Shakespeare's Perfume
(draft version)

Richard Halpern


     This chapter is taken from a book manuscript entitled Shakespeare's Perfume: Sodomy and Sublimity in Shakespeare, Wilde, Freud and Lacan. The book argues that sodomy, a legal and theological category, also becomes entangled with aesthetic issues from the very beginning, and that it bears an especially close relation to an aesthetics of the sublime. In the present chapter I trace this connection from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans to Shakespeare's Sonnets. Later chapters extend this argument to Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Mr. W.H., Freud's Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood, and Lacan's Seventh Seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. A recurrent motif of the book, and hence of this chapter, is the relation between the sublime and sublimation.

     1. Given his many forays into the realms of art and literature, Freud shows a surprising lack of interest in the love lyric. Surprising, because such poetry would seem to offer an obvious point of connection between eros and art. Perhaps too obvious. Not only is the Freudian hermeneutic drawn more to covert or occulted expressions of sexuality, but Freud's theory of art as sublimated desire ascribes a certain "coolness" or desexualized quality to the artwork. The love poem, a literary form which not only takes sexual desire as its explicit content but also frequently adopts a rhetoric of seduction, lacks both the representational and the libidinal distance that a Freudian theory of art seems, if not exactly to require, then at least to prefer. The love lyric conjoins sex and art in so blatant a way as to be, for Freud at least, apparently devoid of interest.

     2. Yet in the Petrarchan tradition, which includes Shakespeare's sonnets, love poetry often represents a form of sexual desire which is both idealized and sublimated.1 Likewise the courtly love lyric, in which the beloved is elevated to an object of almost religious veneration, offers Jacques Lacan a privileged point of entry for his own distinctive theory of sublimation. (Both Freud's and Lacan's theories of sublimation will be addressed in a later chapter of this book).

  3. In the case of Shakespeare's sonnets, a sublimating interpretation has been both encouraged and complicated by the fact that most of the sequence's poems are addressed to a young man. The most famous and--I will argue--the most profound instance of such an interpretation occurs in Oscar Wilde's novella "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." Wilde's fictional critic Cyril Graham depicts Shakespeare as the victim of a largely desexualized but still somewhat intoxicating fascination with the beauty and personality of the man whom Graham "identifies" as a young actor named Willie Hughes.2 Graham goes on to argue that not only Shakespeare's sonnets but "the essentially male culture of the English Renaissance"3 derives much of its inspiration from Ficino's translation of Plato's Symposium, which extols a decorporealized love between men. "There was a kind of mystic transference of the expressions of the physical sphere to a sphere that was spiritual, that was removed from gross bodily appetite, and in which the soul was Lord" (185).

  4. Wilde's sublimating interpretation of the sonnets has found answering echoes among critics from G. Wilson Knight to W.H. Auden to Joel Fineman.4 More recently, however, and particularly at the hands of gay criticism and queer theory, sublimating interpretations of the Sonnets have come under severe critical scrutiny. The Freudian associations of the term "sublimation" have rendered it doubly suspect, as being both ahistorical and tainted by its association with a discourse that has sometimes classed homosexuality as pathological. Moreover, the postulate of a sublimated homosexuality in the Sonnets has (with some reason) been seen as a strategy for installing an aestheticized, desexualized, and therefore relatively sanitized and "acceptable" version of same-sex passion which would allow homophobic readers of the Sonnets to acknowledge the unavoidable fact of homosexual desire while ignoring its more earthy and direct expressions.5

  5. This last objection strikes me as the most significant of the three. English Petrarchanism, starting with Thomas Wyatt, has always accommodated within its idealizing tendencies a strongly anti-idealizing strain. Shakespeare's sonnets to the young man combine a rhetoric of sublimation with an exuberantly bawdy taste for sexual wordplay.6 Any theory of sublimation which either ignores or is embarrassed by the poems' repeated references to same-sex practices as well as desires will thus be guilty of both homophobia and simple inaccuracy. Wilde, it should be said, balanced his sublimating interpretation of the sonnets with intimations of things forbidden. Cyril Graham is careful to mention "critics, like Hallam, who had regretted that the Sonnets had even been written, who had seen in them something dangerous, something unlawful even" (186-87). And he admits to being "almost afraid to turn the key that unlocks the mystery of the poet's heart" (160). Wilde will not and cannot name this secret, of course; but he takes pains to communicate its presence to the reader, both as the antithesis and as the counterpart of sublimated desire. Wilde's invocation of sodomy only as the unnameable secret is, as we shall see in a later chapter, dictated by motives other than simple prudence. The rhetoric of the unspeakable is not merely a means of avoidance or self-protection but a positive strategy with both political and aesthetic dimensions. In any case, Wilde's ability to find in the Sonnets both a legitimate, because sublimated, form of same-sex desire and the unspeakable crime of sodomy is not a simple contradiction. It results, rather, from careful reading of the Sonnets' own rhetoric of sublimation.

  6. In this chapter I shall argue that Shakespeare's Sonnets contain not only a rhetoric but what one might go so far as to call a "theory" of sublimation, and that such a theory will enable us to pass from a merely thematic handling of male same-sex desire to the aesthetic principles that govern the form of the Sonnets. It will also, I believe, answer the charges of ahistoricism by positing sublimation not as a way of processing a non-historical essence called "homosexual desire" but as a discourse that helps to produce such desire in a culturally and historically specific way.

  7. My initial focus will be that sub-sequence of poems, beginning with the first sonnet and usually but not always taken as ending with the seventeenth, known as the "procreation sonnets." These poems might seem to offer a counter-intuitive starting point. For one thing, in counseling the young man to reproduce, they promote a distinctly non-sublimated form of sexual activity. For another, in counseling him to take a wife, or at least a mistress, they offer a curiously mediated and indirect form of same-sex desire. It is nevertheless these sonnets that formulate, in an especially striking and visible way, a poetics of sublimation. And they do so in a manner that defines the nature of same-sex desire for the entire sequence of poems to the young man.

