Inserting Me: Some Instances of Predication
and the Privation of the Private Self in
Shakespeare and Donne
This was at first intended to be a reading of Shakespeare’s “Will” sonnets in the light of Donne’s Holy Sonnets and some questions about predication. In the event, however, I have managed only the prelude to such a reading. What follows, then, is not a reading but an invitation to a reading of Shakespeare’s sonnet 135.
Donne and Shakespeare share a profoundly linguistic discovery: the realization that the self can be possessed and confirmed only through and as acts of predication in which the immediacy of the self is sacrificed to the hegemony of its signifiers. One can identify with what one says and/ or what is said about one, or one can resist such identification at the risk of excluding oneself from discourse. Donne and Shakespeare share an interest in discovering the consequences of resistance to or refusal of such identifications. Key to this discovery is the tension that inheres in nouns that maybe used properly—that is, as what Saul Kripke calls “rigid designators”— and used commonly—that is, as floating signifiers designating objects in a class.1 If I may begin with a very familiar example: the emotional charge implicit in this tension may be felt, for example, in the famous exchange on the threshold of Gertrude’s closet: “Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended. / Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended.”2 Gertrude refers, of course, to Claudius, while Hamlet emphatically resists the sliding of the common noun “father” from one referent to another. For him, “father” is a proper noun, a name, rigidly designating the dead King Hamlet. What is at stake between the my and the thy of this exchange is, of course, Hamlet’s resistance to the sliding of the signifier “father” from old Hamlet to new Claudius. His obstinacy, from the point of view of his mother and his stepfather, resides in his refusal to accept that “father” is a