Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy ‘Will,’
And ‘Will’ to boot, and ‘Will’ in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus. 4
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine? 8
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large ‘Will’ more. 12
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one ‘Will.’ 14
From David West:
You have a strong will, and have me, Will, more than enough of me.
Will you not accommodate me as generously as you do others?
The sea is all water and accepts rain. You are all willing desire,
why not accept me?
Let no unkind of handsome [lovers] defeat my plea.
Think of all your lovers as one, and me as part of that one.
This sonnet is bewildering because it contains the word ‘will’ 14 times in different senses. The first ‘will’ refers primarily to decision, determination (abbreviated below as D). In line 2 ‘Will’ is mainly William, the speaker, ‘Will is overplus –/More than enough am I’ (abbreviated as W). In line 4 the salient reference is to the Black Lady’s sexual charm and sexual desires, lust, libido (abbreviated as L). In line 5 the auxiliary verb (A) ‘wilt thou vouchsafe’ is drawn into the game, and ‘will’ is among other things the Black Lady’s sexual appetite (L above). But line 6 forces a revision. The ‘will’ is now the penis (P), and therefore, in retrospect, it is the penis in 2 and the vagina in 4 and 5 (V).
The poem would be difficult to interpret if ‘will’ meant one thing in each of its occurrences, but line 6 has just shown that the game is not so simple. In any passage the word may carry several different meanings. Certainty is not possible. Shakespeare himself would be hard put to it to define his own puns, or even to paraphrase the poem, but it may help new readers through the jungle to have some soft of chart, and it may also be useful to compare the text to the Quarto of 1609, as pri9nted below. Capital letters in the margin point to the salient senses of each occurrence of the word ‘will.’ Lower case suggests some lurking sub-senses.
Who euer hath her wish, thou hast thy Will, Dl
And Will too boote, and Will in ouer-plus, W, Wp
More than enough am I that vexe thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus. LV
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spatious A, DLV
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine, PV (thine)
Shall will in others seeme right gracious LP
And in my will no faire acceptance shine: LP
The sea all water, yet receiues raine still,
And in aboundance addeth to his store,
So thou beeing rich in Will adde to thy Will, Lp, LV
One will of mine to make thy large Will more. Pd, LV
Let no vnkinde, no faire beseechers kill,
Thinke all but one, and me in that one Will. LPW
This Quarto text distributes italics and initial capitals for no discernible reason. ‘Will’ is unhelpfully given italics and an initial capital seven times, in lines 1-2, 11-12 and 14. It also puts commas at the end of lines except at the end of quatrains, 4, 8 and 12, apparently as a matter of habit rather than sense. My own printing above offers a capital initial only when the personal name seems to be salient, in lines 2 and 14.
1-4: In the first line ‘will’ must be different from ‘wish,’ but something like it. Women have wishes but the Black Lady is an unusually determined character. The rest of the poem suggests that she also has a keen sexual appetite, as marked above by L and V. ‘Will to boot’ could hint at that. Will is also a cameo appearance for William Shakespeare in the plot, as discussed at the end of the note on Sonnet 136. [MY NOTE: To come after our next play!] ‘Will in overplus’ then suggests a lusty Will, a Will who still vexes her even after she has had too much of him (2 and 6), in both places offering a glimpse of the penis, as suggested above.
In line 3, S keep son vexing her with his demands, thus making an addition to her sweet will. This cannot imply that he is making love to her, because lines 6-8 make it clear that she is refusing him. Line 4 perhaps suggests that his advances are adding to her sexual life the burden of refusing him, a burden which taxes the sweetness of her nature. Into this concentration of obscene puns he has squeezed a droplet of praise.
5-8: The auxiliary verb ‘wilt’ in play with ‘will’ is a polyptoton. When her ‘will is large and spacious’ it must mean that her libido is generous as well as large, and ‘spacious’ implies that her vagina is accommodating. The lady is promiscuous, as is hinted in 134.10, and made brutally explicit in 137.6 and 10. When S wants to hide his will in hers, he clearly wants to hide his penis in her vagina, and he is not allowed to, ‘in [the case of] his will no fair acceptance shines,’ appears. ‘Spacious’ and ‘gracious’ are trisyllabic, with the second syllable touched very lightly, more like ‘spac-ci-ous’ than our ‘spash-ous.’
9-12 Lines 9-12 are a simile. The heavy hints of her promiscuity in lines 5-8 are strengthened by comparing her store of libido and its replenishment to sea and rain ‘[Just as] the sea, all water, receives rain and adds abundantly to its store, so you, being rich in will, add one other will to your vast will.’ When the sea ‘addeth to its store,’ ‘his’ almost personifies him as a hoarder. After line 6, the second ‘will’ in 11 must refer to her vagina, and the first in 12 to his penis. Lines 11, 12, and 14 of the sonnet are all entirely monosyllabic.
13-14 The sense of line 13 as punctuated above could be ‘Let no unkind [suppliants], no fair suppliants kill [this request.]’ This seems to be the last unlikely interpretation of the line. Its advantages are that the contrast between ‘unkind’ and ‘fair’ is characteristic, and that it preserves the Quarto’s comma after ‘unkinde.’ Its disadvantages are that words have to be supplied before that meaning can be divined, and that even so the verb ‘kill’ is strange on this interpretation. On the other hand ‘kill’ is sometimes used with impersonal objects (‘all pure effects,’ ‘this blessed league, ‘thine honour, ‘his quality, in The Rape of Lucrece 250, 383, 516, 875). Most scholars solve the problem by printing ‘no’ in inverted commas to make it the subject of ‘kill’ and beseechers its object, ‘Let ‘no’ unkind no fair beseechers kill,’ which could be explained as ‘Let a churlish negative not kill any handsome suitors.’ But S would probably not object if it did. A third possibility is to take ‘unkind’ as a noun, and so ‘Let no unkindness kill lovely suitors,’ but ‘unkind’ is never used as a noun.