  8. Typical of the procreation sonnets in many respects is number 5:

Those hours that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'ersnowed and bareness everywhere.
Then were not summer's distillation left
A liquid pris'ner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor no remembrance what it was.
But flow'rs distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show, their substance still lives sweet.7

Like many of the procreation sonnets, this one employs a turn on the familiar carpe diem argument: since time will soon ruin your beauty, it cautions, best to have sex now. Only in this case, have sex with someone other than me--with a woman who will bear your child. Somehow the sonneteers' rhetoric of seduction has gotten twisted in the direction of family values. Indeed, the sense of imminent demise that pervades the poem works less to whip up a desperate sexual longing than to mortify desire into something merely prudent. It makes sex seem as exciting as putting up preserves.

  9. The poem's most interesting and (not incidentally) most elegiacally beautiful lines introduce the image of the perfume bottle. But while this metaphor bolsters the poem's longing for a beauty that transcends death, it fits somewhat awkwardly with its supposed tenor. In the translation from a child, to semen in a womb, to perfume in a bottle, something has been lost, and that something is life. The glass bottle is, to begin with, a conspicuously sterile and inorganic image for the womb. It contains the vital fluid, but does not nourish or quicken it. Its beauty is therefore static--not so much the transcendence as the incorporation of death. It turns birth into still-birth.

  10. But if the image of perfume and glass is vastly ill-suited to its stated purpose of figuring sexual procreation, it is, as more than one critic has noticed, perfectly suited to another, implied purpose: that of figuring poetic procreation.8 The diminutive, unchanging perfection of the perfume bottle thus represents not a baby but a sonnet. The glass womb is the male womb of Shakespearean verse,9 in which the young man's essence will be perpetuated, not as another living and therefore perishable blossom but rather as eternal though static lines of poetry.

  11. This particular substitution is in itself neither novel nor surprising. Its interest, from my perspective, is that it makes sonnet 5 into a tiny treatise on poetic sublimation. What I mean by this is that Shakespeare's image of the perfume bottle takes the commonplace but mysterious process whereby the father's sexual substance produces a baby, and puts in its place the even more mysterious process whereby the young man's sexual substance--his semen--is distilled into poetry. Sonnet 5 seems to offer a curiously material demonstration, even before the fact, of the Freudian thesis that sexual desire can be sublimated into art.

  12. Both Shakespearean and Freudian sublimation find their origin in older traditions of medical and alchemical literature, especially the latter. Two of alchemy's principal refining processes were distillation, or the evaporation and re-condensation of liquids, and sublimation, or the evaporation and re-condensation of solids. Both aimed at separating and elevating a purer and more spiritualized substance from a grosser and more corporeal one. Nicholas Flamel, a medieval French alchemist whose works were translated into English in 1624, writes:

Note therefore, that this separation, division, and sublimation, is without doubt the key of the whole worke. After the putrefaction, then, and dissolution of these Bodies, our Bodies doe lift themselves up to the surface of the dissolving water, in the colour of whitenesse, and this whitenesse is life;...which separateth the subtile from the thicke, and the pure from the impure, lifting up by little and little the subtile part of the Body, from the dregs, untill all the pure be separated and lifted up: And in this is our Philosophicall and natural sublimation fulfilled: And in this whitenesse is the soule infused into the Body, that is, the mineral vertue, which is more subtile than fire, being indeed the true quintessence and life, which desireth to bee borne, and to put off the grosse earthly faeces, which it hath taken from the Menstruous and corrupt place of his origin.10

Alchemical sublimation thus produces two substances: a purified and spiritualized essence and, separated from this, a fecal discharge or remainder. In turning solid to gas, and gas back to solid, sublimation was seen as transforming body to spirit and spirit to body. The goal was not a separation of spirit from matter but a reconciliation of spirit with a purified matter:11 hence the sublimate was often compared to an infant emerging from the womb or to Christ's resurrected body.12 The fecal remainder, by contrast, was associated variously with earth, with menses, with putrefaction, and with death. Flamel writes of this discharge or remainder that "it stincks, and gives a smell like the odour of graves filled with rottennesse, and with bodies as yet charged with their naturall moysture."13 It is also, not incidentally, associated with the female body. Flamel elsewhere describes sublimation as the process of eliminating "the dark moiste dominion of the woman."14 Sublimation is thus not only a purifying but a defeminizing process, qualities which will persist when the concept is adopted by Freud.

  13. Returning to Sonnet 5, we can see how the tropes of alchemical sublimation serve to imagine a masculinized, poetic birth. The metaphor of glass bottle as womb was already widespread in alchemical literature before Shakespeare borrows it here. Moreover, male semen resembles the alchemical quintessence not only in its masculinity and its white color, but because Renaissance medicine already conceived of semen as a distillation and purification of the blood. I am not arguing that the images of Sonnet 5 are specifically alchemical in origin, although Shakespeare's sonnets make occasional, explicit reference to alchemy. Obviously, the direct subject matter here is perfume-making. Rather I am arguing that discourses such as alchemy, medicine, and even perfume-making, shared a common figural vocabulary of sublimation.

  14. Our brief survey of alchemy immediately reveals something crucial about Sonnet 5: the poem depicts only the perfume as distillate, while the waste matter or remainder of distillation has disappeared. Shakespeare's imagery of distillation is thus, itself, distilled or purified. The effects of this may become clearer when set against another image of distilled perfume, this one occurring in John Donne's eighth elegy, "The Comparison." Donne's poem consists of a series of contrasting descriptions pitting the speaker's own, beautiful mistress against the putatively repulsive mistress of a male friend. It begins thus:

As the sweet sweat of roses in a still,
As that which from chafed musk cat's pores doth trill,
As th'almighty balm of th'early east,
Such are the sweat drops of my mistress' breast.
And on her neck her skin such lustre sets,
They are no sweat drops but pearl carcanets.
Rank sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles,
Like spermatic issue of ripe menstruous boils,
Or like that scum, which by need's lawless law
Enforced, Sanserra's starved men did draw
From parboiled shoes, and boots, and all the rest
Which were with any sovereign fatness blessed,
And like vile lying stones in saffroned tin,
Or warts, or weals, they hang upon her skin. (1-14)15

It is no coincidence that the first set of comparisons takes up fourteen lines, for despite the rhyming couplets this is clearly an anti-sonnet. Inversion of structure (an opening sestet followed by an octave) announces a thematic inversion of Petrarchanism, the latter's presence signaled once again by imagery of distillation. But if Donne grotesquely parodies a sublimating rhetoric, he does so (paradoxically) not by negating it but by completing it--that is to say, by portraying not only the distillate but the remainder as well. For Donne, something like alchemical separation produces two contrasting women: one the traditionally idealized Petrarchan mistress, the other a repulsive mass of scum and sores. These are, of course, simply the two halves of the fantasized diptych known as Woman, seen here simultaneously and anamorphically rather than (as in Spenser's Duessa, for example) sequentially.

