Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Inquiry into the Quaternary Evolution in Shakespearean Thought
Of the ten essays in this volume, nine consider thinkers and writers whose
understanding of Shakespeare is secondary to their professional roles as
psychiatrists, psychologists, feminists, politicians, novelists, poets and artists.
In this essay the contributions to the Sonnet literature by two Shakespearean
scholars is compared to give some idea of the difficulty scholars
have when they are bereft of the Sonnet philosophy. Stephen Booth and
Helen Vendler differ in their approach to the Sonnets, but because they
consider the 154 sonnets in some detail it should be possible to compare
their differences to show better what is missing from their methodologies.
The essay will show that, while Booth and Vendler acknowledge their
inability to determine the Sonnet philosophy, they unintentionally disclose
the reason for their failure.
Stephen Booth’s 1977 tome Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1) is part of a recent trend
that accepts the ordering of the sonnets in the 1609 edition as, if not exactly
authorial, then at least not bettered by 400 years of published re-orderings.
Booth acknowledges the current attitude toward the 1609 text by reproducing
it alongside his modern English version.
Then, in his 400 pages of commentary, Booth documents a welter of
possible meanings for nearly every word. He sources meanings from the
literature he reckons was available to Shakespeare including the Bible, Greek
and Roman texts (such as Homer and Ovid), the historical Chronicles,
authors such as Dante and Chaucer, and his Elizabethan contemporaries.
Booth then adds many other variations of meaning including sexual or
erotic or simply bawdy undertones or overtones he believes Shakespeare
wished to evoke in the reader. From all his sources he builds up an
encyclopaedic set of suggestions so that the reader can add the ‘multitude’
of potential meanings to their own interpretation of the words and phrases.
On the surface Booth’s intention is an innocent one of assisting the reader
understand the range of meanings in individual sonnets. He says he wishes
to forestall the desire to arrive at a singular set of conditions to explain the
meaning of the whole set.
In her Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (2) published in 1997 Helen Vendler takes a
more analytical approach. She prefaces her analysis of the poetry of
individual sonnets by listing a number of other commentators who have
failed to elicit from the Sonnets an understanding that does justice to their
poetic achievement. To her mind the traditional psychological, sociological,
religious, or gender-driven analyses do not account for the richness of
meaning apparent when the sonnets are considered as lyrical inventions.
Vendler discusses significant features of individual sonnets such as their
imaginative, structural, semantic, syntactic, phonemic, and graphic
properties. She believes that focusing on Shakespeare’s words and their
relationships at the level of prosody she will avoid the indiscriminateness of
Booth’s analysis by identifying elements undeniably Shakespearean. Vendler
admits she does not have a single ‘expository scheme for each sonnet’ and
does not ‘pretend to understand all the sonnets equally well’.
Like Booth, Vendler accepts the ordering of the 1609 edition and
reproduces a facsimile of each sonnet above her modern English versions.
She hopes that by leaving aside past prejudices, her insights into Shakespeare’s
poetic devices and techniques might provide the ‘evidence’ for future
attempts to do justice to the meaning of the whole set.
Booth’s ‘multitude’ of meanings
Booth’s strategy of detailing all possible intended and unintended meanings
in the individual sonnets should, it might be thought, provide an insight into
the salient ideas addressed in the Sonnets. But that is not Booth’s intention.
At first he seems determined to avoid locating the singular reading that even
Vendler hopes might arise from her formal analysis of the poetic structure.
Instead, Booth begins by suggesting that his multifaceted approach recreates
something of the experience of the ‘Renaissance reader’. (3)
But on the second page of his preface (4) he suddenly apologises for ‘some
awkwardness’ in the commentary, which is ‘interrupted several times by
lengthy discussions on particular topics’. Yet the first three ‘topics’, which
discuss the ‘emendations’, the ‘grandeur of the best sonnets’, and ‘spelling
and punctuation’, hardly warrant an apology.
The real reason for Booth’s apologetic interlude is revealed in his fourth
‘lengthy discussion’ on the ‘function of criticism’ following sonnet 146. Only
then does he disclose his ulterior purpose for insisting on an encyclopaedic
‘multitude’ of meanings.
