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Turning Sonnets into Poems:
Textual Affect and John Benson’s Metaphysical Shakespeare

Recent scholarship on John Benson’s notorious 1640 Poems Written by Wil. Shake-speare Gent. has recuperated the volume as a savvy remaking of the 1609 Shakespeares Sonnets. Rather than focusing on Benson’s disruption of the Sonnets, however, this essay first recovers a striking gentleness in his editorial practice. Widening our analytic perspective from the level of the individual sonnet to that of the collection, it shows that Benson took the local order of the 1609 publication as intrinsic to the meaning of the gathered sonnets. The essay then uses this sensitivity to an intratextual poetics to reconsider how the 1640 Poems transformed Shakespeare’s lyrics. The material form of the small octavo collection, as well as the poem and volume titles, the layout of the pages, and the form of the lyrics all suggest that Benson was responding to John Donne’s popular verse collection, Poems by J.D. (published in 1633 and 1635). In turn, this new bibliographic paradigm adjusted the erotics of Shakespeare’s collected lyrics, as the dualities of the Petrarchan sonnet sequence coalesced into longer poems and gave rise to a metaphysical poetics of desire. Together, these dual influences on the 1640 Poems Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. propose that, as a publisher, Benson was sensitive to how collections informed the interpretation of gathered poems and that, as an editor of Shakespeare’s lyrics, he was responding creatively to that intersection of textual and poetic form. Benson’s gentle editing demonstrates that the textual structure of the book was foundational to the production of poetic affect.

When Thomas Thorpe published Shake-Speares Sonnets in 1609, the volume was framed as a potential, if tentative, sequence. Each sonnet was preceded by a numbered heading. This organizational device differentiated the identical lyrics, suggested an order in which readers might move through the volume, and fostered a superficial resemblance between Thorpe’s quarto and the sequences popular in England over a decade earlier, in the 1590s.1 But this was not the format in which most seventeenth-century readers encountered Shakespeare’s lyrics. Thorpe never reprinted his edition, and it does not seem to have been particularly sought after. Before editors returned to the quarto in the late eighteenth century, readers’ primary access to the sonnets was in an octavo issued by John Benson in 1640.2 Benson’s edition looked nothing like Thorpe’s. [End Page 71]

Where the 1609 volume offers the lure of a Petrarchan sequence, in 1640 Shakespeare’s lyrics are apparently a miscellaneous jumble. The numbered headings are gone, replaced with abstract titles that reflect Benson’s profound impact on multiple aspects of the collection. First is the shape of the lyrics themselves, which in Benson’s edition are in surprising tension with the sonnet form, treating many individual sonnets as subordinate stanzas within longer poems. Second, although Shakespeare’s fourteen-line form remains visible in 1640, both in the sonnets printed singly and in new stanzas that preserve Shakespeare’s indented couplets, Benson never calls any of these lyrics “sonnets.” He instead refers to them as “some excellent and sweetely composed Poems, of Master William Shakespeare.”3 Perhaps as a reflection of the new heterogeneity of these sometime Sonnets, the collection was retitled (and gentrified), becoming Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent.

This essay proposes that we take Benson at his word, accepting both his designation of these conflations as “poems” and his title that casts the collection as a book called Poems. For even as Benson unsettled the larger sequence of sonnets in the quarto, his manipulations reveal a sensitivity to the textual form of Shakespeare’s lyrics that was explicitly poetic. Regardless of the volume’s pervasive emendations, which I will describe more fully in the pages that follow, my primary interest is a feature of the 1640 Poems that demonstrates a surprising gentleness toward the first edition: within his new units of verse, Benson never once disrupted the local order that sonnets took in the quarto.4 Contrary to work that disparages Benson for altering Shakespeare’s lyrics, this essay considers how the quarto’s own textual features directed the editorial work that produced the 1640 Poems.5 In readings of three of Benson’s newly made poems, “Magazine of beautie,” “Goe and come quickly,” and “A Valediction,” I make two related arguments. First, I claim that Benson’s reframing of the Sonnets often [End Page 72] responded to the Petrarchan poetics advanced by Thorpe’s quarto. By treating Benson’s “poems” as any other unit of verse, I aim to recover the meaning that he discerned in that book’s organization. Second, I suggest that at the same time as Benson was responding to the 1609 collection, the formal variety of these “sweetely composed Poems” also reflected a metaphysical poetics of desire recently made available in other mid-century collections, particularly the 1633 and 1635 publications of John Donne’s Poems. These influences on the 1640 Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. demonstrate that as a publisher, Benson was sensitive to how collections informed the interpretation of gathered poems. Equally, as an editor of Shakespeare’s lyrics, he responded creatively to that intersection of textual and poetic form.