  15. Things aren't so simple, however, for the strain of sublimation imprints itself even on the first, "pure" mistress. The opening comparison, "As the sweet sweat of roses," exhibits a slightly oxymoronic stress which bursts forth in the grotesque second line. The very fact of choosing sweat for his first point of comparison--a kind of bodily distillate, to be sure, but one of necessarily compromised purity--indicates the limits of sublimation when the poetic subject is woman.

  16. Yet the threat of contamination runs not only between the two women, but between woman and man. The grotesque qualities of the "other" mistress, after all, derive both here and elsewhere in the poem from a disturbing admixture of masculinity, visible in the "spermatic issue" and in the image of Sanserra's men boiling their shoes. What the sublimating movement of "The Comparison" actually hopes to separate--and in the end, does separate--is not one woman from another, but woman from man. The poem ends by exhorting the friend to abandon his mistress and (in a slightly more covert vein) take Donne himself as an erotic substitute.16 The grotesque hermaphroditism of the "other" mistress is finally resolved, then, not by purging her of the offending masculinity, but by purging the masculinity of her. In the final irony of the poem, the masculine "remainder" is transubstantiated and saved as sublimate while even the idealized, Petrarchan woman is abjected as waste matter.

  17. In Shakespeare's sonnets, the young man is sometimes depicted as sublimate, sometimes as sublimating agent--both product and radiant source of alchemical refinement.17 The waste remainder is associated primarily (though not exclusively) with woman, as in Donne. In fact, Shakespeare's Dark Lady embodies every aspect of what Nicholas Flamel calls the "dark moist dominion of woman."18 But if the young man serves as the sublimated opposite of the Dark Lady, this is not to say that he is free of feminine attributes. Indeed, sonnet 20 dwells at length on the young man's androgyny, though this "master mistress" is depicted as an even purer version of the idealized Petrarchan mistress. In sonnet 5, intimations of femininity surround the perfume bottle. Donne, for instance, writes of perfume: "By thee, the greatest stain to man's estate/ Falls on us, to be called effeminate" (Elegy 4, 61-62). Moreover, the distilling of perfume from flowers is used elsewhere in Shakespeare as a metaphor for female sexual pleasure.19 Of course, perfume would seem to evoke the sweet Petrarchan mistress (as in sonnet 20) and not her abjected "other." Yet in the early modern period, perfume was frequently used to cover the smells of unwashed or diseased bodies. Donne, typically, expresses what Shakespeare represses. His fourth elegy apostrophizes perfume in the following terms:

Base excrement of earth, which dost confound
Sense, from distinguishing the sick from sound;
By thee the silly amorous sucks his death
By drawing in a leprous harlot's breath. (57-60)

It is not my intention, however, to claim that the perfume bottle of sonnet 5 evokes all of these things; the miracle is rather that it doesn't. Shakespeare's crystal flask does not harbor a Baudelairean "parfum corrumpu." Perhaps this is because it exists primarily as a visual rather than an olfactory object, and so suspends or cancels the connections on which Donne dwells. Trapped within its bottle, the perfume is prevented from releasing its associative as well as its floral bouquet. Instead, the image achieves a kind of untroubled luminescence in which the crystalline enclosure of the bottle signifies, among other things, its isolation from all that was abjected to produce its contents. A manifestation of pure claritas, Shakespeare's perfume bottle is a distant ancestor of the snowy, aseptic bowl in Wallace Stevens' "The Poems of our Climate." The bottle's walls of glass are visually transparent but semiotically opaque; they reduce the image to mere seeming or appearance rather than meaning.

  18. But while the sublimating rhetoric of sonnet 5 leaves no residue, it does offer a faint commemoration of the labor needed to expel it. The image of the perfume as a "prisoner pent" suggests a latent dynamism which threatens the visual repose of the image--indeed, threatens it from within. This one detail causes the image to vibrate with the energy of everything it tries to exclude. By "everything," as we have seen, I mean in part "woman." But as we shall see next, I also mean in part "sodomy."


  19. "Procreation sonnet" has become such a convenient term for the opening 17 poems of the Quarto sequence, it trips so easily from the tongue, that one is prone to overlook how very odd a thing a sonnet on procreation is. In every respect it seems to violate the sexual canons of a form traditionally devoted to idealized worship on the one hand and libertine seduction on the other. The procreation sonnet at once charts a third option and splits the difference between the first two, since it counsels sex in the name of reproductive duty--that is to say, for a purpose other than that of sexual pleasure itself.

  20. But while they enjoin childbearing, the procreation sonnets strangely evacuate the content of this duty. First, as Joseph Pequigney notes, they deprive themselves of possible arguments by inexplicably failing to allude to the young man's noble birth: "They might easily have done so; they might have urged his responsibility to his family, to hand on a great name, to enable the passage of a title or property along bloodlines, to provide for the maintenance of an ancestral house."20 Second, they refrain from mentioning any divine injunctions to be fruitful and multiply.21 So the "duty" of procreation, whatever it may be, stems neither from God nor from the social order. Then why reproduce? The very first lines of sonnet 1 say why:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory. (1-4)

Reproduction is, in the first instance, an aesthetic duty; its purpose and aim is the perpetuation of the beautiful. Moreover, as we learn in sonnet 11, Nature has granted beautiful creatures a reproductive advantage with just this aim in mind:

Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish.
Look whom she best endowed, she gave the more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die. (9-14)

In reproducing, the young man will obey natural law; to this point, Shakespeare's argument appears quite orthodox. But by redefining the aim of that law so radically, the procreation sonnets engage, as we shall see, in a theologically subversive form of aestheticism.

  21. This redefinition will, moreover, engage the problem of sodomy. For in the very process of endorsing a licit, reproductive sexuality, the procreation sonnets employ a range of figures which mimic, and in some cases may derive from, theological condemnations of sodomy. If at times these sonnets covertly endorse or propose sodomitical practices, they also constitute a distinctive sexual aesthetic precisely by negating, expelling, or purging sodomy.

