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Shakespeare's Spiritual Sonnets (New)
by Noonan, John
Book ID: 9781456586836, 1456586831
NEW INSIGHT INTO SHAKESPEARE’S SONNET SEQUENCE
John T. Noonan, Jr., U.C. Berkeley professor and federal judge, is the author of Shakespeare’s Spiritual Sonnets. Noonan presents argument and analysis of the Sonnets pointing to addressees of these poems far from the usual suspects. His candidates include God, the Virgin Mary, Mother Church, and Jesuit missionaries to England. He himself acknowledges his own reluctance to believe that the Bard was “mixed up with Jesuits.” Imagine for a moment discovering new poems by Shakespeare. Noonan discards the assumption that the Sonnets reflect the course of two or more love affairs. Observing that it is generally agreed that some of the Sonnets are commissioned work urging a young man to marry, and that two sonnets are addressed to the poet’s soul, he argues that each of the remaining sonnets should be examined in terms of its particular purpose and addressee. His analysis is both negative, pointing to substantial difficulties and gaps in the standard approach, and positive, showing the probability of a different reading. Not by Euclidean logic, he writes, but by a convergence of probabilities is the case made.
Noonan’s interpretation sets the 22 sonnets firmly in the context of religious controversy and compelled conformity in Queen Elizabeth’s Britain and in the larger context of continental currents of theology. Shakespeare, Noonan notes, was a man of his time, and the time extends back to Pope Gregory’s dispatch of missionaries to England a thousand years earlier. Noonan offers a spectrum within which he suggests that Shakespeare fits. At one end is William Byrd, composer for Queen Elizabeth and composer of masses and motets for the Catholic underground. At the other end of the spectrum is Robert Southwell, S.J., sought, caught, and hung as a priest criminally present in the country. Between them, Noonan places Shakespeare, who borrowed ideas and inspiration from Southwell’s poems and who emulated Byrd in his ability to please the queen and to enhearten his own disfavored community. Noonan’s book is likely to lead many lovers of Shakespeare to look at the Sonnets afresh.
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