Exaggerated though the disclaimers of self assertion or interference throughout

Exaggerated though the disclaimers of self assertion

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intended to represent outward speech to a superior. Exaggerated though the disclaimers of self-assertion or interference throughout the entire sonnet may sound today, the language nonetheless almost entirely conforms to the sayable of Molyneux’s situation or the Poet’s, to the tensions of the outward speech forms. Yet a few words and phrases set within the properly ostentatious show of deference nonetheless set it  Language and service
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apart from what is permissible to speak. At certain tense moments, Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers may have styled themselves her ‘‘slaves’’ without arousing the suspicion of insolent irony, but, addressed by an esquire to a gentleman of Sidney’s status or even by a play-actor to an indulgent earl, the word ‘‘slave’’ would betray irony. Furthermore, the direct mention of the superior’s ‘‘self-doing crime,’’ even mitigated by the Poet’s disclaimer of right to judge or pardon, goes beyond the bounds of the speakable if the speech situation we are imagining is a complaint made by a servant to his superior. The Poet’s articulated reservation about his obligation ‘‘to wait’’ – ‘‘though waiting so be hell’’ – goes beyond decorum in indulging the expressed contrast between his own misery and his superior’s socially authorized ‘‘pleasure.’’ Finally, the interjected ‘‘O’’ of enthusiastic wonderment undercuts the speaker’s obligatory acceptance of the servant’s lot – the ‘‘let me su ff er, being at your beck.’’ Of course, few twentieth-century readers could miss the ironic tone of this sonnet. It is too easy, on the other hand, to read more irony and exaggeration into it than its historical situation readily sup- plies. For example, when the Poet disclaims that ‘‘god forbid . . . I should in thought control your times of pleasure,’’ it is easy to imagine that the expectation that a servant conform even his thinking to the master’s ‘‘pleasure’’ is a creative exaggeration of an expected conformity in deed. But consider how the translator George Pettie ‘‘englishes’’ Steven Guazzo’s precepts on the basic condition of the servant: ‘‘Let the servaunte also conforme all his thoughtes and doinges to the will and pleasure of his Mayster, and to tye the Asse (as they say) where his maister will have him tyed, without any contradiction.’’ ⁵⁷ The syntactic positioning of the phrase ‘‘in thought’’ may slightly foreground and hence emphasize the extremity of what is expected of the Poet-Servant, but that extremity is already a given of the early modern social discourse that fi gures service. The poem’s irony is, paradoxically, more delicate than it might appear on fi rst encounter. Hence we can read sonnet  historically not merely as the outward expression of a social relation but as the inner speech of the Poet- Servant. Its structure of feeling originates in and is circumscribed by the tension-ridden forms of a speci fi c socially situated outward expression, and yet its di ff
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