  22. One way in which they do so is by repeatedly advising the young man on the proper "use" of his semen. In sonnet 4, which tries to dissuade the young man from masturbation, variations on the word "use" ("abuse," "usurer," "use", "unused," "used") occur five times. Sonnet 6 repeats sonnet 4's contrast between the procreative "use" of semen and "forbidden usury" (5). As Mark Jordan shows in his book The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, medieval theologians often defined sodomy not as a forbidden form of sexual desire or as an excessive form of pleasure or even as specifically same-sex practices but simply as a misuse of semen for anything--including male masturbation--that does not serve to fulfill its reproductive potential. Albertus Magnus even goes so far as to state that female masturbation is not necessarily sinful since it does not entail a waste of male seed.22 In Thomas Aquinas, distinctions between legitimate and sodomitical sex turn entirely on the proper or improper "use" (usus) of the seed, a vocabulary that informs Shakespeare's procreation sonnets as well.23 Likewise, the conception of sodomy as usury derives from medieval sources. Dante puts sodomites and usurers in the same circle of hell. In urging the proper "use" of the young man's semen, the procreation sonnets thus engage a theological discourse which opposes such use to sodomitical "abuse" or "usury." Yet at the same time as they employ a theologically derived vocabulary, and do so precisely to invoke the specter of sodomy, the sonnets never adopt a tone of theological condemnation. Indeed, the sonnets undermine the theological concept of "use" by twisting that term, as we have seen, in a purely aesthetic direction. For Shakespeare, as opposed to Aquinas or Albertus Magnus, the proper "use" of semen involves not the creation of life as such but the creation of beauty.

  23. Theological distinctions between the use and sodomitical abuse of semen frequently invoked a supplementary distinction between the female womb as semen's "proper vessel" and the anus (male or female) as an "improper vessel." The proper vessel fulfills the semen's procreative potential while the improper vessel wastes it. To borrow Shakespeare's vocabulary in sonnet 3, the latter is semen's "tomb" rather than its "womb." I believe that by depicting the womb as a "vial," sonnets 5 and 6 invoke something very like this medieval figure and its context. Yet in doing so, the sonnets transform it just as they did the term "use"--by aestheticizing it. For as we have seen, the perfume bottle fails as metaphor precisely by evacuating life in favor of art. Shakespeare thus summons up the image of the proper vessel in order to pervert it. Instead of abandoning the proper for an officially improper vessel, he makes the proper vessel itself improper by substituting an aesthetic function for a reproductive one. In effect, he refashions the theologians' vessel of birth into something like an ornate vase or a crystal vial, beautiful but barren objects which contain only poetic claritas.

  24. From this moment of conversion or transformation, something one might call Shakespearean homosexuality emerges. It is not identical with sodomy but results, rather, from aestheticizing the theological categories that construct sodomy. Here I will venture a preliminary formula: Shakespearean homosexuality is the aesthetic sublimate of sodomy. This way of putting it reverses the terms of Freudian sublimation, since instead of regarding art as the displacement of sexual aims, it posits Shakespearean homosexuality as itself a product or effect of the aesthetic. In this sense, the thesis championed by readers from Wilde to Auden to Fineman--that Shakespearean homosexuality is idealized or sublimated--seems exactly right. The sublimating rhetoric of the sonnets separates out an impeccably refined and aestheticized form of desire from a sodomitical discourse which is then abjected as fecal remainder. This remainder is not, however, expelled to a space outside the poems but is rather relegated to a non-space within the poems. That is to say, it abides in the half-light of wordplay, implication, and insinuation. Sodomy subsists as the speaking of the unspeakable, as the topos of the inexpressible or unnameable. Perhaps it is more correct, then, to identify Shakespearean homosexuality with both sublimate and remainder, or indeed with the very separation that produces this double product. The Shakespearean sonnet gives off a perfume which contains just the slightest hint of feces.

  25. But while Shakespeare's sublimating rhetoric produces a significant poetic achievement, it does so at some cost. For what the division into spiritualized friendship and obscene wordplay evacuates is precisely the middle space of eros. Shakespeare's sacrifice may become clearer when the Sonnets are contrasted with another piece of homoerotic verse from roughly the same period: Richard Barnfield's The Affectionate Shepherd:

O would to God (so might I have my fee)
My lips were honey, and thy mouth a Bee.

Than shouldst thou sucke my sweet and my faire flower
That now is ripe, and full of honey-berries:
Then would I leade thee to my pleasant Bower
Fild full of Grapes, of Mulberries and Cherries;
Then shouldst thou be my Waspe or else my Bee,
I would thy hive, and thou my honey bee.24

Shakespeare's sonnets (and, for the most part, the plays) produce nothing like the erotic concreteness of such verse. Indeed, the first 126 sonnets evacuate fleshly desire to the point that they do not even allow the reader to visualize the young man. Shakespeare never shares even those qualities such as hair and eye color that typify the poetic blazon, although we learn in sonnet 20 that the young man's appearance is androgynous. One of the fundamental ironies of Wilde's Portrait of Mr. W.H., then, is that Shakespeare provides no directions for such a portrait. The sublimating logic of the first 126 sonnets drains their poetic subject of all corporeal specificity, leaving only a glassy, transparent vehicle of poetic comparison: the young man as perfume bottle.


  26. We now arrive at a question that we will pose and repose throughout this book: what is the link between sublimation, a psyhoanalytic (and alchemical) concept, and the sublime, a theological and aesthetic one? The way to negotiate this crossing in Sonnet 5 is far from obvious. Certainly, the poem does not ascend to anything recognizable as an aesthetics of the sublime; the image of the perfume bottle is, rather, beautiful, and may even emblematize the sonnets' fidelity to an aesthetics of the beautiful. In this section, then, I want to address the problem of the sublime directly, in the hope of reconciling it with Shakespeare's poetics of sublimation.

  27. My starting point here will be chapter one of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Having divided the world into Jews and gentiles, Paul then identifies idolatry as the defining sin of the gentiles, and especially of the Greeks:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves:
 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. (KJV)

This passage is interesting to me on several counts. First, Paul defines Greek culture by homosexuality on the one hand and an unhealthy addiction to statues on the other. But as in Shakespeare, it is an excess of the aesthetic, one might say, that gives rise to homosexuality, rather than homosexuality which finds its sexual desire sublimed into art. Second, by specifying homosexuality as the punishment for idolatry, Paul situates it in relation to the unrepresentability of God, and hence in relation to what would later be called the sublime.