Recent scholarship has done much to nuance our understanding of the agency that Benson exercised over Shakespeare’s lyrics, in contrast to earlier views that Benson had badly distorted the quarto. In the 1944 New Variorum edition of the Sonnets, Hyder Rollins concluded that the shuffled order of the volume reveals “Benson’s chicanery.” He calls the Poems “a deliberate, and evidently a successful, attempt to deceive readers and to hide the theft” and pirated publication of Shakespeare’s lyrics.6 Against this concern with fraud, Arthur Marotti locates the Poems within a broader culture of “textual instability,” proposing that Benson “creatively exercised his prerogatives as an editor” within “a developing literary institution.”7 Margreta de Grazia further recuperates Benson as an “invested” reader of Shakespeare’s poetry, observing that we can discern in his conflated poems “some principle of coherence that is often highlighted by the title.”8

With the softening of Benson’s reputation as a rogue publisher, critics have come to see Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. as an early canonization of Shakespeare’s poetic authorship. De Grazia shows that Benson “gathered the far-flung pieces of Shakespeare’s poetic corpus,” drawing together not only his Sonnets but also the 1612 Passionate Pilgrim, a spurious collection that included poems by other authors.9 Such defenses of Benson recognize that his Poems [End Page 73] refashioned Shakespeare’s lyrics according to seventeenth-century poetic models, particularly Ben Jonson’s influential Cavalier mode.10 Citing the quality of Benson’s literary publications, including those of Jonson’s poetry, Cathy Shrank identifies Benson as a “seventeenth-century Richard Tottel.” His Poems was “an exercise in canon building” that even had the corresponding textual form of “a miscellany,” incorporating poems of “varied length—and sources.”11

Although work on Benson’s integrity allows us to reconsider Shakespeare’s Poems, it is striking that scholars continue to direct their attention more to how Benson fragmented Thorpe’s quarto than to how he locally preserved that volume within his reimagined collection of Shakespeare’s lyrics. I am sympathetic to accounts of the intertextuality of the 1640 Poems, but in focusing exclusively on miscellaneity, we overlook how Benson responded to the organizational structure of 1609. We can get a sense of this attention by comparing Poems to one prominent vehicle of intertextuality, the early modern commonplace book.12 Benson’s editorial practices were certainly related to the activities of selection and sorting that were central to commonplacing, but he did not excerpt fragments, nor was he primarily concerned with topical indexing. When Benson remade Shakespeare’s lyrics, his attention to the quarto prevented him from combining sonnets from opposite ends of the sequence, as a truly indexical reading might, and he never disrupted the order of constituent sonnets within his new poems, as a reading most concerned with the aesthetic potential of fragments might. Perhaps like other readers of Shake-speares Sonnets, Benson was always reading whole sonnets and even clusters of sonnets drawn together by that volume’s organization. While this essay aims to extend and substantiate recent work defending Benson’s treatment of Shakespeare’s lyrics, therefore, I proceed from a new perspective. Widening our analytic focus from the level of the individual sonnet to that of the larger collection, I propose that where features that might seem merely textual were actively transmitted along with the “poems,” Benson was grappling with the 1609 Sonnets as a book, a textual form that contributed to the meaning of the poetry within it. [End Page 74]

A more disciplinary aim of my argument is to use Benson’s “bookish” approach to the quarto to rethink the impact of material texts on a specifically literary history.13 Through the dynamic play between a rather gentle treatment of the 1609 Sonnets and a partial dislocation of that structure within the 1640 Poems, Benson canonized Shakespeare according to the model of Donne’s posthumous authorship, which itself resulted from the editorial refashioning of a poet notoriously reluctant to publish.14 In these sensitive manipulations, Benson was responding neither to Shakespeare nor to Donne but to the printed collections of their poems. Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. therefore urges us to consider whether, in Marotti’s culture of “instability,” textual agency might come to rest in books themselves and the processes through which they evolved. Benson was not, of course, without choice in his design of Poems; however, in his negotiation of multiple bibliographic models, his gentle editing testifies to how books actively shaped poems and even the expression of erotic desire that we are inclined to treat as the inspiration for poems. When considered from the perspective of the collection, Benson’s editorial practice reveals a certain fluidity between Petrarchan dualism, Cavalier restraint, and metaphysical complexity: poetic styles that modern literary histories usually distinguish. The uneasy variety of Benson’s modes demonstrates that in the process of remaking Shakespeare’s lyrics for a new moment, the textual structure of the book was always foundational to the production of poetic affect.

“Sweetely composed Poems”

Benson’s refashioning of Thorpe’s quarto is eminently visible in emendations to the material, textual, and poetic forms of the collection. The most basic adjustment that Benson made when he republished Shakespeare’s lyrics was to the format of the Sonnets. He exchanged the quarto for the increasingly desirable octavo, which as a smaller format was more likely to be bound and therefore more likely to be preserved.15 These revisions were greater than a simple resizing, since they altered not only the bibliographic format but also the poetic texture of the [End Page 75] Sonnets. Where the pages of the 1609 volume were punctuated by the regular iteration of the fourteen-line poems, those of the 1640 imprint were broken up by lyrics of various lengths. Benson conflated many of the sonnets into larger poetic units, removing the spaces and numbers that originally separated them. Although some sonnets remained single, most became stanzas within longer poems, each containing between two and five sonnet stanzas. In place of numbers, Benson assigned each of these “new” poems a title, usually an abstraction of the sonnet group’s thematic content. Thus, “In prayse of his Love” identified Sonnets 82 through 85, “Selfe flattery of her beautie” Sonnets 113 to 115, “Tryall of loves constancy” Sonnets 117 to 119, and “Retaliation” Sonnets 78 and 79 (sigs. D4r–D5r, E4r–v, E4v–E5v, F5r–v). As the page signatures suggest, Benson changed the larger order of the 1609 volume—for instance, opening his volume with “The glory of beautie,” a conflation of Sonnets 67, 68, and 69 (sigs. A2r–v).

