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John Donne was a writer of dazzling extremes. He was a notorious rake and eloquent preacher; he wrote poems of tender intimacy, and lyrics of gross misogyny. This book offers a comprehensive account of early modern life and culture as it relates to Donne's richly varied body of work. Short, lively, and accessible chapters written by leading experts in early modern studies shed light on Donne's literary career, language and works as well as exploring the social and intellectual contexts of his writing and its reception from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century. These chapters provide the depth of interpretation that Donne demands, and the range of knowledge that his prodigiously learned works elicit. Supported by a chronology of Donne's life and works and a comprehensive bibliography, this volume is a major new contribution to the study and criticism on the age of Donne and his writing.
Despite the sparkling verbal wit of his poetry, Andrew Marvell is a decidedly visual poet. Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of Marvell’s lyrics is their deep sensitivity to the visual, even painterly, elements of perception and representation. Regularly in his poetry, visual attributes mark ethical, psychological, or political stances. His poetry is distinguished by a remarkable responsiveness to the full range of the visual and plastic arts, from painting to sculpture and architecture. Architecture in particular seems to engross him because it allows him to explore the permutations of structure and design as he meditates on the formal aspects of his own poetic work. His poetry is obsessed by the ever-shifting distinction between the aesthetics implicit in nature, frequently articulated as if it were a self-conscious work of art, and the aesthetics of human creative effort. Marvell, moreover, is fascinated by the ways that art frames and enables apprehension. His profound insight into the contingent qualities of perception complicates any simple distinction between the products of nature and the artefacts of human design. The conventions of visual representation, he seems to say, are what enable us to see the design implicit in the order of the natural world. Most important, these conventions are also what enable us to imagine the world from perspectives other than our own. Tracking the various manifestations of the visual in Marvell’s poetry elucidates his singular accomplishments as a poet.
One of the great mysteries of English literary history is not “who wrote Shakespeare” but rather “why does the question continue to be asked so frequently, and fervently?” There are probably more conspiracy theories attached to the works historically identified with Shakespeare than to any other body of work in the English literary canon. It is easy for early modern scholars to get cranky about these various theories, particularly when so many notions are mired in snobbery or prejudice, and when there is indeed so little to back them up. We should try, though, to see the gamut of theories as a kind of accidental tribute to the miracle of these works. It is as if their authorship were so magical that it could never be explained by the life or experience of any single individual.
Doubts about Shakespeare's authorship emerge rather late, more than 200 years after his death in 1616. They are largely a product of class and educational snobbery, post-Romantic notions of poetic genius, and historical anachronism. Anti-Stratfordians, as those who doubt Shakespeare's authorship of Shakespeare's works are frequently called, are typically skeptical that a kid from the countryside who lacked a university education and an aristocratic upbringing could become England's most celebrated poet. They also assume anachronistically that the lack of documentation around Shakespeare compared to the typical manuscripts and annotated library of a post-Romantic writer is a sign of some conspiracy that needs to be addressed.
Short of homicide, rape is the ultimate violation of self.
– Byron R. White
If Venus and Adonis features the gorgeous compulsions of pleasure, Lucrece turns its attentions to the destructive power of lust. The poem shows in sometimes lugubrious detail how uncontrolled desire destroys both its subject and its object. Fascinated by motive and consequence, the poem is deadly serious in its rigorous exploration of the connections between personal discipline and public government. The final word in the next-to-last line of the poem is “consent,” and the poem is designed to explore the connections between political and sexual consent. Political tyranny, the poem suggests, manifests itself most clearly in the predatory and willful action of rape. In fact, Shakespeare includes an “Argument” as an introduction to the poem, to be sure that the reader does not miss the larger trajectory of the story. At the end of the poem, indignation about the rape performed by a member of the royal family leads to the establishment of the Roman republic. As the Argument relates, Brutus offers “a bitter invective against the tyranny of the king: wherewith the people were so moved, that with one consent and a general acclamation the Tarquins were all exiled, and the state government changed from kings to consuls.” Rarely has the personal been so closely and overtly allied to the political.
Like Venus, the poem is dedicated to the earl of Southampton.
Anyone can be creative; it's rewriting other people that's a challenge.
– Bertolt Brecht
Most students and some scholars are surprised to learn that Shakespeare's greatest publishing success in his lifetime was Venus and Adonis. They are also surprised to learn that Shakespeare at his death was at least as well known for his non-dramatic poetry as for his work in the theater. Attention to the non-dramatic poetry tends to get swamped by the interest inevitably generated by the remarkable and sustained accomplishment of the plays. This tendency to marginalize the non-dramatic verse is a process at least as old as the First Folio of 1623, in which the compilers, for whatever reason, fail to include Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, the Sonnets, and “The Phoenix and Turtle,” in their collection of Shakespeare's works. Prior to the First Folio, though, the tendency was for publishers to advertise Shakespeare's accomplishments in non-dramatic poetry. William Jaggard, whose son Isaac published the First Folio, had in 1599 issued a work designed to capitalize on Shakespeare's growing fame as a poet: The Passionate Pilgrim (1599). A collection of twenty poems purported to be by Shakespeare, this volume prints several poems from an early comedy by Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, as well as versions of two of the sonnets that would eventually be published in the 1609 Sonnets, and several poems by other poets.
There has been more nonsense written about Shakespeare's Sonnets than about any other piece of literature extant.
– W. H. Auden
There are few texts for which it would not be overkill to devote an entire chapter to what we do not know. But the Sonnets have been so obscured by clouds of speculation that it seems important to clear the air by saying what we know and don't know about them before we start reading them. Interpretation of the Sonnets is frequently interwoven with a series of seductive possibilities and undemonstrable hypotheses. When so little is certain, it is best to confess the limits of our knowledge, and begin to work from there.
Publication and dedication
The Sonnets were first published in 1609, in a volume entitled Shake-Speares Sonnets. Never before Imprinted. But even this claim is at best a half-truth. In 1599, versions of two sonnets (ones that become Sonnets 138 and 144) were published in a volume entitled The Passionate Pilgrim, a small collection of twenty poems purporting to be by Shakespeare. Only five of the poems are known to be by Shakespeare – the two sonnets, and versions of three sonnets from Shakespeare's play Love's Labour's Lost. The volume was apparently designed to exploit Shakespeare's growing reputation as a dramatist and as a non-dramatic poet; the title may be a reference to a line in the popular Romeo and Juliet, where lips are imagined as “two blushing pilgrims.”
Shakespeare's poems, aside from the enduring appeal of the Sonnets, are much less familiar today than his plays, despite being enormously popular in his lifetime. This Introduction celebrates the achievement of Shakespeare as a poet, providing students with ways of understanding and enjoying his remarkable poems. It honours the aesthetic and intellectual complexity of the poems without making them seem unapproachably complicated, outlining their exquisite pleasures and absorbing enigmas. Schoenfeldt suggests that today's readers are better able to analyze aspects of the poems that were formerly ignored or the source of scandal - the articulation of a fervent same-sex love, for example, or the incipient racism inherent in a hierarchy of light and dark. By engaging closely with Shakespeare's major poems - 'Venus and Adonis', 'Lucrece', 'The Phoenix and the Turtle', the Sonnets and 'A Lover's Complaint' - the Introduction demonstrates how much these extraordinary poems still have to say to us.