  28. The logic by which Paul connects homosexuality and idolatry is not immediately apparent, but we can elaborate it by noticing that this passage is constructed around three occurrences of the Greek verb (met)ellaxan or "exchange." Because the Greeks have exchanged the unrepresentable God for visible, created things (representations of nature), they are forced to exchange the "natural" objects of desire for unnatural ones. But this means that homosexuality, as a failure of natural vision, mimics that transcendence of nature which the Greeks otherwise fail to achieve. In other words, homosexuality is the equivalent, as well as the opposite, of sublime transcendence.

  29. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 exhibits similar traits. When the inhabitants of Sodom attempt to break down Lot's door and ravish the angels within, they are blinded by a bright light, and this failure of vision mockingly repeats their refusal to recognize the invisible God and his messengers. The blinding light in the doorway, moreover, presages the consuming fires that will destroy Sodom in a sublime act of divine de-creation. These flames, as a direct manifestation of godhead, are also under a visual prohibition, as Lot's wife learns the hard way.25 Thus the Sodom story likewise connects homosexuality, loss or cancellation of vision, and the sublime transcendence of God. (Chapter 5 of Peter Martyr's Book of Gomorrah articulates Romans 1 and Genesis 19 on all three of these counts.)26

  30. What that same Peter Martyr will be the first to call "sodomy"27 thus occupies an ambiguous relation to the sublime God, at once his demonic opposite and his troubling equivalent. Nowhere is this clearer than in sodomy's status as the unnameable or unspeakable vice, from whose utterance even God's angels will flee. For this prohibition on speech makes sodomy the obscene counterpart to the Tetragrammaton, or the unspeakable name of God.28 John Bale's Protestant morality play, The Three Laws of Nature, Moses, and Christ (1538), pairs the allegorical characters Sodomy and Idolatry, thus betraying the influence of Romans chapter 1 and its elaboration by Thomas Aquinas. When the character Infidelity conjures up this devilish pair, he does so as follows: "By Tetragrammaton,/I charge ye, apere anon,/And come out of the darke."29 Not only are Sodomy and Idolatry invoked by the divine Tetragrammaton, as if this were their other name, but in being ordered to "come out of the dark," they are depicted as inhabitants of a hidden space that resists representation. Sodomy is, here as elsewhere, a devilish subspecies of the sublime.

  31. This connection between sodomy and sublimity is crucial, I believe, to Shakespeare's sonnets-- not because the sonnets at least those to the young man) embrace either term but because they avoid both, and in so doing define their own aesthetic.30 Nowhere does this appear more clearly than in the much-discussed sonnet 20:

A woman's face, with Nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion--
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman were thou first created,
Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for woman's pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy love's use their treasure.

Most recent commentary on this sonnet has worked ingeniously to undercut the apparent gesture of sexual renunciation in the poem's final lines. I would like to focus rather on the figure of Nature, who occupies almost as much of the poem as the young man. The image of Nature fashioning human beings draws on longstanding medieval traditions of the goddess Natura's double role as procreatrix and vicaria dei or vicar of God.31 Nature's apparent inattentiveness at this job is also not new, harking back to Prudentius32 and Alan of Lille, although the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea may also hover in the background. As the procreative deputy of God, Nature engages in an activity which at once recalls and differs from divine creation. As Alan of Lille puts it in his Anticlaudianus, "divinum creat ex nihilo, Natura caduca/ procreat ex aliquo" II, 72-73)--"the divine one creates from nothing, Nature breeds perishable things from something."33 Alan's phrasing is, I think, suggestive for sonnet 20, both in its play on "nothing" and "something," which presages line 12 of Shakespeare's poem, and in contrasting Nature's procreation with the sublime scene of God's creatio ex nihilo.

  32. The odd thing about all scenes in which a mythological Nature fashions human beings is that real nature doesn't work that way. Real humans originate as tiny embryos and grow into adulthood; they aren't sculpted as fully grown creatures. Thus Shakespeare's scene of creation, in which Nature molds adult forms, inevitably invokes God's fashioning of Adam and Eve in the first chapter of Genesis.34 I would even argue that the play on "something" and "nothing" in line 12 is meant in part to recall God's original creation of something (indeed, everything) out of nothing.

  33. But, typically, the goddess Natura both invokes and negates this scene of divine creation. A nurturing mother steps in for the sublime father Jehovah, natural birth for the original scene of creation. The feminizing logic of this substitution goes so far as to hint at a rewriting of Genesis in which Adam is a kind of supplementary afterthought to Eve. Or perhaps Shakespeare even understands the biblical line "male and female created he them" in a manner similar to that of the rabbinical commentators who argued that God created a single androgyne, which he subsequently split in two.35

  34. In any case, the strategy of this sonnet is to summon up a sublime scene of creation in order then to veil it, by which I mean to naturalize, feminize, and aestheticize it. Divine narrative gets reworked here in the same way that theological categories did in the procreation sonnets. And to similar ends, since sodomitical undertones clearly disturb sonnet 20. By adding a penis to the half-finished woman, Nature at once invokes the specter of sodomy and simultaneously fends it off, at least if we accept the poem's surface argument that this penis stands definitively in the way of sexual contact.36 But what the poem has thereby and perhaps even more importantly avoided is a divine injunction against sodomy. To put this in Lacanian terms, sonnet 20 substitutes a real impediment for a symbolic prohibition. That is, instead of the sublime "Thou shalt not" of an angry God, what bars access to the young man is just a harmless if frustrating bit of flesh. A piece of nature fends off the daunting theological apparatus of anti-sodomy discourse, thus defining a safe space in which homoerotic desire may be harmlessly indulged. The psychoanalytic significance of the poem may be brought out by quoting the Lacanian theorist Slavoj Zizek as he comments not on Shakespeare's sonnet 20 but on the infamous scene of discovery in Neil Jordan's film The Crying Game: "This scene of failed sexual encounter is structured as the exact inversion of the scene referred to by Freud as the primordial trauma of fetishism: the child's gaze, sliding down the female body towards the sexual organs, is shocked to find nothing where one expects to find something (a penis)--in the case of The Crying Game, the shock is caused when the eye finds something where it expected to find nothing."37 Or, to put this in more Shakespearean terms, when it finds something to its purpose nothing. The effect, however, is the same as in the classical Freudian scene. For just as the threat of castration leads, in Freud's narrative of the Oedipus complex, to a suspension of sexual desire and paralysis of the phallus known as the latency period, so in sonnet 20, the superfluous presence of the young man's penis renders the speaker's penis likewise superfluous, at least in regard to the young man. The speaker finds his sexual impulses blocked, and this pacifying of desire helps to constitute the young man as something more like an art object than a sexual object. Indeed, it turns him into something like the perfume bottle of sonnet five, which is to say, the object of a sonnet.