In what Booth heralds as the ‘longest of the long notes’ he admits that
‘a secondary purpose of this edition is to campaign for an analytic criticism
that does not sacrifice…any work of literature to logical convenience or even
to common sense’. Then after disingenuously apologising for ‘another source
of discomfort for my reader’, he suggests that by not being specific about
the meaning of individual sonnets his commentary ‘tries to describe the
physics’ of how poetry goes ‘beyond reason’ to evoke the ‘sublime’.
Booth’s reason for his extreme discomfort is revealed in the long note
to sonnet 146. And it seems Booth cannot wait to explain his ‘secondary
purpose’. After dismissing sonnet 145 as the “slightest of sonnets’, he prepares
for his commentary on sonnet 146, which has traditionally been viewed
along with sonnets 116 and 129 as a ‘Christian sonnet’, by referring to three
published articles, one on ‘Critical Principles’ and the other two on the
‘Christian Sonnet’. (5) He then quotes 12 lines from a 1602 poem by Francis
Davison that features a specious dialogue between the ‘soul’ and the ‘body’
to further predispose the reader toward his ‘secondary purpose’ for providing
a ‘multitude’ of meanings.
Booth prepares the reader for the ‘secondary purpose’ of his ‘longest of
long notes’by belabouring his line-by-line examination of sonnet 146 with a
plethora of quotations from the Bible and Christian references. And Booth’s
index has substantial references for entries such as ‘Bible’, ‘Book of Common
Prayer’, and ‘Christianity’. By contrast, reflecting Booth’s ignorance of the
Sonnet philosophy, he has no entries for ‘increase’, or ‘Poet’, or ‘sovereign
mistress’, or ‘beauty’, only one for ‘mistress’ and a only few for ‘nature’. Even
Booth’s preference for the word ‘multitude’ with its biblical overtones is
revealing, as the usual term for a range of meanings is multiplicity.
When Booth begins his ten-page crusade to allow a Christian reading
of sonnet 146 (and by implication all the sonnets) he argues not that sonnet
146 is Christian but that a Christian reading is equally possible alongside
other readings. So he joins the many previous commentators who, for the
last 400 years, and particularly since Malone’s edition of the 1790s, have
attempted to convert the Sonnets to Christianity. Occasionally a voice of
sanity has been raised against the injustice, but has remained isolated in its
focus on individual sonnets (such as Robert Graves and Laura Riding’s study
of sonnet 129 (6) ).
A short way into his ‘note on the function of criticism’ Booth belittles
B. C. Southam’s rejection of John Crowe Ransom’s claim that sonnet 146
is a ‘statement of Shakespeare’s sympathetic attitude toward a commonplace
of Christian doctrine’. (7) Southam recounts Ransom saying that the ‘divine
terms’in the sonnet are ‘not particularly Christian’, and there are ‘few words’
that would indicate ‘conventional religious dogma’. Southam further rejects
a claim by ‘Luce’ that the sonnet is ‘an exact epitome of the Biblical yet lofty
morality of Shakespeare’s time’, and expresses his own view that ‘it is
Shakespeare the humanist speaking, pleading for the life of the body as
against the rigorous asceticism which glorifies the life of the spirit at the
expense of the vitality and richness of sensuous experience’. (8)
But Booth, who is most likely conscious that Christian mythology,
thanks to philosophical criticism, has been relegated to no more than one
of many possible mythologies, wants it both ways. He says it is ‘unreasonable
and unprofitable to argue that sonnet 146 does not espouse an orthodox
Christian position’. (9) But, not surprisingly, he does not want to ‘homogenise’
the experience of the poem by combining the seemingly opposed views.
Rather he disingenuously suggests that Shakespeare’s poetry is designed to
accommodate irreconcilable readings.
