Let us consider brie fl y how the contours of this reading compare with a

Let us consider brie fl y how the contours of this

This preview shows page 65 - 67 out of 233 pages.

Let us consider brie y how the contours of this reading compare with a psychological approach. Catherine R. Lewis argues that ‘‘the sonnets’ rich psychological detail about the perceiving, writing Poet’’ expresses a personality – the ‘‘character structure’’ or ‘‘inner reality’’ of ‘‘a predomi- nantly self-e ff acing person with highly idealized standards for a love relationship.’’ ⁴⁹ By this account, the language of subjection I have been analyzing arises not as an e ff ect of the relationship but instead as a ful fi llment of ‘‘the Poet’s self-e ff acing needs’’:  Language and service
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The Poet does not seem to see himself as having a choice among subordination, equality, and superiority; he only swings between experiencing his subordina- tion as noble and religious and experiencing it as degrading. For the predomi- nantly self-e ff acing person, these are indeed the options. ⁵⁰ To suggest, as Lewis does, that the Poet’s subordinate stance in relation to the Young Man is constrained only by his character pathology is to ignore the strong imprint that the hierarchical arrangement of Eliza- bethan society routinely made on the language of social exchange. Nonetheless, it is important to see that, as in Molyneux’s case, the servingman’s position from which the sonnet speaker ‘‘answers back’’ is not simply one of subservience: forms of symbolic capital other than social rank, while they do not entirely release the speaker from the discursive repertoire of subjection, nonetheless modify his relative status and speech power. Given that the speaker and his male partner exist only as constructs of discourse, we cannot, as in Molyneux’s case, compare the power relation as practically and immediately recognized in politeness forms to the power relation as reconstructed from historical evidence about material conditions. At the same time, insofar as the sonnets build up in their discourse the ‘‘details’’ of their characters’ lives, they do so less in terms of individual qualities than in terms of opposi- tional pairs denoting typical social or power relationships – lower/ higher class, writer/patron, actor-as-liveried-servingman/aristocratic master, old/young, talented poet/object of praise, and, in readings that interpret the homoerotic desire as consummated, ⁵¹ penetrator/penet- rated. Some of these oppositions are parallel and reinforce the power di ff erential of inferior to superior. That the homoerotic desire of the sonnets should take shape across this power axis is consistent with Alan Bray’s in uential argument about the hierarchical social institutions – especially the household, schools, and universities – that fostered homo- sexual practice in early modern England. ⁵² But the sonnets also struc- ture the relationship through pairings that invert and complicate this power axis, such as older to younger, experienced to untried, talented writer to recipient of praise. Furthermore, Meredith Anne Skura has
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