University of Tasmania
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The refining crucible : Shakespeare and lyric sequences in Victorian England

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posted on 2023-05-27, 17:25 authored by Ransley, Ambrose Allan Digby
Since the early years of the Victorian era, Shakespeare's pre-eminence as a dramatist has itself prompted much of the attention paid to his Sonnets, because their celebrated biographical 'hints' suggest knowledge of the 'real life' of this most universal of English creative geniuses. Indeed it was simply the fact that Shakespeare was the author of these poems that induced several influential Victorians to read them at all. Five of the major poets of Victorian England wrote lyric sequences which have suffered a like fate. Tennyson's In Memoriam, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, Christina Rossetti's Manna Innominata, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The ttouse of Life and George Meredith's Modern Love - all of these have been read as autobiography, as thinly disguised, or even transparent, confessions of actual experience.. This dissertation takes the view that poetry must stand on its own, independent of the poets' biographies. It con tends that what makes Shakespeare's sonnets and these Victorian sequences lastingly valuable is the central consciousness of each one, regarded as an artistic creation, not as an autobiographical sketch of the poet. This central consciousness, this poetic protagonist, I call the 'sequence persona'. To demonstrate the presence of a persona proper to each of these five Victorian sequences, I have adopted a quite new critical approach. Chapter I demonstrates the existence in Shakespeare's Sonnets of what I call the Shakespearean persona. This involves close textual analysis of a number of the poems and includes some differentiation of Shakespeare's methods from (vi) those of other Elizabethans such as Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser. Out of this comes a thesis to the effect that Shakespeare's sonnets are unconventional in their content and language because they cumulatively create an individual rather than a Petrarchan sensibility. Chapter I offers, in itself, a contribution to the study of Shakespeare's Sonnets, but its main purpose in the dissertation is to locate a crucible in which the poetic emotions of the Victorians were refined to produce a new yield of artistic gold. Chapters II-V demonstrate the existence of an equally distinct persona, akin to that of Shakespeare's Sonnets, in each of the named Victorian sequences. I accompany this analysis with, and indeed often conduct it through, a comparison of individual Victorian poems and particular Shakespearean sonnets. The Conclusion codifies, clear of poetic analysis, the usefulness of reading these major nineteenth-century sequences with the Shakespearean model in mind, and suggests that the method adopted in this dissertation might well be used for fresh study of other less unified and less important examples of Vi~torian love poetry.


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Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1986. Bibliography: leaf 231-246

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