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Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester$

Paul Hammond

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780198186922

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186922.001.0001

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Shakespearian Figures

Shakespearian Figures

(p.62) 2 Shakespearian Figures
Figuring Sex between Men from Shakespeare to Rochester

Hammond Paul

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers ideas about how texts open and close possibilities, and uses them to read some of Shakespeare's work. It first focuses on the Sonnets, on the rhetoric of possession and dispossession through which the poet tries to represent his relationship with the ‘lovely boy’, often rather desperately redescribing betrayal as fidelity, and indifference as love. It then turns to Shakespeare's dialogue with the homoerotic poems of Richard Barnfield, tracing how Shakespeare adapts some of Barnfield's simplistic images and scenarios into his much more emotionally and rhetorically complex forms. The chapter explores how Shakespeare transformed the source materials for Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice in way which offered homoerotic scenarios which were not available in the originals.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, Sonnets, Richard Barnfield, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, homoeroticism, homosexual men

Shakespeare's Sonnets: The Rhetoric of Possession and Dispossession

Despite the title of this book, it would be wrong to argue a parti pris and be too prescriptive about exactly what is figured in Shakespeare's writing about intense relations between men.1 This chapter will, instead, explore the kinds of imagined space which Shakespeare creates for the presentation of strong male bonds; the ways in which he adapts his sources in order to create affective and sexual possibilities where none had existed; and the rhetorical figures through which male relations are delineated. It will then conclude by examining the ways in which editors and adaptors of Shakespeare later in the seventeenth century closed down these possibilities and erased homosexual meanings from his texts.

In the case of the Sonnets,2 however, ‘delineation’, the drawing of lines, may well be exactly the wrong word for Shakespeare's procedure.

(p.63) It is not that his expressions are ambiguous; rather that in the Sonnets he seems addicted to multiple definitions which by their sheer proliferation over-delineate, perpetually redescribing the young man, the poet, and their relationship. Indirections and refusals to disclose are Intrinsic to the mode of the Sonnets, and it would be a fundamental misreading to impose a clarity upon the careful obscurities of Shakespeare's text. Sometimes indications of sexual desire are present not in the form of metaphor or simile, but as a cross–hatching of sexually charged vocabulary across the surface of a poem whose attention seems to lie elsewhere.

The figuring is itself problematic, often drawing attention to its own failure, as the poet contradicts and corrects himself from one poem to another, or even within the same poem. Among the Sonnets' characteristic rhetorical figures are correctio or epanorthosis, in which what has been said is challenged and reversed: ‘by this we revise either what was said or our means of saying it, and express our repentance’;3 and paradiastole or redescription,4 through which the speaker tries to gain some form of mastery by producing what is generally a more comforting description of the boy's character or actions, or the poet's feelings, or his place in the erotic triangle with the Dark Lady.5 In Sonnet 96 we hear different voices describing the young man's behaviour in a variety of exculpatory ways:

  • Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonesse,
  • Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport,
  • Both grace and faults are lov'd of more and lesse:
  • Thou makst faults graces, that to thee resort:
  • . . . . . . .
  • So are those errors that in thee are scene,
  • To truths translated, and for true things deem'd.6
Such a process of translation, the desperate wishful thinking involved in deeming error to be truth, runs through the collection. Sonnet 88 (p.64) will ‘prove thee virtuous, though thou art forsworne’.7 And Sonnet 37 rewrites the young man's fault more radically as those ‘deeds of youth’ which delight a father, and can even be called ‘thy worth and truth’.8 Falsehood becomes truth. According to Sonnet 93, the boy is not one of those whose ‘falce hearts history | Is writ in moods and frounes and wrinckles strange’; and so, since only ‘sweet love’ is written on his face, the poet is forced to ‘live, supposing thou art true’, while suspecting that he is not, suspecting that love and truth need to be redescribed as falsehood and betrayal.9 Paradiastole is sometimes a consolation, sometimes a danger.

Typically the poetry acknowledges the sleight of hand, the desperation even, which is involved in such corrections and redescriptions. Sonnet 42 invents a contorted reason for believing that the youth has not betrayed the poet by having sex with the poet's own mistress, but even as the argument is clinched in the couplet, its factitious nature is signalled with the label ‘Sweete flattery’.10 Sonnet 35 convicts the poet of a fault in excusing the boy's betrayal, in ‘Authorizing thy trespas with compare’ through devising consolatory proverbs such as ‘Roses have thornes, and silver fountaines mud’.11 Often apparent resolutions or conclusions are overturned, or just set aside. Indeed, on some readings it seems that the most important word in the Sonnets is ‘but’. Sonnet 74 challenges the conclusion of its predecessor by opening, ‘But be contented’.12 Sonnet 13 tracks back against its own opening within the very first line:

  • O that you were your selfe, but love you are
  • No longer yours, then you your selfe here live.13
Moreover, the status of ‘love’ oscillates here between nominative and vocative: between ‘but you are Love itself, and no longer your own self …’ and ‘but, Love, you are no longer your own self …’. A rereading of the first line is required as we understand the second. And many sonnets use ‘But’ or ‘Yet’ to turn the thought in a new direction at the start of a new quatrain, the sestet, or the couplet: Sonnet 19 turns on ‘But’ at line 8 and again on ‘Yet’ at line 13. ‘But’ frequently introduces the poet's attempt to redescribe the relationship, to deny the obvious, or to ward off defeat.

Sometimes paradiastole merges with ploce, which is the repetition of (p.65) a key word within a line or clause. This merging of redescription with repetition may seem, paradoxical, but Shakespeare often seeks redescription within the semantic field of the same word, notably the key words ‘self’, ‘will’, and ‘love’. The play around ‘self’ (as in Sonnet 133) questions whether the poet has any selfhood which, he can cal his own, when his love for the boy has recreated him, sometimes transforming him ecstatically, sometimes reducing him to abject dependency,14 And the savage punning around ‘will’ in Sonnet 135 fractures the autonomy of the players in this sexual drama by asking whether ‘Will’ as name, ‘will’ as desire, and ‘will’ as genitals have now become synonymous, with individuals reduced to interchangeable sexual objects. An extended form of ploce also contributes to charting the dynamics of power between the two men, as when Shakespeare repeats the image of grafting in Sonnets 15 and 37. In the former, the poet is ‘all in war with Time for love of you | As he takes from you, I ingraft you new’:15 the power resides with the poet who remakes the youth, in his verse, so giving him new life. In the latter, the poet likens himself to ‘a decrepit father’ who ‘takes delight, | To see his active childe do deeds of youth’, and thereby draws strength from the young man's vigour: ‘I make my love ingrafted, to this store; | So then I am not lame, poore, nor dispis'd’.16 Here the poet grafts himself onto the youth's store of energy. The two Images of grafting rewrite the poet, the boy, and their love. The image is potentialy sexual, since ‘graft’ is often used to mean ‘have intercourse with’,17 but maybe In these two instances this sense is held In abeyance, as a glimpsed but unrealized meaning, a wished–for but impossible outcome.

Sonnet 40 stages a virtuoso performance of ploce around the word ‘love’:

  • Take all my loves,1 my love,2 yea take them all,
  • What hast thou then more then thou hadst before?
  • No love,3 my love,2 that thou maist. true love3 call,
  • All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more: 4
  • Then if for my love,4 thou my love5 receivest,
  • I cannot blame thee, for my love6 thou usest,
  • (p.66) But yet be blam'd, if thou this selfe deceavest
  • By wilfull taste of what thy selfe refusest.8
  • I doe forgive thy robb'rie gentle theefe
  • Although thou steale thee all my poverty:
  • And yet love7 knowes it is a greater griefe
  • To beare loves8 wrong, then hates knowne injury.12
  • Lascivious grace, in whom all il wel showes,
  • Kill me with spights yet we must not be foes.
The various meanings of ‘love’ demand to be teased out:18

  1. 1 (a) sexual partners (specifically women?); (b) kinds of love (including sexual desire?);

  2. 2 young man whom the poet loves (sexually or not?);

  3. 3 (a) loving relationship; (b) sexual partner;

  4. 4 (a) affection (‘for my love’ = for love of me); (b) sexual relationship (‘for my love’ = (i) in place of a sexual relationship with me; (ii) as a form of sexual relationship with me);

  5. 5 sexual partner, mistress (singular of sense 1a);

  6. 6 (a) affection (the poet's love for the young man); (b) sexual partner, mistress (sense 5);

  7. 7 love as an ideal or power;

  8. 8 (a) affection (either (i) wrong is done to the poet's affection for the youth; or (ii) wrong is done by the youth out of affection for the poet); (b) young man whom the poet loves (i.e. wrong is done by the lover).

The display of ingenuity makes a serious, even a desperate, point. The young man has, it seems, been having sex with the poet's mistress, and in Sonnet 42 we learn that the anguish which this causes derives more from the poet's loss of the boy than of the woman. Here in Sonnet 40, the rhetoric which devises excuses for the boy's theft also contrives to imagine the sex which takes place between the boy and the mistress as a form of sex between the boy and the poet. Lines 5–6 say: ‘If you have taken my mistress out of love for me, then I cannot blame you, since you are making sexual use of my love for you [which is what I wanted, albeit not in this form]’. The verb ‘use’ echoes Sonnet 20, which draws a distinction between the poet's love for the youth, and women's ‘use’ of him sexually: ‘Mine be thy love and thy loves use their treasure’.19 (p.67) Then lines 7–8 of Sonnet 40 say: ‘But I do blame you if you deceive me (‘this selfe’20) by taking this woman because of your own desire for sex with her (‘wilful taste’), when you refuse to have sex with others [with the women who in Sonnets 1–17 have been proposed as suitable mothers for your off spring—or with me]’. So this intensive use of ploce shows us that ‘love’ means something slightly different each time it is used, and it Is within the framework of multiple possibilities created by this rhetoric that there emerges the poet's need to be linked with the youth sexually. It is the over-delineation of ‘love’ which makes possible the expression of sexual desire for the youth, because each voicing of it is capable of being explained in another way.

In some poems, redescription is implicitly Invited through erotema, the rhetorical question, as the poet asks questions to which, he knows, the youth will not respond, or will not respond with the desired answer. When Sonnet 57 opens with the rhetorical question,

  • Being your slave what should I doe but tend,
  • Upon the houres, and times of your desire?
  • I have no precious time at al to spend;
  • Nor services to doe til you require.21
it is repeating the Petrarchan motif of the lover as abject servant in a querulous tone which resents the dynamics of the relationship, and looks for some word or act in reply which disproves the topos of slavery,22 Amongst the most desolate of the Sonnets is 87, whose erotema sums up the precariousness of the poet's relationship with the boy:
  • For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
  • And for that ritches where is my deserving?23
Through its assumption that the poet is worthless and the boy calculating, the bitter question clearly implies an answer which at once belittles the poet and demeans the boy—though what the poem really longs for is a loving paradiastole from the boy in reply, rejecting these legal and financial images as a travesty of their bond, and redescribing their relationship in terms of generosity, trust, and unconditional love. The answer never comes.

(p.68) These characteristic rhetorical figures keep playing over the nature of the bond between the speaker and the youth, redefining it repeatedly and obsessively. While there are two sonnets (116 and 129) devoted respectively to formal definitions of love and lust,24 most of the Sonnets’ definitional work is tentative and temporary: ‘Shall 1 compare thee to a Summers day? | Thou art more lovely and more temperate …’.25 Names and comparisons are deployed only to be rejected as inadequate; ‘Let not my love be cal'd Idolatrie’ or ‘Those lines that I before have writ doe lie’.26 What is insistently defined and redefined is the security of the relationship and the moral and affective character of the two men's behaviour. But within all this searching for the mot juste to define just how and whether the youth is indeed ‘my lovely Boy’,27 the question of whether physical sex between the two is sought or granted is always just out of reach. It is symptomatic that Sonnet 20, which overtly says that the boy's penis is ‘to my purpose nothing’, has been read as articulating the very desire which it appears to deny.28 And in Sonnet no the palpably sexual language (‘affections’, ‘appetite’, ‘grin'de’, ‘proofe’29) is applied to the poet's adventures with other partners, while religious language is used of the boy (‘A God in love… next my heaven the best’), so that the two registers are kept apart; even so, their proximity leads one to wonder whether the relationship with the boy which the speaker has betrayed Is also a sexual one. Sonnet 144 begins with an apparently clear distinction between the poet's love for the youth and for the Dark Lady; ‘Two loves I have of comfort and dispaire’. But which is which? Does the boy provide affectionate comfort, while the woman makes the poet despair because of his sexual attraction to her? Or does the boy generate despair by refusing to sleep with the poet, while the woman comforts him by taking him into her bed? Or does the boy comfort the poet sexually? Or do both his lovers provide both comfort and despair?

Threaded through the Sonnets are figures of possession and dispossession. The sequence begins by rebuking the youth for his Narcissistic self-possession, ‘contracted to thine owne bright eyes’,30 (p.69) and continues after the speaker has avowed his own love for the lad in a series of images of private spaces in which possession might be imagined—for Shakespeare these are not pastoral Utopias but dreams, or the pages of books; by contrast, there are journeys which remove the poet from the boy, and public spaces in which the relationship cannot be acknowledged. Possession is often the work of the eye,31 and when the poet looks at the young man he sees all his previous loves gathered there:

  • Their images I lov'd, I view in thee,
  • And thou (al they) hast all the all of me.32
There is a remarkable irregular verb here which conjugates as ‘I view, thou hast’. The youth has all the poet, total power over him, while the poet looks at the young man, imagining him in many different ways, but his actual possession of the youth seems limited to the work of the eye or the mind. Characteristically the language suggests but refuses to be precise about the sexuality of this possession: ‘thou… hast all the all of me’ Implies sexual possession, but whether this is actual or potential, whether it is what the boy wants or what the poet is ready to grant him, is withheld from our view.33

Here and elsewhere, the simple verb ‘have’ carries much of the weight of the poems' desire for possession. Its sexual charge is clear in Sonnet 129, the definition of lust, which is said to be ‘Had, having, and in quest to have, extreame’.34 Sonnet 42 observes simply that ‘thou hast her… she hath thee’, before delivering the specious conclusion that because ‘my friend and 1 are one, |… she loves but me alone’.35 This attempt to figure, or figure out, the sexual possession of the boy by the woman is followed in Sonnets 43–4 by explanations of the way in which the poet holds the youth, which is only in dream or in imagination. At the end of Sonnet 87, which Is entirely devoted to images of possession, the plain verb ‘have’ is defined as an imaginary possession:

  • (p.70) Thus have I had thee as a dreame doth flatter.
  • In sleepe a King, but waking no such matter.36
Even the couplet's disillusionment seems to modulate as we reread it. Does it say (i) that the poet's possession of the youth was always an illusion—as he now realizes; or (ii) that the poet's possession of the youth—now that it is over—seems as distant and Insubstantial as a dream does to a waking man? The uncertainty over whether the having was real or imaginary once again places the sexuality of the verb ‘had’ sous rature. Like Derrida's device in De la grammatofogie,37 where a term is written and then cancelled, but remains legible through the cancellation, the fluid syntax and multiple rhetorical devices of the Sonnets allow Shakespeare to bring sexual interests into the text while simultaneously holding them at bay. Shakespeare's style characteristically forces the abstract and the concrete to exist in unsettling proximity, and throughout the Sonnets we never quite know whether images of possession figure mental or physical union.