In his desperation to engineer a Christian reading of the sonnet, Booth
concludes with the ‘editorial plea’ that the ‘metaphors (of soul and body)
are the Bible’s own, and they do not ordinarily give us trouble’. (10) Claiming
he finds the last line of the sonnet ‘moving in its sincerity’ he cannot stop
himself saying that sonnet 146 is, ‘as readers have traditionally thought, a
Christian exhortation to reject transient pleasures and gain eternal life’.11
Then he pleads that sonnet 146 ‘feels as all inclusive as the logic of
Christianity asks us to believe it is’ (Booth’s italics). (11)
Booth’s strategy of providing a ‘multitude’ of readings is no more than
a ploy to engineer validity for the traditionally imposed Christian reading.
Booth wants Shakespeare’s Sonnets to remain available for Christian inquisition
and conversion. Despite the emendations and corruptions the Sonnets
have been subjected to under the assault of the Christian inquisition, Booth
adds further indignity by arguing disingenuously for a parallel reading. He
cannot justify a solely Christian reading for sonnet 146 without avoiding
the inconsistencies such a reading has with the words and the tone of the
sonnet and of the whole set.
If Booth was not so equivocal in his belief that Shakespeare intended
the Sonnets to be Christian then he might have honestly titled his book A
Christian Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Then readers would not be
deceived by an interpretation posing as multitudinous only to find a
supposedly secondary agenda that is blatantly Christian.
Vendler’s ‘key words’ and ‘couplet ties’
Vendler like Booth makes the ‘words’ of the Sonnets the primary focus of
her analysis. But unlike Booth she declares no secondary agenda.(12) At least
she does not use her commentary to make a special pleading. Contrary to
Booth, she acknowledges that the ‘speaker of Shakespeare’s sonnets scorns
the consolations of Christianity’. (13)
Yet Vendler is still doubly the victim of her formal analysis of what she
calls Shakespeare’s ‘highly conventionalised lyric’. (14) She first restricts the
meaning of the Sonnets to a level consonant with her formal analysis and
then makes comments and emendations in which an undeclared adherence
to the traditional Christian paradigm surfaces despite her avowal that the
Sonnets have no such ‘freight of meaning’. (14)
Vendler is aware that her decision to examine the Sonnets for their ‘lyric’
qualities relieves her of the traditional need to create ‘social fictions’ or make
‘biographical revelations’.14 In her view, traditional characterisations such as
‘Young Man’ and ‘Dark Lady’ turn the Sonnets into a ‘proto-sketch for a
drama rather like Othello’.(15) For her, all psychological accounts of the Sonnet
‘story’ have been frustrated by their lyrical ‘indeterminacy’. (15)
Instead, in keeping with her personal predilection for poetic devices,
Vendler considers the ‘true actors in lyrics are words, not dramatic persons’.15
So the drama of any lyric is ‘constituted by the successive entrances of new
sets of words, or new stylistic arrangements’.(15) Changes in ‘topic’ of ‘syntactic
structure’ are for her among the ‘strategies which constitute vivid drama
within the lyric genre’. (15) Not only is the ‘lyric drama’ the raison d’etre for
a sonnet, she also claims that ‘a writer of Shakespeare’s seriousness writes
from internal necessity – to do the best he can under his commission…and
to perfect his art’. (16)
In response to 400 years of failure to find a coherent approach to the
whole set of Sonnets Vendler decides to examine all the sonnets piece by
piece for evidence of their lyrical coherence. She hopes that by resisting the
distraction of ‘classical references’ or ‘systematic doctrines’ she can give some
indication of Shakespeare’s ‘native language’. (17)
By focusing on the lyrical aspects of the individual sonnets, Vendler
imagines it is possible to hear an ‘ur-language’(17) or the ‘permutations of
emotional response’.18 If the poetic devices create the ‘art’ of the sonnets
then ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets are philosophical insofar as they display interrelationships
among their parts which, as they unfold, trace a conflict in human
cognitive and affective motions’. (18)
So Shakespeare as a poet is only allowed to be ‘constantly inventing new
permutations of internal form’ just as the ‘speaker’ of the Sonnets exhibits