Despite this substantial refashioning, the 1640 Poems preserved a significant feature of Thorpe’s quarto. Even as Benson transformed sonnets into stanzas, his new units of poetry always placed sonnets that appeared earlier in the quarto before later ones; within a given cluster, they only rarely omitted internally sequential sonnets. The first explanation for why Benson’s conflations reflected the local order of the 1609 volume is that he set his edition from Thorpe’s quarto, taking that text as a guide to the poetics of the gathered sonnets. On the other hand, Poems does not demonstrate a totalizing concern with sequence, since Benson used the interpretive potential of the codex—a technology that facilitated discontinuous reading—to disrupt the quarto’s order.16 To take one example, in the opening pages of his edition, we can see him move forward through the quarto within each of his poems but turn backward when he starts a new unit.17 So, the volume begins with a conflation of Sonnets 67 to 69, after which he jumps back to make a poem by combining Sonnets 60 and 63 to 66 (sigs. A2r–A4r). Having worked his way through the 60s, Benson again turned back in the sequence of the quarto, printing Sonnets 53 and 54 together (sigs. A4r–v). The effect, without replicating the 1609 volume in any simple way, was to maintain local connections between proximate sonnets.

In light of this partially respectful handling of the quarto, we might understand Benson’s editorial practice as work that was at once poetic and textual. [End Page 76] Benson himself associates these two registers of making in his praise for Shakespeare’s “sweetely composed Poems.” As we can still hear today, compose means to put together or to construct, and has a particular literary sense of written production that demonstrates craft.18 When Benson wrote this preface in 1639 or 1640, “composed” probably also referred to practices that were explicitly textual, at least from the perspective of those regulating print. A Star Chamber decree from 1637 contains what is perhaps the first usage of “compose” to refer to the activity of setting type and laying out pages—literally, putting together printed books.19 Through these multiple senses of “composed,” we can see something of the hybrid nature of Benson’s “poems.” As conflations preserving the quarto’s local order, they were “composed of ” the first printing of the Sonnets, made up into a whole in the way a compositor might make up a sheet. At the same time, Benson emphasized the composed poetic quality of structures that we might otherwise be inclined to read as merely editorial.20

It is not just that Benson’s praise for Shakespeare’s “sweetely composed Poems” situates his work at the intersection of poetic and textual craft. Rather, “composing” describes a habit of book use that reframed the copy text into new poetic structures.21 In preserving the local order of sonnets within his longer poems, Benson seems to respond to the intellectual work prompted by the quarto’s organization. Not all of his conflations function perfectly. Although “A disconsolation” joins Sonnets 27 to 29, the final sonnet stanza does not seem to follow: Sonnets 27 and 28 constitute an expanded treatment of the sleeplessness brought on by the poet’s longing for the beloved, while Sonnet 29 introduces a new meditation on disgrace and solitude.22 In the poem’s attempt to [End Page 77] contain such semantic difficulty within a tighter poetic unit, we can see how Benson’s editing hypothesized and then preserved the effort of interpretation required to get from Sonnet 27 to 29. As conflations like “A disconsolation” retransmitted the shifting connections between sonnets in 1609, the inferential work solicited by this intratextual poetics became the foundation for new poems in the 1640 publication.

Benson’s response to the collected poetics of the Sonnets is evidenced particularly well by “Magazine of beautie,” a new poem that traces a dynamic account of the beloved’s profligate self-use. In this conflation of Sonnets 4 to 6, all three verses argue that the beloved should recognize the value of his beauty and consequently that he should preserve it.23 The new poem opens by questioning the beloved’s hoarding of himself:

Vnthriftie lovelinesse why dost thou spend, Vpon thy selfe thy beauties legacy? . . . Then beautious niggard why doost thou abuse, The bountious largesse given thee to give? Profitles Vsurer, why dost thou use So great a summe of summes yet can’st not live?

(sig. A7v, ll. 1–2, 5–8)

“Vnthriftie loveliness,”“beautious niggard,”“Profitles Vsurer”: this series of paradoxical descriptions multiplies the qualities attributed to the beloved, reflecting the poet’s inability to isolate a singular representation. Later in the same sonnet stanza, the speaker animates these multiple images, accusing the beloved of self-abuse in a scene of solipsistic commerce: “For having traffike with thyselfe alone, / Thou of thy selfe thy sweet selfe doth deceive” (sig. A8r, ll. 9–10). I find it especially noteworthy that the rapidly proliferating selves in the first sonnet stanza are so often addressed with rhetorical questions, since the remainder of “Magazine of beautie” disrupts this strategy. Where the first sonnet stanza revolves around anxious queries, the second and third offer answers, even as the beloved comes into focus as a single “substance” (sig. A8r, l. 28). Sonnet 5 (the second “Magazine” stanza) proposes that “summers distillation,” a “liquid prisoner pent in walls of glasse,” might preserve “Beauties effect” even after death, when “beautie were bereft.” And this alchemy continues in the final sonnet stanza, which entreats the beloved to “Make sweet some viall; treasure [End Page 78] thou some place” (sig. A8r, ll. 25, 23–24, 31). Across the new poem, the beloved, who has been destabilized into multiple paradoxical selves in stanza 1 (Sonnet 4), is transfigured into a more durable object of value, preserving “beauties treasure ere it be selfe kil’d” (sig. A8r, l. 32).