The language of the Sonnets frequently has sexual connotations which are not consolidated into puns or metaphors, but lie as traces across the text. Take Sonnet 48:

  • How careful was I when I tooke my way,
  • Each trifle under truest barres to thrust,
  • That to my use it might un-;used stay
  • From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust?
  • But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
  • Most worthy comfort, now my greatest griefe,
  • Thou best of deerest, and mine onely care,
  • Art left the prey of every vulgar theefe.
  • Thee have I not lockt up in any chest,
  • Save where thou art not, though I feele thou art,
  • Within the gentle closure of my brest,
  • From whence at pleasure thou maist come and part,
  • And even thence thou wilt be stolne I feare,
  • For truth prooves theevish for a prize so deare.
The poet locks up his jewels, but cannot lock up the friend, who remains a prey to thieves. There is a surprising development in line 10, for one might have expected the argument to run something like this:
  • (p.71) Thee have I not lockt up in any chest,
  • Save where thou art now, for I feele thou art,
  • Within the gentle closure of my brest.
but this kind of inward, emotional possession is negated even before it is expounded; ‘where thou art not’. And yet the elaboration of the lovely Image of the boy folded ‘Within the gentle closure of my brest’ is a powerful one, and in its length, vividness, and warmth it counteracts and almost erases the tiny negative ‘not’. The physicality of this image is clear, though it would not be out of place in a poem of friendship. Yet many of the words in this sonnet have sexual implications:38 ‘thrust… use… hands… wards… jewels… lock… at pleasure’. While the formal argument of the poem describes the ways in which the poet does not possess the youth, the language evokes both emotional and sexual possession, the former through the extended Image of enclosure, the latter through the connotative power of key words.

Similar, but subtly different, is Sonnet 52:

  • So am I as the rich whose blessed key,
  • Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
  • The which he will not ev'ry hower survay,
  • For blunting the fine point of seldome pleasure.
  • Therefore are feasts so sollemne and so rare,
  • Since sildom comming in the long yeare set,
  • Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
  • Or captaine Jewells in the carconet.
  • So is the time that keepes you as my chest,
  • Or as the ward-robe which the robe doth hide,
  • To make some special instant speciall blest,
  • By new unfoulding his imprison'd pride.
  • Blessed are you whose worthinesse gives skope,
  • Being had to tryumph, being lackt to hope.
In what sense ‘had’? The opening quatrain in particular carries familiar metaphors of sexual pleasure and possession.39 This sonnet appears to answer Sonnet 48: in the earlier poem the youth was not locked up in any closet, not even the closet of the heart; here he is locked away to be enjoyed on special occasions. But 52 is not quite a correctio of 48, since here it is Time that keeps the boy locked away. Yet again, the formal argument wries the poem away from the impression created by the (p.72) powerful figures of possession. Possession and dispossession are woven through the same sonnet, the one turning Into the other.

Perhaps the most poignant statement of dispossession is the simple, weary place in Sonnet 34:

  • Though thou repent, yet I have still the losse,
  • Th'off enders sorrow lends but weake reliefe
  • To him that beares the strong offenses losse.40
The failure to rhyme underlines the inability of the poet to conjure up a way of redescribing this loss: loss, this time, is loss and nothing else.

The Sonnets, then, work more through intratextual than intertextual engagement: their self-conscious relation Is to themselves, as poems return to earlier topics and images, undo the precarious stabilities of ostensibly conclusive couplets, regress to emotions which cannot be assuaged and constantly need to be rewritten. Intertextual engagement is less apparent. Sonnet sequences addressed to women had proliferated by the mid-i590s, and there were many models to follow, including Petrarch, Wyatt, Sidney, Daniel, Spenser, and Drayton. There are occasional traces of some of these writers in Shakespeare's Sonnets, but on the whole the Sonnets have only a limited intertextual engagement with this literary tradition.41 But there is one writer of homoerotic sonnets—Richard Barnfield—who offered Shakespeare some hints for his own sequence of love poems to another man. By attending to Shakespeare's creative engagement with this predecessor, we may see more clearly some of his own characteristics.42

(p.73) Richard Barnfield's The Affectionate Shepheard (1594) and Cynthia (i595)43 were published a year or two before the likely date at which Shakespeare started writing his own sequence.44 There are enough verbal resemblances between Barnfield's poems and Shakespeare's for us to conclude that the latter studied the two earlier collections with some interest. Unlike Shakespeare's, Barnfield's poems are overtly sensual in their evocation of the sexual pleasure which the speaker Daphnis takes in the boy Ganymede, and the metaphors which Barnfield uses take little decoding. The opening of ‘The Teares of an Affectionate Shepheard Sicke for Love. Or The Complaint of Daphnis for the Love of Ganimede’ describes the speaker's first sight

  • Of that faire Boy that had my heart intangled;
  • Cursing the Time, the Place, the sense, the sin;
  • I came, I saw, I viewd, I slipped in.45
The obvious evocation and alteration of Caesar's veni, vidi, vici is suggestive: instead of ‘conquered’ Barnfield substitutes ‘viewd’, viewing being itself a form of conquest; and while ‘slippèd in’ (the first disyllabic word in the line attracts added emphasis46) may refer back to ‘the sin’ into which Daphnis has slipped, it clearly also suggests sexual penetration. Here the past tense places the sexual intercourse in a fantasized past which has not actually taken place except in the imagination: past figures future. Another conceit, from the world of pastoral, using the image of Ganymede as a bee, minimally decorates the meaning of the poet's invitation to fellatio:
  • (p.74) Then shouldst thou sucke my sweete and my faire flower
  • That now is ripe, and full of honey-berries:
  • Then would I leade thee to my pleasant Bower
  • Fild full of Grapes, of Mulberries, and Cherries.47
Barnfield uses simple metaphor to figure the desirable parts of the male body, unlike Shakespeare, who rarely brings the body of the youth into view: ‘eye’ and ‘heart’ are often referred to by Shakespeare, but as agents in an emotional drama. (The boy's ‘thing’ by which he is ‘prickt… out’ for sexual pleasure is cited in Sonnet 20, but in the context of a protestation that it is of no interest to the poet.) Daphnis’ invitation to Ganymede is one of the points at which Barnfield is writing with a copy of Marlowe open on his table, or perhaps a commonplace book into which he has copied out some favourite lines from his mentor, for Barnfield evidently had a connoisseur's eye for the few homoerotic texts which were available in English, and Marlowe was a frequent source for him.48 The line ‘Crownets of Pearle about thy naked Armes’49 in Daphnis’ dream about Ganymede is lifted from Gaveston's fantasy about homoerotic entertainments for his lover in Edward II, while other lines adapt Jupiter's speeches to Ganymede, or eroticized speeches about the young Ascanius, in Dido Queen of Carthage,50 Such borrowings typically constitute an invitation to some locus amoenus, since pastoral can offer a homoerotic Utopia.51 Shakespeare's own Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were also quarried, as was Drayton's Piers Gaveston for the phrase ‘my bosome thy bed’.52 So we see Barnfield constructing for himself a homoerotic canon, seeking out phrases which evoke the young male body, or which imagine a setting in which that body can be enjoyed.

(p.75) In turn, Shakespeare read Barnfield, though students of the Sonnets have overlooked this,53 As Barnfield's Victorian editor A. B. Grosart noted,54 lines from ‘The Teares of an Affectionate Shepheard’ are echoed In Sonnet 20:

  • Compare the love of faire Queene Guendolin
  • With mine, and thou shalt see how she doth love thee:
  • I love thee for thy qualities divine,
  • But She doth love another Swaine above thee:
  • I love thee for thy gifts, She for hir pleasure;
  • I for thy Vertue, She for Beauties treasure.55
Here the man apparently loves the boy for his virtue and his ‘divine’ qualities, while the woman loves him for his beauty and the sexual pleasure which this ‘treasure’ gives her.56 The contrast is echoed and reworked by Shakespeare in Sonnet 20, the poem in which the speaker says that Nature has thwarted him by making the boy male:
  • A womans face with natures owne hand painted,
  • Haste thou the Master Mistris of my passion,
  • A womans gentle hart but not acquainted
  • With shifting change as is false womens fashion,
  • An eye more bright then theirs, lesse false in rowling:
  • Gilding the object where-upon it gazeth,
  • A man in hew all Hews in his controwling,
  • Which steaks mens eyes and womens soules amaseth.
  • And for a woman wert thou first created,
  • Till nature as she wrought thee fell a dotinge,
  • And by addition me of thee defeated,
  • By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
  • But since she prickt thee out for womens pleasure,
  • Mine be thy love and thy loves use their treasure.
Shakespeare, rethinking Barnfield's antithesis between how the male poet loves the boy and how women love him, rejects Daphnis' rather spurious Platonic claim that it is Ganymede's virtue and divine qualities which attract him, and instead of ‘Vertue’ substitutes ‘love’. (p.76) (By contrast, the virtue of the Sonnets’ addressee is soon called repeatedly into doubt.) Shakespeare shifts the antithesis from Barn-field's focus on what attracts the lover, to a contrast between (i) love (from the poet for the boy) which is reciprocated as love (from the boy to the poet, but carefully left undefined in character and scope); and (ii) love (from women for the boy) which is returned by him In the form of sex. Shakespeare is content to leave unrevised Barnfield's rhyme of ‘pleasure I… treasure’ in the description of the women's relation to the boy, though his introduction of ‘use’ deftly demeans It: not only are there connotations of usury (already established in Sonnet 4), but ‘use’ as a noun or a verb for sexual intercourse is generally colloquial in Shakespeare—used in prose by such as Paroles, Juliet's Nurse, or Aaron the Moor.57 Another rhyme in Sonnet 20— ‘doting|… nothing’—also occurs in Barnfield, in a context where he is evoking the thwarted love of Narcissus for his own reflection:
  • The Agget stone is white, yet good for nothing:
  • Fie, fie, I am asham'd to heare thee talke;
  • Be not so much of thine owne Image doating:
  • So faire Narcissus lost his love and life.
  • (Bcautie is often with itself at strife).58
Sonnet 20 comes just after the subset of the Sonnets in which Shakespeare has accused the youth of a Narcissistic fascination with himself; and the context in which the rhyme appears in Sonnet 20 is that of an almost Narcissistic Nature who falls in love with her own creation.

Barnfield also addresses another topic which interested Shakespeare, that of the boy's beauty fading with age:

  • And alwaies (I am sure) it cannot last,
  • But sometime Nature will denie those dimples:
  • In steed of Beautie (when thy Blossom's past)
  • Thy face will be deformed, full of wrinckles:
  • Then She that lov'd thee for thy Beauties sake,
  • When Age drawes on, thy love will soone forsake.
  • (p.77) But I that lov'd thee for thy gifts divine.
  • In the December of thy Beauties waning,
  • Will still admire (with joy) those lovely eine,
  • That now behold me with their beauties baning:59
The line In the December of thy Beauties waning’ is almost Shakespearian. In Sonnet 126, the last of the sequence addressed to the young man, the poet observes that the youth has ‘by wayning growne’ and thereby shows ‘Thy lovers withering’.60 The ‘pleasure|… treasure’ rhyme from Barnfield and from Sonnet 20 is also repeated in Sonnet 126:
  • Yet feare her O thou minnion ofher pleasure,
  • She may detaine, but not still keepe her tresure!61
Time brings about the loss of the lad's beauty; but in both Barnfield and Shakespeare time is experienced differently by the poet and by the rest of the world. There is a contrast between the seasons in the natural world and the season which (because of his age or his emotional state) the speaker inhabits. ‘The Second Dayes Lamentation’ opens thus:
  • Next Morning when the golden Sunne was risen,
  • And new had bid good morrow to the Mountaines;
  • When Night her silver light had lockt in prison,
  • Which gave a glimmering on the christall Fountaines:
  • Then ended sleepe: and then my cares began,
  • Ev'n with the uprising of the silver Swan.
  • O glorious Sunne quoth I, (viewing the Sunne)
  • That lightenst everie thing but me alone:
  • Why is my Summer season almost done?
  • My Spring-time past, and Ages Autumne gone?
  • My Harvest's come, and yet I reapt no corne:
  • My love is great, and yet I am forlorne.62
Barnfield's Daphnis simply laments the fact that in his summer or middle age he has not yet reaped his harvest, in other words, bedded Ganymede.63

For the speaker of Shakespeare's Sonnet 33, the image leads in the (p.78) opposite direction, for a brief moment in which love was conferred by the boy has passed:

  • Full many a glorious morning have I seene,
  • Flatter the mountaine tops with soveraine eie,
  • Kissing with golden face the meddowes greene;
  • Guilding pale streames with heavenly alcumy:
  • Anon permit the basest cloudes to ride,
  • With ougly rack on his celestiall face,
  • And from the for-lorne world his visage hide
  • Stealing unseene to west with this disgrace:
  • Even so my Sunne one early morne did shine,
  • With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
  • But out alack, he was but one houre mine,
  • The region cloude hath mask'd him from me now.64
Where Daphnis is unambiguously pleading for Ganymede to surrender to him sexually (Tie hang a bag and bottle at thy backe’ he says65), Shakespeare's poem is non-committal about the kind of possession which is being described: ‘he was but one houre mine’ could refer to just one hour of sexual intercourse, and ‘one early morne’ could be a precise memory of a specific day; or these could be quasi-proverbial expressions for the brevity of their affectionate friendship before the youth was somehow drawn away from the poet. Joseph Pequigney, proposing sexual connotations for ‘ride’ (have intercourse) and ‘pale streames’ (semen), reads the poem as a fairly precise account of the poet's sexual intercourse with the youth, and the youth's intercourse with an unworthy rival.66 And yet such graphic readings seem to work against the grain of the poem. Granted, the image in ‘ride’ is unlikely to be used here without any sexual connotations, since Sonnets 33–5 are apparently about the distress caused to the poet by the boy's sexual behaviour, but these three sonnets carefully deploy different linguistic strategies for different aspects of the subject. For the relationship between the two men, Shakespeare uses simile: like the sun which for a while shines brightly and then disappears behind a cloud, so the youth has at first shone on the poet but is now preoccupied with other relationships (Sonnet 33); like someone rashly going out of doors without a cloak and being caught in the rain, the poet has rashly ventured to (p.79) trust himself to the boy and been let down—or even publicly exposed, without disguise or protection (Sonnet 34); like a lawyer setting out the case against the boy, the poet deploys various arguments, but finds himself arguing more for the defence than the prosecution (Sonnet 35). But for the other relationships which the boy has been conducting, Shakespeare uses both sexually loaded metaphor (‘ride… staine’), morally loaded metaphor (‘basest cloudes… rotten smoke… loathsome canker’), and terms of moralistic condemnation (‘disgrace… offenses… ill deeds… faults… trespas… sins… sensual fault’). The anxious work of paradiastole is directed at finding words for the youth's actions, while the question of what once happened between poet and boy is withheld from our view. Barnfield's speaker had pleaded that Ganymede ‘wilt but show me one kinde looke’;67 Shakespeare in rewriting Barnfield shows how little comfort one kind look brings.

