By now research and criticism have shed so much light on Shakespeare that anyone interested enough to read these books knows the broad outlines of his life: childhood and schooling in Stratford in a household probably hiding condemned Roman Catholicism under a Protestant facade; marriage at 18 to the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway and the births of three children; the so-called lost years, during which Will may have worked for a butcher (unlikely) or tutored in the homes of Lancashire nobility (more likely). The coming to London as actor, playwright and poet, involved in the rivalries among various acting companies and competition with fellow playwrights. Perhaps also something about the mainly good relations with two monarchs, Elizabeth and James, and with certain prominent noblemen. Finally, the retirement to Stratford and life as a wealthy landowner, only sporadically punctuated by collaboration with other dramatists.
Ah, but the particulars! Elusive about everything, from the way the man looked (all portraits are dubious, and all different) to the spelling of his name (more than 80 ways), from his religion (Protestant? Catholic? none?) to his sexuality (hetero? homo? bi?), from the dating of his works to the exact instances and extent of his collaborations, from what roles he may have enacted to his relationships with family and friends. Also the precise nature of his general learning and specific reading. Annoyingly (though typical for the period), not a single letter or diary entry of his exists.
For some time now, what I'd call Shakelit has been a major industry. Books and articles about every conceivable and inconceivable aspect of Shakespeare are pouring out by the thousands. It seems unlikely that major factual discoveries remain to be made, but even as-yet-unsurmised surmises are becoming fewer and often sillier. Obviously, a new book about Shakespeare must take off from available historical and critical material, which by now, as the Ackroyd and Shapiro bibliographies attest (the latter alone runs to 40 pages), could easily fill a tidy volume.
But when even the experts cannot have read everything, what is a mere book reviewer to do? How is he to know exactly what in these books has been documented or speculated before, and how much is new insight? Just as the spectator or reader of the plays can ignore Shakespeare's borrowings, so one may best consider these books fully their authors' own. As for claims for alien authorship of the plays, neither Ackroyd nor Shapiro wastes much ink on them. Personally, I hail the anonymous student who stated, "Shakespeare's plays were written by William Shakespeare or another man of that name."
Ackroyd, though not a professional Shakespeare scholar, is a novelist, poet, critic and, above all, prolific biographer, with books on Chaucer, Thomas More, Blake, Dickens, Pound and T. S. Eliot, some of whom he aptly brings in here. Comparisons with Dickens, who was, in a way, the Shakespeare of the novel, are particularly suggestive; but Ackroyd, fruitfully, quotes many foreign opinions, old and new, as well. Especially effective is the brevity of his chapters, each dealing with a specific matter, and with a title slyly drawn from Shakespeare's words. That the endnotes are purely bibliographical, and everything else is right in the text, is also laudable.
Praiseworthy, too, is that Ackroyd, unlike Shapiro, does not modernize spelling, heterodox as this was in Shakespeare's day. "Any standardization or modernization of Shakespeare's language," Ackroyd writes, "robs it of half its strength; a shadow is not as dim and veiled as a 'shaddowwe,' a cuckoo does not sing like a 'kuckow,' and music is not as enchanting as 'musique.' In the old language we can still hear Shakespeare talking."
Ackroyd expertly evokes the townscape and landscape in and around Stratford, and the corresponding mindscape that vividly merges the urban and the rustic. Take the 108 plant varieties and 60 species of birds mentioned in the plays, evidencing a country background. And as England was changing from medieval to early modern, there "emerged a disparity between polite and popular traditions. . . . Shakespeare was perhaps the last English dramatist to reconcile the two cultures." Ackroyd is full of the firsts and lasts, the leasts and mosts that Shakespeare evinced.
If there is a governing idea in "Shakespeare: The Biography," it is to demystify the man and the artist; to show him as part of a continuum originating in the medieval miracle, morality and mystery plays. Also as a hardheaded, practical man of the theater and, later, of business; as a diligent worker who steadily polished and revised his writings, and who saw all sides of an issue with uncanny impartiality. Already in school, pupils were taught to exercise their memories and argue both sides of an issue. So does one learn to remember much and use it without prejudice.
How different from the old home was life in turbulent London, whose very stench "penetrated some 25 miles on all sides" with emanations of "dung and offal and human labor." But Will "thrived in a city where dramatic spectacle became the primary means of understanding reality." His famous "all the world's a stage" was in fact a Renaissance commonplace. Not without some justice, urban life was imagined as distinguished by sex and disease, and the new playhouses, much persecuted by the authorities, as harboring both. It was a world where kisses on the mouth were the common salutation between men and women, who bared their breasts in public, and where respected playhouse owners also owned brothels nearby. Shakespeare, often thought of as quiet, gentle, modest and retiring, is revealed by Ackroyd as shrewd, energetic and stubbornly persevering.