Organized around metaphors that quantify the beloved’s beauty, “Magazine” also collects and increases this valuation, offering a formal expression of the meaning that Benson found, not in any one poem itself, but in the quarto’s local order. By removing the spaces between the three sonnets, subordinating them as stanzas under the rubric of the “magazine,” Benson creates a single poem that accretes the “bountious largesse” alluded to in the first sonnet stanza (l. 6). This consolidation is supported by his title, a strategic amplification of the thematics of Sonnets 4 to 6.24 A word new to English in the sixteenth century, “magazine” refers to a location that contains and protects wealth, a “storehouse.”25 Benson’s conflation operates as a storehouse for the beloved, with the new poem protecting his beauty as a function of its longer form. A number of passages in “Magazine” play with the relation between “use” and “usury,” each time dismissing claims about the potential misuse of value. Increase is permitted because it ensures the beloved’s future presence: “Ten times thy selfe were happier than thou art, / If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee” (sig. A8r, ll. 36–38). We can see how the shared endeavor of Sonnets 4 to 6 might have inspired Benson to call this poem a “magazine.” Like these generations spawned by the poet’s imagination, “Magazine of beautie” multiplies the images of the beloved containable in a single poem, drawing together in one magazine what was at first spread across multiple sonnets.

Through this poetic gathering, “Magazine” reveals how closely Benson followed the local order of the quarto, even when that editorial principle risked destabilizing the new unit of verse. It is a critical commonplace that Sonnets 5 and 6 are companions. In an evaluation that almost validates the editorial agency that Benson exercised in his conflations, Stephen Booth finds that Sonnets 5 and 6 are “logically linked,” in fact, related “so tightly . . . as practically to make [Sonnet 6] the second half of a 28-line unit.”26 Both sonnets explore how distillation might preserve the beloved. Sonnet 5’s couplet announces that “flowers distil’d though they with winter meete . . . their substance still lives sweet”(sig. A8r, ll. 27–28). Sonnet 6 (now the third stanza of “Magazine”) begins with a rhetorical [End Page 79] and temporal hinge: “Then let not winters wragged hand deface, / In thee thy summer ere thou be distil’d” (sig. A8r, ll. 29–30; emphasis added). The third sonnet stanza of “Magazine” thus applies the abstractions of the second to the specific issue of the beloved’s perpetuity. As its first stanza, “Magazine of beautie” includes Sonnet 4, a poem that attacks the beloved’s self-hoarding with a different poetic logic: by multiplying rather than distilling him. This semantic gap makes the new poem slightly unsteady, as the reader struggles to discern the connection between the first and second sonnet stanzas.

Ultimately, “Magazine” generates a kind of retrospective coherence, asking the reader to recall the opening gambit when the language of usury and legacy reappear at the end. In the final sonnet stanza, we hear “That use is not forbidden usury, / Which happies those that pay the willing lone.” The final couplet concludes with a gesture to posterity: “Be not selfe-wil[le]d for thou art much too faire, / To be deaths conquest and make wormes thine heire.” Taken together, these lines refer back to the couplet concluding the first sonnet stanza (Sonnet 4): “Thy unus’d beautie must be tomb’d with thee, / Which used lives th’executor to be” (sigs. A8r–A8v, ll. 33–34, 41–42; sig. A7v, ll. 13–14). With this return to “use” as a way to escape the ravages of death, “Magazine” shows how the quarto’s local clustering of Sonnets 4 to 6 might have led readers like Benson to identify a relation between textual order and poetic meaning, prompting them to recognize the local continuity between discrete lyrics. Even as this poem initially seems somewhat disjointed, it contains a record of Benson’s active reading across textual gaps, taking the mobile resonances between lyrics as integral to the poetics of Shakespeare’s collected verses.

By reading Benson’s conflations as “poems,” we can see how his editorial practice was surprisingly responsive to the local organization of the 1609 quarto, preserving a hidden but active relation between poetic and textual effects. “Magazine of beautie” suggests that this very care with the structure of Shake-speares Sonnets distorted the form that new poems took in the 1640 edition. Benson drew the sonnets together in a way that was at once sensitive to their arrangement in the quarto and an intensification of those intratextual poetics so literal as to diminish the semantic gap between Sonnets 4 and 5. In the sections below, I read two other poems that similarly preserve the local structure of the quarto only to manipulate it to a distinct effect. Both treat eros as a principle of organization operating formally and thematically, with the first indicating Benson’s sensitivity to the ways in which desire spills over from one sonnet to the next, the second showing how the same tendency to read across sonnets produced a new kind of poem that draws on Donne’s metaphysical example in its internal structuring. What emerges is an account of how the larger form of the book of collected poems could place pressure on [End Page 80] individual lyrics. As subsequenced sonnets grew into longer and irregular verses, poetic and erotic structures were themselves produced by the process of textual transmission.

Love’s Turns

To measure how Benson’s edition adjusted the intratextual poetics of Thorpe’s quarto, we might examine how each volume solicits a particular experience of being within the collected lyrics. Poems follows the quarto’s local order and, in so doing, transforms that textual organization into a poetic structure that is internal to the new poems. The effect is actually to disrupt the potential for a sequential reading of the larger collection. I want now to consider another of Benson’s conflations, “Goe and come quickly” (Figure 1), a poem that demonstrates very clearly the difference between reading discrete sonnets in a sequence and reading them as subordinate stanzas within a single poem. In this conflation of Sonnets 50 and 51, we can see Benson responding to an extended account of how desire upsets the phenomenal world of the Sonnets, repeatedly distorting directionality by taking the friend as the standard against which to measure speed and distance. Rather than preserving the centrifugal pull of this movement in 1609, the conflation contains and limits love’s digressive turns. The disruptions that had operated for the sequence as a whole are confined by Benson’s title, which predicts that the poem’s action will move in two directions at once. With these changing expectations about what will unfold within the new poem, the verses’ subject shifts, becoming an exploration of erotic movement itself.

