The Subject of Shake-Speares Sonnets and Afterlife in Lyric Poetry

Authored by: Peter Robinson

The Shakespearean World

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415732529
eBook ISBN: 9781315778341
Adobe ISBN: 9781317696193


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In 1599, his biography on A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, James Shapiro notes of William Jaggard’s piratical miscellany The Passionate Pilgrim, published in April or May, that Londoners would have been “free to gossip about the sonnets’ intimate (if fictional) biographical details, for these teasingly allusive poems almost beg for that sort of response” (2005: 214). But were they? Scholarly protocol in the absence of evidence gives the “biographical” only to take it away as “fictional.” The prudent critic finds poems neither allusive nor not (being “teasingly” so) and on “both sides thus” is “simple truth suppressed” (138). “In a poem,” Fernando Pessoa asserted, not attributing it to any of his heteronyms, “we must understand what the poet wants, but we may feel what we like” (2007a: 207). Yet to understand what poems “almost beg for” we need, however free to feel, to distinguish between understanding their expectation of response and our success or failure in so responding – and to make this distinction it would help to know whether Shake-speares Sonnets (1609) are begging, or pretending to beg, or not begging at all.

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