Ganymede must share his beauty, writes Barnfield:

  • Let others of thy beauty be pertakers;
  • Els none but Daphnis will so well esteeme it:
  • For what is Beauty except it be well knowne?
  • And how can it be knowne, except first showne?68
—a strategy which recalls Shakespeare's pleas in Sonnets 1–17 that the youth should beget an heir, and use his beauty.69 But while Barnfield's speaker recommends promiscuity, he also warns against pride, the ‘foule Eclipser of that fayre sun-shine’ which ‘staines the fayre’ 'A blemish that doth every beauty blot. ‘Ah be not staind (sweet Boy), he pleads.70 The verbal connection with Sonnets 33 and 35 is as striking as the emotional contrast. ‘Cloudes and eclipses staine both Moone and Sunne 1 And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud’71 says Shakespeare: these are consolatory proverbs which attempt to assuage the pain of betrayal by making it a commonplace. Barnfield urges Ganymede not to be proud, but to use his sexuality; Shakespeare takes up his images of stain and eclipse to show the consequences of such actions.

Later Barnfield's speaker teasingly praises things which are black in order to persuade Ganymede that his fair beauty is not as valuable as he (p.80) believes. Did this help to suggest Shakespeare's equivocal praise of the Dark Lady, and his realization that the boy's fair appearance may conceal a darker moral nature? The whiteness of lilies is no recommendation, says Daphnis, for ‘What thing is whiter than the milke-bred Lilly? |… Yea what more noysomer unto the smell I Than Lilies are?’72 Once again, Shakespeare takes up Bamfield's imagery and turns it into a commentary on the boy's betrayal: ‘Lilies that fester, smell far worse then weeds’.73 In Barnfield the contrast is between the lily's visual beauty and its unpleasant smell;74 in Shakespeare's hands—in a sonnet which starts out by thinking about those who do not act in accordance with the way they appear, and then moves on to analyse the consequences when they do act—this image becomes an instance of the general, truth that ‘sweetest things turne so wrest by their deedes’.75 Again, acting on desire seems not to bring the uncomplicated pleasure which Daphnis naively craves.76 These responses to Barnfield— specifically to his first volume, The Affectionate Shepheard—;constitute a riposte to Daphnis’ courtship of Ganymede, saying in effect: ‘If he did look kindly on you, how long do you think that would last? Would it bring you joy? The beautiful appearance which you celebrate so casually as a sign of “virtue” may hide a nature which is rotten and rotting others.’

Perhaps Shakespeare's most overt response to Barnfield is to the first sonnet of the second collection, Cynthia, a poem on the relation between eye and heart which appears to be rewritten in Sonnet 46. Here is Barnfield:

  • (p.81) Sporting at fancie, setting light by love,
  • There came a theefe and stole away my heart,
  • (And therefore robd me of my chiefest part)
  • Yet cannot reason him a felon prove.
  • For why his beauty (my hearts thiefe) afhrmeth,
  • Piercing no skin (the bodies fensive wall)
  • And having leave, and free consent with all,
  • Himselfe not guilty, from love guilty tearmeth,
  • Conscience the Judge, twelve Reasons are the Jurie,
  • They finde mine eies the beutie t'have let in,
  • And on this verdict given, agreed they bin,
  • Wherefore, because his beauty did allure yee,
  • Your Doome is this: in teares still to be drowned,
  • When his faire forehead with disdain is frowned.77
Here the argument is that the thief (the boy's beauty) who has stolen the poet's heart cannot be found guilty of any crime because he was given entrance by the poet's own eyes. Conscience and reason therefore acquit him, and punish the eyes with tears when the boy proves disdainful.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 46 reads like a variation upon Barnfield's conceit:78

  • Mine eye and heart are at a mortall warre,
  • How to devide the conquest of thy sight,
  • Mine eye, my heart thy pictures sight would barre,
  • My heart, mine eye the freedome of that right,
  • My heart doth plead that thou in him doost lye,
  • (A closet never pearst with christall eyes)
  • But the defendant doth that plea deny,
  • And sayes in him thy faire appearance lyes.
  • To side this title is impannelled
  • A quest of thoughts, al tennants to the heart,
  • And by their verdict is determined
  • The cleere eyes moyitie, and the deare hearts part.
  • As thus, mine eyes due is thy outward part,
  • And my hearts right, thy inward love of heart.
(p.82) Here there is a struggle between heart and eye for rights over the boy, since both claim possession of his image. The jury, made up of thoughts (‘Reasons’ in Barnield), delivers its verdict, which is a judgment of Solomon: the youth's outward appearance belongs to the eyes, but the heart is awarded ‘thy inward love of heart’—a phrase which means both ‘my love of you, retained within my heart’ and ‘your heartfelt love of me’.79 The distance between Shakespeare and Barnfield is (in part) that Barnfield's conceit remains superficial, adding little to conventional Renaissance debates between eye and heart: the eyes give admittance to the lad's beauty and suffer when he is unkind. Shakespeare takes the opportunity to make the antithesis between eye and heart into a meditation on forms of possession, developing a mode of inwardness in his reflections on the role of the heart. But the concluding phrase ‘thy Inward love of heart’ is a rhetorical trick which makes an ambiguous phrase refer both to the poet's love for the boy and to the boy's love for him. The latter may be wishful thinking, a rhetorical sleight of hand which reveals a touch of desperation.

If Shakespeare's Sonnet 46 is a rejoinder to Barnfield's Sonnet 1, then perhaps Sonnet 20 (quoted in full on p. 75 above) is a remaking of Sonnet 10:

  • Thus was my love, thus was my Ganymed,
  • (Heavens joy, worlds wonder, natures fairest work,
  • In whose aspect Hope and Pispaire doe lurke)
  • Made of pure blood in whitest snow yshed,
  • And for sweete Venus only form'd his face,
  • And his each member delicately framed,
  • And last of all faire Ganymede him named,
  • His limbs80(as their Creatrix) her imbrace,
  • But as for his pure, spotles, vertuous minde,
  • Because it sprung of chaste Dianaes blood,
  • (Goddess of Maides, directresse of all good,)
  • Hit wholy is to chastity inclinde.
  • And thus it is: as far as I can prove,
  • He loves to be belov'd, but not to love.81
Both poems develop a conceit about the lover's creation, in which there is a doubleness. Barnfield's boy has a body created by Venus, but (p.83) a mind shaped by Diana; therefore he is inclined to chastity. Shakespeare's boy is created by Nature to be a woman, and has feminine features but male genitals. In each poem the boy has an erotic relation to his creatrix. In each poem there Is an antithesis between the granting and withholding of sexual favours, but the stability of the antithesis is undone. In Barnfield, the lad is ‘inclined’ to chastity, but that is not synonymous with being chaste; he seems not to love, but this is only ‘as far as I can prove’ (‘prove’ here meaning ‘experience’). In Shakespeare, the boy's love is supposedly given to the poet, and the sexual enjoyment of him to women; but the crucial verb is subjunctive not indicative; ‘mine be thy love’ not ‘mine Is thy love’. And the declaration that the boy's ‘thing’ is ‘to my purpose nothing’ is ambiguous, In that ‘nothing’ is slang for the female genitals.82 Each poem draws attention to the lad's penis (‘member… limb[s]’; ‘thing… prikt’). Each poem ends with an implicit question as to whether the boy is sexually available to the speaker. It Is as if Shakespeare has transformed Barnfield's rather clumsy conceit about the boy being unavailable due to a contrast between his body and his mind into a challenge to the boy as to whether his male gender really does make him unavailable.

If Sonnet 10 from Cynthia caught Shakespeare's attention for its pondering of the boy's unresponsiveness, so too did Sonnet 6, this time for its dream of possession. The speaker longs for Ganymede's ‘sweet Corrall lips’ and the ‘secret touch of loves heart-burning arrow’ (Barnfield's Images are never too subtle), and then says:

  • One night I dream'd (alas twas but a Dreame)
  • That I did feele the sweetnes of the same,
  • Where-with inspir'd, I young againe became,
  • And from my heart a spring of blood did streame,
  • But when I wak't, I found it nothing so,
  • Save that my limbs (me thought) did waxe more strong
  • And I more lusty far, and far more yong.
  • This gift on him rich Nature did bestow.
  • Then if in dreaming so, I so did speede,
  • What should I doe, if I did so indeede?83
Barnfield's metaphors manage to be both coy and lubricious, and he is interested only in physical responses. Shakespeare seems to have turned twice to this poem: once in Sonnet 27, when he describes how (p.84) he thinks about the young man while alone in bed,84 and again in Sonnet 87, where one line from Barnfield's poem— ‘But when I wak't, I found it nothing so’—seems to have generated the bitter conclusion:
  • Thus have I had thee as a dreame doth flatter,
  • In sleepe a King, but waking no such matter.85
Where Barnfield's poetry speaks of the desire of an older man to possess a younger man, eroticizing his body and multiplying images of physical consummation, Shakespeare's poetry moves inward, analysing various kinds of possession and dispossession, and the emotions which attend them, all the while self-consciously aware of the rhetorical strategies by which the poet tries to write himself into the boy's life.

Unlike the highly popular Venus and Adonis, and to a lesser extent Lucrece, the volume entitled Shakespeares Sonnets was received almost in silence when it was published in 1609.86 Given Shakespeare's considerable reputation by this date, one suspects that this silence betokened embarrassment or disapproval rather than indifference. The place of the Sonnets within the public sphere is curious, for with the publication of the 1609 Quarto the poems moved from the private milieu of Shakespeare's closet to the public world of the bookseller's stall, without, it seems, ever passing through an intermediate stage of semi-restricted manuscript circulation around a literary circle as happened with Sidney and Donne. Even if we accept that the book was a reputable publication authorized by Shakespeare himself rather than a piracy,87 the lack of any prefatory matter apart from the eliptical dedication ushers it brusquely into the reader's presence. With this publication Shakespeare seems to have travelled forth without his cloak, and misread the weather. Ben Jonson's dedication of his Epi-grammes to the Earl of Pembroke in 1616, saying that ‘when I made them, I had nothing in my conscience, to expressing of which I did need a cypher’ implies that the same could not be said of another volume with which they were both familiar.88 The faux pas which (p.85) Shakespeare made with this publication was possibly to implicate a nobleman in its dedication without using the formal courtesies, but it was more probably the revelation of a homoerotic obsession.

Shakespeare seems to have composed and revised his sonnets over a period from around 1595 to their publication in 1609.89 He was therefore so obsessed with the subject of these sonnets (if not obsessed with a particular young man, then certainly with the theme of a passionate attachment to a young man) that for some twelve or thirteen years he kept these poems by him, adding to the sequence and tinkering with individual sonnets. Homoerotic infatuation therefore becomes an abiding private concern for Shakespeare throughout the period which stretches from the composition of The Merchant of Venice to that of Coriolanus. But why put such poems into the public domain? Katherine Duncan-Jones proposes that the publication of these homoerotic poems was ‘designed to gratify the literary culture of James's court’90 but If Shakespeare was indeed trying to associate himself with what he perceived as a homoerotic rather than a homosocial culture, he seems to have badly misjudged the tone and ethos of the court. Perhaps as a mere player he misunderstood the functioning of signs amongst the aristocracy, signs such as Pembroke's gesture of Intimacy at James's coronation in kissing the King on his face instead of his hand.91 There is a distance between the playful physicality of the relations between nobles at court, and the impassioned expressions of the Sonnets, and it is improbable that the Jacobean court tolerated, let alone encouraged, such expressions. The principal problem with Shakespeares Sonnets is likely to have been that it offended against the precarious homosociality of the Jacobean court by putting into print for a wide readership poems which could not possibly be read as expressions of homosocial friendship. For Jacobean homosociality may have been precarious precisely because James's known predilections and his demonstrative behaviour with his male favourites threatened to cross a crucial boundary, redescribing the eroticism which coloured homosociality as an unmistakable sign of homosexual interests, Shakespeare's Sonnets are manifestly not poems of friendship between equals (either in years or in social status); they are obsessive; and they link the poet with the young man and the mistress (p.86) in a sexual triangle. It was one thing to print Marlowe's Edward II, Bamfield's The Affectionate Shepheard, and Drayton's Piers Gaveston under Elizabeth in the mid-1590s, when Shakespeare began to write his poems, but maybe the arrival of James created a different climate in which homoerotic verse was less acceptable than it had been under Elizabeth, precisely because it made the erotic element in male relations uncomfortably visible, and risked reiecting upon the King.92

Sonnet 87 says that the speaker has ‘had thee as a dreame doth flatter, | In sleepe a King’.93 One possible meaning of that image is that the speaker has possessed the boy in the way that King James possessed handsome young men in bed.94 That does not have to be the line's only meaning, or its principal meaning, for it to be offensive at court. There is a comparable innuendo, and one which may actually refer to these lines, in an epigram by John Davies of Hereford, addressed ‘To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shakespeare’ and printed two years after the publication of the Sonnets, which says:

  • Some say (good Will) which I, in sport, do sing,
  • Had'st thou not plaid some kingly parts in sport,
  • Thou had'st bin a companion for a King,
  • And beene a King among the meaner sort.95
Though this overtly refers to Shakespeare acting kings’ parts on the stage, the line of vocabulary from’ Will to ‘parts’ and ‘sport’ is sexually suggestive. The phrase ‘kingly parts in sport’ could refer to sexual roles, or to stage roles, or to the roles played out in the Sonnets. Was it now publicly known, or at least inferred, that Shakespeare had sexual interests similar to those of King James? Finally, one needs an explanation as to why the Sonnets were omitted from the 1623 Folio. The Folio was dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke, who is a likely candidate for being the dedicatee of the 1609 Sonnets, the enigmatic ‘Mr W. H.’, and a possible model for the young man of the poems.96 It would only have (p.87) taken some Jacobean readers to have hazarded this identification for Pembroke to have felt compromised by the association,97 To have dedicated the Sonnets to him again in 1623 would only have compounded the first offence.98 This, of course, is conjecture; but Sonnets's frosty reception in 1609 suggests that Shakespeare had spoken more openly and passionately than he ought, and that the sophisticated rhetoric of the poems failed to hide the true character of their desire.

Shakespeare's Plays and their Italian Sources

Other ways in which Shakespeare created spaces in which homosexual desire might be imagined can be seen by comparing some of his plays with their sources, in particular, those which exploit the homoerotic possibilities of Italy.99 Italian comedies and novelle supplied Shakespeare with the outlines of half a dozen plays, and generally their plots describe the entanglements of a variety of heterosexual love affairs.100 Of course, these interested Shakespeare In their own right, but there were several elements in this material which might have appealed to a dramatist who was also preoccupied by emotional and sexual relationships between men. First, in these plays and stories Shakespeare found a kind of space which was malleable; this was nominally Italy, but it was an Italy of the mind, a comedic or romance space in which unusual happenings were possible. He would not be constrained by the kinds of plausibility demanded in London city comedy. This would have been specially important for a dramatist seeking to fashion a milieu in which homoerotic desire might be represented; it would have to be, in some sense, a world elsewhere, but still a possible world. Secondly, (p.88) disguise—and particularly cross-gendered disguise—generated the possibility of staging erotic scenes between men which at one level were safe because the audience knew that Cesario was Viola in disguise, while carrying a homoerotic frisson because the audience also knew that Cesario/Viola was being played by a pretty boy.101 Moreover, the motif of disguise takes on new possibilities for the dramatist who is interested in forbidden desires. Thirdly, it is striking that a recurring motif in these plays from Italian sources Is love threatened by the death penalty. Romeo is dead if he is caught within Verona's walls; Claudio in Measure for Measure is to be executed for engaging in illicit sex; Antonio in The Merchant of Venice accepts death as the price of helping Bassanlo; and another Antonio in Twelfth Night risks death In a hostile city to accompany and protect Sebastian. Writing in a world where sex between men was punishable by death, Shakespeare may have had good reason to ponder these stories.

