Naming Thy Name: Cross Talk in Shakespeare's Sonnets

Farrar. Nov. 2016. 304p. notes. ISBN 9780374279936. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374713867. LIT
Shakespeare's sonnets may be the most beautifully baffling poem sequence in all literature—memorized by high school students, argued over by academics, and tenderly spoken by lovers. The sonnets have stimulated debate on the nature of the relationship described, the identity of the Dark Lady, and of the rival poet within them. But perhaps most intriguing—who is the beautiful, young man addressed in 125 of the 154 sonnets? The sonnets have immortalized a softly sketched, anonymous young man, yet Scarry (Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics & General Theory of Value, Harvard Univ.; The Body in Pain) here changes all that. Henry Constable is the name in question; unknown to all but a few today, he was a poet, royal favorite, and Catholic recusant. Through a close reading of the poetry of both men, Scarry illuminates a conversation between the two, what she calls "cross talk," even pointing to key lines that spell out each other's name when rearranged anagram-style.
VERDICT This is wonderfully heady stuff recommended for academics as well as engaged lay readers; Scarry's work is groundbreaking, and as she makes her case, she also identifies the rival poet and begins to explain some of the mysteries in Shakespeare's will.

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