When Benson attended to the textual design of 1609 and to the poetic turns of love, his editorial practices intensified the scenario established by the quarto. We might see this intensification as a sensitive response to a broadly Petrarchan erotics operating within the Sonnets, since it emphasizes, on the one hand, the distance of the beloved and, on the other, the potential for poetic meaning to unfold in the textual gaps between multiple short poems.27 To conceive of “Petrarchan” in this way is to posit a relation between the collected Rime sparse [End Page 81]

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Figure 1.

“Goe and come quickly,” a conflation of Sonnets 50 and 51, in Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. (London: Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by Iohn Benson, 1640), STC 22344, copy 1, sig. C5r. By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

[End Page 82]

and the version of desire that these “scattered rhymes” make possible. 28 “Goe and come quickly” is, in this sense, particularly Petrarchan since it materializes the relation between an erotic structure, namely the distance between lover and beloved, and a textual one, namely the relation between two sonnets. In a poem about the paradigmatic Petrarchan relation, Benson has imagined a form for the paradigmatic textual experience of that relation.

In both the 1609 Sonnets and the 1640 Poems, Sonnets 50 and 51 are companion poems that beg to be read together and in sequence. They progressively describe the slow movement of the horse that carries the mournful poet away from the friend, as well as the poet’s imagination of his future return to him. Sonnet 50 opens by pacing the poet’s thoughts to his travel: “How heavie doe I journey on the way,” with “heavie” here describing the poet’s melancholy state of mind as well as, in Booth’s reading, a physical weightiness that comes into focus a few lines later when we hear of the horse, “The beast that beares me, tired with my woe, / Plods dully on, to beare that weight in me” (sig. C5r, ll. 1, 5–6).29 In Benson’s conflation, the next sonnet stanza continues the scenario begun in the first, starting with a bridge from one quatorzain to the next: “Thus can my love excuse the slow offence, / Of my dull bearer” (sig. C5r, ll. 15–16; emphasis added). More than just continuing the first sonnet, this description of the horse nominalizes the action that appeared above, “plod[ing] dully,” “bear[ing] that weight.” With the earlier sonnet operating as a source for the later, the conflated “Goe and come quickly” not only reflects the order of Sonnets 50 and 51 in the quarto but also unifies an episode originally split between two sonnets.

That said, the very thematics of movement that allows one lyric to be joined to its counterpoint is altered by the conflation, such that “Goe and come quickly” produces a more confusing experience of sequence and order than is the case in either of the individual sonnets. Movement is not a simple progression forward, as the metaphor of the journey implies; instead, it repeatedly turns the poet back toward the friend. From its opening, “Goe and come quickly,” using Sonnet 50, plays with expectations about where we begin and where we end: “When what I seeke (my weary travels end) / Doth teach that ease and that repose to say, / Thus farre the miles are measurde from thy friend” (sig. C5r, ll. 2–4). “[E]nd” is both the conclusion of the journey and the goal toward which the weary poet travels, but that conclusion offers no relief, since [End Page 83] it only reminds him of the miles that separate him from the friend. This end that is, actually, just the beginning of the poem predicts how this measure of distance unsettles both sonnet stanzas. As desire constantly orients the poet toward the friend, turns come to characterize both his physical movement and the mobile poetics of the lines. The components of this poem are in perpetual motion. The “heavie” that describes the poet’s journey in the first line drifts to the horse that carries him in the eleventh: in response to being spurred, “heavily he answers with a grone.” In a twist, the poet turns this groan back on himself in the couplet: “For that same groane doth put this in my mind, / My greefe lies onward and my joy behind” (sig. C5r, ll. 11, 13–14). The disorder of this final line, which places “onward” at the beginning and “behind” at the end, again illuminates how completely desire upends this world.

Given that Sonnet 50 concludes by turning so neatly back onto itself, a reader of the 1609 Sonnets has no reason to think the episode not truly ended until the “Thus” of Sonnet 51 jarringly restarts the same argument. But in Benson’s conflated “Goe and come quickly,” the reader experiences no such surprise. The new poem’s title announces the simultaneity of two kinds of movement, and, by eliding the textual gap between quatorzains, the poem visually predicts that the opening scenario will extend beyond its first fourteen lines. Where the 1609 publication duplicates a confusion, the 1640 volume exaggerates it. The greater length of the new poem multiplies the distortions of direction, as the turns of going and coming, traveling to and away from the friend, now stretch across twenty-eight lines about a single confused movement. This single movement even comes to exceed the present scenario. The second sonnet stanza pivots on an almost invisible shift between the present journey away from the friend to the poet’s imagination of a future return to him. The first quatrain excuses the slowness of the poet’s horse: “From where thou art, why should I hast me thence / Till I returne of posting is no neede.” The next lines contain a rapid, dizzying shift:

O what excuse will my poore beast then find, When swift extremitie can seeme but slow, Then should I spurre though mounted on the wind.

