Sonnet Book

We have a run of 750 sonnetbooks. Each book signed by William S



Dating Sonnet 107…

This process is known as attribution. Accepting the fact that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote his plays, poems and sonnets, we need to agree on when that happened.

Attribution is a funny, even frustrating, process. Who is the final arbiter? What makes one person judge a sonnet to be from 1588? And another the same sonnet from 1603?

That we can barely connect Shakespeare to his writing is a problem right off the bat. A problem exploited by the authorship artists, who erase our man and creatively replace him with their own.

What we are left with are the plays and poems themselves. Editors puzzle together contemporary allusions to the plays and dates of first printings to arrive at a conjectured time of writing.

The sonnets were published in 1609 and believed to have been written during the first big sonnet craze from 1593 to 1596. Katherine Duncan Jones believes another spurt happened from 1603-1606.

In any case they were finished by April 1609 for their publication in May. Now within the sonnets there are several sonnets that date them even before 1593.

Sonnet 145, (the one written in tetrameter ie 4 ta-tums not 5 ta tums or the mighty iambic pentameter), Andrew Gurr has famously dated as far back as 1583 for its reference to Anne Hathaway in line 13.,

‘I hate from hate away she threw .

Sonnet 107 is currently part of a new debate on Shaksper. The dates given are 1588 because of the Spanish Armada and 1603 because of the death of Queen Elizabeth. The line defining both dates is the same:

‘the mortal moon hath her eclipse endured‘.

The metaphor ‘mortal moon’ then refers to Elizabeth or to the moon shape formation of the Armada.

Most of us appeal to authority in such situations. But what then is the ultimate authority on such matters? We could all of us quite easily tell after reading two plays, say Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth, that they were written in that order.

But how do we do that? How about Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus? Again the one feels older than the other. More complicated, denser writing in Coriolanus and characters that seem deeper than the comic book villains of Titus.

So we realise there is a development in Sh’s writing, as there is in any writer. If it were John Irving and The World according to Garp versus A Widow for a year. I would on reading the two put Garp first.

In art attribution the same principles apply as for dating authors and books. Nowadays science helps even more by the array of tests we can run on the actual material attribute or artefact to be dated.

We can run a battery of tests on the paper, ink, paint, or wood used. We can x-ray images to see if anything is underneath. Maybe determine how the first sketches looked.

The scientists then present their information to an expert, who not only uses this knowledge but applies his or her extraordinary familiarity with the subject under investigation. And gives the final yea or nay.

Recently a BBC programme tracking the provenance of a Monet painting proved beyond any question of my doubt and a gaggle of monet experts that it was indeed a Monet painting.

However the leading expert in Paris determined that it was not. And it remains not. If Monet were to come back from the dead he could immediately poo-poo the leading expert and re-claim his work.

But that leading expert is the one who determines the market. The money trail is decided through his expertise.

If he says nay the value of that painting drops back to the price it was last bought for. If he says yea its value soars and art collectors everywhere would be vying for a bid at a priceless Monet.

And yet the artefract remains priceless. It is a Monet and no more of those will be made as Monet’s dead this last century.

Then again it could be a forgery…though the forger thought of not just the painting but also the path it followed after it was sold to its first owner. And forged the travel documents and book keeping path it took to its present owner.

Sometimes a Monet is just a Monet. What is it worth? What is its value? Who cares who owns it? Or who can vouch for its originality?

It is. Be thankful.

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