One play in which contemporary Italy features (at least nominally) is The Merchant of Venice, though Shakespeare has constructed that play with the help of a variety of source materials, most of which have some fairy-tale or romance qualities; its realism is only intermittent. The principal source is Ser Giovanni's collection of novelle called II Pecorone (1558), Day 4 Story 1, which tells of the adventures of Gianetto.102 On his deathbed, his father entrusts Gianetto to the care of his godfather Ansaldo, a wealthy merchant of Venice. Gianetto sets out on a trading expedition financed by Ansaldo, and arrives in a city ruled by a lady who has promised herself and her realm to any man who can successfully sleep with her; any man who fals must forfeit all his goods. Gianetto accepts the chalenge, but is drugged and falls asleep in the lady's bed. He forfeits Ansaldo's ship with all its stores, and eventually returns home claiming to have lost everything in a shipwreck. Ansaldo finances a second expedition, with just the same results. To equip Gianetto's third expedition, Ansaldo has to sell all his goods, and raise further money which is secured in a bond against a pound of his own flesh. Third time lucky, Gianetto is warned by one of the lady's servants to avoid the drugged drink, satisfies the lady, and is duly married to her. But he forgets all about Ansaldo until reminded by chance that the fatal day has arrived for the bond to be repaid; he hurries back to (p.89) Venice, and Ansaldo is released from the clutches of the Jewish moneylender by the same device which Is used in Shakespeare's play.

A small detail shows that Shakespeare was thinking of the Italy which forms the setting for this story as a place where homosexual desire might be commonplace. Scholars have noted that when Jessica escapes from her father Shylock, she dresses as a boy—;quite unnecessarily in terms of the plot.103 When Lorenzo sees her ‘obscurd … | Even in the lovely garnish of a boy’104 he finds this ‘garnish’ itself attractive: that is to say, he expresses admiration for a physical appearance which is visually the boy actor, no longer obscured in female costume.105

But this homoerotic pleasure in a boy is a passing detail, albeit one whose very gratuitousness indicates how Shakespeare's imagination was working. More important and more difficult to read Is the change to the Italian story which Shakespeare makes when depicting the relationship between the young man and his financial backer, Ser Giovanni's merchant is the young man's godfather ('santolo’); he and his father had been close friends, and Ansaldo takes on a fatherly role vis-à-vis Gianetto, whom he calls ‘figliuoccio’ and ‘figliuolo’; Gianetto in turn calls him ‘padre mio’.106 The generational gap is clear. Ansaldo is devoted to the lad as a doting parent, but not like the other inhabitants of Venice who all—both male and female—seem to be in love with the boy: ‘di che le donne & gli huomini ne pareuano innamorati’.107 Ansaldo takes his losses stoically, and in the trial scene says nothing. The narrative is focused throughout on Gianetto: it is his rite of passage that the story is interested in, his predicament.

How does Shakespeare's play invite us to read the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio, if it is not the quasi-paternal and filial bond described in the source? Nothing in Shakespeare's text points to any difference in age between the two men, though theatrical tradition has often assumed it.108 The two men clearly differ in their financial (p.90) resources, but not in their social status. Critics have tended to argue either that Antonio and Bassanio are friends, that Antonio feels friendly but not sexual love— philia but not eros—for Bassanio; or that Antonio does indeed feel ems for Bassanio, and is the older man in love with the younger, the erasteswith his eromenos, though, in this instance with a young man who seems not fully to reciprocate.’109 But to argue one case or the other is to clarify what Shakespeare carefully left undefined. Instead of attempting such inappropriate definition, this discussion will explore how Shakespeare's dramatic language creates possibilities which are not allowed for in Ser Giovanni's text; notably the physical and symbolic spaces created by the drama, and what one might call the affective spaces formed by the play of language, often by linguistic hesitations and ambiguities. Both are Shakespeare's dramatic transformations of the Italian narrative.

Though Shakespeare is interested to some extent in suggesting the geographical spaces of Venice—particular houses, the Rialto—he also thinks carefully about the ways his characters create and inhabit social spaces. His changes to Ser Giovanni's narrative include a radical shift of interest as the play opens with the focus on Antonio's feelings, and the difficulty of articulating and understanding them:

  • In sooth I know not why I am so sad,
  • It wearies me, you say it wearies you;
  • But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
  • What stuffe tis made of, whereof it is borne,
  • I am to learne:
  • (p.91) And such a want-wit sadnes makes of mee,
  • That I have much adoe to know my selfe.110
The aposiopesis in line 5 Is a gesture of demurral: the question cannot he answered, the line cannot he completed. The answer lies in the inaccessible space created by Antonio's silence— a space inaccessible to himself as well as to others. His companions Salerio and Solanio suggest that he is anxious about his trading ventures, but Antonio denies this. Then Solanio suggests:
  • Why then you are in love.
  • Ant Fie, fie.111
Editors have noted that Antonio fails to complete Solanio's line metrically: the missing two syllables are another significant silence, the pause being in effect an admission that Solanio is right, for ‘Fie, fie’ is a reproach rather than a denial.112 Salerio and Solanio diplomatically drop the questioning, and leave the stage when Bassanio arrives, recognizing that the two men should be left alone.

But the space-shared by Antonio and Bassanio is tense, and Shakespeare shows this by giving them different idioms. Here are friends who do not quite speak the same language. Bassanio tells Antonio in a careful (but perhaps wounding) rhetorical pairing of love and money, ‘to you Anthonio | I owe the most in money and in love’,113 but Antonio's reply transforms the terms, as he suggests a willingness to offer more than money:

  • My purse, my person, my extreamest meanes
  • Lie all unlockt to your occasions.114
The purse is Elizabethan slang for the genitals,115 and the grammar of the speech states that Antonio's person lies all unlocked to Bassanio's needs; the offer is at once financial and sexual. (Contrast the phrasing of Philautus’ comparable offer to his friend Euphues: ‘heere is my hand, my heart, my lands and my lyfe at thy commaundement’.116) But (p.92) Bassanio does not respond directly, embarking Instead on a long analogy to justify borrowing more money in order to clear Ms original debt, Antonio is prepared to hazard and venture his person sexually with Bassanio, but Bassanio will take only his money—his literal but not his metaphorical purse.

On other occasions, too, Shakespeare delineates a special kind of space for Antonio and Bassanio, while differentiating them linguistically. The parting of Antonio and Bassanio is not staged, but rather reported by the sympathetic Salerio to Solanio, framing the pair—but particularly Antonio—in an inset space within the homosocial world of Venetian masculinity:

  • A kinder gentleman treades not the earth,
  • I saw Bassanio. and Anihonio part,
  • Bassanio told him he would make some speede
  • Of his retune: he aunswerd, doe not so,
  • Sluber not business for my sake Bassanio,
  • But stay the very riping of the time,
  • And for the Jewes bond which he hath of me
  • Let it not enter in your minde of love:
  • Be merry, and imploy your cheefest thoughts
  • To courtship, and such faire ostents of love
  • As shall conveniently become you there,
  • And even there his eye being big with teares,
  • Turning his face, he put his hand behind him,
  • And with affection wondrous sencible
  • He wrung Bassanios hand, and so they parted.
  • Solanio. I thinke hee onely loves the world for him.117
Antonio initially speaks with a merchant's perception about Bassanio's voyage to Belmont with his ‘Sluber not business’, but then redescribes Bassanio's interest in Portia as ‘love’, its repetition at two line endings gently emphasizing the choice of word, perhaps ironically, perhaps in pain. (One wonders whether ‘ostents’ and ‘conveniently’ also subtly characterize Bassanio's expedition as a financial venture rather than an affair of the heart. This may be wishful thinking on Antonio's part.) When Salerio describes Antonio's emotion as ‘affection’, he is using a word which was much stronger in Elizabethan English than it is today. As well as ‘kind feeling, fondness’118 it also meant ‘passion’, especially sexual passion, and the disturbance of the mind's equanimity by (p.93) violent feelings which It cannot control.119 And ‘wondrous sencible’ underlines the intensity of the emotion, since ‘sencible’ Is ‘acutely felt; markedly painful’.120 While Salerio emphasizes Antonio's emotion, and reports Antonio's speech and action, there is no such account of Bassanio; once again there is a disparity of language (verbal and gestural) between the two men.

In the court scene, when Antonio prepares to die, Portia asks him whether he has anything to say. She and the other onlookers are perhaps expecting a last-minute plea for mercy, or some general leave-taking, but his apparently final speech is directed entirely to Bassanio, using a public language to define—as far as he is able—their relationship:

  • Commend me to your honourable wife,
  • Tell her the processe of Anthonios end,
  • Say how I lov'd you, speake me faire in death:
  • And when the tale is told, bid her be Judge
  • Whether Bassanio had not once a love:
  • Repent but you that you shall loose your friend
  • And he repents not that he payes your debt.
  • For if the Jew doe cut but deepe enough,
  • Ile pay it instantly with all my hart.121
Though the first line is coolly courteous, ‘Say how I lov'd you’ grows more intimate, and leads up to the poignant ‘Whether Bassanio had not once a love’. What exactly ‘friend’ means here, and whether love’ means ‘experience of love’ or ‘sexual partner’ is impossible to determine.122 One editor glosses love’ as ‘friend’, with a cross-reference to Sonnet 13, thus neatly saving both texts from any suspicion of impropriety.123 Lorenzo had described Antonio to Portia as ‘How true a gentleman… | How deere a lover of my Lord your husband’, to which (p.94) Portia replies that she knows Antonio to be ‘the bosome lover of my Lord’.124 All the characters recognize Antonio's special love for Bassanio, but what exactly it amounts to, no one says. Once again, the public language of male friendship contains within it the possibility of a more private and sexual relation,125

If in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare added homoerotic possibilities to his source story, in the case of Twelfth Night he has both added and removed them. The basic plot of Twelfth Night exists in several different versions, and scholars have been unable to say precisely which form or forms Shakespeare knew, and in which language. Probably he was assisted by his half-Italian friend John Marston.126 But it is clear that he must have worked at least in part from the Sienese play Gl'Ingannati (1537).127 Here one finds several moments of explicitly homosexual comedy. Leila when dressed as the boy Fabio In the service of her beloved Flamminio says; ‘Oh come mi starebbe bene che qualcun di questi gioveni scapestrati mi pigliasse per forza e, tirandomi in qualche casa, volesse chiarirsi s'io son maschio o femina’.128 The nurse asks Fabio/Lelia what would happen if one night Flamminio, ‘tentato dalla maladetta tentazione’,129 were to call his page into bed (p.95) with him. Evidently this festive version of Italy is imagined to be a society where young men experiment with sex with other men. And when Fabio/Lelia tels Pasquella that he has to serve his own master, Pasquella wonders what sort of service that entails:

  • Lelia. A me bisogna servire il padrone; intendi, Pasquella?
  • Pasquella… Dormi forse con lui?
  • Lelia, Dio E volesse ch'io russe tanto in grazia sua!130
We the audience know that the disguised Lelia is expressing her desire for her master, but the comment is heard on stage as undisguised desire of the page Fabio for his master—an interesting indication that homosexual desire is imagined to attract the young lad to the older man, and not only the older man to the younger, à la grecque. The Idea that men may be moved by both homosexual and heterosexual desire is evident again when we are told that Isabella's father Gherardo had found Fabio in his house a couple of times, ‘ed bagli fatto mule carezze, presolo per la mano, toccato sotto ‘l mento, come se fosse suo figliuolo’. But Giglio, a Spanish soldier, suspects that this is hardly a paternal caress: ‘Ah, reniego del putto, vieio puerco, vellacco! Ya, ya. Sé io lo que quiere. ‘131 Gherardo is also interested in Fabrizzio. Gherardo is under the mistaken impression that Fabrizzio is not a boy but a girl in male disguise, and offers to marry him. Fabrizzio, unaware of Gherardo's misapprehension, thinks that he is the object of a homosexual seduction. But Fabrizzio is not entirely mistaken in this assumption, for it is clear that Fabrizzio's masculine attire adds significantly to his appeal in Gherardo's eyes: ‘L’ abito ’1 mostra’.132 Meanwhile, Master Piero the schoolmaster is enticed into an inn by being told that the landlord's son is as beautiful as an angel, and his servant calls Piero a sodomite, ushering in a dialogue full of abusive homosexual bawdy.133 In the world of Gl'Ingannati, some men may be (p.96) ridiculed for their exclusively homosexual interests, while others are recognized as potentially interested in bedding other men, or attracted by the ambiguities of an androgynous appearance.

Some of this material survives into Twelfth Night, but transmuted into subtler forms. Shakespeare was evidently not interested in the comedy of homosexual lust, in provoking laughter at sexually omnivorous masters or pederastic pedants. But the idea that a man might with equal enthusiasm bed a pretty boy or a pretty girl does surface in Twelfth Nighty, as the homosexual elements in Gl'Ingannati are reconstructed as something much more inward and difficult to articulate, thus developing a line of thought already essayed theatrically in The Merchant of Venice. In place of easily identifiable types, and easily satisfied lust, observed from a comfortable distance, Shakespeare imagines characters puzzled by their feelings, rather at sea emotionally, and finding that their sense of self is bound up with their love for an unreadable and unattainable other. In a reprise of the opening of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare begins Twelfth Night with another melancholy lover, Orsino. (By contrast, the equivalent figure in Gl'ngannati, Flamminio, displays no such temperament.) Orsino, of course, is in love with Olivia; but the play makes it clear that he is also attracted to Viola in her disguise as Cesarlo. This may be an adaptation of Gherardo's interest in Fabrizzio in male clothing, for no such attraction exists in the case of Flamminio; the most he says to Fabio/Lelia is that he loves him like a brother (‘ch’ io t ‘amo come fratello’).134 As early as Act 1 scene 4 we find the words ‘love’ and ‘favours’ used for Orsino's disposition towards Cesario;135 and while both words in Renaissance English can refer to a master's dutiful care for his servant, both can also refer to a sexual relationship. The semantic field here is productively ambiguous. Orsino draws Cesario aside, away from his other servants, creating a semi-private space for the two of them. Orsino is fascinated by Cesario's physicality, unsure whether to read him as a man or a woman,136 but by the end of the play he has become passionately attached to Cesario qua young man,137 perhaps more enraged at the prospect of losing Cesario to Olivia than losing Olivia to Cesario. It is a mark of Shakespeare's move inwards that he makes Orsino inadvertently show the intensity of his love for Cesario by citing the example of the robber captain in Heliodorus’ Ethiopica who determines to kill a beloved captive when his own life is in danger:

  • (p.97) Why should I not, (had I the heart to do it)
  • Like to th'Egyptian theefe, at point of death
  • Kill what I love:138
By contrast, when Flamminio wonders whether to kill Fabio for (as he thinks) having sex with Isabela, he only says, ‘Parti ch’ io amazzi questo traditore o no? Egli è pure un buon servitore.’139 In Orsino's outburst we touch unexpectedly deep feeling; in Flamminio's question, only comic role-play. At the end of Twelfth Night Viola's true identity has been revealed, but she is still dressed as Cesario, thus making the closing tableau a visual marriage between two men; indeed, Orsino continues to call her ‘Boy’ and ‘Cesario’.140 In Gl'Ingannatiy however, Lelia changes back into female costume for the equivalent scene. Shakespeare prefers the pleasurable simulacrum of a homosexual union.