Most of the era's playwrights were Oxford or Cambridge graduates; Shakespeare was the first to emerge from the ranks of the actors. It may be that from the mercurial relationships within the various companies he was successively part of he derived "his greatest and earliest gift," the commingling of comedy and tragedy.
He was not a liberal. His respect is for the power of even weak rulers; the common people are invariably "the rabble." Significant events stem from human will, not divine providence. Rapidly though he was gaining theatrical prominence, his most reprinted work was the long erotic poem "Venus and Adonis." Although he is "the most salacious of all the Elizabethan dramatists," Ackroyd says, his is also "the most profound treatment of love in the English language."
Erotic literature, Ackroyd argues, reveals an author's personal tastes, and that poem about "overpowering lust for a young male" is "considerably more passionate even than Thomas Mann's 'Death in Venice.' " Yet "this does not imply that he was in any sense homosexual but suggests, rather, an unfixed or floating sexual identity." This may tie in with what Ackroyd calls extraordinary theatrical impersonality. "It is not a matter of determining where Shakespeare's sympathies lie" -- aristocracy versus populace -- but "of recognizing that Shakespeare had no sympathies at all."
We may at times feel too much novelistic license, as when Ackroyd finds "no reason to believe" that Shakespeare "was deeply disturbed . . . by the death of Desdemona." But at other times his writerly approach gives him an advantage, as when he notes, of "Antony and Cleopatra," how "the billowing rhetoric of the Egyptians contrasted with the high Roman rhetoric of time and duty. It is the oration conceived as poem." Or again, of the extensive revision and rewriting of "King Lear," that Shakespeare "was always a work in progress."
This is not to deny that James Shapiro writes good, clean prose that can stand up to Ackroyd's. For example, he tells about the jigs, "semi-improvisational one-act plays" that incongruously followed the conclusions of plays because "Elizabethan audiences demanded it. . . . Jigs -- anarchic and libidinal -- were wildly popular because they tapped into parts of everyday experience usually left untouched in the world of the play. As such, they provided a counterpoint to the fragile closure of romantic comedy and to the high seriousness and finality of tragedy."
By picking 1599 as his subject, Shapiro gets to zero in on four plays that marked Shakespeare's path to complete mastery. "Henry V," the last and most interesting of the history plays, "succeeds and frustrates because it consistently refuses to adopt a single voice or point of view about military adventurism -- past and present." The present was the Earl of Essex's hapless campaign against the Irish rebel Tyrone, which affected Shakespeare's thinking so much that in Act V, Scene 2, the queen of France greets Henry as "brother Ireland." Shapiro writes, "The mistake is not the nervous queen's but Shakespeare's, who slipped when intending to write 'brother England' (and whose error modern editors silently correct)."
The next play, "Julius Caesar," is a transition from history play to tragedy, and reflects the uneasy times when Elizabeth's reign was threatened by Irish rebels and Catholic plotters, not to mention rumors of another Spanish Armada. Shakespeare is so good at "juxtaposing competing political arguments, balancing them so neatly," that "four centuries later critics continue to debate whether he sides with or against Brutus and his fellow conspirators." The end of the republic and the coming of empire is one of those epochal moments that always challenged Shakespeare to imagine "what it means to live in the bewildering space between familiar past and murky future."
Another transformation occupied him in "As You Like It," from the Forest of Arden of his boyish dreams to what had become mostly enclosed pastures for sheepherders. That is the subtext as the comedy shuttles between four scenes in the dream forest and twelve in the pastures, showing two worlds in conflict in a background that "at times casts a shadow over an otherwise relatively sunny comedy. Its quiet recognition of the threat of social dislocation . . . seems to anticipate the next play Shakespeare set in England, 'King Lear.' "
A similarly troubling shadow is cast over England by the tragic history of Essex and Elizabeth, which Shapiro keeps aptly running parallel to Shakespeare's growth, climaxing in "Hamlet." Analyzing its two versions in brilliant detail --including the influence of sermons and a new genre, the essay -- the book reaches its own climax even as it traces, with the downfall of Essex, the end of chivalry. What arises instead is the East India Company, started by a rising bourgeoisie, which eventually subsumed even the marginalized aristocrats. It is this new mercantile capitalist class that greatly contributed to the making of the British Empire and the modern age.
Shapiro does a fine job showing how this historic change gave birth to "Hamlet," with its inwardness and psychologizing, and to the row of great tragedies that followed. I disagree with his negative reading of Fortinbras and undervaluation of "Troilus and Cressida," but this entire final section of the book deserves close reading and careful reflection.
