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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.008  Thursday, 8 January 2015


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

Date:         Thursday, January 8, 2015

Subject:     PS: To Yesterday’s Post


Dear SHAKSPEReans,


I intended yesterday to comment on SHAKSPER’s health, but I forgot—ah, aging (I am of the nature to grow old, I cannot avoid aging.).


There are 1030+ subscribers to the SHAKSPER Conference who receive the SHAKSPER Newsletters by e-mail.


Last year, I also began a new way to disseminate Newsletters through the social media site Facebook: . Currently, 309 people have “Liked” SHAKSPER FB and can read Newsletters and occasional statuses there. 


If you are a FB subscriber and would like to receive SHAKSPER Newsletters by e-mail instead of or in addition to your FB subscription, please either click the Subscriber tab at the top of the SHAKSPER FB homepage or go to the SHAKSPER web site and click on the to How to Sign Up under the About tab: .


I further urge everyone to explore the riches of the SHAKSPER web site: .


I am sure that 2015 will continue the expansion and health of SHAKSPER.



Gay Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.007  Wednesday, 8 January 2015


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

     Date:         December 28, 2014 at 8:19:08 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Gay Bard 


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

     Date:         December 29, 2014 at 8:35:33 AM EST

     Subject:    Gay Bard 


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

     Date:         December 30, 2014 at 5:06:36 PM EST

     Subject:    Gay Bard 


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

     Date:         December 29, 2014 at 12:45:00 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Gay Bard 




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

Date:         December 28, 2014 at 8:19:08 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Gay Bard


I fully agree with David Basch. Shakespeare did not write for eternity, the oncoming epochs, or the present-day readers. He wrote for his audience in his time-slot, and should not be interpreted from our perspective. However, from what we know about his epoch, Shakespeare probably was bisexual: it was common during his time and in the theatrical circle in particular, as it had been common in later Roman empire: every fashionable young Roman was supposed to try gay sex at least once.


Marina Tarlinskaja



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

Date:         December 29, 2014 at 8:35:33 AM EST

Subject:    Gay Bard


Ian Steere states in his reply to David Basch:


“I deduce from the aforementioned independent (but abnormally coherent) sources of information that the prime purpose of the sonnets was to promote patronage via the associated relationship.”




“The evidence suggests that, unlike all his other published works, the Sonnets are (in substance) autobiography by the non-aristocratic, non-rabbinic poet named Will, whose patron was Henry Wriothesley.”


I’m a bit confused. If the sonnets were primarily to promote the patronage of Wriothesley, wouldn’t that compromise the autobiographical aspect? Wouldn’t they have been written based more on flattery and the desire to please than to reveal any truly personal ideas or stories? I misunderstand? 


Thanks - 


Susan Rojas 



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

Date:         December 30, 2014 at 5:06:36 PM EST

Subject:    Gay Bard


David Basch wrote:


>I present what I believe is the allegory that the Sonnets present. 

>I do so by reading and interpreting what the poet has written, not 

>by reading his mind, which would be far beyond my capabilities,


In this discussion involving the mind or interpreting the thoughts of Shakespeare, what can be more relevant than sonnet 10 wherein the bard speaks to his glass as Narcissus.


I must remind the group that the young Shakespeare is telling us the story of the fable of Lord Narcissus, a fifteen-year-old son of the river king, Cephisus, and the naiad, Lirope, who swam in his stream. Shakespeare did not mention the lad’s name, but he knew the fable very well.  He proceded to write 154 poems on that theme. They are not autobiographical, but merely a clever use of the fable, just as George Bernard Shaw did with his Pygmalion. Shaw did title his play to let us put the plot and its relationship together.  Shaw and every one of us, including Brian Vickers, could have used a little creative titling help to understand the Sonnets through A Lover’s Complaint, narrated by the Muse in prologue.


One must study the fable of Narcissus.  He was a beloved, handsome lad. but he loved no one. That was the reason he was punished by the goddess Nemesis, and sent to a perfect pool so that he could look at his reflection, doomed to love himself and be rejected.  He beat himself to death because of it and in the place he died a yellow and white flower grew out ot the ground. In the following sonnet, one can hear him talking to ‘thyself’ three times, and saying to his alter ego, ‘O change thy thought, that I may change my mind.!’ As if he were a clairvoyant able read another’s thought and mind.  The bard knows the alter ego’s mind very well, it is his own.  David, the bard is reading his own mind for you to read. The clues are everywhere and in every sonnet, and in A Lover’s Complaint, not beyond your capability. 


