Petrarch and the English Sonnet Thomas P. Roche,

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  • Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences. by Thomas P. Roche,Review by: Robert C. EvansThe Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), pp. 290-291Published by: The Sixteenth Century JournalStable URL: .Accessed: 13/06/2014 01:06

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  • 290 The Sixteenth CenturyJournal

    Wartenberg has written the best kind of territorial history, fully conscious of the larger frameworks of religious movements and grand politics. He not only illuminates the reformation in Albertine Saxony, which had always been a historio- graphical poor cousin to the Lutheran showpiece of the Ernestine lands, but he also demonstrates that, especially in the pre-confessional age, the connections between rulers' religious policies and Imperial politics depended as much on tradition and situation as on belief. Wartenberg has managed to make sense of Moritz's ecclesiastical policy, though little is known of the princes' beliefs and motives. That is a remarkable achievement, and this is a very fine book. Thomas A. Brady, Jr. ................ University of Oregon

    Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences. Thomas P. Roche, Jr. New York: AMS Press, 1989. $57.50.

    This is a big book - in size, scope, ambition, and achievement. It is expansive in both time and space, surveying the Petrarchan sonnet tradition from its roots in classical myth and Christian symbolism to its influence on writers of the early seventeenth century, and moving easily between the literary traditions of Italy and England. It offers long discussions of major poets (especially Petrarch himself, but also Sidney, Shakespeare, and Jonson), even as it deals with other writers (Alexander, Barnes, Breton, Constable, Craig, Daniel, Greville, Locke, and Lok) who often are ignored or slighted when sonnets are discussed. For better or worse, Roche seems to have read just about every sequence written during the English Renaissance, a fact that lends his generalizations a certain weight. He also seems to have read (and thought about) most of the secondary criticism, so that his notes alone give a comprehensive sense of the issues at stake in sonnet commentary. His central thesis - that the sonnet tradition is thoroughly imbued with Christian impulses and cannot be understood apart from these - might seem conservative, but since it flies in the face of many common assumptions about these poems, his argument has a radical edge, although his tone is generally good-humored.

    As unconventional as its argument is the book's methodology, especially its heavy reliance on numerological analysis. Some readers will find the book's assertions about numerological structures extremely suggestive, while others are likely to reject such arguments out of hand. Yet each claim deserves to be judged on its own merits and with as much objectivity as possible. Roche already has made very important contributions to numerological criticism, and such criticism in turn has altered fundamentally the ways we are prepared to think about Renaissance poems. This book will be a central text for anyone interested in numerological insights. Moreover, Roche's stress on reading the sequences in light of the narrative poems with which they were often published seems sensible and sound. Also noteworthy is his discussion of Renaissance commentators on the sequences and of the "spiritualizers" and religious poets who (he argues) were only making explicit what was already implied by seemingly more "secular" writers. In addition , his spirited disagreement with Frances Yates' views on Giordano Bruno will interest many readers.

    This book will surely provoke (and its author clearly anticipates) strong disagree- ment from some readers - perhaps especially in its comments on Shakespeare's sonnets; on this point even D. W. Robertson, the book's dedicatee and its guiding

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  • Book Reviews XXI / 2 291

    spirit, seems to have demurred. In its appearance (with its numerous lists, charts, and appendices) and in its manner (with its shifts from leisurely thematic exposition to detailed scrutiny of numerological minutiae), this is not a conventional academic book. It is something else: the record of one man's devoted pursuit of a topic, wherever it might lead him. All readers will learn much by following the paths Roche has charted. Robert C. Evans .............. Auburn University at Montgomery

    Shakespeare - The Theater and the Book. Robert Knapp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989. 256 pp. $35.00.

    Robert Knapp's Shakespeare - The Theater and the Book is a difficult and rewarding Lacanian study of the development of English medieval and Renaissance drama. The book grows out of his "amazement at the semiotics of . . . staging, and a continuing wonder at his [Shakespeare's] uncanny ability to be all things to all readers" (ix). The title refers to the two poles of theatrical expression which he will use to explore the history and nature of English drama. The "book" is the text, the author's script, and the "theater" consists of the meanings introduced by the performance of the actors. Exploring the opposition between these signs, Knapp hopes to counter the prevailing myths that Shakespeare represents the birth of maturity in English drama and that literary authority resides in a "logocentric metaphysics" (x).

    Knapp divides his study into five chapters, "The Literariness of Shakespeare," "The Body of the Sign," "The Idea of the Play," "The Moving Image," and "Shakespearean Authority." In the first two chapters he traces the difference between Shakespeare and his medieval predecessors by showing how Shakespeare and his contemporaries introduce a literary self-consciousness about the "semantic . . . determination . . . of their subject" (17), and an emphasis on performance. Once the actor undercuts the hegemony of the text, then the drama assumes an indeterminacy with "on the one side an . . . unbounded reality (the body of the sign), [and] on the other, representation (the idea of the play)" (128).

    The struggle for control between the actor and the writer is mirrored in the plays of Kyd, Marlowe, and Lyly, which exhibit a continuing obsession with authority. For example, in The Spanish Tragedy Hieronimo and Lorenzo take part in an antagonism which represents, respectively, the claims of an empire versus "an unsilenceable semiotic play that undermines the theater of power" (115). Knapp completes his analysis of authority by making some trenchant observations about how Shakespeare represents this problem in each of the genres he uses. In Henry V, the King achieves the individuality of a private person and the significance of a public figure. From this observation in a characteristic progression of thought, Knapp argues that because the commonwealth desires to see itself represented by this royal figure, then erotic desire becomes part of the structure of monarchical authority: "Monarchy - and governance - has thus become conceivable in an art that seems impossibly to join body private and body politic in one royal person. The construction of such a person is the subject and structure of Shakespearean history . . . " (201).

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    Article Contentsp. 290p. 291

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), pp. 151-355Front Matter [pp. ]Telling the Story: G. R. Elton and the Tudor Age [pp. 151-169]War and the Commonwealth in Mid-Tudor England [pp. 170-192]"These Griping Greefes and Pinching Pangs": Attitudes to Childbirth in Thomas Bentley's The Monument of Matrones (1582) [pp. 193-203]How to Detect a Clandestine Minority: The Example of the Waldenses [pp. 205-216]Hebrew Bible Translation and the Fear of Judaization [pp. 217-233]Warfare with the Spirit's Sword: The Christian Knight Window at Gouda [pp. 235-257]Erratum: "Thomas Muntzer's Vincidation and Refutation: A Language for the Common People?" [pp. 258]Book ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 259-260]Review: untitled [pp. 261-263]Review: untitled [pp. 263]Review: untitled [pp. 264-266]Review: untitled [pp. 266]Review: untitled [pp. 267-268]Review: untitled [pp. 269]Review: untitled [pp. 269-271]Review: untitled [pp. 271-272]Review: untitled [pp. 272-273]Review: untitled [pp. 273-274]Review: untitled [pp. 274-276]Review: untitled [pp. 276-277]Review: untitled [pp. 277-278]Review: untitled [pp. 278-279]Review: untitled [pp. 279-281]Review: untitled [pp. 281-282]Review: untitled [pp. 282-283]Review: untitled [pp. 283-284]Re


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