‘intrapsychic irony’.(19) Hence for Vendler, lyric poetry has ‘almost no significant
freight of meaning’. (14) For her, Shakespeare’s ‘main intellectual and
poetic achievement’ is the ‘hierarchizing of several conceptual models at
once’, (20) but those models are the cognitive and affective ur-language behind
the poetic surface. Vendler’s task, as she sees it, is to examine the poetic
surface in detail to enable the reader to better appreciate the background
Whereas Booth is predetermined in his need to give the Sonnets a
Christian ur-language and creates a sham surface of multitudinousness to
conceal the conversion, Vendler admits that she vaguely sees the 154 sonnets
as a ‘single object’ that ‘displays…dispersive gaps and uncertainties between
the individual units’, with the smaller certainties of ‘single sonnets’ floating
and colliding on the ‘large uncertainties’. (21) Despite her years of analysis of
the poetic structure and hundreds of pages on ‘Shakespeare’s art’, she still
does not know ‘what sort of poet is Shakespeare’. (21)
Although Vendler senses something significant within the whole set she
has no idea what it is. But instead of questioning the whole basis of her
understanding in the Judeo/Christian paradigm, as Shakespeare does, she
focuses blithely on ‘Shakespeare’s art’. Ironically, textual scholars of the last
few decades have attempted to blame the compositors of the 1609 edition
for the 60 to 100 emendations that traditional scholarship needs to make
the text correspond to their preferred reading, and like her they do not
question the influence of their Judeo/Christian prejudices. Vendler gets no
further than the textual scholars despite, or because of, her pedantic examination
of the sonnets’ poetic texture.
In a desperate attempt to connect her examination of the poetic texture of
the 154 individual sonnets to the ‘large certainty’ she senses is beneath the
whole set, Vendler identifies two patterns of words that, she suggests, unite
the three quatrains of each sonnet with its couplet. The first pattern is formed
by ‘couplet ties’, words that occur in at least one of the three quatrains and
in the couplet. And the second pattern is formed of ‘key words’, or some
variation of the words, that occur in all three quatrains and the couplet.
Vendler claims that the couplet ties are ‘almost always thematically highly
significant ones’, (22) yet many are trite and nine sonnets do not have them.
And she finds key words in only forty of the 154 sonnets and of those twelve
are extremely contrived. To compensate for the fact that less than twentyfive
percent of the sonnets have genuine key words Vendler invents a further
category of ‘defective key words’ in which the connections are extremely
tenuous. But the ‘defective key word’ sonnets, where she imagines a key
word may have been ‘designedly suppressed’, (23) add less than thirty more
sonnets to her key word list. So, less than half the sonnets have key words.
Vendler religiously ends each commentary by listing the couplet ties and
key words for those sonnets where they can be found. By making such a
major issue of such a trivial aspect of Shakespeare’s sonnet ‘art’Vendler reveals
the bankruptcy of her approach. If her title reflected the true focus of her
analysis it would not herald an insight into the ‘art’ of Shakespeare’s Sonnets,
rather it would announce a formal investigation of their craft.
Included in a pocket at the back of Vendler’s book is a CD in which she
reads a selection of the sonnets. Though she claims to have memorised all
the sonnets, her decision to read only some of them accords with her
inability to understand the meaning of the whole set. She criticises ‘three
readings available on tape’ by actors who she feels use ‘constant misemphasis’.
(24) John Gielgud’s reading, though, like hers, is notable for its lack
of understanding of the Sonnet philosophy, and he leaves out a number of
sonnets tradition has considered inferior.
Vendler and Gielgud reveal their ignorance of the Sonnet philosophy
when, in their list of favourite sonnets, they invariably chose the most lyrical
and dismiss the ones they consider less poetic. Sonnets 18, 73, 116, 129 and
146 are some of the few always anthologised but sonnets 9, 14, 77, 99, 126,
145, 153, 154 are frequently ignored or disparaged. Yet these are pivotal
sonnets in the structural presentation of the Sonnet philosophy.
