Critiquing the Critique – 2

“A Critique of the ‘Monument theory'” by Lynne Kositsky and Roger Stritmatter (2004) continues with my comments inserted:

“No critique of the Whittemore-Boyle “solution” to the sonnets would be complete without some reference to the highly selective use of reference materials used to construct the theory. Although many relevant influences are noted regarding subjects such as the date of Sonnet 107, neither Whittemore nor Boyle acknowledges the debt that both writers owe to previous scholars who have analyzed the structure of the sonnets.”

My answer:

This critique was written several months before my book THE MONUMENT was published in April 2005.  The writers were reacting to an article of mine in the previous newsletter, which was hardly the place to provide the history of scholarship on structural elements of the Sonnets; but my book does acknowledge a debt to scholars for comments on these four segments.  Cited in this regard are G.P.V. Akrigg, Sir George Greenwood, Helen Vendler, G. Wilson Knight, Leslie Hotson, Charles Barrell, Andrew Werth, George Wyndham, J.M. Robertson, A.L. Rowse, Robert Giroux — to name just some of them.

The critique continues:

“Traditionally, scholars identify four significant parts: 1-17 (fair youth/marriage sonnets), 18-126 (fair youth sonnets), 127-152 (dark lady sonnets), 153-154 (mythological coda). From this it can be seen that two of the four segments which serve to define Whittemore’s monument are traditional (127-152 and 153-154) in the sense of being acknowledged by many Sonnet scholars.”

My answer:

If the writers had had the book in hand, perhaps they would not have bothered with this particular criticism.  I would never attempt to take credit for identifying those four segments, especially since they’re part of the foundation upon which the Monument theory builds.


“Contrary to [Bill] Boyle’s claim that ‘all commentators have struggled with’ but ‘none have solved’ the question of whether the 1609 Q is in an authorial order, many commentators, including Stephen Booth, have argued that until a better order can be discovered, the best premise is that the order is in fact authorial.  We see nothing in Whittemore’s analysis which materially contributes to this question.  Asserting that the Sonnets are in a chronological order does not constitute evidence to resolve this question.”


Of course many scholars have suggested that the sonnets are in authorial order and that 1-126 are also in chronological order.  Those were two of my hypotheses.  After putting together a number of such tentative assumptions, however, I arrived at a completely new “macro view” of the 154-sonnet sequence.  Out of this came the Monument theory to explain the language and structure of the Sonnets along with the “story” recorded by the poet.

Because these results have continued to yield new evidence and insight in their support, it can be asserted with more confidence than ever that the hypotheses (including those of authorial and chronological order) have been confirmed.

Boyle correctly claimed that no previous scholar had “solved” the question of chronological order.  Meanwhile the Monument theory goes much farther than heretofore by uncovering a barely concealed chronicle that matches real events in England as they occurred in real time on the calendar.  There has never been any such complete “solution to” the Sonnets and I doubt there will be another one — certainly not one with an equivalent relationship to the known events and dates of biography and history.


“The Whittemore ‘monument’ depends on the one structural innovation of moving the first break from sonnet 17 to sonnet 26. By making this change, Whittemore produces the one hundred sonnet sequence (27-126) which forms the ‘center and centerpiece’ of the monument. It is customary when introducing an innovation into scholarly discourse to provide a thorough justification for the change in emphasis as well as to explain what elements of the case are based on the authority of other scholars.”


Sonnets 1-17 have been viewed for more than a century as the separate “marriage-and-procreation” segment opening the entire sequence.  But I did not “move” any “break” after Sonnet 17; instead, the novel idea for me was that a complete break occurs between Sonnet 26 and Sonnet 27.

This came as a total surprise to me.  At the time, before the theory itself began to come into view, I was “moving back down the ladder” from Sonnet 107, following what I called the “dark” words (black, night, shadow, etc.) until I came to Sonnet 27.  The next verse below that is Sonnet 26, which has no such darkness in it.

(I knew that Katherine Duncan-Jones and others have called Sonnet 26 a “dedicatory epistle”; therefore, I was both surprised and pleased to find its presence in this position.)

So that was how the “break” between 26 and 27 first appeared to me. Only then did I look again at the literature of the Sonnets to see how scholars have treated this aspect of the numerical structure.  In my book I cite various critics (such as Gerald Massey, who noted the 26-27 break in 1866) and their insights, which lend support to the Monument theory; and I suppose these citations comprise  “elements of the case” that are “based on the authority of other scholars.”

(To cite another example, Rowse asserts that Sonnet 26 is an “envoi” that brings the opening twenty-six verses [1-26] to their conclusion.)

I might add that the “authority” of traditional or orthodox scholars, who view the Stratford man as the poet-dramatist, can only go so far…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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