Naming Thy Name: Cross Talk in Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Elaine Scarry. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-27993-6
Scarry (The Body in Pain) poses a surprising answer to a question that has puzzled readers of Shakespeare’s sonnets for 400 years: the “lovely boy” of the poems is Henry Constable, fellow poet, diplomat, and, after his conversion to Catholicism in 1591, a religious exile in France. Scarry pulls her evidence from their poetry, examining shared images, incident, language, and the names of the beloved “smuggled” into the lines of the other’s to suggest a relationship recorded in verse. She also makes a fresh suggestion identifying the “rival poet” of Shakespeare’s sonnets as King James I, in whose court Constable briefly served. Incorporating much speculation on authorial intentions, acrobatic feats of interpretation, and in some cases wild surmise, Scarry’s conclusions nevertheless invite a close reading of the sonnets and a pure enjoyment of the metaphorical power and linguistic intricacy of each line. Her approach regards each poem as a direct and truthful expression of deeply felt experience, an assessment easily doubted by readers familiar with the sophisticated rhetorical strategies found in poetry at the time. Scholars of this most studied author of English literature may remain unpersuaded based on the lack of supporting biographical matter, but skepticism needn’t bother Scarry; in her highly detailed, attentive reading, the poetry speaks for itself. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/15/2016
Release date: 11/29/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-374-53723-4
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-0-374-71386-7
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