The character who in Twelfth Night most clearly manifests love for another man is the sea-captain Antonio, deeply attached to Viola's twin brother Sebastian. In plot terms, Antonio is the equivalent of Gl'Ingannati's tutor, who arrives with his young charge in a strange city and sets about finding a suitable inn. But Shakespeare has completely rcimagined this character's circumstances and history. No danger threatens the tutor, but Antonio is at risk because he has fought against Orsino's men in a sea battle. This detail has been added by Shakespeare as he imagines what it would be like for an older man to feel self-sacrificial love for a younger man who is unattainable—which is the story of The Merchant of Venice, and perhaps of the Sonnets.

The initial scene between the two men is tense, and quite different in tone from the equivalent scene between tutor and pupil in Gl'Ingannati, where the tutor quickly becomes embroiled in a comic rivalry between two innkeepers eager for their custom.141 It seems that Sebastian recognizes Antonio's feelings, and is seeking some gentle way of indicating that he cannot (or perhaps dare not) reciprocate.142 As with Antonio and Bassanio, Shakespeare gives the two men different idioms, so marking out the asymmetrical relationship (p.98) between them, the lack of mutuality. Sebastian's syntax is cumbersome, no doubt embarrassed; and his language is full of words with potential sexual charge which are deflected into other meanings. ‘I perceive in you so excellent a touch of modestie, that you will not extort from me, what I am willing to keepe in’, he says. This appears to be a way of warding off a sexual advance, but the next sentence gives it another meaning; ‘therefore it charges me in manners, the rather to expresse my selfe’. But what he goes on to express is not his feelings but merely his family history. Antonio is more outspoken; ‘If you will not murther me for my love, let mee be your servant.’ This is a blunt form of Petrarchan language, the sea-captain's straightforwardness putting its stamp on the Italianate courtly imagery of the lover serving his mistress and dying for unrequited love. Sebastian's reply points to a depth of emotional response which he cannot trust himself to explore; ‘If you will not undo what you have done, that is kill him, whom you have recover'd, desire It not. Fare ye wel at once, my bosome is full of kindnesse.’ He is on the point of tears. Why would it kill Sebastian to accept what Antonio offers, unless this were to entail something more than friendly services? ‘Kindnesse’ is glossed ‘tenderness’ by the Arden and Oxford editors, but this is only one possible meaning selected from the semantic field denned by OED sense 5: ‘Kind feeling; a feeling of tenderness or fondness; affection, love. Also, Good will, favour, friendship.’ Not only do editors eliminate the meanings ‘affection, love’, they also ignore the meaning ‘reciprocated sexual desire, sexual availability’. This is not recognized by the OED, but is common in the early modern period.143 Again, Sebastian's language reveals homosexual possibilities which the speaker is trying to keep at bay. And again, Antonio is more explicit, saying in his parting soliloquy, ‘I do adore thee so.’

Much of the comedy of Gl'Ingannati and similar plays stems from misrecognition, the misreading of appearances, motives, emotions, and gender. But for Shakespeare, misrecognition, and in particular the misreading of other people's feelings towards one, also generates uncomfortable and near-tragic moments. Two characters in this play go out on a limb and expose their feelings for someone else, only to be (p.99) very publicly hurt by the revelation of their misapprehension. One is Antonio, the other Malvolio, who is likewise Shakespeare's addition to his source. Malvolio is tricked into voicing his desire for his mistress Olivia, and is humiliated when it is revealed that she does not love him.144 Antonio, encountering Viola dressed as Cesario, takes her for Sebastian, and is mortified when she will not acknowledge any obligations to him. As a plot motif, this goes back to Plautus’ Menaechmi and Shakespeare's own Comedy of Errors, but the mistake brings forth a declaration of Antonio's love for this apparently worthless boy:

  • This youth that you see heere,
  • I snatch'd one halfe out of the jawes of death,
  • Releev'd him with such sanctitie of love;
  • And to his image, which me thought did promise
  • Most venerable worth, did I devotion.
  • ·······
  • But oh, how vild an idol proves this God:
  • ·······
  • None can be calf'd deform'd, but the unkinde.
  • Vertue is beauty, but the beauteous evill
  • Are empty trunkes, ore-flourish'd by the devil.145
The religious language of adoration stems from the Petrarchan tradition, and has parallels in the Sonnets,146 but more remarkable is the strong sense of betrayal, of misreading, which Antonio voices. Like the speaker of the Sonnets, he has taken the beautiful exterior to be a sign of inner worth, and has been proved wrong:
  • They that have powre to hurt, and will doe none,
  • That doe not do the thing, they most do showe,
  • Who moving others, are themselves as stone,
  • ·······
  • Lilies that fester, smell far worse then weeds.147
(p.100) In the final scene, this hurt is repeated, as Antonio recalls bitterly that
  • His life I gave him, and did thereto adde
  • My love without retention, or restraint,
  • All his in dedication.
  • for three months before,
  • No intrim, not a minutes vacancie,
  • Both day and night did we keepe companie.148
This revelation that Antonio and Sebastian had lived together for three months might suggest a private space of homosexual intimacy, as Joseph Pequigney argues,149 but it is one which Shakespeare never actually shows us. It is a scene for the space of Antonio's memory, and the audience's imagination, not for the stage.150

The opening of Barnaby Riche's Apolonius and Silla an off spring of Gl'Ingannati and another source for Twelfth Night, points up a moral about love affairs which could almost be used as an abstract for the Sonnets, and poignantly summarizes Antonio's plight:

If a question might be asked, what is the ground indeede of reasonable love, whereby the knot is knit of true and perfect freendship, I thinke those that be wise would answers—deserte: that is, where the partie beloved dooeth requite us with the like; for otherwise, if the bare shewe of beautie, or the comelinesse of personage might bee sufficient to confirme us in our love, those that bee accustomed to goe to faires and markettes might sometymes fall in love with twentie in a daie; desert must then bee (of force) the grounde of reasonable love; for to love them that hate us, to followe them that flie from us, to faune on them that froune on us, to currie favour with them that disdaine us, to bee glad to please them that care not how they off ende us, who will not confesse this to be an erroneous love, neither grounded uppon witte nor reason?151

Perhaps it was the opportunity inherent in the plot of Gl'Ingannati for pondering this uncomfortable truth which led the author of the Sonnets to seek in his imagined Italy a space where homosexual desire might be given voice, if not satisfaction.

(p.101) The Erasure of Homoeroticism from Shakespeare's Texts

During the course of the seventeenth century, new editions and adaptations of Shakespeare's work introduced textual changes which removed the productive ambiguities through which Shakespeare had allowed homosexual desire to be made visible. Through these interventions the nature of male relationships is clarified, and friendship is purged of homoeroticism. An early sign of anxiety about homoeroticism in Shakespeare's work is the reshaping of the Sonnets in the generation after Shakespeare's death. First published in 1609, the Sonnets were reissued by the bookseller John Benson in 1640.152 His preface stresses the purity both, of the poems and of their author, and reassures prospective purchasers that there is nothing difficult or ambiguous about them: ‘some excellent and sweetely composed Poems, of Master William Shakespeare, Which in themselves appeare of the same purity, the Authour himselfe then living avouched… you shall finde them Seren, cleere and eligantly plaine, such gentle straines as shall recreate and not perplexe your braine.’153 Would Benson have stressed their purity if there had not been some doubt about that, or their clarity, if some readers had not thought them full of multiple meanings? And would Shakespeare himself have (supposedly) ‘avouched’ their ‘purity’ if no one had questioned it? Whether or not we give any credence to Benson's testimony,154 his preface seems to imply that Shakespeare had been forced to defend his poems after some scandal resulted from their publication in 1609. Benson himself made sure that no such scandal would attach to his own publication. It is well known that Benson rearranged the poems, ran several sonnets together to form new poems, gave them titles which referred to the (p.102) poet's mistress, arid altered the wording in several places to make the poems address a female lover.

In so doing, he was adapting Shakespeare for a new readership attuned to a Cavalier ethos,155 but he was also extending a tradition of appropriating the Sonnets which had begun earlier, since some of the poems which had previously been anthologized in print or in manuscript were precisely those which were either addressed to a woman or, when detached from their context, could be made to seem so, especially when given new titles such as ‘On his Mistris Beauty’, which one manuscript attached to Sonnet 106.156 Some of Benson's new titles, such as ‘Love-sicke’,157 or ‘A bashfull Lover’,158 or ‘A good construction of his Loves unkindnesse’,159 or ‘An intreatie for her acceptance’,160 implicitly create miniature narratives from among the recognizable scenarios of heterosexual love and courtship, whereas in their original form the Sonnets had largely eschewed a legible narrative sequence, and had instead presented readers with various forms of discontinuity and obsessive return. Textual alterations also rewrite the relationships. In Sonnet 101 Benson prints:

  • Excuse not silence so, for't lies in thee,
  • To make her much out-live a gilded tombe:
  • And to be prais'd of ages yet to be.
  • Then doe thy office muse, I teach thee how,
  • To make her seeme long hence, as she showes now.161
Benson has ‘her’ and ‘she’ where the original Shakes-speares Sonnets had printed ‘him’ and ‘he’. In another case, where the 1609 edition had referred to the addressee as ‘sweet boy’ the 1640 edition changes this to ‘sweet-love’.162

Other of Benson's titles present the sonnets as poems of unambiguous friendship, as in ‘Two faithfull friends’ (Sonnets 46–7) or ‘The benefit of Friendship’ (Sonnets 30–2).163 Such explicit references to friendship serve to define and contain the otherwise fluid meanings of the words ‘friend’, ‘love’, and ‘lover’ which occur in Sonnets 30–2:

  • Then can I drowne an eye (un-us'd to flow)
  • For precious friends hid in deaths dateles night,
  • (p.103) And weepe a fresh loves long since canceld woe
  • ·······
  • But if the while I thinke on thee (deare friend)
  • All losses are restord, and sorrowes end.164
  • Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
  • Hung with the trophies of my lovers gon.165
By labelling these poems as articulating ‘The benefit of Friendship’, Benson ensures that their usages of ‘love’ are understood to refer not to passionate erotic feelings but to that Ciceronian exchange of benefits between male friends which is not merely acceptable and profitable, but necessary for the smooth running of the social order. And when in Sonnet 104 the male ‘faire friend’ of 1609 becomes the Implicitly female ‘faire love’ of 1640,166 Benson seems to be marking out a distinction between male friends and female lovers, delineating where Shakespeare did not. Shakespeare addresses the youth both as ‘friend’ and ‘love’, each word slightly changing its semantic field and emotional charge with each new context. In Sonnet 144 (which Benson omits) Shakespeare had written that his ‘two loves’, the boy and the woman, are ‘both to each friend’, when he suspects that they are having sex together.

Renaissance ideals of male friendship drew upon the classical model which expected these bonds to be between men who were roughly equal in social standing, who would share their goods, and would enjoy a relationship of reciprocity and trust. But it is remarkable that in ail the areas where this ideal would require stability, the Sonnets register instability. There is a difference of age between poet and friend, and probably a difference of social status; the feelings are not reciprocal, or at least not reciprocated consistently or in their Intensity; the exchanges of gifts between the two (far from being signs of equality and security in friendship) are occasions of anxiety and signs of an uncertainty which is not only emotional but even existential: the friend's apparent theft of the poet's mistress is rewritten as an exchange of gifts between the three, but this triangular relationship throws up searing anxieties about the stability of the poet's self, a self which in turn becomes part of the traffic between the two men (Sonnets 133–6). Pace the extraordinary claim by John Kerrigan that ‘the sonnets to the youth grow out of comradely affection in the (p.104) literature of friendship’,167 the Sonnets are almost an extended definition of what classic Renaissance friendship was not.

The anxiety over the vocabulary of friendship and love which Benson displayed in his textual alterations to the Sonnets may signal a new need for the kind of social assurance which craves secure definition, foreshadowing a move away from a world in which masculine friendship and desire formed a continuum, towards one where the admission of sexual attraction between men was taboo, or confined to a special subculture, so requiring that expressions of ordinary male friendship be purged of any over-intense emotion or gesture which might imply a sexual motivation, and requiring that ‘love’ be confined safely to heterosexual relations.

There are also manifest tensions and anxieties around the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio In the adaptation of The Merchant of Venice which was made in 1701 by George Granville under the title of The Jew of Venice, and this reworking of the story may help to bring into focus the differing sensitivities about male relationships which prevailed at the beginning of the seventeenth century and at the end.

The prologue to The Jew of Venice, contributed by Bevill Higgons, is spoken by the ghosts of Shakespeare and Dryden, who rise crowned with laurel. After the two playwrights have lamented the debased judgement of audiences who are unmoved by passion, and are ‘deaf indeed to Nature and to Love’, deserting true drama for French farce, ‘Dryden’ complains:

  • Thro’ Perspectives revers'd they Nature view,
  • Which give the Passions Images, not true.
  • Strephon for Strephon sighs; and Sapho dies,
  • Shot to the Soul by brighter Sapho's Eyes:
  • No Wonder then their wand'ring Passions roam,
  • And feel not Nature, whom th' have overcome.
  • For shame let genal168 Love prevail agen,
  • You Beaux Love Ladies, and you Ladies Men.
  • Shakes. These Crimes unknown, in our less polisht Age,
  • Now seem above Correction of the Stage;
  • Less Heinous Faults, our Justice does pursue.169
(p.105) So in 1701—at a time when the molly houses have made homosexual relations visible as a special form of male bonding—English society is thought to be deserting the natural in pursuit of the unnatural, and not only when it comes to theatrical preferences; men are now In love with other men, and women with other women. The ghost of Shakespeare says that such behaviour was unknown in his day, admitting to a lack of refinement, but exculpating himself, his plays, and his contemporaries from any imputations of unnatural behaviour. Although the prologue says that Granville's play Is not concerned to punish these deviations from nature and from procreative love, it is striking that Higgons should think It appropriate to raise this issue in relation to an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, One commentator on this adaptation claims that ‘the suspicion that constant companions of the same sex who continually show signs of affection may well be homoerotically involved never appears to have crossed Granville's mind’.170 On the contrary, this is exactly the possibility that Granville understands and is at pains to avoid, as his play drives home a clear and emphatic distinction between friendship and love, and consistently excises lines which might suggest an exclusive and possibly physical union between the two men, As he stresses in his preface, ‘the judicious Reader will observe… many Manly and Moral Graces in the Characters and Sentiments’, and it is into the extended definition of moral manliness that Granville's play puts much of its energy.171

The adaptation opens without any trace of Antonio's melancholy: there is no secret here to be read or guessed. Whereas in Shakespeare's play Antonio had defined his role in life as a sad one, in Granville's version it is merely ‘serious’. When he offers to help Bassanio, he does not say:

  • My purse, my person, my extreamest meanes
  • Lie all unlockt to your occasions.172
  • My Purse, my Person, my extreamest Means,
  • Are all my Friend's.173
(p.106) In Shakespeare, what is locked away from others lies all unlocked to Bassanio, Granville's erasure of these implications of a shared secrecy may reflect unease about the new connotations which secrecy shared between men was acquiring with the arrival of the clandestine molly houses, while the idea that Antonio's person might ‘lie all unlockt’ to Bassanio's needs may now have seemed too clear a sexual invitation, To avoid any doubt, Granville makes his Antonio define friendship:
  • Is this to be a Friend? With blushing Cheek,
  • With down-cast Eyes, and with a faltring Tongue,
  • We sue to those we doubt: Friendship is plain,
  • Artless, familiar, confident and free.174
Friendship is open, unblushing; to be a man of silence and secrecy, or to hesitate about putting one's desires into words, would run the risk of being interpreted as a man with something unmanly to hide, like the new kind of Strephon.