(sig. C5r, ll. 17–21; emphasis added)

What has happened is that “Till I return” inspires the poet to dream of the moment when he will reverse his journey, drawing him into a vision of the speed with which he will ride and the vigor with which he will spur his horse. This leap is nearly obscured because the lines bury the marker of that future moment: “then,” is delayed, coming after more reflections on the suffering horse. The poem’s confusion merges the present of Sonnet 50 with the future of Sonnet 51. [End Page 84]

Through this capacity to register multiple traces of poetic and textual movement, “Goe and come quickly” offers a sense of the recursiveness of Benson’s editorial practice. His care to preserve the local order of sonnets suggests, first, how he was responding to the textual form that desire took in the quarto, tracing its movement across Sonnets 50 and 51. As in “Magazine,” this local fidelity to the 1609 edition slightly distorted those structures. Benson’s new poems introduced a new poetics of desire, one that has often been understood as the result of a cultural shift that took place between the two editions. In Bruce Smith’s reading, “Benson’s edition of 1640 is a sign that the cultural moment of Shakespeare’s sonnets had passed,” initiating the process by which subsequent generations of editors “contrived to contain these poems, not within the culture of sixteenth-century England, but within their own culture’s ways of understanding” same-sex desire.30 Taking issue with this avowedly cultural reading of a textual artifact, Sasha Roberts has posited that Benson’s edition demonstrates not “an entrenchment of heterosexual conservatism in the mid-seventeenth century,” but instead “how the homoerotic and misogynist tones of Shakespeare’s sonnets are dependent on their specific structure and sequencing in the 1609 quarto.” Roberts concludes that the “cumulative effect” of the restructuring is to “puncture the relentless misogyny” of Thorpe’s quarto.31 Extending Roberts’ textualist reading in light of Smith’s more speculative cultural analysis, I propose that we recognize that Benson’s updating of the quarto, a textual matter, was simultaneously a response to the particular version of desire produced by that collection’s structure. Rather than directly adjusting the erotics of 1609—for example, through a consistent substitution of gendered pronouns—Benson followed the turns of love in those sonnets in order to craft longer poems, and it was these poems themselves that changed the representation of desire for the 1640 imprint.32 [End Page 85]

In positing that Benson’s editorial actions had only a second-order effect on the erotics of Shakespeare’s lyrics, I aim to unfold a slightly prior history of the relation between desire and poetry, showing how textual paradigms might precede—and in turn create—aesthetic forms and affective structures. Although “Goe and come quickly” preserves and exaggerates the dynamic between Sonnets 50 and 51, the new poem contains the movement within the sonnets that it describes. Where it was possible for readers of 1609 to extrapolate outward from the two sonnets’ depiction of the unstable world of the desiring poet, to take the turns of love as a cue for reading, say, back to Sonnet 49, in 1640 that potential for movement gets turned in on itself within the single poem. An unpredictability characterizes the experience of the separate sonnets; the conflated poem offers a title that even names love’s digressions and, instead of offering a surprising return to a repeatable scenario, emphasizes the discreteness of a single (albeit even more confusing) event. The diction of “Goe and come quickly” echoes the final couplet: “Since from thee going, he went wilfull slow, / Towards thee ile run, and give him leave to goe” (sig. C5r, ll. 27–28). This chiastic repetition of “Goe” as the first and the last word of this new poetic unit encloses desire’s movement within the space of the poem, concluding by turning the reader’s eye back up to the heading, much as the poet turns back toward the friend.

The new poem’s overall effect is of having responded to a flurry of poetic and affective movement with a kind of stasis. As the poet predicts in his dream of returning to the friend, “In winged speed no motion shall I know” (sig. C5r, l. 22). Nothing could be closer and yet further away from the original. “Goe and come quickly” is a formal approximation of the duality of Petrarchan desire, the single poem materializing both the excitement of seeking and the disappointment of never reaching the beloved. At the same time, this formal containment gives rise to a new erotics that erases the Petrarchism that produced it, in the sense that the poet and the friend are locked in an ongoing dynamic rather than propelled forward by the movement recounted in the sequenced sonnets.

Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent.: Shakespeare after Donne

Given that Benson’s version of Petrarchan desire emerges from his tracking of the quarto’s local order, should we expect his 1640 volume to produce in its structure a correlative erotics? In his letter “To the Reader,” Benson claims an evident simplicity to Shakespeare’s lyrics: “In your perusall you shall finde them Seren, cleere and eligantly plaine, such gentle straines as shall recreate and not perplexe your braine, no intricate or cloudy stuffe to puzzell intellect, but perfect eloquence” (sig. *2v). Now, as we saw in “Goe and come quickly,” this picture of eloquence could not be farther from the experience of reading the 1609 Sonnets. With desire overflowing individual poems and working against the regularity [End Page 86] of the sonnet form, that collection required effort from its readers, asking them to discern the connection between any particular cluster of verses. “Goe and come quickly” demonstrates that Benson’s new poems attempt to tame this kind of semantic difficulty. By combining sonnets according to the larger plotted movement of desire, his lyric units become more predictable.

