restricted access The Scandals of Shakespeare's Sonnets
Abstract

This study of the reception of Shakespeare's sonnets takes as its starting point Margreta de Grazia's influential claim that contemporary understandings of the sonnets--which consider the sonnets to the young man scandalous and the ones to the young woman proper--are, from an early modern perspective, "topsy-turvy." I argue that in positing a single reversal we risk missing more complex synchronic variations and diachronic overlaps in the reception of the sonnets during their 400-year history. Jonathan Goldberg and Madhavi Menon have recently called for a "queer history" that embraces the untidiness of the relationship between past and present because neither past nor present is self-identical. I explore the history of the sonnets' reception with special attention to this untidiness, from the moment of the sonnets' production to today. I argue in particular that a definitive eighteenth-century shift, which de Grazia identifies as inaugurating our "topsy-turvy" sense of the sonnets, does not exist. This sense of the sonnets developed over a much shorter period of time, only since about the 1930s, along with a new understanding of heterosexuality per se as a positive value, what Jonathan Katz has called the modern "invention of heterosexuality." Nor is this reception of the sonnets simply definitive of the contemporary moment.


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