  35. In attempting to move from sublimation to the sublime, my argument may seem to have landed in a contradiction. For my analysis of sonnet 5 emphasized the defeminizing aspects of Shakespearean sublimation, but my reading of sonnet 20 insists on its feminizing of a masculine sublime. Even if there is a contradiction here, it is Shakespeare's rather than my own. But, I would claim, it is less a contradiction than a multiplication of strategies to effect the same end. For both poems share this double aim: to invoke the threat of sodomy so as to expel or foreclose it, and to invoke a poetics of the sublime so as to reject it in favor of a poetics of the beautiful. Sodomy and sublimity are engaged and neutralized as a linked pair. While somewhat idealized, then, the young man does not attain the inhuman and terrifying loftiness of the Petrarchan mistress. This sublime height, and depth, are avoided because they are also the realm where sodomy and its divine punishment dwell.


  36. My argument thus far has focused on Shakespeare's sonnets to the young man--admittedly, the bulk of the sequence. But what of the equally famous sonnets to the so-called Dark Lady? At first glance, they would seem to conform roughly to the aesthetic principles I have already described. Sonnet 130, "My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun," systematically negates the idealizing tropes of Petrarchan poetry, thus producing a desublimated and presumably more "human" mistress--a slightly earthier counterpart to the young man.

  37. Things are not so simple, however. As Jonathan Goldberg has pointed out, "the threatening sexuality that the dark lady represents--outside marriage and promiscuous and dangerous to the homosocial order--is closer to sodomy than almost anything suggested in the sonnets to the young man."38 To Goldberg's list of sodomitical attributes I would add that of sterility, conjured most forcefully in Sonnet 129's famous opening line, "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame." Among the wealth of possible meanings generated by this line, several turn on the reading of "spirit" as semen and imply a sodomitical waste of the male seed. Like sonnet 5, then, this one also makes the proper vessel improper by rendering it sterile or nonproductive, and it thereby makes sex with the Dark Lady sodomitical in a quite technical sense.

  38. I would argue, moreover, that, just as sodomy is displaced from the young man onto the Dark Lady, so too is the sublime. To make this argument, however, will require reading the Dark Lady sonnets backwards, from the perspective of a later writer--one who explicitly employs the category of the sublime and who, moreover, connects it directly with the concept of sodomy. He thus makes open and unmistakable the connections which in Shakespeare are still merely implicit.

  39. The writer I have in mind is the Marquis de Sade, and the book in question is The 120 Days of Sodom. I needn't bother recounting much of the plot, since one of the charms of the Sadean novel is that it perfectly conforms to one's preconceptions of it. In brief, however, the book depicts the actions of four debauched libertines who abscond with their young wives, a passel of exquisite, pubescent boys and girls, eight men chosen for the prodigious size of their penises, 4 middle-aged courtesans expert in the recounting of lascivious tales, four elderly ladies-in- waiting, and three cooks and their assistants. All are confined by the libertines within an impenetrably isolated chateau and (with the exception of the cooks) subjected to an encyclopedic array of tortures and violations.

  40. At the beginning of the novel, where Sade introduces his dramatis personae, he also remarks on the aesthetic principles that will govern his descriptions of them:

But now let us retrace our steps and do our best to portray one by one each of our four heroes--to describe each not in terms of the beautiful, not in a manner that would seduce or captivate the reader, but simply with the brush strokes of Nature which, despite all her disorder, is often sublime, indeed even when she is at her most depraved. For--and why not say so in passing--if crime lacks the kind of delicacy one finds in virtue, is not the former always more sublime, does it not unfailingly have a character of grandeur and sublimity which surpasses, and will always make it preferable to, the monotonous and lackluster charms of virtue?39

If Sade adopts an aesthetics of the sublime for his sodomitical narrative, this is not simply a matter of artistic whim but is, rather, determined by the subjects of his story. The first of his four libertines, the Duc de Blangis, is possessed not only of monstrous and unquenchable appetites, not only of a penis so large that it lacerates and has even been reported to kill its victims, but also of thighs so powerful that they can squeeze the life out of a horse, as he demonstrates to his companions. The Duc de Blangis's body is a source not of beauty but of sexual terror, a titanic and inhuman fount of destructive energies. It is itself sublime. But this bodily aesthetic is not, as one might suppose, reserved only for the male characters of the story. Sade returns to the concept of the sublime when he describes the four elderly ladies-in-waiting, who are chosen in part for their spectacular ugliness. Reflecting on the sexual appeal of such ugliness, he writes:

Nature's disorder carries with it a kind of sting which operates on the high-keyed sort with perhaps as much and even more force than do her most regular beauties; it has been proven, moreover, that when one's prick is aloft, it is horror, villainy, the appalling, that pleases; the light of all this, there should be no cause for astonishment in the fact that an immense crowd of people prefer to take their pleasure with an aged, ugly, and stinking crone, and will refuse a fresh and pretty girl, no more reason to be astonished at that, I say, than at a man who for his promenades prefers the mountains' arid and rugged terrain to the monotonous pathways of the plains.40

Invoking the distinction between mountain and plain, Sade converts a Kantian or Burkean sublime into a sexual aesthetic; and in so doing enables us to extend Lacan's famous articulation of Sade's work and Kant's second critique to include the third critique as well.