Sonnet 10


For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any,

Who for thyself art so unprovident,

Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,

But that thou none lovest is most evident;

For thou art so possess’d with murderous hate

That ‘gainst thyself thou stick’s not to conspire.

Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate

Which to repair should be thy chief desire.

O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind!

Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?

Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind,

Or to thyself at least kind hearted prove,

Make thee another self for love of me,

That beauty shall live in thine or thee.


Sid  Lubow



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

Date:         December 29, 2014 at 12:45:00 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Gay Bard


Ian Steere proposed that we apply “objective, independent evidence in an appropriate, non-fictional way” to his work on the Sonnets and that, as a result, he claims that “it offers elegant solutions to otherwise unresolved problems of the poems.” I will leave it to others to decide how well he solves the outstanding problems of the Sonnets.


As applying objective tests to my own views of the Sonnets, Ian’s general declaration of my failures seem hardly to hold water. I have asserted that I see in the Sonnets evidence of an allegory concerning the opposing inclinations within man, the good inclination personified as the “lovely” young man, actually an idealized version of himself, and the evil inclination, personified as an irresistible temptress, described as his “femall evill.” As evidence of this content, I referred to the poet’s Sonnet 144 as specifically delineating this. To make this point crystal clear, I present this sonnet immediately below so that readers may judge it on the spot to see if I am inventing anything that is not of the poet:



[1]     T   Wo loues I haue of comfort and dispaire,

[2]          Which like two spirits do sugiest me still,

[3]     The better angell is a man right faire:

[4]     The worser spirit a woman collour'd il.

[5]     To win me soone to hell my femall euill,


[6]     Tempteth my better angel from my sight,

[7]     And would corrupt my saint to be a diuel:

[8]     Wooing his purity with her fowle pride.

[9]     And whether that my angel be turn'd finde,

[10]   Suspect I may,yet not directly tell,

[11]   But being both from me both to each friend,

[12]   I gesse one angel in an others hel.

[13]      Yet this shal I nere know but liue in doubt,

[14]      Till my bad angel fire my good one out.


I read this narrative as delineating the two opposing forces within him, which the poet refers to as “spirits,” “angels,” and, above all, “loves.” He goes on to tell that these are “both from me” and “to each friend.” Finally, he leaves the outcome of this struggle indefinite, intimating that such a struggle is the content of life.


While Ian would refer to this as “rabbinic,” it is hardly exclusive to this sphere. I have been preached to about this all my life and have noted the description of such forces in serious and popular literature and movies and have, all too often, heard many on air varieties of preachers imploring God in prayer to come to the aid of our better nature in facing life.


In my reviews of specific sonnets, I detect amplifications of this allegory as the poet expresses his desire to be pure and pious. He is chagrinned at the surprising force of the female tempter. He tells in some of the sonnets that this lust is such that its attraction overpowers her moral and physical faults. And the poet even goes out of his way to caution his readers in Sonnet 20 concerning his love for the “man right faire” to not construe his love for this “Master Mistris” as sexual.


Obviously in the format of contributions to our Shakespeare Conference list I cannot go into the detail of each sonnet in which the poet carries on his descriptions concerning the play of these forces and his respect for their power to blind his eyes and to make them swear against the thing they see. The final words of the Sonnets in the last line of the two obviously allegorical poems that suggest that, as these poems are allegories, so are all the poems of the Sonnets, end with the words, “Loues fire heates water, water cooles not loue.” This appears to allude to Song of Solomon 8:7, “Many waters cannot quench love.” This being biblical is a fitting end note for a series of poems that are so grandly high minded.


I would note that this proposed allegorical matrix of the Sonnets is flexible enough to accommodate many voices: poems addressing each of his “souls”; poems addressing God, Author of this arrangement (see Sonnets 30 and 31); poems addressing mentors who have lighted and guided his way.


Obviously, I also gather support for this view of the Sonnets from the poet’s dramatic works, in which he shows these forces at play in the human struggles depicted. I am surely not the only one who has noted the biblical wisdom imparted in the poet’s dramatic works and, therefore, will see his Sonnets as not discontinuous in its moral affirmations. In all of this, I have suggested the context that the poet has given for his poems.


It remains for readers in their studies of these poems to see if these suggestions are, as Ian alleges, “ill-fitting” or whether they ring true and are more compelling than Ian’s attempts at overlaying speculative and largely invented historical settings in the life of the poet to explain them.


