Critiquing the Critique – 5

Lynne Kositsky and Roger Stritmatter continue by describing the structure of the Sonnets according to the Monument  theory this way:

“Using Sonnet 107 as the marker, Whittemore divides the hundred-sonnet sequence (27-126) into two segments:  The first segment of eighty sonnets (27-107) is said to correspond to the three years spanning Southampton’s February 8, 1601 arrest to his April 10, 1603, release; the second segment (107-125) covers the period from Southampton’s release to Elizabeth’s April 28 funeral, with Sonnet 126 added on as an ‘Envoy’ to Southampton.”  

This description needs a little fixing:

The first segment of eighty sonnets (27-106) corresponds to the twenty-six months of Southampton’s imprisonment from Feb. 8, 1601 to April 9, 1603, his final night in the Tower. 

The second segment of twenty sonnets covers the nineteen days (107-125) from Southampton’s release on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28 plus the ‘envoy’ (126) to Southampton. 

These two segments of the hundred-sonnet central sequence consist respectively of eighty and twenty verses, with 107 as the high point of the narrative. 

“But this division conceals, and partly competes with, Whittemore’s further qualification about the Sonnet structure: Sonnets 27-86 (60 sonnets), according to Whittemore, are written at the rate of one per day and are said to cover the period beginning with Southampton’s imprisonment.  [Sonnets] 87-106 (20 sonnets) apparently cover the next two years of confinement; while 107-126 (the final twenty sonnets) match the twenty days between Southampton’s release and the Queen’s funeral if one includes the ‘Envoy.'”

The first sixty sonnets (27-86) are ARRANGED TO CORRESPOND WITH sixty days.  There’s no need to imagine Edward de Vere writing exactly one verse per day; that would be absurd.  Instead he would have written two or three or more sonnets at a single sitting, then gone back and arranged them in numerical and chronological order. 

Meanwhile, there’s no way in which the eighty-twenty division “conceals” or “competes with” any other aspect of the structure.  The design is much more intricate than I have indicated.  The first thing Oxford does, for example, is write and arrange FORTY SONNETS MATCHING FORTY DAYS from the failed Essex rebellion of Feb. 8 to May 19, 1601, the day immediately following the final executions of convicted conspirators.  AT THAT POINT he includes his response to the sparing of Southampton’s life.  We might well expect an expression of relief; instead we find the amazing Sonnet 66, a virtual suicide note in reaction to the fact that from here on (according to the bargain with Secretary Robert Cecil) his royal son has relinquished any claim to the throne. 

So Oxford lists the reasons he wants to die:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry…
[Here he includes the reasons]
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that to die, I leave my love alone.
Sonnet 66

He won’t kill himself and leave his son “alone” in the Tower; and I can’t help adding that “alone” is an abbreviated form of Southampton’s motto “One for All, All for One”.   And yes, Oxford consciously and deliberately inserted the word “alone” right here, at the end of this sonnet.

At that point, with forty sonnets (27-66) in hand, and his son in prison for “life” or an unpredictable period of time, Oxford will first write forty more (67-106) with 66-67 at the exact center.  So an initial structure, dictated or suggested by real events in real time, is EIGHTY sonnets — and he has yet to build anything like the final structure of the Sonnets; that task will come much later.

So now the Kositsky-Stritmatter critique continues with remarks which, however sincere, are unfortunately based on wrong assumptions about the Monument theory:

“It is unfortunate that the rules governing the sequence change. Why, for instance, may one poem in the second segment cover many days or even months, while each poem in the first and third segments describes only one day?”

The short answer is that such variation is precisely how a narrative operates.  For example, a novelist might spend just a few pages covering years or decades, but then spend a hundred pages to cover just a day or two.  The form of the work is dictated by the shape of its content, to paraphrase the artist Ben Shahn. 

“The inconsistency is troubling and Whittemore provides no coherent justification for it. He even seems unaware thata justification is required.   If Shakespeare set out to write a hundred sonnet ‘center’ to his ‘monument,’ surely the rules would remain the same throughout? Anything else appears arbitrary.”

Well, there are no “rules” as such.  And the only “arbitrary” factor is life itself, which the diary or chronicle serves to reflect.  No one suggests that the poet set out originally to create a hundred-sonnet central sequence.  

The original writing would have had no “rules” in terms of the number of sonnets produced in reaction to ongoing events.  The poet could only build the final structure of the monument at some later point, after most of the events had occurred.  Much of the incredible intensity of the Sonnets comes precisely from the fact that Oxford could never predict the future.

What becomes clear is that Oxford had set out to record his reactions to events as they unfolded and led to the Queen’s death and England’s date with succession, when the fate of Elizabeth’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose would be determined.  Oxford had no way of knowing WHEN the Queen would die; all he knew was that the moment would have to arrive.  As Hamlet puts it, “The readiness is all.”

“And if each poem in the final segment describes one day, how would the poet know in advance that these daily poems would number twenty, thus bringing him to the convenient hundred he needs to construct the monument?”

I suspect that Roger and Lynne know better than to ask such a question, the answer to which is elementary.  Of course the Earl of Oxford could not be certain of anything in advance.  As it happened, there were nineteen days from Southampton’s release on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28, 1603.  Oxford included one sonnet per day, or nineteen verses, and with an envoy they added up to twenty sonnets.  But there was plenty of room, afterward, to juggle some of the previous sonnets to create the 100-sonnet central sequence.

To construct his elegant monument, Oxford had to work with SOME FIXED DATES  for sonnets that determined his arrangement of OTHER sonnets.  For example, the Rebellion of February 1601 dictated that Southampton [born in 1574 rather than 1573] was twenty-six years old at the time; and therefore, the opening sequence of the final form of the Sonnets, using one verse for each year of his life, necessarily consists of twenty-six sonnets, i.e., Sonnets 1-26.  Then, to balance this segment equally on the other side, Oxford had to create the Dark Lady series (127-152) with exactly twenty-six sonnets.  Within the much looser timing of the verses within that series, he had room to manipulate the numbers.     

“These ‘sub-groupings’ also disturb the symmetry of the hundred sonnet center, which we might expect to consist of fifty and fifty sonnets rather than sixty, twenty, and twenty.”

Ah, but from another perspective Oxford did precisely what Roger and Lynne suggest, that is, he created the structure of the 100-sonnet central sequence to consist of EXACTLY fifty and fifty sonnets, at the very midpoint of which are the all important “instructional” verses Sonnets 76-77.

To be continued…

Published in: Uncategorized on August 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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