Here, then, are two books that in their diverse ways make similarly worthy contributions to Shakespeare studies while, regrettably, having also a lesser feature in common: a certain sloppiness of diction. I cite only select examples. Ackroyd, the distinguished British author, writes "comprised of," "central protagonists," "wracked" for tortured and "Beaumont's and Fletcher's" (not to mention references to Sartre's play "Les Mains Sales" as a novel and to the poet Heinrich Heine as "the German philosopher"). Shapiro, the noted Columbia English professor, writes "neither lives nor history come sliced," "Wart, whom even Falstaff admits is unfit," "any soldier . . . could be hung," "disinterested" for uninterested, "every male . . . were required" and "transpired" for happened.
Could their love of Shakespeare elicit a desire to return us to his colorfully chaotic grammar and usage?
John Simon is the author of "John Simon on Theater," "John Simon on Film" and "John Simon on Music," which have just been published. He reviews theater for Bloomberg News.Continue reading the main story
Likewise, in 1640 a notorious edition of Shakespeare's ''Poems'' appeared, purporting to do for his nondramatic verse what the 1623 Folio had done for his plays; in fact, the volume simply reprinted pieces already published, rearranged the sonnets (and gave them bogus individual titles); it also added a few poems demonstrably not by Shakespeare. Both ''The Passionate Pilgrim'' and the 1640 ''Poems'' tried to exploit the market value of Shakespeare's name; their attributions are sometimes clearly wrong and always dubiously motivated. But both volumes testify to a common unspoken assumption: the belief of pre-Restoration book buyers (exploited by booksellers) that Shakespeare did write occasional nondramatic poems, some of which had not yet seen print.
If their conviction was justified, then the poems they expected could only survive in one place, or rather in many versions of a single place: in manuscript, probably in one of the thousands of surviving manuscript miscellanies from the first half of the 17th century. Patient scholarly excavation of this previously uncharted territory has revolutionized the postwar editing of Donne, Sidney, and other, lesser poets. But Shakespeare's editors, obsessed with increasingly sophisticated technologies for analyzing the transmission and manufacture of printed documents, have simply assumed that the manuscripts contain nothing of interest. We have not bothered to look, because we are sure there is nothing to find; after all, if there were anything to find, our predecessors would already have found it. Unfortunately, our predecessors were hardly in a position to study the manuscripts systematically and, for a variety of historical reasons, not disposed to study them sympathetically.
Rawlinson Poetic Manuscript 160 is one of a horde of early manuscripts amassed by Richard Rawlinson (1689-1755) and donated to the Bodleian Library in 1756. In this century the manuscript has been called from the stacks by several eminent scholars, including E. K. Chambers and the editors of Ben Jonson's works, C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson. Margaret Crum catalogued its entire contents for her ''First-Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Bodleian Library'' (1969). She recorded that the miscellany contained an untitled poem attributed to William Shakespeare, but she drew no extraordinary attention to this fact. Why should she? The attribution had been noted long before, equally nonchalantly, in Falconer Madan's great ''Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library'' (1895). The poem was even included in a Bodleian exhibition of ''Shakespeariana'' in 1927 (item 120 in the exhibition catalogue). But although the poem has been known to a few Bodleian librarians for almost a century, it has never been reprinted or discussed.
The poem, which I here reproduce in a modernized and edited text, runs from the middle of folio 108 (recto) to the middle of folio 109 (recto) in the Rawlinson manuscript. It is written in the same elegant secretary hand used throughout the volume. The miscellany was apparently put together in the 1630's; it contains poems by Raleigh, Donne, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Herrick, Carew and others. Fifty other poems in the manuscript are attributed to specific authors; none of those other attributions are demonstrably wrong, most are demonstrably right, and only two ambiguous initials are even dubious - ''J. D.'' (John Donne?) and ''G. H.'' (''George Herbert?). The miscellany's attributions deserve our respect.
One other poem in this manuscript is also credited to ''Wm. Shakespeare'' - a six-line ''Epitaph'' on Elias James, first noted by Edmond Malone in the 18th century. So short a poem in so convention-bound a genre could never be proved to be by any one author on the basis of style alone. But it is never attributed to anyone else. The British scholar Leslie Hotson has just shown that Shakespeare may have known a Londoner named Elias James, and John Pitcher, who is editing Shakespeare's poems for the Oxford English Texts edition, had already persuaded us to accept it into the canon, even before we found this new poem in the same manuscript. Nevertheless, for my purposes in assessing the manuscript's reliability I classified the attribution of this epitaph as ''not demonstrably wrong.''