David Basch

Stern Noting Q1 Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.006  Wednesday, 8 January 2015


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

     Date:         January 5, 2015 at 6:59:43 AM EST

     Subject:    Stern Noting Q1 Hamlet


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

     Date:         January 6, 2015 at 12:44:45 AM EST

     Subject:    Stern Noting Q1 Hamle




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

Date:         January 5, 2015 at 6:59:43 AM EST

Subject:    Stern Noting Q1 Hamlet


Gerald Downs’ post about Tiffany Stern’s article on Hamlet Q1 includes the following statement: ‘No doubt, Tiffany Stern’s article was written by invitation, which bypasses the editorial process (I hope).’ 


As editor of Shakespeare Survey, I want to make clear the nature of Gerald Downs’ error over this. Professor Stern was invited to give a paper at the 2012 biennial International Shakespeare Conference, papers from which form some of the contributions to Survey, a process which has been the same ever since the ISC and Survey both began in the 1940s. The invitation was issued by those who run the ISC, not by Shakespeare Survey. As usual, Survey’s Board met during the conference to decide which of the papers would be selected for Survey. No, this is not anonymous peer-review but it is review by a large number of the world’s most distinguished Shakespeare scholars, many more than the two who would normally read submissions to journals. This is not ‘bypass[ing] the editorial process’ but is instead a rigorous process consequent on the link between the ISC and Survey for more than 60 years.


Peter Holland

Editor, Shakespeare Survey



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

Date:         January 6, 2015 at 12:44:45 AM EST

Subject:    Stern Noting Q1 Hamlet


Tiffany Stern often builds on statements of little meaning or support: “Some of the transposed sections in Hamlet Q1 seem to have been resituated with what might be a noter’s logic. Material of a similar kind tends to be pooled together. . . . In Q2/F Hamlet enters the stage . . . with a book in his hands; later, Ophelia is ‘loosed’ to Hamlet with a book in her hands . . . . Q1, however, introduces Hamlet with his book, immediately flanked by Ophelia and her book; matching book with book may be the cause for the scene’s new placement . . .” (15).


What is “noter logical” about that? Logicians needn't be in charge of transpositions. More reasonably, dialogue may be mistakenly associated in memorial transmission. Stern treats other text similarly: “a stranded word without its surrounding logic” (14); “free-standing verbatim ‘passages’” (18); “It is equally likely . . . that [inverted commas] are marked as coming from commonplacing". [Or] "marks may witness a passage that an amender, revisiting the theatre, observed had been cut” (19).


What are the chances that a fixer-upper put inverted commas around Corambis’s advice to Leartes for the stated reasons? Quotation marks were used for all sorts of settings-off. For example, Corambis might be supposed to ‘read’ his list. But Stern's argument that Q1 is mangled haphazardly is not new; Van Dam cites Gustav Tanger (c. 1880), who explains—


“by assuming mistakes to have been made in the transcription of the notes taken down. According to Dr. Tanger’s opinion, the reporter faithfully used his notes, but the notes were fragmentary, and ‘he was not over-scrupulous as to the propriety of the places he often assigned to them’. However, it is out of the question that, in general, the notes should not have preserved the order of the spoken words, or that the reporter, without any imaginable reason, should have misarranged his sentences in transcribing his notes, the explanation of Dr. Tanger must be set aside. The only explanation that is possible and, moreover, simple and conclusive, is that the [Q1] passage under discussion really represents the way in which the actor recited his part” (Hamlet, 18).


Although Stern raises “imaginable reasons” to new heights I doubt van Dam would be impressed. Objection to her renewal of Tanger’s guess is still the same: the better alternative is that actors spoke the words in Q1 order, as recorded. Stern doesn't argue against these “simple and conclusive” possibilities—she barely acknowledges them (even though she believes Q1 is a theatrical report).


Stern introduces the phonetic expert when Q1’s apparent accuracy calls for him. That temporary role is never quite explained but it goes back to the desire for shorthand to fail and for the state of the text to result from its failure—not from actors in performance. This allows readers to assume mistaken characteristics of experts and their history. For example, she refers to “stenography (1602), the first phonetic shorthand”(2), and to Willis, “as inventing stenography” (13). But she also observes that by 1588, “other forms of shorthand” existed and that “some never made it into print” (6); which must allow a phonetic history prior to Willis.