  41. The Sadean sublime is exemplified in the portrait of Therese, one of the novel's ladies-in- waiting. This portrait is typically Sadean, at once amusingly droll and insanely misogynistic:

Therese was sixty-two; she was tall, thin, looked like a skeleton, not a hair was left on her head, not a tooth in her mouth, and from this opening in her body she exhaled an odor capable of flooring any bystander. Her ass was peppered with wounds, and her buttocks were so prodigiously slack one could have furled the skin around a walking stick; the hole in this splendid ass resembled the crater of a volcano what for width, and for aroma the pit of a privy; in all her life, Therese declared, she had never once wiped her ass, whence we have proof positive that the shit of her infancy yet clung there. As for her vagina, it was the receptacle of everything ungodly, of every horror, a veritable sepulcher whose fetidity was enough to make you faint away. She had one twisted arm and limped in one leg.41

Sade's innovation here is to convert the sublime and beautiful into physiological categories. I use "physiology" in its largest sense, since what is involved is not simply appearance--whether bodies strike a beholder as beautiful or ugly--but rather their innermost constitution, which for Sade means the types and quantities of energy that such bodies can generate, conduct, and endure. While the particular portrait examined here happens to be of an aged woman, the division of bodies into beautiful and sublime cuts across differences of age, class, and gender in Sade. President Curval, one of the four male libertines, is, in point of personal hygiene, every bit as appalling as Therese.

  42. Despite Sade's earlier evocation of mountains, his sublime description of Therese is less like a tour of the Alps than like a visit to the Cities of the Plain once God has had his way with them: a landscape at once scarred, bituminous, and mephitic. His anti-blazon, which in its misogynist furor recalls Donne's poem "The Comparison"--causes the body of Therese to recall, indeed literally to incorporate, both the sins of Sodom and their divine punishment. Or rather, it evokes these in order to transfer this sublime narrative onto Nature. For the atheistical and materialist Sade, sodomy and its punishment are understood not as scenes in a divine comedy but rather as the work of Nature engaging in its one characteristic act: that of ceaseless self-destruction. While Shakespeare evokes Nature in sonnet 20 in order to veil or flee a divine sublimity, Sade invokes Nature in order to usurp it.

  43. Returning to Shakespeare's Dark Lady, we may note that she, like Sade's Therese, is the subject of an anti-blazon. And while the Dark Lady's halitosis does not floor bystanders like that of Therese, nevertheless, the poet notes, "in some perfume is their more delight/ Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks"(130:7-8). In contrasting the Lady with perfume, Shakespeare both distances her from the distilling poetics of sonnet five and establishes an initial point of connection with Therese. Indeed, the Dark Lady is a systematic though relatively subdued collection of those attributes that would constitute a Sadean as opposed to a Petrarchan sublime. She is "my female evil" (144:5), possessed of "so foul a face" (137:12), and is "as black as hell, as dark as night" (147: 14). When he describes her as "the bay where all men ride" (137:6), Shakespeare not only marks her as sexually insatiable but metaphorically inflates her genitalia to geographical dimensions. In sonnet 133, the Dark Lady becomes a Sadean torturer, locking both Shakespeare and the young man in her prison.

  44. These local parallels, moreover, suggest larger formal and thematic resemblances between the Sadean novel and the Renaissance sonnet sequence. Both are virtuoso attempts at variety within forms that also produce numbing repetition; both denature sexual desire; both fetishize the objects of desire, and subject them to explicit or implicit violence that divides them into fetishized parts.42

  45. I have, of course, cited only moments of extreme invective in the Dark Lady series, where Shakespeare also expresses more conventional forms of love and sexual passion. My point, however, is that if Shakespeare's anti-Petrarchan poetics tends at times to humanize the Dark Lady, this should not be seen as a purely desublimating move. Rather, by dismantling the Petrarchan rhetoric of chaste divinity, Shakespeare is laying the groundwork for a counter- sublime. When he displaces the tropes of sodomy from the young man onto the Lady, Shakespeare thereby invests her with a proto-Sadean sublimity, a sublimity which is sodomitical through and through. He thus lays the basis for an aesthetic which will continue through Sade, to Wilde, and beyond.



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1 For Freud, idealization pertains to the sexual object and sublimation to the sexual aim.

2 The Willie Hughes theory is not original with Wilde. It is, in fact, an 18th century invention. See Kate Chedgzoy, Shakespeare's Queer Children: Sexual Politics and Contemporary Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), p. 152.

3 All quotations from "The Story of Mr. W.H." are taken from The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968). Quotation from page 194.

4 G. Wilson Knight, The Mutual Flame: On Shakespeare's Sonnets and The Phoenix and the Turtle (London: Methuen, 1955), pp. 24-25; W.H. Auden, "Introduction" to The Sonnets, ed. William Burto (New American Library, 1964), pp. Xxix-xxxiii; Joel Fineman, Shakespeare's Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 57.

5 For an instance of this objection to sublimating readings, including Wilde's, see Joseph Pequigney, Such is my Love: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 77-80.

6 The most resourceful and complete annotator of this wordplay is Stephen Booth in Shakespeare's Sonnets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977). See also Pequigney, Such is my Love.

7 All quotations of the Sonnets are from Booth's edition (see previous note).

8 See, e.g., Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 67. Oscar Wilde clearly sees this connection as well, but the logic of Cyril Graham's theory forces him to read the perfume bottle as a symbol of Shakespeare's dramatic, rather than lyric, art. See Wilde, Portrait, p. xxx.

9 Compare Samuel Daniel's Delia II, ll. 1-4:

Goe wailing verse, the infants of my love,
Minerva-like, brought forth without a Mother:
Present the image of the cares I prove,
Witnes your Fathers griefe exceedes all other.

Samuel Daniel, Poems and a Defence of Ryme, ed. Arthur Colby Sprague (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965). On the sexual dynamics and figuration of male authorship, see Wayne Koestenbaum, Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration (New York: Routledge, 1989) and Jeffrey Masten, Textual Intercourse: Collaboration, Authorship, and Sexualities in Renaissance Drama (New York: Cambridge, 1997).

10 Nicholas Flamel, His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall figures...Together with The secret Booke of ARTEPHIUS (London, 1624; edited by Laurinda Dixon, New York: Garland, 1994), p. 67.

11 Flamel, pp. 77-78: "And so in such a regiment the Body is made a spirit of a subtile nature, and the spirit is incorporated with the Body, and is made one with it, and in such a sublimation, conjunction, and elevation, all things are made white."

12 Flamel, pp. 76-77: "It behooveth therefore that (as the bibll said) the Sonne of the Virgin bee exalted from the Earth, and that the white quintessence after his resurrection bee lifted up towards the heavens, . . ."