The compiler of a private miscellany has no motive for lying about the authorship of a poem; he may make mistakes, but they will be honest. In fact, we do not know of a single verified instance of a poem attributed to Shakespeare in an early manuscript which can be proved to have been written by someone else. Nor is there any reason for falsely attributing this untitled lyric to Shakespeare. A sonnet, or a poem on a prominent Stratford citizen, or one about Venus and Adonis, or by one William Strode (who shares with Shakespeare the initials ''W. S.''), might be credited to Shakespeare by guesswork; but nothing about this lyric invites such a mistaken association. THE scribe of the Rawlinson manuscript testifies to Shakespeare's authorship of the poem, and although we do not know exactly who this witness was we know approximately when he wrote, that he had no reason to lie, and that his other attributions are reliable. Unless other evidence emerges that decisively contradicts this attribution, such external evidence itself establishes a prima facie case for Shakespeare's authorship. This evidence could only be overturned by the discovery of some other reliable document that more convincingly attributed the poem to a different author. Like Margaret Crum, I am unaware of the poem's existence in any printed collection from this period; nor does it survive in any other copy in the major manuscript collections at the British Library, the Bodleian, Folger, Huntington, Rosenbach, Yale or Harvard libraries. Although the poem may surface in some other collection, pending any such discovery the Rawlinson manuscript is our only evidence of its text and authorship. (And of course even if another manuscript surfaced it might confirm the Shakespeare attribution, or not attribute the poem at all.) An anonymous Caroline scribe says Shakespeare wrote this poem; less explicitly, but no less forcefully, the poem itself says so. Its vocabulary, imagery, style - everything scholarly jargon lumps together as internal evidence - are at least compatible with Shakespeare's authorship, and, if one gives them the most weight they will bear, they suggest that it could hardly have been written by any other known poet. This is not the place for a full commentary on the poem, but it is at least worth drawing attention to the more interesting verbal parallels (see list below).
These parallels vary widely in quality and importance. No one will suppose Shakespeare is the only au-thor to have called lips ''red'' (line 61); but it is worth knowing that he did use so conventional an adjective so often - and that three of the other four examples occur, as does this one, in the midst of a catalogue of physical attractions. (Spenser, by contrast, although he refers to lips 53 times, never calls them ''red.'') Even the cliches of the poem are cliches Shakespeare couldn't resist. The cumulative force of the verbal similarities between the poem and Shakespeare's acknowledged works could only be weakened by the identification of another poet whose works provided more and better parallels; skepticism may busy itself surveying the works of all possi-ble candidates in the half-century before 1630. But the example of Spenser - the only Elizabethan poet with a canon comparable in size to Shakespeare's -suggests that any such search is likely to be fruitless. The Shakespeare canon supplies 107 quoted parallels for 52 phrases in the poem; the Spenser canon yields only 47 parallels for 18 phrases. (Shakespeare's poems alone -which add up to a mere fraction of Spenser's - provide parallels for 14 phrases.) None of the Spenser parallels are as striking as the best Shakespearean ones.
Shakespeare's style, in all his authenticated works, continually stitches old to new: old phrases and images recycled, but - always - new and unique language, too. Shakespeare commands the largest vocabulary of any writer of the period; his genuine works always contain an unusually high proportion of words he uses only once. Consequently, any work with a credible claim to Shakespeare's authorship must also contain a reasonable number of such ''unique'' words. Paradoxically, if a poem of any length does not contain words that Shakespeare never uses elsewhere, then that poem cannot be by Shakespeare.
This new poem contains seven unique words: ''explain,'' ''inflection,'' ''admiring'' (used as a noun), ''desiring'' (noun), ''speck,'' ''scanty'' and ''contenting'' (noun). Moreover, one of these words probably, and another certainly, antedate the first occurrences recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary: ''admiring'' (first recorded elsewhere in 1603), and ''scanty'' (first recorded in 1660). Shakespeare coins more new words than any poet of the period, with the possible exception of Nashe; these neologisms therefore reinforce the claim for the poem's authenticity. And Shakespeare elsewhere makes much use of words based on the same root from which both these coinages are formed - including the first recorded use of ''admiringly'' (''All's Well That Ends Well,'' 5.3.44) and of a particular sense of ''scant'' (''Troilus and Cressida,'' 4.4.49).