Friendship involves openness in asking and in granting, but Granville carefully stresses that, although Antonio may give his body for his friend, this gift has no erotic significance; instead it is an example of that generosity and benevolence which is characteristic of manly and moral virtue:

  • what is a Pound of Flesh,
  • What my whole Body, every Drop of Blood,
  • To purchase my Friend's Quiet! Heav'n still is good
  • To those who seek the Good of others:
  • ·······
  • Of all the Joys that generous Minds receive,
  • The noblest is, the God-like Power to give.175
If Antonio's offering of his body for (rather than to) Bassanio is pure benevolence, Shylock's obsession with Antonio's flesh is perhaps motivated by something more than the stereotypical malevolence of the Jewish usurer. Shylock himself protests that his proposals can ‘bear no wrong | Construction’,176 thus alerting the audience to the possibility that more than one construction might indeed be placed on them. Whereas Shakespeare's Shylock simply says:
  • let the forfaite
  • Be nominated for an equall pound
  • (p.107) Of your faire flesh, to be cut off and taken
  • In what part of your bodie pleaseth me.177
Granville's Shylock takes pleasure in contemplating which part of Antonio's body he will cut off:
  • Let me see, What think you of your Nose,
  • Or of an Eye—or of—a Pound of Flesh
  • To be cut off, and taken from what Part
  • Of your Body—I shall think fit to name.178
The play pauses over the possibility that the as yet unnameable part of Antonio's body represented here only by dashes is an object of Shylock's perverse sexual interest.179 In any case, he clearly represents the opposite of Antonio and Bassanio's form of manliness.

Manliness, in Granville's view, does not require that displays of affection and emotion be suppressed, but it does require that these be carefully defined and not left open to misconstruction. When Antonio and Bassanio part for the latter to go to Belmont, Granville stages the scene (unlike Shakespeare) and Bassanio exclaims:

  • One more Embrace; To those who know not Friendship
  • This may appear unmanly Tenderness;
  • But 'tis the frailty of the bravest Minds.180
For Granville there is no blurring of friendship and love, nor is there any conflict of interest between the friendship of Antonio and Bassanio on the one hand, and the love of Bassanio and Portia on the other; indeed, he is careful to stress that friendship and love are at once distinct and allied. Antonio urges Bassanio not to give ‘your Heart so far away, | As to forget your Friend’181 when courting Portia, but at the same time he urges Bassanio to make haste to Belmont. Bassanio is eager to board ship, but at the same time reluctant to leave Antonio. The friendship is entirely reciprocal and unselfish. When Antonio at a banquet proposes a toast to ‘immortal Friendship’, Bassanio responds with ‘Let Love be next, what else should | Follow Friendship?’182 Antonio's image of their friendship being like the marriage of Venice (p.108) and the sea requires some careful definition to ensure that the marital simile and the language of love are not misconstrued; Antonio says:
  • Be thou to me, and I to my Bassanio,
  • Like Venice and her Adriatick Bride,
  • For ever link'd in Love.
  • Bass. Thou joyn'st us well: And rightly hast compar'd;
  • Like Venice on a Rock, my Friendship stands
  • Constant and fix'd; but 'tis a barren Spot;
  • Whilst like the liberal Adriatick, thou
  • With Plenty bath'st my Shoars—
  • My Fortunes are the Bounty of my Friend.
  • Anto. My Friend's the noblest Bounty of my Fortune.183
Portia for her part sees Bassanio's concern to rescue Antonio from the consequences of the bond as a sign of those very qualities which will make him a good husband: ‘as you prove, | Your Faith in Friendship, I shall trust your Love’.184

Granville will not allow us to think that the male association between Antonio and Bassanio might have priority over the marriage of Portia and Bassanio. In Shakespeare's play, Portia and Lorenzo discuss the deep bond between the two men: Lorenzo tells Portia that she would be proud of Bassanio's prompt desertion of her in order to rescue Antonio if she knew ‘How deere a lover of my Lord your husband’ Antonio is: the implication seems to be that this is a man's world, understood by Lorenzo but not shared by Portia. She replies that she realizes how the two ‘beare an egall yoke of love’ and that Antonio is ‘the bosome lover of my Lord’.185 But this scene in which Lorenzo and Portia discuss the primacy of the male bond is trimmed by Granville; ‘bosome lover’ becomes ‘how true a Lover’, and Portia now remarks that 'I never did repent of doing good’,186 showing that she shares that overriding concern for beneficence which Antonio and Bassanio have stressed in their speeches to each other: thus she is linked to them, instead of being excluded from their world.

In Shakespeare's court scene Antonio describes himself as ‘a tainted weather of the flocke’,187 but Granville cuts this, for he will admit nothing which suggests that Antonio is anything other than the perfect gentleman. In the adaptation, Antonio's speech of farewell to Bassanio (p.109) when Shylock is about to cut out his heart omits the lines in which Shakespeare's character asks Bassanio to tell Portia how much Antonio loved him:

  • Say how I lov'd you, speake me faire in death;
  • And when the tele is told, bid her be judge
  • Whether Bassanio had not once a love:
  • Repent but you that you shall loose your friend.188
Is there an asymmetry in Antonio's phrasing, implying that he has loved Bassanio, while Bassanio has only thought of him as a friend? If so, it is not present in Granville's equivalent speech, where Antonio says ‘Grieve not my Friend, that you thus lose a Friend’:189 here the balanced phrasing marks out an entirely mutual friendship, in which there is no place for the word ‘love’, at least, not as a noun meaning ‘lover’. This moment of self–sacrifice is made into a moment of total openness, for Antonio says:
  • Now, do your Office,
  • Cut deep enough be sure, and whet thy Knife
  • With keenest Malice; for I would have my Heart
  • Seen by my Friend.190
His heart is to be disclosed to his friend, but this happens in a public arena for all to see. Antonio's heart evidently harbours no secrets: there is nothing suspect, embarrassing, or dangerous in this male bond.

In Shakespeare, Bassanio and Gratiano both say that they would willingly sacrifice their wives so as to redeem Antonio's life. Granville cannot permit such an assertion of the male bond over the obligations of love and marriage, and cuts out these speeches, replacing them with an offer from Bassanio to die in Antonio's place. There then follows a contest between Antonio and Bassanio as to which of them is to die for the other, so that the focus is not on the primacy of male friendship over marriage, but on which of the two men is to have the opportunity to make the ultimate demonstration of friendship. Then Bassanio draws his sword to kill Shylock, and although the Duke is outraged at this violation of the court, he does admit that he admires Bassanio's virtue more than he blames his passion: thus the passion is clearly virtuous, not excessive or suspect.

At the end of the court scene Bassanio embraces Antonio, but at the same time celebrates his love for Portia; these are the twin guarantors of his existence: (p.110)

  • Once more, let me embrace my Friend, welcom to Life,
  • And welcome to my Arms, thou best of Men:
  • Thus of my Love and of my Friend possess 'd,
  • With such a double Shield upon my Breast,
  • Fate cannot peirce me now, securely Blest.191
The play's conclusion seems to be that love and friendship are complementary, but also that successful marital love needs that solidity of trust, benevolence, and reciprocity which one finds in friendship:
  • Love, like a Meteor, shows a short–liv'd Blaze,
  • Or treads thro’ various Skies, a wond'ring Maze;
  • Begot by Fancy, and by Fancy led,
  • Here in a Moment, in a Moment fled:
  • But fixt by Obligations, it will last;
  • For Gratitude's the Charm that binds it fast.’192
This seems to be the voice of companionable marriage, founded on sentiment, reason, and interest, in which the relationship of husband and wife has some of the qualities provided by male friendship. The two bonds are not merely compatible, but mutually reinforcing, and understood through reciprocal definition.

Granville's play, written at the very point when a homosexual subculture emerges in London, takes considerable pains to define the relationship between Antonio and Bassanio as friendship, and to define the meaning of friendship as mutual benevolence; it makes the relationship open to the view, avoids places of secrecy, and calk attention to how any displays of emotion or offerings of the body are sure tokens of moral manliness. In the light of the anxieties voiced so clearly in the prologue, it is hard to avoid concluding that Granville is taking great pains to remove from Shakespeare's text any emotion which in the new climate could be construed as suggesting covert homosexual bonding.193

One particular kind of friendship which often entails close emotional (p.111) bonds is that between soldiers, and whereas Shakespeare seems to have permitted a vein of homoeroticism to colour his depiction of military comradeship, his Restoration adaptors sought to purge comradeship from any sexual implication. The principal example here is Coriolanus and the adaptation of it by Nahum Tate in 1682 as Hie Ingratitude of a Commonwealth, Tate's handling of the meeting between Coriolanus and Aufidius alters or removes some of the Hues which most suggest that there is an erotic charge to the martial bond between the two men, at least on Aufidius’ side. Shakespeare's Aufidius greets Coriolanus with a speech heady with emotion and excitement, a speech which has no precedent in his source in Plutarch:

  • Let me twine
  • Mine armes about that body, where against
  • My grained Ash an hundred times hath broke,
  • And scarr'd the Moone with splinters:
  • He embraces Coriolanus
  • heere I cleep
  • The Anvile of my Sword, and do contest
  • As hotly, and as Nobly with thy Love,
  • As ever in Ambitious strength, I did
  • Contend against thy Valour. Know thou first,
  • I lov'd the Maid I married: never man
  • Sigh'd truer breath. But that I see thee heere
  • Thou Noble thing, more dances my rapt heart,
  • Then when I first my wedded Mistris saw
  • Bestride my Threshold. Why, thou Mars I tell thee,
  • We have a Power on foote: and I had purpose
  • Once more to hew thy Target from thy Brawne,
  • Or loose mine Arme for't: Thou hast beate mee out
  • Twelve severall times, and I have nightly since
  • Dreamt of encounters ‘twixt thy selfe and me:
  • We have beene downe together in my sleepe,
  • Unbuckling Helmes, fisting each others Throat,
  • And wak'd halfe dead with nothing.194
Here Shakespeare makes the feeling of Aufudius for Coriolanus an ecstatic fusion of enmity, rivalry, comradeship, and sexual desire,195 (p.112) but Tate removes some of the more extravagant expressions and the suggestions of erotic interest. In Tate's version the words ‘Let me twine | Mine armes about that body become, more soberly, ‘Let me embrace that Body’,196 The lines in which Aufidius compares his excitement at meeting Coriolanus with his rapture on his wedding night (running from ‘Know thou first …’ to ‘Bestride my Threshold’) are removed altogether. In Shakespeare, Aufidius has repeatedly dreamt of encounters with Coriolanus, but in Tate's adaptation this obsession is played down; ‘nightly’ becomes ‘might'ly’, and ‘fisting’ becomes ‘grasping’. When the servants are discussing Aufidius’ reception of Coriolanus at the banquet, one of them comments in Shakespeare: ‘Our General! himselfe makes a Mistris of him, Sanctifies himselfe with's hand, and turnes up the white o'th'eye to his Discourse.’197 Tate's servant simply says, ‘My Lord himself makes a very Mistress of him’,198 and Tate cuts out the description which suggests that Aufidius is hanging on Coriolanus’ person and words like a besotted lover. Tate implies that Aufidius has been unmanned by his over-ready reception of Coriolanus, but this is envisaged not as a sexual effeminization of Aufidius, rather as a loss of political status and individual selfhood: Nigridius tells him that he has reduced himself ‘To Less, than Man, the Shaddow of your self,199 while Aufidius himself realizes that his standing has been diminished by Coriolanus’ arrival.

Tate steers away from any suggestion that Aufidius’ revenge may be motivated in part by a spurned homoerotic desire for Coriolanus: instead, Tate's scenario is that Aufidius had previously been in love with Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia, and when he sees her again in the scene where the women plead for Rome, his desire for her is rekindled. He plans to kill Coriolanus, and then rape Virgilia:

  • For soon as I've secur'd my Rivals Life,
  • All stain'd i'th’ Husbands Blood, I'll Force the Wife.200
Aufidius and Coriolanus fatally wound each other, but Tate omits the stage direction which in Shakespeare's text calls for Aufidius to stand on the body of Coriolanus (another of Shakespeare's additions to Plutarch), a gesture of military triumph which (given Aufidius’ earlier speeches) cannot be without some erotic overtones, and which is (p.113) evidently alien to Tate's purposes. When Virgilia arrives on stage she is seen to be wounded by an attempt which she has made to commit suicide in order to avoid rape. Aufidius is overcome with remorse, and dies. One could construe Aufidius’ grotesque plan to rape Virgilia before the eyes of her dying husband as in part a displaced manifestation of a desire to possess Coriolanus himself, yet Tate's plot provides ample motivation for Aufidius in his renewed passion for Virgilia and his resentment at being overshadowed by Coriolanus. The homosocial bond between the two soldiers has been purged of homosexual implications, and the rivalry of Aufidius and Coriolanus has become the classic paradigmatic plot of Restoration tragedy.

So too in Thomas Otway's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet as The History and Fall of Caius Marius (1680),201 much of the possibly homoerotic bawdy in which Mercutio teases Romeo about his sexual activities has been removed. Mercutio has been transformed into a military leader who fears that the Romeo figure has turned effeminate, in the seventeenth-century sense that his passion for women has led him to neglect his manly public duty. In Otway's adaptation the relationship between the equivalents of Mercutio and Romeo is rewritten so that the problem of manliness can be represented in its familiar Restoration form as a need to reconcile the demands of marital passion and martial responsibilities. The Restoration counterparts of Aufidius and Mercutio can be acceptable examples of soldierly masculinity only if they show no erotic interest in the bodies of other soldiers.

