Shakespeare Studies - Vol. 32

By Susan Zimmerman | Go to book overview

A Lover’s Complaint Revisited

MACD. P. JACKSON


I

ALOVER’S COMPLAINT was first published in 1609 at the end of Thomas Thorpe’s famous quarto of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Until the early 1960s this narrative poem of 329 iambic pentameter lines had been neglected by Shakespeareans, who tended to reject it as spurious or disdain it as an unsatisfactory product of Shakespeare’s youth. Then Kenneth Muir and MacD. P. Jackson independently argued in favor of the poem’s authenticity and a seventeenth-century composition date.1 Most editors have accepted their case, which has been supplemented by other scholars.2

Muir and Jackson overlooked one signficant point. Samuel Daniel’s sonnet sequence Delia (1592), an obvious influence on Shakespeare, had closed with The Complaint of Rosamund, and before Shakespeare’s Sonnets appeared a convention of completing a book of sonnets with a long poem had been firmly established. Scholars such as John Kerrigan and Katherine Duncan-Jones have regarded A Lover’s Complaint as an integral part of Thorpe’s volume.3 Recent commentators have sought to show not only that the quarto preserves Shakespeare’s own arrangement of his sonnets, but that he intended A Lover’s Complaint to be the third movement in a sonata-like structure preceded by the sections devoted to Fair Friend and Dark Lady, and helping to resolve their contradictions, or at least to put the experience embodied in them into a new perspective.4 The status of A Lover’s Complaint—whether it is Shakespearean or non-Shakespearean—is thus directly related to the question of the authority of the 1609 quarto’s text and the order in which sonnets are presented and numbered. A spurious A Lover’s Complaint would undermine trust in Thorpe’s volume; a Shakespearean A Lover’s Complaint tends to authenticate it.

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