Most readers would, I trust, immediately agree that if Shakespeare wrote the poem at all, he must have written it fairly early in his career. Those to whom I have shown the poem have reacted instinctively in this way; I did myself. The poem - in its subject matter, tone, obsessive rhyming, heavy verbal symmetries and the conventionality of much of its imagery, repetition of certain words and relative lightness of tone - bears every stylistic hallmark of belonging to the 16th century, and more particularly to the period between the publication of Spenser's ''Shepherd's Calendar'' (1579) and the growing influence of Donne. Consequently, if Shakespeare did write it, we should expect to find not only evidence of Shakespeare's style in vacuo, but more specific evidence that associates the poem strongly with a particular period of his work.
Although there remain minor disagreements about the relative dating of the canon, in general scholars have little difficulty distinguishing work from Shakespeare's early, middle and late periods; a variety of internal stylistic evidence all tends to suggest that each play and poem belongs in a certain range on a sliding chronological scale. We should expect a similar clustering of evidence here, and we should expect that clustering to suggest an early date. Few people would be willing to credit the attribution if it forced us to place the poem alongside ''The Tempest'' or ''Antony and Cleopatra'' or even ''Twelfth Night.''
Noticeably, most of the parallels do come from Shakespeare's early period. The four works with the most parallels are ''Romeo and Juliet'' (10), ''Venus and Adonis'' (8), ''The Taming of the Shrew'' and the Sonnets (5 each) - all probably earlier than 1596. If we ignore the Sonnets (which probably straddle the borderline), 58 of the 85 quoted parallels (68 percent) are from works no later than ''Henry IV, Part 1'' and ''The Merchant of Venice,'' which mark a kind of watershed in the Shakespeare chronology (1596-7). Shakespeare's authentic works manifest a similar clustering of verbal parallels in specific chronological periods. S UCH evidence is confirmed by another test that has proved successful in dating the sequence of Shakespeare's work. The late Eliot Slater demonstrated a statistically significant correlation between the distribution of rare words (those which occur less than 11 times in the canon) and the demonstrable or probable order of composition, as determined by external evidence. There are 15 such rare words in this poem: ''annoy'' (as a noun), ''bare'' (noun), ''besot,'' ''exempt'' (adjective), ''exile'' (verb), ''impair,'' ''inferior'' (adjective), ''mishap,'' ''repenting,'' ''scape'' (noun), ''star-like,'' ''suspicious,'' ''tresses,'' ''twine,'' ''wantonly.'' These words occur 73 times in the Shakespeare canon (excluding the parts of ''The Two Noble Kinsmen'' attributed to John Fletcher). Of these links with the rare vocabulary of Shakespeare's works, 52 (74 percent) occur in plays earlier than the 1596 watershed; if we added the Sonnets (many of which must have been written by 1596), the figure would be 57. Only 16 come from all the later works put together. The strongest links are with ''Henry VI, Part 1'' (10), ''Venus and Adonis,'' the Sonnets and ''Henry VI, Part 3'' (5 each).
The poem contains 74 rhyming pairs; of these, seven involve unique words, for which we cannot expect to find parallels elsewhere in Shakespeare's rhymes. Of the remaining 67, almost all are rhymed elsewhere in the canon, and 25 - over a third -yoke rhyme pairs Shakespeare uses elsewhere: die/fly, breeding/proceeding, beauty/duty, ever/never, out/doubt, love/ prove, annoy/joy, blot/not, last/ past, pleasure/treasure, find/wind, amazed/ gazed, fair/hair, high/lie, eyes/prize, cheeks/ seeks, meet/sweet, made/trade, endure/sure, asunder/wonder, blot/spot, awake/ take, find/ mind, delay/say. These rhyme pairs occur 115 times in the canon. It is perhaps not surprising that the great bulk of these parallels come from early work, because Shakespeare used rhyme more often in that period.
But the rhymes link the poem not only with the early period generally, but with specific early works. The strongest links are with the Sonnets (24), ''Love's Labor's Lost'' (12) and ''Venus and Adonis'' and ''The Rape of Lucrece'' (9 each). The last three all date from 1593-94; many of the Sonnets were probably written during the same period. ''Venus and Adonis,'' a very short work, and the Sonnets in particular provide large numbers of parallels in all three categories of chronological evidence available: verbal parallels, rare words and rhymes. The stylistic features thus not only conspire to agree that the poem, if by Shakespeare, is by the young Shakespeare; they conspire to place the poem's likeliest date of composition in the very years when Shakespeare undoubtedly indulged in a brief burst of nondramatic verse. I
* HAVE so far dealt only with quantifiable, quotable aspects of Shakespeare's style; by those criteria the poem could certainly have been written by Shakespeare in the early to mid-1590's. But is the poem good enough to be Shakespeare's? In recent weeks a few distinguished critics - at least one on the basis of nothing more than hearing the poem read by a journalist over the telephone -have denied the poem's authenticity because it is, they say, ''feeble.'' Anyone is entitled to an opinion of the poem's merit. But judgments of quality cannot be made the primary, or even the secondary, basis of attributions of authorship; if they were, much of Shakespeare's work would be relegated to the foot of the page (as indeed it was, by Alexander Pope in his 1723 edition of Shakespeare). Nor can Shakespeare's early work be judged by the standards he himself created later in his career. And whoever wrote the poem, it must have been intended as a technical exercise, a kind of verbal obstacle course in which one of every three syllables is a rhyme. The originality and difficulty of the rhyme scheme produces a poem which is artificial, and hence as admirable to Elizabethan critical taste as its seems perverse to ours. Undoubtedly the effort to rhyme distorts the syntax and weakens the sense in places. But Shakespeare's rhymed poetry is often awkward and much of the rhyme in the plays was once dismissed as spurious because it is awkward.
