Subjectivity in Shakespeare's sonnets
This thesis undertakes a study of Shakespeare's sonnets that seeks to locate them in the determinate historical circumstances of the moment of their production. Subjectivity in the sonnets is read as the location of a series of conflicts which are ultimately socio-historical in nature. Contemporaries identified the sonnet form as a discourse of the aristocracy, especially in its manifestation of courtly love. Shakespeare's sonnets attempt to manage the pressures that the history of the late sixteenth century impose upon this discursive formation from within the genre itself. The first and second chapters of the thesis set out the historical framework within which the generic requirements of the sonnet were played out, and discuss the tensions which result. Chapter three reads the first seventeen sonnets in the light of this work, arguing against a view of these particular poems as a homogeneous group of marriage sonnets. These sonnets set out the homosocial considerations that underpin the relationship between the addressor and the young nobleman in a way that foreshadows the conflicts that are played out in later poems. Chapter four traces these conflicts in terms of the subjectivity of the young man, noting that the historical crisis in the ideology of the aristocracy renders his subject-position unstable. Chapter five relates this result to the related subjectivity of the adressor, the poetic persona of the poems, and reads his position as noting the disjunctions in the dominant ideology, while nevertheless being unable to move away from its interpellation of his position. Chapter six notes the consequent disruption of gendered identity, both for the "dark lady" and the poetic persona himself. The conclusion argues for a materialist perspective on the sonnets' problematising of subjectivity in the Renaissance.