On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets

By T. W. Baldwin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
William Shakspere, Renaissance Poet

We have been watching closely over Shakspere's shoulder as he created his major surviving poems.1 And about the mere process of creation we have observed nothing mysterious; Shakspere has used only the conventional materials and methods of Renaissance composition.

For materials and model, Ovid has been Shakspere's major source. Already by 1593 Shakspere was thoroughly at home in the Metamorphoses, selecting and recombining materials and models at will, as he did also in the sonnets. And with the Metamorphoses he joins other parts of Ovid. By 1594 he knew how to use the Fasti in its full conventional background, as any grammar school boy should have known, especially on the subject of Lucrece. The Amores get quoted for Venus and Adonis in 1593, and are used as a fundamental source for The Phoenix and the Turtle in 1601. Some of these materials have connections which indicate rather clearly a thorough mastery in grammar school.

And Ovid calls to his aid other grammar school authors; Virgil to furnish the commonplace episode in both Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, Livy ( Painter) to assist with Lucrece, apparently Lactantius with The Phoenix and the Turtle, and Cicero first Tusculan as a fundamental and pervasive point of view pretty well throughout, with occasional bits of the Bible thrown in for good measure, and the Platonic love theory of Shakspere's day shaping all. All these are merely basic grammar school materials of the day. Only the use of Buchanan in Venus and Adonis is in the least out of the ordinary, and even there we must remember Buchanan's much admired rendition of the Psalms, used in school, and his high reputation generally.

In these poems, Shakspere has followed exactly the same method of construction as in his early plays. There he took a fundamental

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1
I have not given separate treatment to the Passionate Pilgrim, since the genuine, and most suspected genuine, poems of the collection have nearly all received incidental treatment in other sections of this work. Nor have I ever felt moved by A Lover's Complaint.

-381-

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