By such means one can excuse the poem's weaknesses - it is the work of a young poet, who was never at his best (as Campion and Jonson were) in rhyme, engaged in a technical exercise. But one must also say, in the poem's defense, that reports of its feebleness have been greatly exaggerated. From its very first line, the poem sets up a conventional Petrarchan metaphor, and then subverts it; to ''fly'' in a battle would be immoral, to ''fly'' from an obsessive sexual entanglement would be wise. And whereas no soldier wishes to ''die'' (perish), a lover does wish for death (orgasm), and yet in seeking that orgasm he must, in the traditional hyperbole, ''die'' over and over in the inhospitable climate of his beloved's neglect or disdain. The narrator seesaws between obsessive engagement and ambiguous detachment. His love ''breeds'' sorrow, not children (line 3); he must ''vent'' his lust, verbally or physically (line 11); does ''admiring'' breed ''desiring,'' or vice versa? (line 59). Are the besotting ''plots'' which part asunder breasts or thighs? (lines 72-3). His dream ''did seem'' - and even then he interrupts himself parenthetically to lament the fleeting insubstantiality of his dream (which may of course have been a reality that he recognizes only now as an emotional illusion). He ends with a mere detumescent iteration of what ''some say'' -implying, of course, that others say something else. But what those some say is itself ambiguous. What causes repenting: to delay the pursuit of his human prize, the commencement of his wooing, or to linger in his predicament? Given the sexual pun on ''case,'' which Shakespeare uses so often elsewhere, the last lines may mean that he will regret it if he lingers too long in that most intimate place.
But I do not want to pre-empt interpretation of the poem or dwell on its crisp irony at the expense of its luxuriating sweetness. I have in any case already said enough, I hope, to persuade readers that the poem must be regarded as Shakespeare's until proved otherwise. An early document attributes it to him; we have no particular reason to doubt that document; the poem's style is compatible with the document's attribution. Whoever demands more proof is demanding that a poem pass the threshold of his own critical esteem before it can be admitted into Shakespeare's house. But documents, like defendants, must be presumed innocent until proved guilty; unless this document's attribution can be disproved, this poem must be included in any edition of Shakespeare's works that claims to be ''complete.'' THE POEM 1 Shall I die? Shall I fly Lovers' baits and deceits, sorrow breeding? Shall I tend? Shall I send? Shall I sue, and not rue5 my proceeding? In all duty her beauty Binds me her servant for ever. If she scorn, I mourn, I retire to despair, joying never.10 2 Yet I must vent my lust And explain inward pain by my love breeding.
If she smiles, she exiles
All my moan; if she frown,15 all my hopes deceiving - Suspicious doubt, O keep out, For thou art my tormentor. Fly away, pack away; I will love, for hope bids me venture.20 3 'Twere abuse to accuse My fair love, ere I prove her affection.