Stern states that “the shorthand-longhand distinction is not entirely useful.” She suggests Arnold Hunt’s The Art of Hearing (2010) clarifies that sermons claiming “to have been taken by shorthand often contain mistakes traceable to longhand” (6). However, his few examples easily allow revision of a shorthand derived text in its reprint or for the fact that longhand printer’s copy for all first editions obviates the need for longhand in any notes: misreadings are probably compositorial. Stenographers necessarily transcribed their work for others, though experts read their own shorthand well.


Interestingly, Hunt cites William Matthews to the effect that sermons were taken “fairly accurately – so accurately, in fact, that Matthews was reluctant to believe they could have been copied by shorthand at all” (144). But Hunt lost an important point in quoting Matthews, who believed “that the sermons were not taken down in Bright’s shorthand at all”.


Matthews spoke only of “Characterie,” the symbolic method. He reserved judgment on the other possible method: “so accurately” must refer to phonetic stenography. That’s not what a reader gets from Stern’s essay. However, the little I've read of Hunt’s book indicates that he does a fair and thorough job of examining shorthand and sermons. He verifies my own observations that the transcriptions were often very well done; that they capture the sermons as they were delivered; and that reprints attempted not merely to repair errors, but to make “live sermons” presentable in a more literary form. It’s too bad the messages get skewed here and there.


Stern thus notes that part of the Q1 King’s prayer “appears to have been collected in a different fashion from its surrounding dialogue, and rules for noting might explain why” (13). That simply begs questions if methods of note-taking are meant to be differentiated; no doubt, stenographers were content to “collect” the good with the bad. But Stern sticks to her ‘logic’: “If Hamlet Q1 is a text combined from the notes of two or more people, then the reason for its ‘good’ earlier section, and poor later sections is explained: they bespeak two or more separate noters, the early ‘good’ one being more given to verbatim methods of copying, and perhaps using good longhand or phonetic shorthand, the later, less good . . . “(18). This circular explanation relies on her earlier mistaken judgments. What “good longhand” allows verbatim dictation? And why would a stenographer on a roll give the job to amateurs only to return with “sudden good speeches later”?


Although I think Stern exaggerates their importance in textual analysis, cues are self-evidently vital to playtexts; if one cue wasn’t there, another was. However, for actors at all familiar with a scene, mishandled cues were just wrinkles. For example, Stern agrees with the assertion that Q1 Hamlet’s ‘to a Nunnery goe’—voiced eight times—renders his date with Ofelia ‘virtually unplayable.’ (Q2’s ‘Nunry’ adjuration gets five non-identical spots, and only one a cue). But Q1’s repetition and its responses, right on cue, are playable (if perhaps by standards short of good). The odds that it was played as in Q1 increase if other evidence shows Q1 is a theatrical report—as Stern and I agree it is. If a playtext stems from performance, probabilities exist that “recorded” dialogue is acted dialogue and that cue-chips fall where they may.


I’ve cited a favorite passage several times (formally and not) because I can’t see any inference other than of a mistake in performance. Q1’s short version of Q2’s 4.7 is interesting in that the second half of Q2 4.5.137 is transposed to Q1 1790, possibly even as a ‘cued’ response. B. A. P. van Dam saw its importance:


“However much a first sketch [the prevailing mistaken view of Q1 in his day—read ‘memorial reconstruction’ or ‘noters amalgamation’ for our purposes] may need correcting and improving, in no first sketch will there appear a perfectly unintelligible dialogue, as here is the case”:


   king.  Leartes, content your selfe, be rulde by me,

And you shall haue no let for your reuenge.

   Lear.  My will, not all the world.   Q1 1790 (& Q2 4.5.137)

   King.  Nay but Leartes, marke the plot I haue layde,


“Line 1790 lacks any logical connection with the context. The corruption is an actor’s slip, for only as such can it be completely explained. The player who acts the part of Laertes hears the last words of line 1789 ‘no let for your revenge’, which remind him of the first half of [Q2 4.5.137]: ‘King. Who shall stay you?’ . . . upon which he, by reflex action so to speak, answers with line 1790 . . . the second half of [4.5.137]. The actor personating the King of course notices the mistake, and by means of the words, which really do not belong to his part, ‘Nay, but Leartes, marke . . .’ very cleverly sets the dialogue right again” (19).