Vendler’s analysis of the ‘lyrical’ in individual sonnets ignores the evidence
for structured argument throughout the set. A number of times sonnets are
joined by logical connectives, clearly defined groups of sonnets present the
increase argument and the poetry and increase argument, and the group of
9 sonnets near the centre of the set dismiss the rival poets, who ironically
like Vendler revel in rhyme and meter. Vendler’s determination to examine
Shakespeare’s ‘art’ or craft and her inability to appreciate his ‘content’
identifies her level of understanding with that of the inadequate rival poets.
Not only does Vendler’s ignorance of the Sonnet content align her with
the rival poets, she persists with the traditional emendations, which are an
indictment of 300 years of Sonnet misinterpretation out of the inappropriate
Judeo/Christian paradigm. And, even though she claims not to presume on
the ur-language of the set, she reveals her covert sympathies for Christian
apology when she makes additional emendations that are contrary to the
sonnet logic. In sonnet 55 she gives the word ‘judgment’ a capital ‘J’ because
she thinks Shakespeare was referring to the Christian Day of Judgment. Yet
‘judgment’ has a quite different logical function in the Sonnet philosophy.
Vendler is relentless in naming every figure of speech as if Shakespeare
deliberately exploited the grammarian’s grab-bag of tricks. For Vendler,
Shakespeare gave form to his ‘cognitions’ and ‘emotions’ by the artful use
of such devices. By naming them and by noticing other regularities like the
couplet ties she imagines that the hidden meaning will become more palpable.
But the naming of such features merely categorises what is inherent in
language. It is more likely that Shakespeare’s incredible facility with language,
aided by some schooling, generated the figures of speech and word patterns.
Vendler allows Shakespeare a supreme command of the craft of language, but
has no idea how he is able to generate an artistic ‘ur-language’ of profound
Ironically, the philosophy articulated so precisely in the Sonnets needs a
much deeper level of deliberate intention than Vendler presumes
Shakespeare brought to the figures of speech, ‘couplet ties’, and ‘key words’.
If Shakespeare was as deliberate with prosody as he was with the philosophy
then her findings would demonstrate a much greater degree of coherence
than she is able to show in the twenty five per cent of the sonnets in which
her key words are regular.
Booth and Vendler
Booth and Vendler have both been recognised for their scholarly contributions
to the Sonnet literature. Booth’s encyclopaedic set of references explores
a complex range of intended and unintended meanings. Vendler provides
a detailed analysis of Shakespeare’s poetic tools.
But Booth and Vendler were not driven to write 600-page tomes on
the Sonnets solely to exercise their academic talents. Booth’s plea that a
Christian reading be allowed and Vendler’s desire to understand the
‘ur-language’ behind Shakespeare’s ‘art’ reveals an interest in the meaning of
the complete set. As with the musings of other commentators, Booth’s
‘secondary’ agenda and Vendler’s investigation of the lyrical surface indicate
a belief that Shakespeare organised the Sonnets to convey more than they
have been able to comprehend. The disjunction between their academic
contributions and their inability to understand the Sonnets surfaces many
times throughout the commentaries.
An indicator of Booth’s difficulty is his belated rejection of the traditional
emendation to the word ‘wish’ in the first line of sonnet 111. In his
first edition he sided with the traditional editors in emending ‘wish’ to ‘with’.
Yet if Booth had understood the Sonnet philosophy he would have understood
the relevance of ‘wish’. And if Booth would accept that the
overwhelming percentage of other traditional emendations are equally
wrong he would be able to reject attempts to blame the innocent compositors
because of the application of an inappropriate paradigm to the Sonnet
set. But his Christian agenda blinds him to the Sonnet logic.
When Vendler decided to limit herself to an analysis of poetic devices,
because neither the traditional literature nor she could see a way to
comprehend the whole set, she did leave open the possibility that someone
in the future would benefit from her work to make a breakthrough into the
Sonnet mystery. Ironically, within two years, one of the academics whose
textual theorising has resulted in the compositors being excoriated for their
carelessness over the emendations outlined a case for an overview using some
of Vendler’s work.
