFTLS production of As You Like It
    • Saturday, April 12th at 4:00 p.m.

Download the entire 2014 SAA Conference Program HERE


If you’re not familiar with AFTLS and its great tradition of teaching and performing on college campuses across the USA for nearly forty years, click on the following links to learn more:


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.178  Tuesday, 8 April 2014


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

Date:         Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Subject:     SAA


Dear Subscribers,


I leave for the SAA tomorrow morning. I, therefore, doubt I will be able to edit digests tomorrow. I will, however, bring my laptop to St. Louis and will provide digests from there.


I hope to see many old and new friends at the conference.


Best wishes, 

Hardy M. Cook 

Professor Emeritus 

Bowie State University 

Editor of SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference <>   

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (SHAKSPER)

The Sonnets

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.177  Monday, 7 April 2014


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

     Date:         April 4, 2014 at 4:57:16 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re:  Sonnets 


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

     Date:         April 5, 2014 at 12:57:16 PM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Sonnets 


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

     Date:         April 6, 2014 at 5:08:20 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: The Sonnets 




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

Date:         April 4, 2014 at 4:57:16 PM EDT

Subject:    Re:  Sonnets


The recent exchanges over meaning in Sonnet 144 bring tears to my eyes, as the worst possible use of SHAKSPER as a vehicle for wider and better understanding of the Bard. Way back when, Gabriel Harvey noted that Romeo and Juliet delight the younger sort and Hamlet has much in it to please the wiser sort. Now both plays happen to be full of bawdy remarks, but in neither case does any sensible reader claim that they are “what the play is about.” No one who looks for deeper, philosophical, ideological, psychological, or other readings is likely to be guilty of missing the naughty stuff. But let’s leave it to the younger sort—of whatever chronological age—to stop there.


David Basch and I disagree more often than not, but his reading of the sonnet seems to me eminently worth considering. Shakespeare is not famous because of his skill as a writer of dirty jokes. There’s always more to him than the obvious; his contemporaries expected it and our contemporaries are still regularly uncovering new aspects of his ability to dramatize multiple truths in a single piece of work. Dante famously invoked the four simultaneous levels of meaning always to be sought in serious (religious, to him) writing: literal, allegorical, anagogical and tropological. I can find all four in Shakespeare more often than not.  


George Gascoigne, equally famously, stated that poetry worthy of the name had to contain hidden depths of meaning in both its theme and the rhetorical devices used to convey it, or else “it will appeare to the skillfull Reader but a tale of a tubbe.” SHAKSPER exists for those who aspire to be skillful readers. 


Let us not turn SHAKSPER into a forum for denigrating the wiser sort, nor excoriating the skillful reader for trying to uncover new treasures lurking behind those themes and references that are obvious to just about everyone. And, when someone has an insight to share with other Shakespeareans, it’s not a fault to be brief and to the point. We do not need an introduction reciting everything else he or she really does know but considers irrelevant to the matter at hand.


Why can’t we all just get along?


Tony Burton



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

Date:         April 5, 2014 at 12:57:16 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Sonnets


I love Shakespeare’s Sonnets. 


I found David Basch’s comments to be very helpful, which is how I hope my criticism can also be described. I agree whole-heartedly with what Mr. Basch says about interpreting the sonnets, but want to add a layer of interpretation to his comments on Sonnets 20 and 40. My layering may at first seem contradictory, but I subscribe to the idea that good interpretations of the sequence can be labeled good because they account for and develop the complexity and sometimes contradictory feelings and ideas of the speaker toward his loves, both the young man and the dark lady.


Stephen Booth points out in his tome of commentary to his edition of the sonnets that the metric of sonnet 20 reveals a layer of double entendre. “A man in hew all Hews in his controwling” reads “a MAN in HEWS ALL HEWS in his CONT row LING” with the spondee in the middle of the line, where the caesura should be, pushing the next emphasis to the first syllable of “controwling” thus emphasizing “cont,” which of course sounds like that Old English word for the female parts (Booth, 1977, pp. 163-4). Booth points out a lot more of this punning going on in the sonnet, and it is from him that I derive my notion that the punning adds a layer of meaning that can be contradictory to the surface meaning, but doesn’t negate it—just as one’s sexual desire for another being does not negate one’s conscious desire for a meaningful (and pure?) spiritual relationship.  Further punning revolves around “all” for the male organ, which is prominent in sonnet 40: “Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all,” and other puns that Booth describes. But concerning lines 7 and 8, “”and women’s souls amaseth” thus refers to female orgasm, and the first part of the line, “which steales mens eyes” makes me think other men being impressed by the young man’s potency while also presenting a layer of voyeurism, or common understanding (a wink and a nod), of what is really happening. (And while playing at punning, I can’t help but to read, though not hear, “mens eyes” as “menses”; thus the image of tempering a sword (steales) aligns with the act of penetration.)