Line 1790 is "perfectly unintelligible" for good reason. In the thoroughly botched Q1 version of 4.5 Leartes has no chance to say 'My will, not all the world's' because the King never asks, 'Who shall stay you?' In this case 'stay' does not mean 'prevent' (Arden 3; van Dam also glosses, ‘stay you from revenge’), but 'support' (OED trans. vb.); the only prop he needs is his own will power. His reply lies dormant until 4.7 (Q1 1790) when he is "cued" by a line out of the blue, 'no let for your revenge.' That’s Q1's version of Q2 4.7.127, 'Revenge should have no bounds', which is not a Q2 cue. But Leartes associates 'revenge' and 'let' (impediment) with 'revenge' and 'stay' (which the actor himself understood as synonymous to 'prevent') and blurts out his unused line as if he had been cued. The transposition (from 330 Q2 lines earlier) and the King's recovery can only have occurred in performance. A 'reconstructing' actor wouldn’t write a senseless line any more than an author; if he did so he would erase it rather than add a line to get back on track.


That also applies to the ‘stranded line collector/transposer’ Stern supposes. There is no need to argue the innumerable transpositions, borrowings, repetitions, or interjections of Q1 in similar fashion. They have no reason for being to compare with accidents of memory in reconstruction or performance by those who had use of the texts in the first place—the actors. Yet the players caught in performance weren’t necessarily those who originated the roles. The title-page claim assigning the Q1 text to “his Highnesse seruants” can’t overcome its evidence of wholesale corruption pointing away from the use of a much better text such as Q2 or F.


Gerald E. Downs

Interpretation versus Reading

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.005  Wednesday, 8 January 2015


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

     Date:         December 29, 2014 at 2:28:03 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Interpretation versus Reading 


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

     Date:         December 31, 2014 at 11:19:05 AM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Interpretation versus Reading




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

Date:         December 29, 2014 at 2:28:03 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Interpretation versus Reading


>Can you help me understand your formula?


>I read ___X___ as _______ from my perspective as ___Y___ .

>What is wrong about thinking one knows the meaning the poet

>tries to communicate from what he has written?


Those are two entirely different questions; in fact, they deal with inconsistent views of criticism. The first imposes the reader’s mindset on the author and strives to fit the latter’s language into the reader’s biases. The second seeks to ascertain what the author expected his audience to understand from his words. That to my mind is the most legitimate function of criticism. To combine the two notions is an almost solipsistic exercise; it equates the author with the reader: Shakespeare was like me; I am a Marxist; therefore, Shakespeare intended Jack Cade to be a hero.


We all seem to agree that it is a futile exercise in most cases to try to determine with absolute certainty what a long-dead author “intended,” if by that word we mean the recesses of his mind, things that he himself might not have been aware of consciously. But that is not the same thing as seeking to determine what the author expected his audience to understand from what he wrote, which, in most cases, we can do with a fair degree of confidence by reference to the words he uses. Where that proves inadequate due to the obscurity of the passage, a number of tools are available: Philology (what did the words mean at the time), context (what is happening in the play, what do the character and other characters say about the language in question, etc.), and the cultural context of the time (what are the common experiences of the audience). To illustrate: There is a passage in “Macbeth” in which the drunken porter invites an equivocator into Hell. The passage is incomprehensible to most modern readers, but a little background makes it perfectly clear. To begin with, equivocation has a meaning today which is very different from—nearly the opposite of—what it meant in the early 17th Century. Today it means expression of uncertainty or inability to make a definite assertion one way or the other. But in 1607 it referred to a species of prevarication in which the speaker makes a definite statement which appears to mean one thing when, in fact, he holds a secret understanding which negates that meaning. For example, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” is true because I do not regard fellatio as sexual relations; or “I am not having an affair with Mary,” as I have not slept with her since last night. In a scriptural justification offered by the Catholic Church for the practice, Jesus told his disciples that he did not know the date of Judgment Day, when, of course (being omniscient), he did know it but not for the purpose of disclosing it.


A fuller understanding of the passage in “Macbeth” is had when we refer the events of the day: The play was written about a year after the March 28, 1606 trial of Fr. Henry Garnet, the Jesuit Priest convicted of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.  Garnet was deposed before the trial and denied that he participated in the plot, but the evidence offered at trial demonstrated that in fact he was intimately involved, such as by administering oaths to the other conspirators. He attempted to justify his lack of truthfulness by invoking the doctrine of equivocation, authorized by the Church in such cases. With this background, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Shakespeare intended his audience to think of Garnet when the porter damns an unnamed equivocator “who committed treason enough for God’s sake.”


