The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0245 Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Subject: May 20, 1609
I woke this morning to the sonorous baritone voice of Garrison Keillor
It was on this day exactly 400 years ago -- May 20, 1609 -- that the
publisher Thomas Thorpe made an entry in the Stationer's Register that
said: Entred for his copie under the handes of master Wilson and master
Lownes Wardenes a booke called Shakespeares sonnettes, (books by this
author) and soon after (we don't know the exact date) Shakespeare's
sonnets were published. Many people think that Thorpe published them
without Shakespeare's consent.
Today is the day we celebrate the publication of one of the best know
collections of English poetry.
I am fortunate to have a long association with the Sonnets. Ian
Lancashire and I web published _Shake-Speares Sonnets 1609_, one of the
first publicly available online versions of an old-spelling, diplomatic
transcriptions of an important Early Modern quarto edition (Renaissance
Electronic Texts ISBN 1-896016-00-6).
This text would later be the "live text," that is the searchable text
underneath the Octavo edition of _William Shakespeare's Sonnets London,
1609_ (The British Library's Grenville Edition) that enables searches of
the high resolution images.
Then on NPR's Morning Edition Lynn Neary had a story, "Did Shakespeare
Want To Suppress His Sonnets?" an interview with Clinton Heylin, the
author of the new book _So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of
Shakespeare's Sonnets_ (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2009), to be
published on May 25th. A marketing representative was kind enough to
send me an advance copy.
Heylin, who has written books on Bob Dylan, the Beatles, The Velvet
Underground, Van Morrison, The Doors, and the Sex Pistols among others,
first became interested in the Sonnets when he was researching a book on
bootleggers in the music industry: _Bootleg: The Secret History of the
Other Recording Industry_. He compares the publication of Shakespeare's
Sonnets to the recordings of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, claiming that
they both were never intended for a wide audience and that both Dylan
and Shakespeare "were killing time and at the same time dealing with
huge personal issues in a private way, which they never conceived of
coming out publicly."
My copy arrived this morning, so I have only had the opportunity to
glance at it, but to give you a flavor of its content let me quote from
the interview and then the text.
Heylin maintains, "[Thorpe] was a man who lived on the very periphery of
the London publishing world . . . who was constantly in trouble with the
Stationer's Company for publishing books that flagrantly breached the
copyright of other publishers. . . .This is somebody who, if he got his
hands on Shakespeare's sonnets, must have done so in some underhanded,
slightly questionable way."
Much of the book seems to explore the Sonnets reception, popular and
One of his conclusions touches upon a topic discussed on this list recently:
Perhaps Thorpe was an innocent dupe and it was John Davies of Hereford
who _deliberately_ passed the poem ["A Lover's Complaint"] off as
Shakespeare's, deceiving the publisher, who took the poem at face value
because it came from the very same "source" who had provided him with
the sonnets. Indeed, the manuscript that reached Thorpe may well have
been written in the same hand as the sonnets that he had (probably
already) received precisely because it was Davies who wrote "A Lover's
Complaint," though only after first copying out his favorite poet's
sonnets, which he'd acquired some time ago. (188)
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
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