The remainder of this essay explores how this smoothing or calibrating of poetic and textual units was enabled by the larger form of Benson’s volume, a book that he called Poems. Broadening my earlier claim about how Benson preserved the textual and poetic effects of the quarto within his new edition, I propose that he also read Shakespeare’s lyrics through the example offered by a more contemporary collection: the volume of Donne’s poetry, Poems, by J. D. With Elegies on the Author’s Death, first printed posthumously in 1633 and substantially revised in 1635 and 1639. Although Donne’s metaphysical poetics seem distinct from Shakespeare’s, I argue that Benson’s engagement with Poems, by J. D. testifies to that volume’s influential bibliographic legacy. As a result of this textual mimicry, Shakespeare’s characteristic “sweetness,” which had been so pronounced for contemporaries like Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia (1598), was reframed according to the model that Donne offered for containing formal and generic variety within a single book.

There are, of course, reasons to question Donne’s influence on Benson’s volume, particularly as a model of lyric serenity and deliberate textual craft. Donne was notoriously reluctant to gather his poems for publication, and his obscure style is at odds with Benson’s prefatory remarks about Shakespeare’s “Seren, cleere and eligantly plaine” lyrics. Indeed, Marotti rightly notes that in this characterization of his subject Benson is distancing Shakespeare from Donne’s complex poetics.33 David Baker has similarly proposed that Ben Jonson’s restrained and classicizing Cavalier mode offers a better model than Donne for the 1640 Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent.34 There is much to recommend Baker’s view. Jonson played a profound role in the mid-seventeenth-century publication of poetry and, specifically, in Benson’s career.35 In the same year as Shakespeare’s Poems, Benson published both Ben Jonson’s Execration against Vulcan and Q. Horatius Flaccus: His Art of poetry. Englished by [End Page 87] Ben Jonson.36 Further, the Cavalier mode was often self-consciously composite, like Benson’s claims for presenting a Shakespeare cast in the image of Jonson’s restraint. Thomas Carew, for instance, praised Donne’s rough lines in an explicitly Horatian mode, showing his debt to Jonson.37

I want to suggest for Benson something a little more complicated. Although he expressed a desire for a stylistic synthesis of Jonson and Shakespeare, this was manifested through a textual synthesis of Shakespeare and Donne that ended up producing its own stylistic effects. If Benson’s stated preference for plain verse evokes a Jonsonian model for Shakespeare’s individual poems, nevertheless Jonson’s model is less prominent if we read the 1640 Poems at the level of the collection. Recall that Jonson’s ambitious Workes (1616) was revolutionary not for containing his poetry, but for presuming to include his drama. Plays are missing in Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent.; the only sense we get of Shakespeare as a dramatist is in Leonard Digges’ prefatory poem, which explicitly contrasts Shakespeare to Jonson.38 It opens, “Poets are borne not made,” countering Jonson’s famous “a good Poet’s made, as well as borne.” It goes on to attack “needy Poetasters” and “tedious Catilines,” ultimately calling Sejanus“irkesome.”39 Further, the title given to Digges’s verse attempts to tone down its praise for Shakespeare’s drama, associating him specifically with his poetry: “Upon Master William Shakespeare, the Deceased Author, and his POEMS” (sigs. *3r–v). Of course, Benson could not have included the plays in his collection of Shakespeare’s work because those rights were tied up in Heminge and Condell’s Folio, Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies (1623, 1632). Equally, his Venus and Adonis (1593) and Rape of Lucrece (1594) were still being actively reprinted.40 Left with the possibility of [End Page 88] publishing only Shakespeare’s non-narrative poetry, Benson needed a model for this kind of book and neither Jonson’s multi-generic folio nor Shakespeare’s dramatic folio could adequately fill this role.

In this identification of Shakespeare as the author of a posthumous verse collection, Benson was fitting him into the textual paradigm established not by Jonson but by Donne. To call a book Poems in 1640 was to associate it with Donne’s poetic legacy, since this volume title, which seems naturally descriptive, was not common prior to the posthumous publication of Poems, by J. D. in 1633. Before John Marriot released this first edition of Donne’s poetry, the title Poems seems to have been assigned to the printed work of only two poets: Michael Drayton (1605, 1608, 1610, 1613, 1616, 1619, 1620, 1630, 1637) and William Drummond (1614?, 1616).41 After Donne’s initial popularity in print, there was a rapid growth in the number of single-author collections called Poems: at least nine different volumes took up that title between 1638 and 1650. Benson’s edition was in the vanguard of this trend. Besides Shakespeare’s Poems, there were Poems by Carew (1640), Francis Beaumont (1640), and John Milton (1645), as well as by Thomas Randolph (1638), Henry Glapthorne (1639), Edmund Waller (1645), James Shirley (1646), Thomas Philipot (1646), and John Hall (1647).42 This tally should include the multiple issues of Donne’s volume. Given that Poems, by J. D. was printed three times in the decade before Poems: Written by Wil. Shakespeare, Gent. In 1633, 1635, and 1639, it may well have been difficult to hear Benson’s title without connecting it to Donne.