When I teach the sonnet sequence, and I never teach it except as a sequence, I point out how readily sonnet 20 lends itself to the punning. “But prickt thee out for womens pleasure” is hardly double in its meaning, but quite blatant. Any freshman high school student who has read Romeo and Juliet and recalls Romeo’s friends punning with him after he first met Juliet and is now his old self should be aware of the punning on “prickt” that is immediately recognizable still after 400 years.  But all of this double entendre is layered upon, or beneath, the spiritual desires of the speaker, and is develop precisely in the carnal struggles described later in the sequence. The challenge is to hear, and accept, that both meanings are there at the same time, a point that I think one could say is particularly Shakespearean when we consider his drama. 


When Basch jumps to sonnet 144, I can make the leap with him, showing how sonnet 144 is equally spiritual and carnal: “I gesse one angel in an others hel” “Hel” is widely known by scholars as slang for vagina, so this pun is hardly a reach. To be trapped in a carnal obsession, what else is it but to be in hell. I find the punning not a layering of meaning, but exactly describing the human torment of sexual jealously, of being conscious of one’s organism’s actions in conflict with one’s spiritual desires. 


Basch’s return to sonnet 20’s last line reveals a similar obviousness: “Mine be thy love and thy loves use their treasure.” “Thy loves use” is clearly the use of his penis, and their treasure is their enjoyment, as well as his semen and their desired pregnancy—the main point of the beginning of the sequence. 


Now quoting directly from Basch, let’s reread his paragraph with  “God” being replaced by the young man and “all” meaning “varieties of love” and “penis.”


“As we read the poet’s words, he declares to God, “Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all.” But, continues the poet, taking that “all” of love, God would not then be in possession of any more of the poet’s “true love” than the “all mine” that the poet has already given. If anything, it seems to the poet, God “dece[i]vest” in that He “refusest” to accept the poet’s fully rendered “true love”— assumedly, the very caliber of love that God most cherishes from His loved ones.”


I do not disagree with Basch at all, but now one can see how Basch-Woodruff gets at the drama of trying to express spiritually and physically a totalizing love that cannot be “naturally” fulfilled because of the young man’s penis being where a vagina could be.  Natural is in quote marks because other kinds of sexual congress appear in this poem and others: “By wilfull taste of what thyselfe refusest” and sonnet 81’s closing couplet: “You still shall live (such virtue hath my Pen)/ Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men” both suggest oral sex, which is one way two males can give themselves to each other physically. 


Basch then turns to a line in sonnet 40 that has never made sense to me until I discovered the degree of double entendre pointed out by Booth. “Lascivious grace, in whom all il well showes,/ kill me with spights yet we must not be foes.” Why “lascivious”? Reading the sonnet innocently, with absolutely no punning, I could never make sense of “lascivious.” Indeed, reading it innocently the word really is out of place, calling attention to itself. Basch is impressive in his relating it to the Bible, but I find “lascivious grace” being more likely aligned with a garrulous and pleasing polyamorousness in the young man, not that that discounts the religious notions behind spreading the young man’s love, and face, among humanity, again the originating idea of the sequence. And again, in the lines we find the puns appearing: an all (penis) that “well showes” which is an “il all” since the young man is male, appears to be sleeping around, etc. To be killed is often understood as to achieve orgasm (the small death). 


These lines can also lead to ideas about venereal disease. To kill with spights or “injuries, vexations” (Booth, 200), is certainly a description of the dangers of syphilis, which concept is developed in the sonnets that refer to pollution and poisoning and cures (Booth, 500, 533; Greer, 294-313).


I do not feel my analyses contradict Basch, but merely add the carnal layer to his spiritual readings. In fact, the more spirituality he finds, the deeper grows my sadness at the tragedy of the speaker’s psyche that ultimately declaims: “Therefore my Mistresse eyes are Raven blacke.” I take sonnet 127 to be the speaker’s embracing of his worser self, the worser spirit, the moment at which the speaker loses faith and can only express his love for the young man negatively. 


