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Incorporate Selves: Shakespeare’s Mythmaking

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

Abstract

Once readers set aside implausible topical inferences proffered as keys to unlock ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, they invariably confront two principal questions that determine in large measure their understanding of the poem. They face the challenge of grasping how Shakespeare conceives of ‘the truth of love’ through his allegory of the Phoenix and Turtle, and they are made to speculate about whether or not the ideals of Beauty and Truth their union represents have permanently vanished. These questions are the subject of this chapter which begins by exploring the poem’s bold ideal of love as a radical form of intersubjectivity that demolishes Property and Reason and concludes by suggesting that whether or not the Phoenix and the ideals it exemplifies are extinct, alive or potentially reborn is its unsolvable mystery.

Keywords

Christian Theology Single Nature Turtle Dove Unsolvable Mystery Trinitarian Theology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    A. Alvarez, ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’, Interpretations: Essays on Twelve English Poems, ed. John Wain (London: Folcroft Library Editions, 1955), 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. V Cunningham, ‘“Essence” and “The Phoenix and Turtle”’, ELH 30 (1952): 265–76. Kermode’s assessment is quoted from Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne: Renaissance Essays (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), 197. The main shortcoming in Cunningham’s essay is his mistaken assumption that the poem is primarily religious, since, he concludes, it would otherwise be blasphemous.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    For the poem as the embodiment of an Incarnational poetics, see Murray Krieger, Poetic Presence and Illusion: Essays in Critical History and Theory (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), 19–20,Google Scholar
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    Tertullian, Treatise Against Praxeas, trans, and ed. Ernest Evans (London: SPCK, 1948), 200. For original theoretical definitions, see ‘Tertullian and the Beginnings of the Doctrine of the Trinity’, in Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Studies in Tertullian and Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1930), 1–109. Lucian Turcescu, Gregory of Nyssa and the Concept of Divine Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), traces the conceptualizations behind Augustine’s De Trinitate and the ensuing Scholasticism typified by Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Walter Whiter, Specimen of a Commentary on Shakespeare (London, 1794), 257–8, here describes stanzas 7–13, which he calls a ‘very remarkable passage’. Shakespeare’s Trinitarian paradigm is subsequently mentioned in passing by Charles David Stewart in Some Textual Difficulties in Shakespeare (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914), 247. Hyder Edward Rollins (ed.), A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Poems, 27 vols (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1938), 22: 578–9, points out that Ranjee G. Shahani in Towards the Stars (1931) writes of the poem’s ‘academic aroma’, ‘elusive Platonism’ and ‘Trinitarian theology’.Google Scholar
  9. The importance of the Athanasian Creed for an understanding of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’ is broached by William Norman Guthrie, ‘The Phoenix and Turtle: A Liberal Plea for Symbolic Orthodoxy’, Anglican Theological Review 26 (1944): 10–13.Google Scholar
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  11. John Buxton, ‘“Two Dead Birds”: A Note on The Phoenix and Turtle’, in English Renaissance Studies Presented to Dame Helen Gardner on Her Seventieth Birthday, ed. John Carey and Helen Peters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 44–55; and Shakespeare’s Poetic Styles: Verse into Drama (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), 81–2, as well as Tom Bishop, ‘Personal Fowl: “The Phoenix and Turtle” and the Question of Character’, Shakespeare Studies 36 (2006): 65–74.Google Scholar
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    Noted by Edmond Malone in The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, 10 vols (London: H. Baldwin, 1790), 10: 344. Michael Drayton, The Works of Michael Drayton, ed. J. William Hebel, 5 vols (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1961), 2: 342. Quotations from Drayton are from this edition.Google Scholar
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  22. Marjorie Garber, ‘Two Birds with One Stone: Lapidary Re-Inscription in The Phoenix and Turtle’, The Upstart Crow 5 (1984): 15, and Parker, ‘Anagogic Metaphor’, 40.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    The voluminous scholarship on a poetics of paradox, contradiction and wonder in early modern English culture includes: Hiram Haydn, The Counter-Renaissance (New York: Grove Press, 1950);Google Scholar
  24. A. P. Rossiter, Angel with Horns: Fifteen Lectures on Shakespeare (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1961);Google Scholar
  25. Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966);Google Scholar
  26. Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York: The Free Press, 1967);Google Scholar
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  30. James Biester, Lyric Wonder, Rhetoric and Wit in Renaissance English Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997),Google Scholar
  31. and Peter G. Piatt, Shakespeare and the Culture of Paradox (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).Google Scholar
  32. 24.
    J. Hillis Miller, ‘Ariachne’s Broken Woof’, Georgia Review 31 (1977): 44.Google Scholar
  33. 25.
    Murray Copland, ‘The Dead Phoenix’, Essays in Criticism 15 (1965): 285.Google Scholar
  34. 26.
    Robert Ellrodt, ‘An Anatomy of “The Phoenix and the Turtle”’, Shakespeare Studies 15 (1962): 107–8;Google Scholar
  35. Murray Copland, ‘The Dead Phoenix’, Essays in Criticism 15 (1968): 285;Google Scholar
  36. David Seltzer, ‘“Their Tragic Scene”: The Phoenix and Turtle and Shakespeare’s Love Tragedies’, Shakespeare Quarterly 12 (1961): 91–101;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Elias Schwartz, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead Phoenix’, ELN 7 (1969): 52;Google Scholar