13 Flamel, p. 30.

14 Flamel, 73. Compare George Ripley, "The Mistery of Alchymists," in Elias Ashmole, Theatricum Chemicum Britannicum (London, 1652; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1967), p. 385: For whereas Woman is in presence,

There is much moysture and accidence,
Wetnes and humours in her be,
The which would drown'd our Quality;
Perceive well (son) by Noah's flood,
To much moysture was never good.

15 John Donne, The Complete English Poems, ed. A.J. Smith (New York: Penguin, 1971).

16 This second movement emerges if the "we" of the poem's antepenultimate line is read as referring, not to Donne and his mistress, but to Donne and the male friend.

17 See sonnet 114. See also the comments on sonnets 20 and 33 in Raymond B. Waddington, "The Poetics of Eroticism: Shakespeare's 'Master-Mistress'" in Renaissance Discourses of Desire, ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993), pp. 15-16.

18 For an extended analysis of these qualities, though not in an alchemical context, see Margreta de Grazia's stimulating essay, "The Scandal of Shakespeare's Sonnets," Shakespeare Survey 46 (1993), 35-49.

19 In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus counsels Hermia that if she disobeys her father's commandment to marry Demetrius, she must either die or become a nun. He praises a life of virginity, then adds:

But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives, and dies in single blessedness. (1.1.76-78)

Theseus' image of female jouissance is, of course, suffused with his own phallic sadism. The best gloss on his lines may be provided by Emily Dickinson's poem # xxx:

20 Pequigney, Such is my Love, p. 12.

21 Shakespeare's arguments for procreation portray it as something desirable, prudent, perhaps something approaching an obligation, but still not a law or commandment, as these would be understood in either a juridical or theological sense. That is to say, the sonnets stop short of issuing an absolute injunction to reproduce. Nothing like the Judeo-Christian God stands ready to punish the failure to do so. Which is not to say that personified forces aren't at work here. But they manage to sidestep the realm of divine commandment. The first of these forces is, of course, Time, whose baleful presence pervades the whole sequence. Variously described as a "bloody tyrant" (16:2), "devouring" (19:1), "wasteful" (11:11), Time is the relentless destroyer of youth and beauty. Time does indeed enforce something like an absolute and unavoidable "law." Yet age is never described as a consequence of sin or crime or humanity's fallen nature. It is simply pure inexorability without motive. Time, that is, exacts something like punishment, but emptied of purpose--the form of divine justice without its content, a metaphysically abstract sadism.

The second of Shakespeare's personifications, Nature, is portrayed as a bounteous, beneficent mother who counsels childbearing as a way of evading Time's otherwise inexorable doom. Nature's generosity does not demand procreation but seems merely to expect a kind of counter- generosity on the part of her creatures. See sonnet 11: 11-14 and sonnet 4:3-4. But this expectation can neither demand the fact nor specify the terms of counter-generosity, since that would violate the very freedom which is the basis of the gift. Nature, therefore, does not punish those who violate her wishes; she is, at worst, disapproving. To be a "niggard" or "usurer" (4:5,7) is simply to act in an unseemly or ignoble fashion in the face of Nature's bounty. It violates an aesthetics of behavior, resulting in shame but not punishment.

The exhortation to procreate thus obeys "beauty's law" in two senses, for the obligation to create beauty is regulated or enforced only by the norms of beauty. The procreation sonnets never suggest that the failure to reproduce is a sin. They simply portray it as foolish and selfish-- ignoble and unattractive behavior.

22 Mark Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), p. 158.

23 See Jordan, Invention of Sodomy, pp. 143, 156.

24 "The Tears of an Affectionate Shepheard Sicke for Love," 95-102. Quoted from Richard Barnfield, The Complete Poems, ed. George Klawitter (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1990).

25 For a suggestive treatment of Lot's wife and the problem of the spectator, see Martin Harries, "Forgetting Lot's Wife: Artaud, Spectatorship, and Catastrophe," Yale Journal of Criticism 11:1 (1998), 221-238.

26 Peter Damian, Book of Gomorrah: An Eleventh-Century Treatise against Clerical Homosexual Practices, trans. Pierre J. Payer (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1982).

27 See Jordan, Invention of Sodomy, p.29.

28 For a secularized version of this thesis see Jacques Chiffoleau, "Dire l'indicible. Remarques sur la catgorie du nefandum du XIIe au Xve sicle," Annales 45 (1990), 289-324. Chiffoleau situates the dangerous silence surrounding the nefandum with the respectable one surrounding political Majesty. See esp. p. 294.

29 The Complete Plays of John Bale, Vol. 2, ed. Peter Hupp (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1986).

30 Although I am here pursuing the connection between sodomy and sublimity in a Judeo- Christian context, the figure of Ganymede provides an important analogue in classical culture. See Leonard Barkan, Transuming Passion: Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). It is noteworthy that Shakespeare's sonnets not only fail to cite Ganymede but that they display unusual restraint compared to other contemporary sonnet sequences in their use of all classical allusion.

31 See George Economou, The Goddess Natura in Medieval Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972).

32 See Economou, Goddess Natura, p. 55.

33 Quoted in Economou, Goddess Natura, p. 100.

34 Compare Richard Barnfield's sonnets 9 and 10, in which Venus (called "Creatrix" in sonnet 10) fashions Ganymede from a mixture of snow and Diana's blood.

35 See Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 35-46.

36 Things are more complicated than this, however. The addition of the penis may raise the specter of sodomy for the speaker, but it avoids it for Nature herself, who had begun dangerously to "dote" on this proto-female.

37 Slavoj Zizek, The Metasteses of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality (New York: Verso, 1994), p. 103.

38 Jonathan Goldberg, "Romeo and Juliet's Open Rs," in Goldberg, ed., Queering the Renaissance (Durham: Duke University, 1994), p, 225.

39 Marquis de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings, trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Weaver (New York: Grove Pres, 1966), p. 197.

40 Sade, 120 Days, p. 233.

41 Sade, 120 Days, p. 234.

42 On violence and the Renaissance blazon, see Nancy Vickers, "'The blazon of sweet beauty's best': Shakespeare's Lucrece," in Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (New York: Methuen, 1985), pp. 95-115.



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