So, as to the issue of interpretation with respect to a story line, I find Shakespeare to be fully aware of the Petrarchan tradition of writing a sequence of poems that detail the attempts of a speaker to turn his earthly love for a young woman into the spiritual and life-long struggle for heavenly grace. From Dante, through Petrarch, to Sidney, this has been the purpose of a sequence. As he is with so many genres, Shakespeare seems to have been well read and well-versed in the tradition of the form. (No doubt his friend, publisher, and fellow Stratfordian, Richard Field, made this possible.) And as ever he innovates on that tradition, changing the young woman to a young man, and psychologizing the speaker as he so often does through the exploration of negative motivations in conflict with positive conscious acts.  More to the point, Shakespeare senses the drama of the form and uses his gift for speaking through a character to explore an understanding of the corrosive nature of love, his ultimate innovation to the form that expressly seeks to portray love as ennobling. Thus Shakespeare makes a comic form tragic.


As to the other issue of biographical readings of the sonnets, I caution myself to always ask myself: Do other time periods understand the nature of writing poetry as I was raised to understand the nature of writing poetry? It was an unconscious approach for me to read a poem as a poet’s intensely personal expression of his or her experiences and observations, and it has taken a conscious effort to disabuse myself of that notion when reading poems earlier than the Romantics. Nevertheless, where else but from one’s experiences can one draw to energize a poem, or any art, even art that is explicitly public and impersonal, but through one’s particular connection to the material.  Michelangelo’s sculptures in the tried and true genres of the pieta, DaVinci’s fresco in the given genre of the last supper or oil painting of Madonna and child, these works are impressive precisely because of a personal vision that infuses a worn medium and form.  And so too with Shakespeare’s sonnets: without an experience of intense grief at the loss of his son, and family line!, how else could he craft for some character that character’s language of loss. And so too with passion, goodly and ill. How else but through Shakespeare’s own illicit love for an older woman, or a younger man (an actor?), and through the resulting jealously and cruelty—and generosity and grace—could Shakespeare write a sonnet sequence that challenges the cherished idea of ennobling love? 


And true to Shakespeare’s experience on stage, as well as the medium of the sonnet sequence, Shakespeare added another form, the Complaint, to the sequence of sonnets. Like a dance at the end of a stage performance, the sequence ends with a comic piece, “A Lover’s Complaint.” After the speaker of the complaint voices her outrage at all she has suffered at the hand of a scoundrel, she confesses to be willing to love him still, to be able to fall for his false charms again. What better way to show how the heart keeps beating, and to make we want to read, or see, more Shakespeare!


PS. An interesting notes for the biographer-analyzers: I have found that the sonnet sequence did not get published until Shakespeare’s mother died.  How many of us wouldn’t want something so personal and bawdy to come out until our parents wouldn’t be around to know?


Booth, Stephen.  Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Yale UP, 1977.

Greer, Germaine.  Shakespeare’s Wife.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.


Greg Woodruff

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

Date:         April 6, 2014 at 5:08:20 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: The Sonnets


I have stayed back for the Sonnet discussion a bit, but I think as it runs its course there are a couple of observations which may help.


Elizabethans are credited with an awareness of multiple levels of interpretation in poems and other works. We are reminded that these 4 levels of interpretation as expressed by Dante [although these were known earlier] are as follows:


1. Literal or Plain meaning; 2. Allegorical; 3. Moral; and 4. Anagogical or esoteric.  Commentators on Shakespeare have filled innumerable volumes "explaining" the "meaning" of Shakespeare's lines, and works . . . . on one or more of these 4 levels of interpretation. Just look at this thread on the Sonnets, and the various viewpoints expressed.


The complexity of Shakespeare allows for a multitude of perspectives . . . and who is it that may rightfully claim his or her position or argument is correct? As the author has not favored us with a full explanation of his intention or intentions, we, like observers of the world's great Classical Works in art, drama, painting, sculture, etc can speak to how of our own feelings and impressions.  Is any one's idea right or wrong? Isn't there room for each and every one to have his or her opinion . . . which we know over time and re-visiting a classic work, may expose another layer of meaning to us, as we grow in appreciation.


Indeed, is it not part of what we admire in Shakespeare that he has given ample scope for appreciation to all audiences on all levels of understanding? Like Truth, Shakespeare’s nature is multi-dimensional and limitless. I therefore submit, that each person’s contribution to this thread and in his or her other expressions, is another facet f the diamond that is Shakespeare himself.


I thank all of you for your many contributions


Ira Zinman

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