The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Book chatter

Posted on: July 20, 2007

Learning more about books can sometimes be a chore. Further research into the question of whether Milton was a trinitarian led me to an essay anthology in which the first selection dissected the etymology of a few Latin words. Iiiiinteresting, as you can imagine. Frowning to absorb various theological positions I wondered bitterly why I didn’t get to learn about such things in Sunday school, or even confirmation class. It’s amazing the way creeds are simplified for the general congregation and so one walks around thinking the trinity is the trinity and we all understand it to mean the same thing, when that couldn’t be farther than the truth.

It’s funny how theoretically it all sounds fascinating when I think about it, and then when I start to read the essay I fall asleep. Once I stay awake long enough to understand what the heck I’m talking about I’ll do a post to test whether I really do. I did find out though that general scholarship is on the side of Milton being an Arian (in the sense of being against the orthodox understanding of the trinity as opposed to being in specific agreement with Arius). Another amusing development is that, between reading Milton and David Brakke’s demon fighters, I know more about Christian theology as an atheist than I ever did when I was a Christian.

Do you know what else is funny? Shakespeare scholars trying desperately to erase any evidence of homo-eroticism in Shakespeare’s sonnets. I got my hands on the latest Arden edition and the editor, Katherine Ducan Jones, has answered most of my questions. Shakespeare apparently sought to turn the sonnet form on its head, rejecting the sappy Petrarchan style, inserted he and his addressee as the gods in their universe, and more or less being as shallow and naughty as humanly possible. I still think the bazillion poems on ploughing uneared wombs were a bit much but from the twentieth sonnet onward I’m finding the sly humour more subtle and the themes more complexly presented.

But the funny bits. Jones described the pains at which previous scholars contorted Shakespeare’s words in order to feel less alarmed. The popular tactic has been to focus on ‘the Lady’ despite her being present in less than one-fifths of the sonnets.

In the case of [Alfred L.] Rowse, this motive has been delightfully transparent. While happy to categorize Marlowe as a ‘raving homo’, Rowse has been equally outspoken in his identification of ‘the Bard’ as a ‘red-blooded heterosexual’, instinctively thrilled by ‘the frou-frou of skirts’. To his credit, he does take full account of 1-126, but offers splendidly idiosyncratic readings of these sonnets. Stupid people may have thought the notorious 20 a little compromising, for instance, but according to Rowse, ‘the boot is quite on the other leg…it was not Shakespeare who was homosexual, but the young peer who would not have minded. This is indisputable.’

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou the master mistress of my passion,
A woman’s gentle heart but not acquainted
With shifting change as is false women’s fashion,
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling:
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth,
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created,
Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

Yes. Shakespeare was really yearning for the frou-frou, especially in the last lines. There was also the usual textual issues, possible explanations for the number and arrangement of the sonnets (some hooey biblical based numerology was one idea), and why Shakespeare was obsessed with marriage and babies from sonnets 1-17.

My plan for reading the sonnet’s nakedly lasted for about two weeks before I caved and got additional material. So much for simply enjoying the words (or whatever I was thinking).

Last thing. I’ve been approached by the Yale Press internet marketing gent in e-mail enquiring into whether I’m interested in developing an “online partnership” with the possibility of “promoting” my writing. I was put off by the ad speak but after re-reading it I think he just wants to me to add the press’ blog or official website to my blogroll and vice versa. (I found that funny because everything is amusing today.) I felt a bit odd about it until I realised I own two books from them. If the “relationship” is as simple as I imagine it to be I may link to them, but also to the others that I have an active interest in: Harvard, Cornell and U of Nebraska. Chances are that my instinctive “eeewwww” to any publisher, for which I don’t have a deep and all encompassing love, asking me to do anything will persuade me to say, “No, thank you but I wish you the best of luck.”

I’m probably silly for feeling this way about something so benign. I can’t help but instinctively cringe at even the mildest forms of this sort of thing. I look at my blog as something very, very personal and believe it or not I never imagined my site would draw the express interest of anyone besides other readers.

4 Responses to "Book chatter"

The offer is very flattering though, when we write and post we have no idea where our thoughts and feelings, etc. are then being read by who know’s who. I know I have people in Ireland and England reading my posts. I’m very proud of you Imani.

I’m with MissDaisyAnne–the offer is flattering. Good for you! And I just ordered the Arden edition of the sonnets–thanks!

MissDaisy thanks! I did ask him why he thought my blog appropriate for his purposes. I admit though that I did not feel particularly singled out — I figured that I was among hundreds, sort of like that BookPrice thing that was going around. Maybe not, eh? It is Yale Press after all….

gentlereader thanks and you’re welcome for bringing your attention to the Arden Shakespeare editions. I’m a huge fan.

frou-frou? Need a French phrase when nothing in wide English will do? Cannot rustle up something from a quick gander in the King James Bible? Also, as the French psychoanalyst Sigmonde Froud noted, “The only frou-frou that The Buffoon of Stratford was interested in was the crish-crash of grasped paper money and bills of sale”.

Just what is Anglo Saxon equivalent of “frou-frou”?
Oh yes, I know -there isn’t any.

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