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The Friend Within the Shakespearean Sonnet | Early Modern and Open Access

By October 5, 2014 No Comments

This is part of a weekly series here at TSS: Early Modern and Open Access regularly showcases peer reviewed articles (or other resources) of interest to early modernists that are freely available in open access formats.

Citation and Link:

Bruce Carroll, “Poetic Preservation, Ontological Peril: The Friend within the Shakespearean Sonnet,” APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture 7 (2014)

First Paragraph (in lieu of an abstract):

Most readers will recall the poet-speaker of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets and his well-known promises to immortalize his poetic subject and beloved young friend (the ‘fair youth’), promises such as “So, till the judgment that yourself arise, / You live in this [sonnet] and dwell in lover’s eyes” and “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this [sonnet], and this gives life to thee.” But my attention in this essay is drawn to the speaker’s lesser recognized negative portrayal of his craft, a critique of the poetic form that clearly marks it as a threat to its subject. In one instance, poetry is a theft: “Why should false painting imitate his cheek / And steal dead seeming from his living hue?,” and in another, a theft with mortal consequences: “[verse] is but as a tomb / Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.” The disconcerting possibility of death is reemphasized: “I impair not beauty being mute, / When others [other poets] would give life and bring a tomb.” Similarly, the speaker calls creative verse “barren,” “barren rhyme,” and the “barren tender of a poet’s debt.” For what it is worth, I do not overlook the Sonnets’ conventional elevations of the poetic subject at the disparagement of the poet’s skill, such as: “And him [the friend] as for a map doth Nature store, / To show false Art what beauty was of yore.” But it is neither conventional to indict verse for stealing from or causing the death of its subject, nor is it a trope when the speaker’s first explicit mention of poetry, as “rhyme,” likens it to the up to then most negative descriptor in the sequence, “barren.”

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