Partly in response to Vendler’s desire to find patterns throughout the
Sonnets, albeit with her erratic couplet ties and key words, MacDonald P.
Jackson wrote an article summarising some of the apparent patterns in the
set. (25) But instead of critiquing Vendler’s refusal to question the traditional
paradigm in her dutiful analysis of the technical features of the Sonnets,
Jackson takes the opportunity to further implicate the compositors. Jackson,
who has been called the ‘insufficiently sung hero of the sonnets’ by his academic peers
for his work in apportioning blame on the compositors of the 1609 edition,
uses Vendler’s inadequate ‘key word’ theory to justify another emendation.
In sonnet 152 Vendler decided that the key word was ‘eye’. This is despite
the fact that ‘eye’ occurs only in the couplet, whereas ‘I’ occurs in all four
parts. Vendler, although she does not accept ‘I’ as a ‘foregrounded word’, in
this case spies a pun with ‘eye’. So building on her inverted logic, Jackson
emends the ‘eye’ in line 13 to ‘I’.
Jackson began his article by stating that key words are ‘almost invariably
picked up in the last two lines’. But that is a very generous interpretation
of Vendler’s own list that shows that only twenty five percent of the sonnets
have regular key words. It is ironic that by using his reputation as a defender
of the emendations to completely regularise sonnet 152 for Vendler,
Jackson reveals the level of collaboration at the heart of traditional Sonnet
Shakespeare’s Sonnet philosophy
Stephen Booth and Helen Vendler’s laborious efforts at least recognise that
the Sonnets deserve serious analysis and that the 1609 edition remains the
default text despite the editorial interference of the last 400 years. The tacit
admission that Q still has credibility after 400 years of denigration and misattribution
is evidence of the inadequacy of the reasons for doubting its
It is a commonplace refrain in Shakespeare studies that he based his plays
and poems in nature. And the evidence from even a cursory reading of the
Folio and Q supports that expectation. Commentators such as Bradley and
Leishman have had to admit, against their fervent wishes, that there is no
evidence in the works that Shakespeare was a Christian.
Booth and Vendler fail to comprehend the Sonnet philosophy because
of their traditional prejudices. In particular, if the Christian prejudice is so
inadequate for understanding Shakespeare then why do they not examine
the possibility that the Sonnets are based in nature and the sexual dynamic?
Despite Booth’s readiness to comment on all the shades of sexual references
and Vendler’s acknowledgement of such meanings, Booth draws no conclusions
from their ubiquity and Vendler passes over the many figures of speech
that show Shakespeare’s interest in nature and his use of sexual/erotic
Because the Sonnets can be shown to articulate Shakespeare’s philosophy,
by setting out the logical relation between nature/female and male and the
possibility of understanding as truth and beauty, Booth’s diversionary tactic
of covering every eventuality and Vendler’s academic exercise in poetic
devices are shown to be disingenuous.
Nature template (Sonnet numbers)
The presentation in these volumes recognises the commonplace that
nature is the basis for the philosophy Shakespeare structures into the Sonnets.
Once the logic of the whole set as nature and the two sequences as Mistress
and Master Mistress is recognised then the logical development of the
dynamic of understanding or truth and beauty out of nature and the sexual
dynamic can be shown to be consistent with the division of the Mistress
sequence into the beauty dynamic (127 to 137) and the truth dynamic (137
to 152), and the Master Mistress sonnets that present the increase argument
(1 to 14), the poetry and increase argument (15 to19), and the extensive
discussion of truth and beauty (20 to 126).
As Booth and Vendler fail to recognise even these basic elements of the
Sonnet logic, they have no chance of saying anything incisive about individual
sonnets, the imagery of the sonnets, the individual words, figures of speech,
etc. Because they are blind to Shakespeare’s natural logic they do not even
mention the basic structure of the Sonnets. Their commentaries are driven
by a prejudice against nature and a preference for the anti-nature theology
The problem for commentators such as Booth and Vendler is that
Shakespeare begins where their level of understanding ends. Shakespeare as
the consummate poet would have been aware of most of the shades of
meaning Booth attributes to his words. And with his grounding in rhetoric
and grammar he was most likely aware of the types of figures of speech
Vendler uses to analyse his verse. For lesser artists the dictionary of
symbology and the grab bag of technical devices might exhaust their creative
impulse. But artists such as Shakespeare and Duchamp move beyond formal
and technical exploration to set down the logic of ‘content’.
