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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  1. This question is admittedly uniformed, but I was wondering, given the tone of the sonnet’s narrator toward his revered subject, and also understanding de Vere’s straight-forward support of Mary Queen of Scots and Catholicism, how it can be entirely discounted (and I suspect it can) that de Vere wrote these sonnets urging the famously chaste James VI as his “fair youth” to marry and have a son so as to better present himself as a proper heir to Elizabeth’s throne? I understand this is far-fetched, but I’m curious as to why the theory is so outlandish. What exactly disqualifies it? James VI, it seems, owns many of the qualities attributed to Southampton–he certainly showed no great desire to breed–and of course de Vere was a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots, a woman who was (deservedly) much more renowned for her Beauty than Elizabeth. Jame’s motto concerning Defense of God (in like fashion) does seems to pop up a few times in the sonnets (though certainly not nearly as much as Southampton’s motto of “all in one”). So what exactly disqualifies James as a potential fair youth. Especially considering the time frame of when sonnet cycles were popular?

    I seem to recall that in the late 1880’s Penelope Devereux was sending Hilliard miniatures of herself to James in order to ingratiate herself to his (hopefully) Catholic cause; therefore would it be that odd if de Vere–perhaps admired in Scotland for his plays–might do the same with his sonnets, which obviously would urge a Catholic potential to the throne to produce an heir? The young James was certainly effeminate enough to need urging. Also it is hard to deny there is some haunt of bisexuality to the sonnets, a theme that also seems to permeate the Greek-love ideal of the Essex crew.

    I don’t mean to show disrespect for the Monument’s theories in any of these suggestion (I outright admire the book). I’d just like to know–if you find some free time–what disqualifies James as a potential candidate for the “fair youth”? Given the god-like tone of the sonnets toward its receiver, I have some trouble discounting James entirely? I ask this as a student, not somebody challenging a book I honestly admire?

    • Lee –

      It’s an interesting question and I wouldn’t want to be glib in my answer. I don’t think James is the fair youth of the Sonnets as written by Oxford, but must give thought to why or how he is ruled out. James was born in 1566, same year as Essex, and several years earlier than Southampton.

      Certainly the younger man is addressed as a prince or king, albeit unacknowledged, and that fits James; but the author, Oxford (born in 1550), also appears to be addressing the younger man as father to son, which would rule out James.

      The sense of the sonnets is that Oxford is writing a kind of diary, in the form of a series of private letters, written in relationship to real events and arranged in chronological order. It would be difficult or impossible to fit James into a scenario involving Oxford to match that aspect of the sonnets. Also the sonnets reflect a genuine tie between Oxford and the younger man, one that causes Oxford himself to feel “in disgrace with Fortune [Elizabeth] and men’s eyes,” etc.

      It’s a good question though and I’ll think on it more. Meanwhile, thanks for asking it.


  2. Thanks Hank. I don’t buy the theory myself, and can’t even entertain it in application to the later sonnets dealing with Southampton in the Tower. In the earlier section, I think the proximity of the narrator to the fair youth, and the way the narrator retires from court (seemingly in order not to be associated with him), argues against the James theory. But still I can’t help but think there’s a bit of an ambassador’s tone (now and again) in, for instance, the first line of the very first sonnet. And the narrator does say, “You had a father.” Not, “You have a father.” Anyway admittedly the James theory is very thin ice. I’m just surprised it hasn’t been dealt with more, and dismissed (for instance, by Stratfordians). Again, thanks for your indulgence here.

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