Not every obscure passage can be clarified by these critical tools and it is not possible in every case to come to a definite conclusion about what Shakespeare expected his audience to understand. In some cases, in fact, he most likely thought his audience would apply more than one interpretation. Ambiguity is one of his hallmarks. But that is not to say that any interpretation of any passage or play is as valid as any other. For example, we don’t have to go too far out on a limb to conclude that Shakespeare did not make puns on classical Hebrew or that Shylock does not behave as he does as a deliberate scheme to secure his daughter’s patrimony. To use instances for which David Basch is not to blame, we can say with confidence that “Measure for Measure” is not a polemic for the gold standard, that the Pyramis and Thisbe interlude in MND is not really a passion play and that the entirety of that play is not an allegory about the emperor Titus’s war against Judea.



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

Date:         December 31, 2014 at 11:19:05 AM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Interpretation versus Reading



Dear Hardy:


Thanks for taking the time to give some background on literary analysis. Much of this is new to me. It seems to me that what you have shown is the variety of ways that have been used from time to time to analyze literary works. But does any new perspective necessarily annul the old? Cannot two or more approaches actually amplify one another and enable greater understanding of a literary object. For example, though early commentators may have zealously sought to find the moral components of poems and plays, we can today also analyze their poetic devices and read their themes that reveal a more secular side.


I kind of summarily reject approaches that focus so minutely on literary structure that they squeeze out what the literary object has to tell, which I imagine is the bent of the deconstructionists. Here I find a way that is too much of an overlay of a commentator’s narcissistic obsessions that fragment and destroy appreciation of an actual work.


I note that while Helen Vendler discusses in detail the literary structure and methods used in each of the sonnets, illuminating the variety of marvelous techniques used by the poet in crafting his poems, she still assays the context of the poems, trying to bring into it what the poet means to say and who the poet is saying it about and to whom he directs his poem. The problem I find with her latter attempts is that she presumes she understands the poet and therefore his intentions. She ends up assuming the poet has an obsessed devotion to a male friend as part of a perverse, homosexual involvement. In so doing she reduces the poet to exhibiting a sado-masochistic attachment and subservience to this friend as a result of an obsessive need for the love of this friend.


This picture of the poet throws out all that is told by the poet’s obvious mastery of psychology in the delineation of his characters and the high-minded brilliance in which he deals with the great issues of life. Surely we have here an unbridgeable gap between the two conceptions of the poet.


Stephen Booth also shares Vendler’s view of the poet. Thus, for all Booth’s minute, devotion to analyzing the words and lines of the sonnets, which I have found very helpful, is all too often given to seeing a sexual meaning in the poet’s words, like done by sex-obsessed teen-agers, contributing to Vendler’s picture of the poet as psychological disturbed.


But I, not having the burden of an over involvement in the psychological theories applied to the poet, take a more direct approach to his poems. Take for example Sonnet 30, a poem, world-admired, for its use of the technique of annamatopoeia. Reading it, one is moved by poet’s moans at the loss of friends in “death’s dateless night.” So intense are the feelings that the poet arouses that we really welcome the relief offered by his last lines:


     But if the while I think on thee (dear friend),

     All losses are restored and sorrowes end.


I and many others find in this a stirring ode to the restorative power of friendship. It is only later and secondarily that the question arises as to who this friend is that offers the poet such restoration and solace. And when it is posed that this friend is some homosexual lover, the reaction is disappointing. The sonnet becomes a “satire to decay” and adds a sour note that destroys, I think, the majesty of the poem.


However, I, driven by the work of the late Professor Leslie Hotson of Yale, who alleged (from examples he gave) that many sonnets parallel their correspondingly numbered psalm, I took a look at the Bible’s parallel Psalm 30. What then stood out is that the psalm also has a concern with death and that the psalmist experiences a similar restoration by his thoughts of the Lord. Here are some of the verses of Psalm 30:


      1  I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up,...

      2  O LORD my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.

      3  O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou

         hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit....


A few verses later, we read of the same restoration and solace mentioned in the sonnet, but here given by the Lord:


     11  Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou

         hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;


The correspondence is striking and one must suspect that the friend mentioned in the sonnet is the Lord. What is more, the opening of the following Sonnet 31 seems to offer more confirmation. As the poet wrote:


        T   Hy bosome is endeared with all hearts,

            Which I by lacking haue supposed dead,

        And there raignes Love and all Lous louing parts,

        And all those friends I thought buried.


The bosom of the Lord offers a more compelling destination for friends lost than that of a male lover no matter how beloved. There is even a verse in parallel Psalm 31, verse 5, “Into thine hand I commit my (soul) spirit,” from an elaboration of which we may learn the destination of all souls that the poet mentions. With such a context, is there any reason to summarily dismiss that the "friend" the poet invokes is actually the Lord?