A comparable sensitivity can be seen at work in Dryden's Troilus and Cressida (1679). In the second scene of Shakespeare's play, Pandarus appraises the military and sexual prowess of the Trojan warriors as they pass over the stage, and, although he is doing this for the benefit of Cressida, there is a homoerotic undertow to this sexually aware gaze of male on male. Dryden does not remove this scene, but he does modify it in some details: Aeneas is no longer ‘one of the flowers of Troy’ but, more robustly, 'a swinger’.202 Pandarus no longer vows that he could ‘live and die i’ th'eyes of Troylus' like the protagonist of an Elizabethan sonnet sequence pining for a glance from his mistress; instead, in Dryden's version he claims that he ‘cou'd live and dye with Troilus’ like a comrade in battle.203

(p.114) There is also a marked difference in the way that Shakespeare and Dryden imagine the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus. In Shakespeare, Thersites explicitly accuses Patroclus of being Achilles’ sexual partner:

  • Thersites,… thou art thought to be Achilles male varlot.
  • Patroclus, Male varlot you rogue whats that
  • Thersites. Why his masculine whore.’204
It is remarkable that Shakespeare's play neither confirms nor refutes this suggestion, leaving it as a possibility, an imaginable element in the comradely association of Achilles and Patroclus. But it is not imaginable to Dryden, who removes this exchange altogether. When Patroclus reminds Achilles that his refusal to participate in the war is damaging his reputation, the speech runs thus in Shakespeare:
  • To this effect Achilles have I moov'd you,
  • A woman impudent and mannish growne,
  • Is not more loath'd then an effeminate man
  • In time of action: I stand condemnd for this
  • They thinke my little stomack to the warre,
  • And your great love to me, restraines you thus,
  • Sweete, rouse your selfe.
In Dryden's adaptation the speech becomes:
  • ’Tis known you are in love with Hector's Sister,
  • And therefore will not fight: and your not fighting
  • Draws on you this contempt: I oft have told you
  • A woman impudent and mannish grown
  • Is not more loath'd than an effeminate man,
  • In time of action: I'm condemn'd for this:
  • They think my little appetite to warr
  • Deads all the fire in you: but rowse your self.’205
At the beginning of the speech Dryden carefully establishes Achilles’ love for Polyxena rather than Patroclus’ influence as the reason for Achilles’ withdrawal from the war; and while Achilles is ‘an effeminate man’ in the eyes of Shakespeare's Greeks because of his love for Patroclus, in Dryden he is ‘effeminate’ in the Restoration sense of one who (like Charles II) is so strongly devoted to the pleasures of women that he neglects his masculine social responsibilities. The (p.115) importance of Patroclus is also lessened by the excision of the phrase ‘your great love to me’ and of the epithet ‘sweete’. Similarly, Dryden's Achilles calls his companion ‘My dear Patroclus’ instead of’ My sweet Patroclus’.206 It is not that Dryden recoils altogether from using the word ‘sweet’ for a male comrade, for he introduces it later in a new speech which he writes for Achilles lamenting the death of Patroclus and swearing revenge, but here it is used as part of a careful, definition of the friendship between the two men:
  • O thou art gone! thou sweetest, best of friends;
  • Why did I let thee tempt the shock of war
  • Ere yet thy tender nerves had strung thy limbs,
  • And knotted into strength! Yet, though too late,
  • I will, I will revenge thee, my Patroclus?207
Here the attention to the male body focuses on the youth's physical unreadiness for the strains of combat, and the feeling in these lines seems more like pity than desire. Similarly John Bankes in his play The Destruction of Troy (1679) explains Achilles’ emotion as that of one friend towards another, and his kiss as a sign of sacred friendship. Achilles addresses the Myrmidons who are carrying the body of Patroclus:
  • Down with your Sacred Burthen of my Friend—
  • Let me receive this Kiss from his pale Lips,
  • And catch the dear remainder of his Soul.
  • . . . . . . .
  • Tell me of Laws, when Sacred Friendship here
  • Lies bleeding so.208
In such examples from Restoration drama, the intense feelings which arise between men have no erotic colouration.

In adaptations of Shakespeare during the late seventeenth century we can see a shift in the way that passionate male relationships are conceptualized. To Shakespeare, homoerotic desire could form part of male friendship: the intimate bond between men is threatened not by homosexual feelings but by heterosexual ones, as Othello or The Two Noble Kinsmen demonstrate in tragic mode. His comedies often promise marriage rather than deliver it, ending just on the brink of (p.116) making an irrevocable exit from the comfortable all—male milieu; and in the occasional reminders (for instance in Twelfth Night) that the ‘women’ to whom the men are Joined are actually boy actors there may even be an element of reassurance, a translation of women back into boys which permits a final lingering in that imaginative world where homosocial and homoerotic possibilities coexist. Restoration comedy, on the other hand, is more interested in the sexual arrangements which adult men and women fashion: several plays end with explicit negotiations about the terms on which marriage will be conducted. In such a world there is no room for the ambiguities of Shakespeare's erotic imagination, his pursuit of multiplicity, and his desire to blur definitions, to postpone the moment at which choices have to be made. One could not claim that all of the changes which have been described here in Restoration versions of Shakespeare were motivated consciously or exclusively by a fear of homosexual implications; some of the highly charged language between Shakespeare's male characters may have offended Restoration adapters by its poetic rather than its emotional excess, and the removal or curtailment of speeches might result from other dramaturgical considerations. But there is a sufficiently coherent pattern here to suggest that these Restoration adaptations were motivated partly by a concern to protect male friendship from the suspicion of homosexual desire and, by removing the productive ambiguities of Shakespeare's language, to preserve the clarity and stability of the definition of masculinity in the face of a new world of homosexual self-definition.


(1) I have offered an introductory account of homosexual relations in Shakespeare's work in LBM 58–87.

(2) I have found the following edns. and commentaries particularly helpful: Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. W. G. Ingram, and Theodore Redpath (London, 1964); Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. Stephen Booth (New Haven, 1977); The Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint, ed. John Kerrigan (Harmondsworth, 1986); Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed, Katherine Duncan-Jones (London, 1997); Helen Vender, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Cambridge, Mass., 1997). For discussions of the possible homoeroticism of the Sonnets see LBM 76–87; Joseph Pequigney, Such is my Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Chicago, 1985); Smith, 228–70. In the following discussion I make certain basic assumptions about the Sonnets: that poems 1–126 are all addressed to or concern the same young man, who also features in some of the subsequent poems addressed to or concerning a dark lady; that the poems may not be directly autobiographical, but nevertheless engaged Shakespeare's profound emotions; and that the poems as printed in 1609 are in the order which Shakespeare intended. None of these assumptions is beyond question.

(3) Lee A. Sonino, A Handbook to Sixteenth-Century Rhetoric (London, 1968), 65, quoting Talaeus.

(4) See Ch.1 n. 28 above.

(5) For a discussion of rhetorical figures in the Sonnets (though not including epanorthosis and paradiastole) see Brian Vickers, Rhetoric and Feeling in Shakespeare's ‘Sonnets’ (Z ürich, 1991), an expanded and corrected reprint from Shakespeare Today: Directions and Methods of Research, ed. Keir Elam (Florence, 1984), 53–98; see also his ‘“Mutual render”: I and Thou in the Sonnets’, in his Returning to Shakespeare (London, 1989), 41–88.

(6) Sonnet 96, II. 1–4, 7–8.

(7) Sonnet 88, I 4.

(8) Sonnet 37, II. 2, 4.

(9) Sonnet 93, II. 7–8, 10, 1.

(10) Sonnet 42, I.14.

(11) Sonnet 35, II. 2, 6.

(12) Sonnet 74, I. 1.

(13) Sonnet 13, II. 1–2.

(14) Modernized edns. which change the original form ‘my self’ to ‘myself’ often lose an important nuance of meaning: ‘myself’ is purely part of a reflexive verb, whereas ‘my self’ posits a self which the poet calls his own.

(15) Sonnet 15, II. 13–14.

(16) Sonnet 37, II. 1–2, 8–9.

(17) Williams, s.v.

(18) I draw partly on Duncan-Jones here.

(19) Sonnet 20, 1. 14; the poem is quoted in full on p. 75 below. For ‘use’ = have intercourse with, see Williams, s.v.

(20) The reading of the 1609 Quarto and the Oxford edn., followed here, is ‘this selfe’; Duncan-Jones follows M alone in emending to ‘thyself’, but I cannot see why the boy should be said to be deceiving himself.

(21) Sonnet 57, II. 1–4.

(22) It also rewrites Sonnet 26, which begins, ‘Lord of my love, to whome in vassalage …’.

(23) Sonnet 87, II.5–6.

(24) See Vickers, Rhetoric and Feeling, 63.

(25) Sonnet 18, II.1–2.

(26) Sonnets 105, I. 1 and 115, 1. 1.

(27) Sonnet 126, I. 1; emphasis added.

(28) LBM 79–80; Duncan-Jones, 150–1.

(29) For ‘affection’ see n.119 below; ‘grind’ = have intercourse with, ‘prove’ = try sexually (Williams, s.vv.).

(30) Sonnet 1, I.5.

(31) e.g. Sonnets 43, 113. For the sexual implications of the eye see Williams, s.v.

(32) Sonnet 31, II.13–14.

(33) Booth, 176–8, suggests (inconclusively, I think) that ‘all’ often means ‘penis’ (partly via a pun on ‘awl’, for which see Wiliams, s.v.), which would generate the meaning ‘you have complete power over my penis’. Even if this particular reading is unconvincing, it would be hard to argue that ‘all’ must exclude sexual possession.

(34) Sonnet 129, I. 10. Though placed within the portion of the sequence concerning the Dark Lady, there is nothing in the actual wording of the poem which makes it refer specifically to lust for a woman.

(35) Sonnet 42, II.1–3, 13–14.

(36) Sonnet 87, II.13–14.

(37) Jacques Derrida, De la grammatogie (Paris, 1967)

(38) As Booth notes, 211.

(39) Booth, 223.

(40) Sonnet 34, II. 10–12. In 1.12 the Quarto reads ‘losse’, which Capell and all subsequent editors (including the Oxford editors) except Duncan-Jones emend to ‘cross’. I follow Duncan-Jones (and Booth's note, though not his text) in thinking that the repetition is expressive, and so keep the Quarto reading.

(41) Editors of the Sonnets have not been particularly interested in the poems’ literary sources, though there are some useful pointers in Duncan-Jones's edn.; see also T. W. Baldwin, On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets (Urbana, 111., 1950).

(42) In addition, there is Barnabe Barnes's sonnet sequence Parthenophil and Parthenophe (London, 1593), ed. Edward Arber in An English Garner (Birmingham, 1882), v. Dedicated to ‘M. William Percy, Esq., his dearest friend’, it begins with a group of sonnets in which a woman has taken ‘my tender boy’, ‘a lovely virgin Boy’ belonging to the poet. It gradually emerges that this boy is probably love (i.e. the poet's love for the lady), but a reading which was not particularly persistent might well gain the impression, particularly from individual poems, that Barnes is presenting a triangle of poet, boy, and mistress similiar to that in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Beyond this parallel scenario, some verbal echoes suggest that Shakespeare may have read Barnes: the imagery of imprisonment, bail, bonds, and pawn in Barnes's poems 8 and 11 has parallels in Shakespeare's Sonnets 87 and 133; and the hair of the lady being ‘brown, and crispèd wiry’ in sonnet 13 has a parallel in Shakespeare, Sonnet 130, I. 4. Barnes's sonnet 54 recalls how he shot the bow of love at both boys and girls. Barnes wrote for Shakespeare's company: see p. 39 above.

(43) Richard Barnfield, The Complete Poems, ed. George Klawitter (Sehnsgrove, 1990). For critical discussions of Barnfield see LBM 38–43; Smith, 99–113.

(44) The chronology of Shakespeare's Sonnets is much debated, but some of the poems published in 1609 are probably those referred to by Francis Meres in 1598, and may therefore have been composed in the mid- to late 1590s. However, there are linguistic indications that the 1609 Shakespeares Sonnets includes work (either composition, revision, or both) from several periods: (1) before 1598 (up to Meres's allusion); (2) 1599–1600 (around the entry in the Stationers’ Register); (3) 1603–4 (coinciding with an outbreak of plague and the closure of the theatres); (4) 1608–9 (coinciding with another outbreak of plague and another closure of the theatres, leading to the publication of the 1609 Quarto): see Duncan-Jones's edn., 1–13.

(45) Barnfield, ‘Teares of an Affectionate Shepheard’, 1.6.

(46) As Klawitter notes, 205.

(47) Barnfield, ‘Teares’, II.97–100.

(48) For Barnfield's borrowings from Marlowe and Shakespeare see Charles Crawford, ‘Richard Barnfield, Marlowe, and Shakespeare’, Notes and Queries, 9th ser., 8 (1901), 217–19, 277–9; also noted in Klawitter's edn. The lines from ‘Teares’ are compared by Crawford with Dido Queen of Carthage, 4.5.4–7.

(49) Barnfield, ‘Teares’, 1.104.

(50) Both Marlowe's plays were printed with the date 1594; Edward II was entered in the Stationers' Register on 6 July 1593; Dido was not registered. The Affectionate Shepheard was not registered; Cynthia was entered on 17 Jan. 1595. These dates suggest that Barnfield read Marlowe's plays avidly as soon as they were printed. It is possible, though unlikely given the closeness of the verbal echoes, that Barnfield noted down lines from the plays in performance; it is improbable that he could have had access to manuscript copies of both plays.

(51) For homoerotic pastoral see Smith, 79–115; Byrne R. S. Fone, ‘This Other Eden: Arcadia and the Homosexual Imagination’, Journal of Homosexuality, 8 (1983), 13–34.

(52) Klawitter, 208. For Drayton's poem see LBM 53–7, and pp. 121–6 below.

(53) Duncan-Jones occasionally cites Barnfield, but as an analogue rather than a source. She also notes (47) that two poems by Barnfield were included alongside Shakespeare's in The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), and that Francis Meres linked the two poets in 1598.

(54) Klawitter, 210.

(55) Barnfield, ‘Teares’, 11.201–10.

(56) For the sexual meanings of ‘treasure’ see Ch. 1 n. 107 above.

(57) ‘A particularly materialistic and callous term’, says Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy (London, 1947; 3rd edn. 1968), 210–11.

(58) Barnfield, ‘Second Dayes Lamentation’, 11.260–4. This stanza might have caught Shakespeare's eye for its echo in the couplet of his own lines describing Venus';wooing of the Narcissistic Adonis: cf. ‘Nature that made thee with her selfe at strife, I Saith that the world hath ending with thy life’ (Venus and Adonis, II.11–12).

(59) Barnfield, ‘Teares’, II.211–20.

(60) Sonnet 126, II. 3–4.

(61) Sonnet 126, II. 9–10.

(62) Barnfield, ‘Second Dayes Lamentation’, II.1–12.

(63) Cf. Sonnet 97, where harvest time is empty without the presence of the boy.

(64) Sonnet 33, II. 1–12.

(65) Barnfield, ‘Second Daves Lamentation’, 1. 48; ‘bag’= scrotum, ‘bottle’ = penis (Williams, s.vv.).

(66) Pequigney, Such is my Love, 104–8.

(67) Barnfield, ‘Second Dayes Lamentation’, 1.31.

(68) Ibid., II.153–6

(69) As Klawitter notes, 214.

(70) Barnfield, ‘Second Dayes Lamentation’, II.169–77.

(71) Sonnet 35, II. 3–4.

(72) Barnfield, ‘Second Dayes Lamentation’, II.227–30.

(73) Sonnet 94, I. 14. Editors have noted that this line precisely echoes Edward 111, 2.1. 452, probably written 1592–3. Warwick's speech, in which this line occurs, has other resemblances with Sonnet 94: see [Shakespeare], King Edward III, ed. Giorgio Melchiori (Cambridge, 1998), 9, 91, 94.

(74) Cf. Tilley L 297.

(75) Sonnet 94, I. 13. The analysis in Sonnet 94 of those ‘Who moving others, are themselves as stone’ (1. 3) transposes Bamfield's epigrammatic verdict ‘He loves to be belov'd, but not to love’ (Cynthia, Sonnet 10, 1. 14) into a more sinister key. For Shakespeare's further use of Sonnet 10, see p. 82 below.

(76) Pursuing his theme in praise of black, Daphnis says: ‘For if we doo consider of each thing | That fives in welkin, or in water swims, | How eyerie, thing increaseth with the Spring, | And how the blacker still the brighter dims’: (The Second Dayes Lamentation’, II. 271–4; emphasis added). This too caught Shakespeare's eye: ‘When I consider every thing that growes | Holds in perfection but a little moment. | That this huge stage presenteth nought but showes | Whereon the Stars in secret influence comment. | When I perceive that men as plants increase’ (Sonnet 15, II. 1–5; emphasis added).

