Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: March 2007

‘Lending soft audience to my sweet design’: Shifting Roles and Shifting Readings of Shakespeare’s ‘A Lover’s Complaint’


Often dismissed as a mere purveyor of mellifluous trifles, Samuel Daniel crafts an extraordinary passage that anticipates and elucidates some of the most provocative issues in Shakespeare’s ‘A Lover’s Complaint’. In Daniel’s ‘Complaint of Rosamond’, the ghost of Rosamond describes her seduction by a monarch, preceding that story by addressing a plea for sympathy and help to the narrator. Seductive itself, the language of her opening appeal draws attention to the instability of the role of auditor and the interplay of cooperation and collusion it potentially entails – problems central to Shakespeare’s contribution to the same genre, to many of his other texts, and to our own lives within and outside the academy.

The work of those students of conversational interaction known as discourse analysts, which has received far too little attention thus far from literary critics, aptly glosses the interaction between auditors and speakers in both Daniel’s and Shakespeare’s complaints. Most practitioners of this discipline are linguists by training, but such thinkers as the sociologist Erving Goffman and the psychologist Richard J. Gerrig have also contributed influentially. Although analyses by the discourse analysts are sometimes compromised by a positivistic and inappropriately benign model of the workings of conversations, their classifications of the various positionalities participants may assume are germane to many other kinds of language as well.