Vendler and Booth may be dismissive on the basis of how they regard the personality of the poet as seems to emerge from sonnets giving hyperbolic fealty to a human, male friend. But what is hyperbolic to a human friend is not that when applied to the Deity. There is also the advantage here that under this view the personality of the poet becomes coherent with that emerging from his authorship of his majestic dramatic works.


It is in such a context that I read in the Sonnets what appears to me to be an allegory of the “vying souls.” I can quote chapter and verse from the poet’s Sonnets the various lines that appear to describe this motif, especially Sonnet 144, in which it is explicit. This is a common motif that pervades the religious writing of many faiths. What obscures it in the Sonnets is that the love these poems express to their male and female objects seems so genuine coming from the pen of the great poet.


Sure there are rough spots in such interpretations. It was a later development that enabled me to find the coherence of the first 17 sonnets to the rest by reading these poems as directed toward the poet as a youth obsessed with a love for his higher soul which brings him close to the Lord through the pureness of his piety. This love has quite overpowered that of the lower soul so that now the youth needs to be awakened to the desires and lusts necessary for life on earth by the “dark lady” that represents these. A number of the sonnets tell of the young William’s chagrin at the power of these motivations that newly challenge him. In this context, the Sonnets are therefore an allegory depicting this primordial struggle going on in each person.


Anyway, I think that this interpretation, despite some gaps, has much to speak for it in explaining the dynamics of the Sonnets. However, these days, no doubt as result of the murkiness of the poet’s biography, too many commentators have been seduced by shallow popular psychologies into reading into his work a poet that goes against what his work tells of him, 


Hardy, thanks again for giving me the opportunity to spell out my views.


Yours for a Happy 2015 New Year,

David Basch

Rowan Williams: What I learned from the word of the Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.004  Wednesday, 8 January 2015


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

Date:         December 28, 2014 at 9:33:47 AM EST

Subject:    What I learned from the word of the Bard


From the Guardian:


What I learned from the word of the Bard, by Rowan Williams

The ex-archbishop of Canterbury is taking solace and inspiration from Shakespeare as the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death nears


As Christmas approached, the Observer found Rowan Williams, the right reverend, the Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former archbishop of Canterbury, primate of All England, and author of The Poems of Rowan Williams (Perpetua Press), relaxing at home in Cambridge, merrily extemporising Dogberry’s lines from Much Ado About Nothing in a passable rustic accent: “Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass.”


This, your reporter is bound to note, is not a side of this distinguished theologian that’s familiar to any but his inner circle. It turns out, however, to be authentic. Like several men and women of the cloth, Williams once nurtured an ambition to go on the stage, has preached on Macbeth and King Lear, and venerates Shakespeare.


If there’s one play that intersects at so many levels with the Church of England, it must be The Winter’s Tale. Happily renowned for its stage direction “Exit pursued by a bear”, it was first performed before the court in January 1611, the year in which the King James Version of the Bible was published. Ever since, Shakespeare and the Good Book have been informally linked as supreme expressions of the English language. Acknowledging the deep association of this play and the church, the former archbishop speaks passionately about The Winter’s Tale.


“It is,” he says, “one of the most linguistically dense, emotionally demanding and spiritually rich of all the plays.” He finds “a great deal of religious symbolism” running through a story of reconciliation that culminates in a secular resurrection with the coming to life of Hermione’s statue. King Leontes’s “O, she’s warm” is – for Williams – “one of the greatest lines Shakespeare ever wrote”.


Williams freely admits to the youthful temptations of the stage and to “a fleeting ambition” to be an actor. “I come back to Lear compulsively,” he says, and recalls that “of all unlikely things, I once played Dogberry”. Having rehearsed some favourite lines, he adds: “With all due humility, that was casting against type. I usually got the authority roles, such as Theseus [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream].”


Did he find Shakespeare any guide to being archbishop? “There’s plenty in Shakespeare,” he replies, “about the gulf between the robes and the reality. That’s helpful. And also the sense of paying attention to words. I’m glad I’d done some acting: it’s a way of feeling the words. You’re playing a role, but that does not mean you are falsifying. It just means, ‘This is what I have to do to keep this community fulfilling its purpose’.


“One of the problems for the church today is we don’t know what we’re for.” Shakespeare, by contrast, was a master of the compelling presentation of complex themes. “I don’t happen to be Shakespeare.”


