Shakespeare's Wife

I recall picking up The Obstacle Race as a freebie book a few years back and loving Germaine Greer's intuition in her study of the sketchily-documented lives of women artists. It inspired not a few poems. So, of course, I'm very intrigued to see what she makes of the Bard's wife. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for Shakespeare theory; which, I realize, is like a drunken lounge singer furtively admitting his passion for The Tender Trap (for which, incidentally, I also have a weakness) (okay, not really).

I still find it incredible that there could be debate as to whether Shakespeare's wife was literate, though I do tend to agree it's likely she was, judging from her family background and common practices among the Puritans. I remember visiting Stratford in college and reading the bit of Shakespeare's will (ba-dunk-chink) about bequeathing his wife the "second best bed." Scholars initially thought that this was a slight, when in actuality he was leaving her their marriage bed - the "best bed" would have been reserved for guests.

This little misinterpretation reminded me that there is much that needs to be "read" culturally in order to fully grasp what's on the page - particularly when dealing with a centuries-distant culture. But it's easy to get carried away with this ethic - especially in trying to access poetry. I'm wary of critics who endeavor to connect every detail in the sonnets to some aspect of Shakespeare's personal life. And, is it really important who "Mr. W H" is? But my BIG question is, how much of one's personal life is connected to one's verse, and is understanding this connection intrinsic to the understanding the verse? I attempt to satisfy myself with the via media in cases such as these. I would like to think that my poetry could stand independently of its context, enough to be enjoyed, perhaps even slightly understood!

Comments

Jacob Russell said…
The question of the how much a poet's life enters her/his poetry begs so many questions it leaves one stuttering incoherently.

And all the best questions, at that.

It does help to remove the "much" from that formulation. "How" a poets life enters the poem is a much more interesting question--though I like it better if you ask how a poem succeeds in escaping (evading?) the life of the poet.

My inclination is to see the poem growing out of the renunciation of "self," that is, the "I" of the poet--replacing it with surrogate voice.

I stumbled on your blog by accident--any excuse for procrastination of the task at hand... poetics being one of the more seductive escapes... back to my novel.

Jacob Russell's Barking Dog
Lindsay said…
I find myself begging for more than my share of questions of late, but I'm glad for the comments they elicit!

I'm of the mind that there's no way to divorce self from process or product. Although I've had many a flirtation with New Criticism, and abhor the excesses of "I-centric" verse (this is a disease of intentionality, I feel), I can't deny that it's impossible to compose in a vacuum and how boring would that be anyway!

I like your idea of "renunciation of self" - but what is the surrogate, then, but persona, and is that an acceptable end? I admit that I write most frequently via explicit or implicit persona, which I find to be a very fruitful exercise. But I also have insecurities about this practice, viz what if I'm evading more than just self, what if I'm evading the whole point?!

I love that you found my blog - do you mind if I link you in my sidebar (I'm pretty liberal with my link-love)? This is a procrastination-friendly zone! And always a fan of prose-folk (I'm one incognito, myself...shhh).
Jacob Russell said…
I'll have to think about what I mean by 'surrogate.' I don't think I mean, don't want to mean, persona... "voice" to me is not persona, something much shiftier, something embedded in discourse, if anything, the source of persona, what persona is made of; the Voice comes forth to meet the reader, and together they fashion the phantom, "persona."

I can't think about this as a disinterested party... it's too central to this novel I'm trying to finish.

By all means, add the link! I'll do the same for your blog.

Back to work!
The term persona does tend to elicit a negative response - perhaps because it reeks of playacting on the page, of spectacle without nuance.

But, I think persona can be a very shifty endeavor. Creating a poem can be much like creating a character: each poem has a worldview of its own, an idea of what the IT is (could be as simple as silence or as complex as physics) but the majority of this worldview remains hidden, implicit...the discovery of implications depends upon a major investment on the part of the reader. So, in a big way, the reader supplies the voice of a poem. It's not all Crazy Jane for me (although some of it is).

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