Therefore try! Her reply
Gives thee joy - or annoy,25 or affliction. Yet howe'er, I will bear Her pleasure with patience, for beauty Sure [will] not seem to blot Her deserts, wronging him doth her duty.30  In a dream it did seem - But alas, dreams do pass as do shadows - I did walk, I did talk With my love, with my dove,35 through fair meadows. Still we passed till at last We sat to repose us for our pleasure. Being set, lips met, Arms twined, and did bind my heart's treasure.40 5 Gentle wind sport did find Wantonly to make fly her gold tresses, As they shook I did look, But her fair did impair45 all my senses. As amazed, I gazed On more than a mortal complexion. [Them] that love can prove Such force in beauty's inflection.50 6 Next her hair, forehead fair, Smooth and high; next doth lie, without wrinkle, Her fair brows; under those, Star-like eyes win love's prize55 when they twinkle. In her cheeks who seeks Shall find there displayed beauty's banner; Oh admiring desiring Breeds, as I look still upon her.60 7 Thin lips red, fancy's fed With all sweets when he meets, and is granted There to trade, and is made Happy, sure, to endure65 still undaunted. Pretty chin doth win Of all [the world] commendations; Fairest neck, no speck; All her parts merit high admirations.70 8 A pretty bare, past compare, Parts those plots which besots still asunder. It is meet naught but sweet Should come near that so rare75 'tis a wonder. No mishap, no scape Inferior to nature's perfection; No blot, no spot: She's beauty's queen in election.80 9 Whilst I dreamt, I, exempt [From] all care, seemed to share pleasures in plenty; But awake, care take - For I find to my mind85 pleasures scanty. Therefore I will try To compass my heart's chief contenting. To delay, some say, In such a case causeth repenting.#90 Collations: 29 will/wit MS 49 Them/then MS 68 the world/ thats cald MS 82 From/for MS VERBAL PARALLELS IN THE PLAYS AND POEMS 1. Shall I fly: (''1 Henry VI'' 4.5.13) 2. Lovers' baits: ''love's sweet baits'' (''Romeo and Juliet'' 2.Prologue.8) 3. sorrow breeding: ''the breeder of my sorrow'' (''3 Henry VI'' 3.3.43) 5. sue: the manuscript has ''shew,'' but this is a contemporary spelling of ''sue,'' which makes better sense and rhyme. The ''sh'' form of the word is very rare, but occurs at ''Love's Labor's Lost'' 3.1.204. 7. In all duty: (''Richard II'' 1.3.52) 8. Binds me her servant: ''bind me to your highness' service'' (''3 Henry VI'' 3.2.43) 10. joying never: ''never joy'd'' (''1 Henry VI'' 2.1.13) 11. vent my lust: ''vent our love'' (''The Taming of the Shrew'' 1.2.178); ''Free vent of words love's fire doth assuage'' (''Venus and Adonis'' 334) 12-13. explain . . . pain by my love: ''express my true love's fasting pain'' (''L.L.L.'' 4.3.120) 14-15. smiles . . . frown: ''smile . . . frown'' (''Venus'' 468); ''smiles . . . frowning'' (''Romeo'' 2.3.1.); ''smiles . . . frown'' (''3 Henry VI'' 3.3.168) 15. if she frown: ''If she do frown'' (''Two Gentlemen of Verona'' 3.1.96) 16. my hopes deceiving: ''beguiled my hopes'' (''Two Gentlemen'' 5.4.64); ''falsify men's hopes'' (''1 Henry IV'' 1.2.211) 17. keep out: (three times in Shakespeare) 19. Fly away: (''Titus Andronicus'' 5.2.11; ''2 Henry VI'' 2.1.158; ''Twelfth Night'' 2.4.53, twice in the same line; ''Winter's Tale'' 3.2.21) 22. fair love: (''Richard III'' 2.1.51; ''The Rape of Lucrece'' 7; ''L.L.L.'' 4.3.377; ''A Midsummer Night's Dream'' 2.2.35) 27-28. bear . . . with patience: (''Romeo'' 5.3.261; ''Julius Caesar'' 2.3.301); ''Pericles'' 1.2.65) 28-29. beauty . . . blot: ''blots thy beauty'' (''Shrew'' 5.2.139); ''Upon fresh beauty, blotting it with blame'' (''Venus'' 796) 30. doth her duty: ''do my duty'' (''Richard III'' 1.3.250) 32. but alas: (''Merchant'' 1.2.72, 2.1.31; ''Troilus and Cressida'' 3.2.168; ''Othello'' 4.2.53; ''Cymbeline'' 5.4.129; ''Two Noble Kinsmen'' 1.1.124, 1.2.211) 32-33. dreams . . . shadows: ''Swift as a shadow, short as any dream'' (''Dream'' 1.1.144 - about love); ''poor shadow . . . A dream'' (''Richard III'' 4.4.83, 88 - about