They not only employ imagery that shows their insight into the dynamic
of nature or to convey the deeper resources of their imagination, they have
a complete grasp of the logical conditions for content at the highest possible
level of artistic operation, the mythic. Shakespeare and Duchamp not only
understand the operation of the mythic, their works incorporate the fact
that they do understand. The reflexivity of the Sonnets and the Large Glass
at the level of the mythic makes it impossible for those with lesser expectations
to determine their meaning.
Because Booth and Vendler operate at a level well below Shakespeare,
their attempts to understand his work appropriately focus on aspects of his
work he would have considered rudimentary, such as the encyclopaedia of
imagery and the dictionary of special effects. Ironically, the only way they
can show their awareness of the inadequacies of their approach is to insist
on the Christian reading as an option or on a non-interpretative reading
with Christian trimmings. They are unwilling to claim that Shakespeare was
a Christian as the overwhelming evidence indicates he was not. The fact
that Booth and Vendler are rated as two of the more incisive readers of the
Sonnets shows how inadequate the awareness of artistic practice at the mythic
level is and how abysmal are the available interpretative tools in the culture.
Because Booth and Vendler fail to understand even a small portion of
the Sonnet logic and because they hold a high status as professors in the
tertiary hierarchy, the case for a level of learning above tertiary is argued for
eloquently by their ignorance. The institution of a quaternary level of
systematic learning is a potential consequence of showing that Shakespeare’s
Sonnets articulate the logical conditions for any mythic expression.
The Nature template derived in Volume 1 is the standard for
quaternary pedagogy. Not only do Booth and Vendler not arrive at its
formulation in the Sonnets they barely recognise its components and show
by their preference for the Christian mythology that they invert its logic to
favour the male God illogicality.
But, contrary to Booth’s ardent hope and Vendler’s uncertainty, the
natural logic of the Sonnets encompasses the male-based idealism of
Christianity in the sequence to the distracted idealistic youth. Because the
Sonnet logic encompasses the male-based God of the Christian myth, Booth
and Vendler’s desire to validate only that part of the whole set distorts the
consistent and comprehensive philosophy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Booth’s desire to have an alternate reading is only possible if he accepts that
Shakespeare incorporates his male-based God within the Master Mistress
sequence. And Vendler’s desire to read some words as Christian misses
Shakespeare’s correction of the traditionally inverted meaning of those words
when he applies his natural logic.
1 Stephen Booth, Shakespeare's Sonnets, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000. Back
2 Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets, Harvard University Press, 1997. Back
3 Stephen Booth, p. ix. Back
4 Ibid., p. x. Back
5 Ibid., p. 501. Back
6 Robert Graves, 'A study in Original Punctuation and Spelling', The Common Asphodel, London, 1949. Back
7 Stephen Booth, p. 511. Back
8 Ibid., p. 512. Back
9 Ibid., p. 514. Back
10 Ibid., p. 515. Back
11 Ibid., p. 516. Back
12 Helen Vendler, pp. 13, 24. Back
13 Ibid., p. 25. Back
14 Ibid., p. 13. Back
15 Ibid., p. 3. Back
16 Ibid., p. 17. Back
17 Ibid., p. 34. Back
18 Ibid., p. 32. Back
19 Ibid., p. 26. Back
20 Ibid., p. 36. Back
21 Ibid., p. 33. Back
22 Ibid., p. xv. Back
23 Ibid., p. xvi. Back
24 Ibid., p. 37. Back
25 MacDonald P. Jackson, 'Aspects of Organisation in Shakespeare's Sonnets', Parergon, 17.1, July 1999, pp. 109-34. Back
Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Back to Top