  38. and John Roe (ed.), The New Cambridge Shakespeare: The Poems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 51.Google Scholar
  39. Other prominent proponents of the extinction theory include William Matchett, The Phoenix and Turtle: Shakespeare’s Poem and Chester’s Loves Martyr (London: Mouton & Co., 1965), 200;Google Scholar
  40. Susan Snyder, Shakespeare: A Wayward Journey (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 2002), 43, who states that ‘the poem makes it clear that the ideal will never again be realized on earth’;Google Scholar
  41. and Peter Hyland, An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Poems (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 200.Google Scholar
  42. 27.
    Lines 1–4 and 7–8. This ‘Epitaph’ first appeared in the 1593 edition. Katherine Duncan-Jones and H. R. Woudhuysen, Shakespeare’s Poems (London: Thomson Learning, 2007), 117.Google Scholar
  43. 29.
    A. Kent Hieatt, ‘The Genesis of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Spenser’s Ruines of Rome: by Bellay’, PMLA 98 (1983): 800–14, documents the influence of Spenser’s translations from Joachim du Bellay in the same Complaints volume, which begins with The Ruines of Rome and ends with The Visions of Petrarch. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 30.
    Geffrey Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (Leiden, 1586), 230. Peter M. Day, ‘The Political Intertextuality of Whitney’s Concluding Emblem’, Visual Words and Verbal Pictures: Essays in Honour of Michael Bath (Geneva: Libraire Droz, 2005), 37–49, explores the split semiotic system that assigns symbolic creatures, such as the phoenix, both abstract associations and specifically political identities. In ‘Quatorzain 7: Ceres’ of Celestial Elegies (London, 1598), unrelated to Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Rogers thus laments the death of a Phoenix, turned to ashes, ‘of whom no other bred, that breeds the more my care’ and asks, ‘O Heavens, why do you bring this land such dearth, / As for to take a Phoenix from the earth’.Google Scholar
  45. 31.
    Edward Hawkins, Augustus Franks and Herbert Grueber, Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland, 2 vols (London: The British Museum, 1885), 1: 124.Google Scholar
  46. 33.
    Vincent F. Petronella, ‘Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle and the Defunctive Music of Ecstasy’, Shakespeare Studies 8 (1975): 311–31, contrasts the ‘orthodox’ presentations of Chester, Marston, Chapman and Jonson with Shakespeare’s ‘unorthodox’ myth of an extinct phoenix. But Chester’s myth is itself unorthodox in: (a) pairing a phoenix with a turtle; and (b) expressing a mixture of happiness and regret in considering the phoenix as a sign of generational change.Google Scholar
  47. 34.
    Arthur H. R. Fairchild, ‘The Phoenix and Turtle: A Critical and Historical Interpretation’, Englische Studien 33 (1904): 363, opts for the crane. Murray Copland, ‘The Dead Phoenix’, 284, concludes that Shakespeare did not have ‘any very clear idea’ of which kind of bird served as trumpeter. And Muriel Bradbrook, Shakespeare in His Context, 356–7, agrees that since the Elizabethans left no ‘general belief in one champion shouter among the birds’, the phrase ‘the bird of loudest lay’ merely identifies ‘the proper qualification for any herald’. Yet she also admits that one would expect to find the phoenix as ‘the usual inhabitant of the sole Arabian tree’ and concedes that the poem’s ‘richness’ in this instance ‘depends on imprecision’.Google Scholar
  48. 40.
    Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 48.Google Scholar
  49. 42.
    William Empson, ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’, Essays in Criticism 16 (1966): 152;Google Scholar
  50. I. A. Richards, ‘The Sense of Poetry: Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle”’, in Symbolism in Religion and Literature, ed. Rollo May (New York: Brazziler, 1961), 52,Google Scholar
  51. and Walter Oakeshott, ‘Loves Martyr’, The Huntington Library Quarterly 39 (1975); 29–49. Other optimists include: G. Wilson Knight; J. V. Cunningham; Peter Donke; Marie Axton; Marjorie Garber; Maurice Evans; and Katherine Duncan-Jones. This position can stem from a philosophical or a political reading of the poem, or it can combine both interpretations.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Peter Dronke, ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’, Orbis Litterarum 23 (1968): 199–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 44.
    Marie Axton, ‘Miraculous Succession: The Phoenix and Turtle (1601)’, in The Queen’s Two Bodies: Drama and the Elizabethan Succession (London: Royal Historical Society, 1977).Google Scholar
  54. 48.
    Maurice Evans (ed.), Narrative Poems (New York: Penguin, 1989), 53 and 58.Google Scholar
  55. 49.
    Northrop Frye, The ‘Third Book’ Notebooks, 1964–1972 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), 224.Google Scholar
  56. 50.
    Viewing the collection as a private performance, William Empson, Essays on Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 25, writes that Shakespeare ‘as a good trouper… left the climax to Marston’, who, in turn, ‘snatches a moment to compliment Shakespeare, as he bounds onto the stage’.Google Scholar
  57. See also Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life (London: Thomson Learning, 2001), 145–9, and Duncan-Jones and Woudhuysen, Shakespeare’s Poems, 114.Google Scholar
  58. Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan of Avon (London: Methuen Drama, 2011), 243, concludes that ‘Shakespeare and Marston were good friends, who were working together quite closely in 1600–2’. She links them together through Shakespeare’s ‘cousin’ Thomas Greene. But their literary relations during this period were, I suspect, more nuanced than this statement indicates.Google Scholar
  59. 51.
    I. A. Richards, ‘The Sense of Poetry: Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle’, American Critical Essays: Twentieth Century, ed. Harold Beaver (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), 50.Google Scholar
  60. 52.
    John Masefield, William Shakespeare (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911), 250.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James P. Bednarz 2012

Authors and Affiliations

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

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