[ . . . ]


Looking back at his time as archbishop and his frustrations over the ordination of women bishops, does he have regrets? He certainly seems to concede being conscious of a lost role and of a part given to another actor. “It’s odd,” he says, “when I see a photo of Justin [Welby]’s enthronement. I think, ‘Gosh, that’s the same scene, the same costumes and the same dramatic moment’.” This tradition stretches back to St Augustine. “But,” he says, with a slightly wistful expression, “now there’s a different person in the middle of it. The faces change, but Augustine’s seat doesn’t.” In retirement from the cut and thrust of church politics, which was never his forte, Williams is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Now, with more than a hint of Prospero about him, he’s immersing himself in Shakespeare. In the approach to Twelfth Night, he will, with Salley Vickers and Stanley Wells, lead a four-day reading retreat on The Winter’s Tale, open to the public, at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, Berkshire, from 2-5 January.


Williams says he is strongly drawn to this late “romance”, with its themes of reconciliation and renewal explored by a writer who, he observes, was intimately acquainted with conflict and jeopardy.


“Shakespeare loves living dangerously, doesn’t he?” he says with relish. “Look at Macbeth. A new play for a new king [James I] which speaks directly to his paranoia about witchcraft. Here’s Shakespeare, standing on a knife edge. He’s writing a play about James’s ancestors. And what does he do? He puts in this shameless bit of dynastic propaganda where he says, ‘Look, there’s Banquo’s line’, and it culminates in the best king [James] since sliced bread. You can almost see him turning to his patron, beaming and bowing, before getting on with the rest of the play.”


The archbishop breaks off. For a moment I wonder if he is going to search out some matching biblical reference. “It reminds me,” he says, with a rush of secular excitement, “of a moment in The Simpsons, an episode about the press. Mr Burns is talking about the evils of newspaper proprietors when he turns to the camera and says, ‘Except for Rupert Murdoch’, and then carries on with the scene.”


Speaking of jeopardy, there’s an old debate about whether Shakespeare was a secret Roman Catholic. Williams has views on this. “Shakespeare knows exactly where he does, and doesn’t, want to go, in matters of church and state. He deliberately puts some of his plays right outside the Christian, Tudor/Jacobean framework. For instance, King Lear takes place in a pre-Christian Britain. Again, some people argue that Cymbeline is about a rupture with Rome, leading to a reconciliation. I think Shakespeare did have a recusant Catholic background. My own hunch is that he didn’t go to church much.”


[ . . . ]


The archbishop’s fascination with Shakespeare has recently taken tangible literary shape in what he nervously calls “a bit of imaginative writing”. He confides that this is a short play, entitled Shakeshaft, in which he reconstructs a dialogue between the young poet and the great Jesuit theologian Edmund Campion. “We know they both stayed at the same house in Lancashire,” he says. “I found this a wonderful idea to play with: what might a Jesuit martyr and Shakespeare have said to each other?”


The perils of former church politics are vivid in his mind, which may help explain his reluctance to be drawn on the great issues of his tenure, especially same-sex marriage and the ordination of women bishops.


The conversation swerves into the fate of Thomas Becket, hacked to death by four knights on the steps of Canterbury cathedral in 1170. Williams admits that he can’t help identifying with Becket.


“You can’t not be aware of previous archbishops,” he says. “Every year we’d commemorate Becket’s martyrdom. We’d have prayers and readings, and I’d stand there, thinking …” His voice tails off. “Inhabiting that history was extraordinary. I found it one of the most intense moments of the year, a reconnection. We would read from Murder in the Cathedral and actually open the door of the north cloister, as Becket had done. I would listen to the bolts being drawn and think: those bolts … that door ... this stone …” An addict of meaningful silence, Williams hardly needs to add the chilling words of the chronicler of that act of high clerical murder, “the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood, white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral”.


In more secular times, but at the end of an equally dark year, does he have a message? Williams frames an ironic smile. “A Christmas cracker?” A pause. “Well, one of the great legacies of our culture is that we have a supremely great poet who keeps reminding us how words make us who we are. This means that having good words around us – an imaginative context that feeds us – is not a luxury but a necessity of life.” Another pregnant pause. “The amazing thing about our language and imagination is that we can never say, ‘We’ve done that’. There is no last telling.”


In the absence of scripture, could he teach his faith from Shakespeare? Williams considers the idea carefully. “I’d have a jolly good try.” He smiles enigmatically, before reprising his role as Dogberry.

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