(77) Barnfield, Cynthia, Sonnet 1.

(78) Though there are other Renaissance poems which present a conflict between eye and heart (Klawitter, 230) the association of this conceit with that of the trial and jury suggests direct influence.

(79) Duncan-Jones, 202,

(80) The plural does not quite disguise the association ‘limb’= penis (Williams, s.v.). Cf. a similar usage in Barnfield's Sonnet 6, quoted on p. 83 below.

(81) Barnfield, Cynthia, Sonnet 10.

(82) Duncan-Jones, 151; Williams, s.v.

(83) Barnfield, Cynthia, Sonnet 6, II. 5–14.

(84) Barnfield's ‘Save that my limbs’ seems to have generated Shakespeare's similar line opening ‘Save that my’ (1.9), and his repeated ‘lims’ (II.1 and 13).

(85) Sonnet 87, II. 13–14.

(86) Duncan-Jones, 69–74.

(87) As well argued by Dun can-Jones, 29–41, and in her ‘Was the 1609 Shakespeares Sonnets really unauthorized?’, Review of English Studies, 34 (1983), 151–71.

(88) Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford, Percy and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford, 1925–52), viii. 25; Duncan-Jones, 61, 64.

(89) See n. 44 above.

(90) Duncan-Jones, 50.

(91) For this incident see Duncan-Jones, 66–7. For a homosexually-charged incident involving Pembroke's younger brother, see pp. 128–9 below.

(92) It was in 1610, just a year after the publication of the Sonnets, that James I explicitly excepted sodomy from the offences covered by a general pardon (Letters of King James VIand I, ed. G. P. V. Akrigg (Berkeley, 1984), 314–15)

(93) Sonnet 87, II. 13–14.

(94) Duncan-Jones, 284.

(95) John Davies, The Scourge of Folly (London, 1611), 76–7; quoted from Duncan-Jones, 86–7.

(96) Even if the dedication is to Pembroke, and the poems were worked on in James's reign, it is possible that the Sonnets were substantially composed in the mid- to late 1590s under the aegis of the Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Venus and Adonis (1593), of Lucrece (1594), and of Burton's translation of Tatius (see p. 49 above). If so, Shakespeare may have failed to register a change in the climate by 1609.

(97) For the possibility that Pembroke was blackmailed over homoerotic letters written to King James, see pp. 136–7 below.

(98) Duncan-Jones (60) suggests that ‘Pembroke did not need to have the sonnets presented to him if they were his already’, but that seems insufficient (commercial) reason for omitting them from the Folio.

(99) For the contemporary reputation of Italy see p. 22 above.

(100) For Shakespeare's use of his sources, particularly the Italian materials, see Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London, 1957–75); Louise George Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare's Time (New Haven, 1989); Robert Henkc, Pastoral Transformations: Italian Tragicomedy and Shakespeare's Late Plays (Newark, NJ, 1997); Kenneth Muir, Shakespeare's Sources, i. Comedies and Tragedies (London, 1957); Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge, 1974); Naseeb Shaheen, ‘Shakespeare's Knowledge of Italian’, Shakespeare Survey, 47 (1994), 161–9.

(101) See Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's England (Cambridge, 1996); Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor, 1994).

(102) II Pecorone di Ser Giovanni Fwrentino (Milan, 1558); tr. in Bullough, i. 463–76.

(103) See Shapiro, 98–100.

(104) The Merchant of Venice, 2. 6. 44–5. OED 2 gives ‘outfit, dress’ as the meaning of ‘garnish’ here, citing only this example. While this is literally what is referred to, the various senses associated with food indicate that the boyish appearance is an invitation to consumption.

(105) Cf. Sebastian's pleasure in kissing Moll in boy's clothes in Middleton and Dekker's The Roaring Girl (LBM 46).

(106) II Pecorone, 31v. 32T, 32v 33T.

(107) Ibid.v

(108) The RSC's production at Stratford in 1998 originally cast Julian Curry as Antonio, who was of an age to be a paternal or avuncular figure to Scott Handy's Bassanio. But one day when the role of Antonio was played by the understudy, Andrew Maud, who was much the same age as Handy, the relationship became a union of equals, and their embrace in the trial scene was unambiguously that of two men who shared a physically intimate relationship. Joseph Pequigney notes that Portia comments on the similarity of the two men, including their ‘lyniaments’ (3.4.15): The Two Antonios and Same-Sex Love in Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, English Literary Renaissance, 22 (1992), 201–21, at 211.

(109) The first of these interpretations is argued by Pequigney, the second by a number of critics listed in his n. 1 on 201–2. See also two discussions of the significance of the name ‘Antonio’: R. P. Corballis, ‘The Name Antonio in English Renaissance Drama’, Cahiers Elisabethains, 25 (1984), 61–72; Cynthia Lewis, ‘“Wise Men, Folly-Fall'n”: Characters named Antonio in English Renaissance Drama’, Renaissance Drama, 20 (1989), 196–236. Corballis interprets both roles as over-fond father figures (62), while Lewis points to a tradition of associating Antonios with wise folly. She also notes that in Christian iconography St Anthony the hermit represents temptation resisted. I would add that St Anthony of Padua might be another appropriate figure in the imaginative hinterland of The Merchant of Venice, since one of his miracles concerns the discovery of a miser's heart in his money-chest.

(110) The Merchant of Venice, 1. 1. 1–7.

(111) Ibid., 1.1.46

(112) The Merchant of Venice, ed. John Russell Brown (London, 1955), 7.

(113) The Merchant of Venice, 1.1.130–1.

(115) Williams, S.V. Cf. the innuendo in ‘to gueld a Cod-peece of a Purse’ (The Winter's Tale, 4.4.611–12); Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy, 160, s.v. pinch; and Antonio's loan of his purse to Sebastian (Twelfth Night, 3.3.38–47).

(116) The Complete Works of John lyly, ed R. Warwick Bond, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1902), i. 199.

(117) The Merchant of Venice, 2. 8.35–50.

(118) OED 6.

(119) OED 3, cf. the examples collected in The Winter's Tale, ed. J. H. Pafford (London, 1963), 166–7; the title of Barnfield's poem ‘The Teares of an Affectionate Shepheard Sicke for Love’; and ‘Affection and rapture’ in the description of Edward II, quoted on p. 119 below.

(120) OED 6.

(121) The Merchant of Venice, 4.1.270–8.

(122) Pequigney, 211, noting these two possible readings, says that ‘love’ in the sense of a man's male sexual lover does not occur in Shakespeare outside the Sonnets, or elsewhere in the period: but for an example see Barnes, quoted above, p. 40. And Marlowe's ‘Come live with me and be my love’ could be addressed by one male shepherd to another.

(123) Russell Brown, 115.

(124) The Merchant of Venice, 3. 4. 6–7, 17. For the sexual significance of ‘bosom’ see Williams s.v.; cf. Sonnet 31, 1. 1 (and Duncan-Jones's note, 172); and ‘K. James, who could not live without a bosom Favourite cast his Eye upon George Vifliers, a young Gentleman of a fine shape… And now lying in the King's Bosom, every man paid Tribute to his Smiles, and he managed all affairs’ (R. B., The Unfortunate Court-Favourites of England (London, 1695), 168).

(125) One contemporary reader of the play annotated his copy of the First Folio with comments on Antonio and Bassanio's exemplary friendship: ‘brotherlie offer to a distressed friend’, ‘Courteous and kind friend’, ‘perfite friendship’ (The First Folio of Shakespeare: A Transcript of Contemporary Marginalia in a Copy of the Kodama Memorial Library of Meisei University, ed. Akihiro Yamada (Tokyo, 1998), 52, 54).

(126) Katharine Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare (London, 2001), 155

(127) Gl'Ingannati degli Accademici Intronati di Siena, ed. J. P. (Edinburgh, 1943); abridged and bowdlerized trans, by Bullough, ii. 286–339; fuller trans, by Bruce Penman in Five Italian Renaissance Comedies, ed. Bruce Penman (Harmondsworth, 1978), 193–278. From Gl'Ingannati the story spread across Europe, and is extant in English, French, Spanish, and neo-Latin adaptations. For a summary see Laelia: A Comedy Acted at Queens’ College, Cambridge Probably on March 1st, 1595, ed. G. C. Moore Smith (Cambridge, 1910), p. xxiv. Shakespeare probably used more than one version of the story.

(128) Gl'Ingannati, 20: ‘It would serve me right if one of those reckless young idiots grabbed hold of me and dragged me into a house somewhere to find out whether I'm really a boy or a girl!’ (tr. Penman, 202).

(129) Ibid., 25: ‘tempted by a wicked temptation’. Penman calls it 'a wicked, unnatural temptation’ (208), and Bullough ‘the accursed temptation’ (297). The neo-Latin play staged in Cambridge omits the morahzing: Quid si imperaret aliquando tibi vt secum cubes? (‘What ifhe were to command you some time to sleep with him?’: Laelia, 16)

(130) Ibid., 35:'I have to serve my master. You understand what I mean, Pasquella? |… Do you sleep with him? | Would to God I were so much in his favour’ (tr. Bullough, 304; cf. Penman, 218)

(131) Ibid., 39: ‘he has given him a thousand caresses [‘made a great fuss of him’: Penman, 222], taken him by the hand, tickled him under the chin, as if he were his son’… ‘Ah, bloody queer, old pig. Yes, yes. I know what he's after.’

(132) Ibid., 63: ‘her [boy's] clothes show her off well’ (cf. Penman, 248)

(133) Ibid., 54, 65–6; tr. Penman, 238, 249–50

(134) Gl'Ingannati, 32; tr. Penman, 215.

(135) Twelfth Night, 1. 4. 1, 6–7.

(136) Ibid., 1.4.30–4

(137) Ibid., 5.1.115–29

(138) Ibid., 5.1.115–17

(139) Gl'Ingannati, 86: ‘Do you think I should kill that traitor or not? He is a good servant’ (tr. Penman, 272; cf. Bullough, 336).

(140) Twelfth Night, 5. 1. 265, 381.

(141) Ibid.Gl'Ingannati

(142) Twelfth Night, ed. Roger Warren and Stanley Wells (Oxford, 1994), 39–40.

(143) Williams, s.v. Cf. ‘Bawd:… she should… doe mee the kindnesse of our profession… will you use him kindly?’ (Pericles, 19.14–16, 62–3). In Troilus and Cressida, 4, 6. 21, Ulysses comments on Cressida being kissed by Agamemnon: ‘Yet is the kindnesse but perticular, | Twere better shee were Must in general’, where the kissing is a sign that she is regarded as sexually available: in effect the kiss is a synecdoche for sexual intercourse.

(144) If Shakespeare himself played Malvolio (as Katherine Duncan–Jones suggests in Ungentle Shakespeare, 158) there is a bitter self–directed irony in the writer of the Sonnets enacting on the public stage a version of the pain which he traces in the privacy of the poems: ‘Alas ‘tis true, I have gone here and there, | And made my selfe a motley to the view’ (Sonnet 110, II. 1–2).

(145) Twelfth Nightibid., 1. 2. 48–51

(146) Twelfth Night, ed. Warren and Wells, 40.

(147) Sonnet 94, II–1–3, 14.

(148) Twelfth Night, 5. 1. 74–76, 89–91.

(149) Pequigney, ‘The Two Antonios’, 203–4, 206.

(150) It was a faux pas in the RSC's 2001 production when Act 2 scene 1 opened with Sebastian getting out of their shared bed, and dressing.

(151) Barnaby Riche, Riche his Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581), from Bullough, ii. 345

(152) Benson's edn. of the Sonnets appeared as Poems: Written by Wil. Shakespeare, Gent (London, 1640); cited hereafter as 1640. Benson's changes are described in The Sonnets, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1944), ii. 18–28. Recent discussions of 1640 include Arthur F. Marotti, ‘Shakespeare's Sonnets as Literary Property’ in Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisanian Maus (eds.), Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth–Century English Poetry (Chicago, 1990), 143–73; Margareta de Grazia, ‘The Scandal of Shakespeare's Sonnets’, Shakespeare Survey, 46 (1994) 35–49; and David Baker, ‘Cavalier Shakespeare: The 1640 Poems of John Benson’, Studies in Philology, 95 (1998), 152–73.

(153) 1640, sigs. ‪2’r~v.

(154) For a debate over this, see Sonnets, ed. Rollins, ii. 23–5.

(155) As Baker argues.

(156) Duncan–Jones, 114, 453–66.

(157) Added to Sonnets 80–1; 1640, sigs. D3 r-v.

(158) ibid.5r

(159) ibid.56

(160) ibid.7r

(161) Ibid.r

(162) Sonnet 108, 1. 5, 1609; 1640, sig. F6v

(163) 1640, sigs. C5v B6r-v.

(164) Sonnet 30, II 5–7, 13–14, 1609.

(165) Sonnet 31, II, 9–10, 1609.

(166) 1640, sig. E1v.

(167) Kerrigan, 55.

(168) Genial, procreative.

(169) [George Granville], The Jew of Venice, A Comedy (London, 1701)r

(170) Ben Ross Schneider, ’Granville's Jew of Venice (1701): A Close Reading of Shakespeare's Merchant, Restoration, 17 (1993), 111–34, at 119.

(171) Granville, The Jew of Venice

(172) The Merchant of Venice, 1. 1. 138–9.

(173) The Jew of Venice, 2.

(174) The Jew of Venice, 2.

(175) Ibid., 9

(177) The Merchant of Venice, 1. 3. 147–50.

(178) The Jew of Venice, 8.

(179) Lorna Hutson, The Usurer's Daughter Male Friendship and Fictions of Women in Sixteenth–Century England (London, 1994), 226–7.

(180) The Jew of Venice, 20.

(182) Ibid., 12

(183) The Jew of Venice, 12.

(184) Ibid., 28

(185) The Merchant of Venice, 3. 4. 13, 17.

(186) The Jew of Venice, 28.

(187) The Merchant of Venice, 4. 1. 113.

(188) Ibid., 4. 1. 272–5

(189) The Jew of Venice, 35.

(191) The Jew of Venice, 38.

(192) Ibid., 46

(193) Twelfth NightLaurie E. Osborne, ‘The Texts of Twelfth Night’, ELH 37 (1990), 37–61, esp. 52–3.

(194) Coriolanus, 4.5.107–27.

(195) LBMJanet Adelman, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays, ‘Hamlet’ to ‘The Tempest’ (New York, 1992), 146–64.

(196) Nahum Tate, The Ingratitude of a Common-Wealth: or, The Fall of Cuius Martius Coriolanus (London, 1682), 39.

(197) Coriolanus, 4. 5. 199–202.

(198) Tate, Ingratitude, 41.

(199) Ibid., 42.

(200) Ibid., 57

(201) Thomas Otway, The History and Fall of Caius Marius. A Tragedy (London, 1680).

(202) Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 1. 2, 183; Dryden, Troilus and Cressida, 1. 2. 176.

(203) Shakespeare, 1. 2. 239–40; Dryden, 1. 2. 225.

(204) Shakespeare, 5. 1. 15–17.

(205) Shakespeare, 3. 3. 209–15; Dryden, 4, 2. 35–42.

(206) Dryden, 4.2.205; Shakespeare, 5.1.34.

(207) Dryden, 5.2.142–6.

(208) BANKES, JOHN, The Destruction of Troy (London, 1679).