• James P. Bednarz
Part of the Palgrave Shakespeare Studies book series (PASHST)


Aside from a handful of sonnets, William Shakespeare’s nondramatic poetry has seldom received the same adulation as his plays. This neglect caused Colin Burrow in his 1997 Chatterton Lecture on Poetry to complain that ‘Shakespeare’s poems and Sonnets have rarely been considered together as a group and are even more rarely treated as a major part of Shakespeare’s works’. Since ‘the poems and Sonnets tend to moulder at the back of collected editions of his work, and lurk unobtrusively in multiple editions’, he urged his audience at the British Academy to put ‘the poems at the front of our thinking about Shakespeare, and perhaps even at the front of collected editions of his works’. This book is part of a wider movement that responds to his challenge.1 Its purpose is to introduce readers to the pleasure of reading ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, a ‘rare and irreplaceable possession’ that has currently become so neglected by general readers that it might almost be called a lost masterpiece.2


Dead Bird Multiple Edition Mutual Love Short Poem Celebrity Poet 
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  1. 1.
    Colin Burrow, ‘Life and Work in Shakespeare’s Poems’, Shakespeare’s Poems, ed. Stephen Orgel and Sean Keilen (London: Taylor & Francis, 1999), 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
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  3. 4.
    William Empson, Essays on Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 1.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    I admire the efforts of recent editors to alert readers to the fact that all titles imposed on it are artificial, but there are several reasons why I reluctantly refer to it as ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’. Colin Burrow, in The Complete Sonnets and Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), chooses to name it after its first line, the rather inelegant ‘Let the bird of lowdest lay’, which, out of context, to my ear sounds more silly than solemn. Since the line’s proposition is cropped in mid-thought, this strategy is less successful than with Marlowe’s ‘Come live with me and be my love’. First lines could serve as titles in Shakespeare’s period, but in this case the poem’s first line is not its title, in a volume of otherwise titled poems, and even ‘untitled’ poses its own problem in becoming in effect a substitute title for a work that has none. Without a title, the poem’s oracular voice is less mediated; the technique might have been intentional.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Edwin Honig, Dark Conceit: The Making of Allegory (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1959),Google Scholar
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  7. 9.
    George T Wright, Shakespeare’s Metrical Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 160–1.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
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  9. and the heading of a Welsh poem of congratulation (Christ Church MS 184, fo. 288v), and specifically assigns the ceremony, without further evidence, to 14 June. Katherine Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from a Life (London: Thomson Learning, 2001), 140, however, places it on 1 June 1601, but without noting why.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    For Shakespeare and Jonson’s theatrical dialogue on the nature and function of drama, from 1599 to 1601, see James P. Bednarz, Shakespeare and the Poets’ War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001). The ‘Chronological Appendix’, 270–6, justifies this dating of Twelfth Night and Troilus and Cressida. Google Scholar
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    Walter Ong, ‘Metaphor and the Twinned Vision’, The Sewanee Review 63 (1955): 193–201.Google Scholar
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    For the rationale behind the recent rise of a mode of criticism that focuses primarily on artistic objects and their effects, while acknowledging context, in what has been called either ‘New Aestheticism’ or ‘New Formalism’, see Renaissance Literature and Its Formal Engagements, ed. Mark David Rasmussen (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002); Jeff Dolven, ‘Shakespeare and the New Aestheticism’, Literary Imagination 5 (2003): 95–109; The New Aestheticism, ed. John J. Joughin and Simon Malpus (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. and Hugh Grady, Shakespeare and Impure Aesthetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Richard Dutton, Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991) provides a superb overview of this issue in the English Renaissance theatre.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare (London: Picador, 1997), 302.Google Scholar
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    James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, Life of Shakespeare (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1909), 128.Google Scholar
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    Alison Shell, ‘Why Didn’t Shakespeare Write Religious Verse?’ in Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson: New Directions in Biography, ed. Takashi Kozuka and J. R. Mulryne (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 105.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    See Jeffrey Knapp, Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002),Google Scholar
  19. and John D. Cox, Seeming Knowledge: Shakespeare and Skeptical Faith (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    C. H. Herford (ed.), The Works of William Shakespeare, 10 vols (New York: Macmillan, 1904), 10: 504.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Helen Gardner (ed.), The Metaphysical Poets (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957), 25. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James P. Bednarz 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James P. Bednarz
    • 1
  1. 1.Long Island UniversityUSA

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