the Queen) 35. love . . . dove: ''Pronounce but 'love' and 'dove' '' (''Romeo'' 2.1.10 - characterizing a lover) 35. my dove: (''Dream'' 5.1.325; ''Hamlet'' 4.5.168) 38. repose us: (''2 Henry VI'' 2.1.196; ''Coriolanus'' 1.9.74) 39. Being set, lips met: ''Being set, I'll smother thee with kisses'' (''Venus'' 18) 40. Arms twined: ''twining arms'' (''Venus'' 256); ''twine / Mine arms about that body'' (''Coriolanus'' 4.5.106) 40. my heart's treasure: ''the treasure of thy heart'' (''2 Henry VI'' 2.1.20); ''my soul's treasure'' (''2 Henry VI'' 3.2.382); ''this treasure in mine arms'' (''Titus'' 4.2.173 -referring to a person) 41. Gentle wind: ''gentle wind'' (''Venus'' 189); ''gentlest winds'' (''Pericles'' 3.3.37) 43. gold tresses: ''golden tresses'' (Sonnet 68) 45. fair (as a noun, meaning ''fairness, beauty''): (11 times in Shakespeare) 45-46. impair all my senses: ''doth impair the seeing sense'' (''Dream'' 3.2.179) 46-47. senses / As amazed: ''Be not amazed, call all your senses to you'' (''The Merry Wives of Windsor'' 3.3.118) 48. more than a mortal: ''more in them than mortal knowledge'' (''Macbeth'' 1.5.3); ''more than in mortal seeming'' (''Cymbeline'' 1.6.171); ''more than mortal'' (''Kinsmen'' 5.1.14) 51-52 forehead fair . . . and high: ''high forehead'' (''Romeo'' 2.1.18); ''fair forehead'' (''Hamlet'' 3.4.43) 53. without wrinkle: (Shakespeare associates brows with wrinkles at ''3 Henry VI'' 5.2.19; ''Venus'' 139; Sonnet 63; ''King John'' 2.1.505, 4.2.192; ''Merchant'' 4.1.270; ''King Lear'' 1.4.284) 54. fair brows: ''fair ladies' brows'' (''Romeo'' 1.1.230); ''fair brow'' (Sonnet 19) 55. Star-like: (''Timon of Athens'' 5.1.63; ''Henry VIII'' 5.4.46) 55. eyes: (compared to stars at ''Lucrece'' 13; Sonnet 14; ''Venus'' 1031-32; ''Hamlet'' 1.5.17; ''Winter's Tale'' 5.1.67) 55-57 Star . . . eyes . . . twinkle . . . cheeks: ''Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven . . . do entreat her eyes / To twinkle in their spheres till they return . . . The brightness of her cheek'' (''Romeo'' 2.2.15-19 - about a beloved); ''twinkling stars'' (''Two Gentlemen'' 2.6.9) 55. win love's prize: ''win the prize'' (''Shrew'' 2.1.342) 57-58. in her cheeks . . . beauty's banner: ''beauty's ensign . . . in thy cheeks'' (''Romeo'' 5.3.94-5). 57-58. who seeks / Shall find: ''who seeks . . . Shall never find'' (''Antony and Cleopatra'' 2.7.83-4) 61. lips red: (lips are ''red'' at ''Venus'' 516, Sonnet 130, ''As You Like It'' 3.5.120, ''Twelfth Night'' 1.5.247) 61. fancy's fed: ''where is fancy bred . . . how nourished'' (''The Merchant of Venice'' 3.2.63-5); ''Chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy'' (''As You Like It'' 4.3.101) 64. There to trade: ''I will trade to them both'' (''Merry Wives'' 1.3.72, meaning to carry on a sexual affair with two women); ''us that trade in love'' (''Antony'' 2.5.2) 68. all the world: (56 times in Shakespeare) 70. high admirations: ''top of admiration'' (''The Tempest'' 3.1.38) 71. bare (as a noun, meaning bareness, naked flesh): (''Lover's Complaint'' 95) 71. past compare: (''Shrew'' 5.2.174; ''Romeo'' 2.5.43) 72-73. parts . . . asunder: (''Henry V.'' Prologue. 22; there is no other known example of this idiom) 74. naught but: (16 times in Shakespeare) 75. so rare: (6 times in Shakespeare) 76. 'tis a wonder: (''Shrew'' 5.2.189) 78-79. nature's perfection . . . blot: ''the blots of nature's hand / Shall not in their issue stand; / Never mole, harelip, nor scar, / Nor mark prodigious.'' (''Dream'' 5.1.409-12). 80. in election: (''Titus'' 1.1.22, 1.1.183) 80. beauty's queen: ''beauty's queen'' (''Passionate Pilgrim'' 4, authorship uncertain); ''beauties whereof now he's king'' (Sonnet 63); ''crowned / The nonpareil of beauty'' (''Twelfth Night'' 1.5.253-54) 83. pleasures in plenty: ''Convey your pleasures in a spacious plenty'' (''Macbeth'' 4.3.71) 85. to my mind: (''Hamlet'' 1.4.14) 89. some say: (19 times in Shakespeare) 90. In such a case: (''Romeo'' 2.4.50; ''Caesar'' 4.3.6; ''Antony'' 2.2.98; ''Coriolanus'' 5.4.31)Continue reading the main story