The last line as punctuated in this edition is lewd and insulting. ‘Think all but one, and me, in that, one Will, ‘where ‘one Will’ suggests one lover, one penis, one William. All he is asking is to be one of many, as at 136.6. It could also be printed, ‘Think all but one, and me in that one, Will.’ But that weakens the insult, and isolates Will, making him mask to be special when the most he dare hope is to be one of the crowd. Duncan-Jones’s solution keeps the punctuation of the quarto, ‘Think all but one, and me in that one Will,’ and comments, ‘Regard all your…lovers as a single one, and treat me as your only object of desire/man called William/occupant of your sexual space.’ (Duncan-Jones 1977). This dilutes the insult, and also makes him ask for what he knows is not an offer. He has long given up hope of being her only lover (5-8). But perhaps the quarto here preserves Shakespeare’s punctuation, leaving readers free to juggle possibilities. After all, the poem is a maze of puzzles. This plodding exposition is offered as one guide through it.”
And to conclude, a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the remarkable essay “Kafka and His Precursors” by Jorge Luis Borges.
Here it is, in its entirety:
“At one time I considered writing a study of Kafka’s precursors. I had thought, at first, that he was as unique as the phoenix of rhetorical praise; after spending a little time with hi, I felt I could recognize his voice, or his habits, in the texts of various literatures and various ages. I will note of a few of them here, in chronological order.
The first is Zeno’s paradox against motion. A moving body at point A (Aristotle states) will not be able to reach point B, because it must first cover half the distance between the two, and before that, half of the half, and before that, half of the half of the half, and so on to infinity; the form of this famous problem is precisely that of The Castle, and the moving body and the arrow and Achilles are the first Kafkaesque characters in literature. In the second text that bibliographic chance has brought my way, the affinity is not in the form but in the tone. It is a fable by Han Yu, a prose writer of the ninth century, and it is found in the admirable Anthologie raisonee de la literature chinoise (1948) by Margoulies. This is the mysterious and tranquil paragraph I marked:
It is universally admitted that the unicorn is a supernatural being and one of good omen; thus it is declared in the Odes, in the Annals, in the biographies of illustrious men, and in other texts of unquestioned authority. Even the women and children of the common people know that the unicorn is a favorable portent. But this animal does not figure among the domestic animals, it is not easy to find, it does not lend itself to any classification. It is not like the horse or the bull, the wolf or the deer. Under such conditions, we could be in the presence of a unicorn and not know with certainty that it is one. We know that a given animal with a mane is a horse, and that one with horns is a bull. We do not know what a unicorn is like.
The third text comes from a more predictable source: the writings of Kierkegaard. The mental affinity of both writers is known to everyone; what has not yet been emphasized, as far as I know, is that Kierkegaard, like Kafka abounded in religious parables on contemporary and bourgeois themes. Lowrie, in his Kierkegaard (Oxford University Press, 1938), mentions two. One is the story of a counterfeiter who, under constant surveillance, examines Bank of England notes; in the same way, God could be suspicious of Kierkegaard and yet entrust him with a mission precisely because He knew he was accustomed to evil. Expeditions to the North Pole are the subject of the other. Danish clergymen had declared from their pulpits that to participate in such expeditions would serve the eternal health of the soul. They had to admit, however, that reaching the Pole was difficult and perhaps impossible, and that not everyone could undertake the adventure. In the end, they announced that any journey – from Denmark to London, say, in a steamship, or a Sunday outing in a hackney coach – could be seen as a veritable expedition to the North Pole. The fourth prefiguration I found in Browning’s poem ‘Fears and Scruples,’ published in 1876. A man has, or thinks he has, a famous friend. He has never seen this friend, and the fact is that this friend has never been able to help him, but he knows that the friend has some very noble qualities, and he shows others the letters his friend has written. Some have doubts about his nobility, and handwriting experts declare the letters to be fake. In the last line, the man asks: ‘What if this friend happened to be – God?’
My notes also include two short stories. One is from Histoires desobligeantes by Leon Bloy, and refers to the case of some people who amass globes, atlases, train schedules, and trunks, and who die without ever having left the town where they were born. The other is entitled ‘Carcassonne’ and is by Lord Dunsany. An invincible army of warriors departs from an infinite castle, subjugates kingdoms and sees monsters and crosses desserts and mountains, but never reaches Carcassonne, although they once catch a glimpse of it. (This story is, as it is easily noticed, the exact opposite of the previous one: in the first, they never leave the city; in the second, they never reach it.)
If I am not mistaken, the heterogenous pieces I have listed resemble Kafka; if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other. This last fact is what is most significant. Kafka’s idiosyncrasy is present in each of these writings, to a greater or lesser degree, but if Kafka had not written, we would not perceive it, that is to say, it would not exist. The poem “Fears and Scruples” by Robert Browning prophesies the work of Kafka, but our reading of Kafka noticeably refines and diverts our reading of the poem. Browning did not read it as we do now. The word ‘precursor’ is indispensable to the vocabulary of criticism, but one must try to purify it from any connotation of polemic or rivalry. The fact is that each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future. In this correlation, the identity or plurality of men doesn’t matter. The first Kafka of “Betrachtung” is less a precursor of the Kafka of the gloomy myths and terrifying institutions than is Browning or Lord Dunsany.”
My next post: Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning: My introduction to our next play, All’s Well That Ends Well.