More than just adopting the conceptual framework for a book of Poems, Benson followed the structure and organization of Donne’s editions. He seems first to have picked up on the material form of Poems, by J. D. While Jonson’s folio Workes was monumental, weighing nearly five pounds, Benson’s volume was a trim octavo designed for mobile rather than sedentary reading.43 This characteristic suggests that the volume most in sight for Benson might have been the 1635 second edition and not the 1633 first edition of Donne’s poetry. Portability was perhaps one of the motivations for Marriot’s substantial reframing of Donne’s Poems two years after its first appearance. These revisions exchanged the original [End Page 89] quarto for an octavo, the format in which the collection would remain throughout five subsequent seventeenth-century printings.44 Marriot also substantially reordered the 1635 Poems, by J. D., placing Donne’s erotic lyrics first and the elegies that other poets wrote for him at the end of the volume. This restructuring had a pronounced effect on the representation of Donne’s development as a poet, allowing the volume to reflect his apparent conversion from a youthful lover to the dean of St. Paul’s.45 Benson partially followed this ordering of Poems, by J. D., giving work by other poets, some of them mourning Shakespeare’s death, at the end of Poems: Written by Wil. Shakespeare. Gent. Three elegies—one by Milton from the second folio of Shakespeare’s plays, one by an unknown author, one by “W. B.” (William Basse)—were spliced between the verses attributed to Shakespeare and a concluding section titled “Addition of some Excellent Poems . . By other Gentlemen,” Cavalier poets including Beaumont, Carew, Jonson, Robert Herrick, and William Strode.

This organization was supported by the paratextual features in Shakespeare’s Poems, many of which drew on those in Poems, by J. D. Every poem in Donne’s collection was headed with a title. In the section of erotic lyrics that open the volume, these headings elegantly distill the metaphysical scenarios that Donne explores in his poems: “Woman’s Constancy,” “Love’s Usury,” “The Indifferent,” “Love’s Exchange,” “The Broken Heart.”46 Benson’s poem titles were often equally simple in form and melancholic in tone, including such headings as “Loves crueltie,” “The Exchange,” “Unkinde Abuse,” and “Life and death” (sigs. A5v, B4r, F1r, F3v). Paratexts from Poems, by J. D. offer an alternative source for an aspect of Shakespeare’s Poems that seems explicitly “Cavalier.” Throughout the 1640 volume, every page was headed with a running title that inserts a diaeresis over the vowels in Poëms. Although this heading appears neither in Jonson’s Folio, nor in his two shorter volumes that Benson published in 1640, “Poëms” runs on every page of Donne’s 1633 collection and on every verso page of the subsequent editions.47 One of the most apparently classicizing details of Benson’s book looks more like an instance of textual mimicry, and a mimicry of Donne rather than Jonson. [End Page 90]

While Donne’s influence on Shakespeare’s Poems is most visible as a confluence of textual features, his bibliographic example had an effect on the new units of poetry that have been my principal concern in this essay, and on how the book represents love as an affective structure dependent on poetic form. Notice the linings that Benson printed between new poems that shared the same page, perhaps as a way to enhance their formal containment (Figure 2); such textual boundaries appear in Marriot’s treatment of Donne’s poems, diverse lyrics whose occasional status often thwarts attempts to read continuity within the collection. As we saw, Benson’s edition similarly limits the potential to read across Shakespeare’s sonnets, instead condensing their Petrarchan dualities into the space of the single poem. To think about this effect in another way, despite Benson’s prefatory claims for serenity, Shakespeare’s lyrics thus begin to resemble Donne’s metaphysical conceits, the knotty poetics that attempt to harness divergent experiences within, say, the single image of the compass’s twin arms in his “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” As in the Petrarchan erotics of the 1609 quarto, the textual form of the 1640 Poems produced a particular poetics. This is not to say, of course, that Benson necessarily set out to imitate Donne’s style, but that in the process of framing his collection like Donne’s, he discovered how to make longer, more semantically contained lyrics, and that a complex poetics followed as a result of joining together groups of Shakespeare’s already difficult sonnets.

Although the design of Benson’s volume had a profound effect on “Shakespeare’s” poetics, Benson’s emendations depended on an editorial practice that was initially textual. Benson approached both the sonnets and Donne’s bibliographic example through the organization and design of their respective collections, preserving the local order of the 1609 quarto inside a reimagined book of Poems. In conclusion, I want to explore how Benson’s habit of editing was also poetic: even as his reframing of Shakespeare’s lyrics was informed by the dynamic relationship between poems and books, his conflations were also attuned to the internal structures of Donne’s verses. My case is the poem that Benson called “A Valediction” (Figures 2 and 3). As with the volume title Poems, the evident anachronism of “A Valediction” sheds light on how Benson updated Shakespeare’s lyrics thirty years after their initial publication.48 My argument is that the distinctly metaphysical handling of lyric time in Donne’s valedictions inspired Benson to deviate from his habitual treatment of the quarto’s local [End Page 91]

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Figure 2.

Sonnet 71, set as the first stanza of “A Valediction,” in Poems: Written by Wil. Shakespeare. Gent. (London: Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by Iohn Benson, 1640), STC 22344, copy 1, sig. D2r. By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

[End Page 92]

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Figure 3.

Sonnets 72 and 74, set as the second and third stanzas in “A Valediction,” in Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. (London: Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by Iohn Benson, 1640), STC 22344, copy 1, sig. D2v. By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

[End Page 93]

clusters of sonnets: this new poem contains Sonnets 71, 72, and 74, but not a trace of Sonnet 73. Through this omission, the conflated “Valediction” registers the afterlife of the Petrarchan sonnet sequence within the greater formal variety of mid-seventeenth century verse.49 Breaking down the loosely sequential design of the quarto, the 1640 Poems instead unfolds in a continuous lyric present, a repetition of discrete instants that struggle to reconcile the multiple temporalities Shakespeare explores in the sonnets.

As a linguistic and poetic invention that postdated the 1609 quarto, the vale-diction is a hallmark of Donne’s metaphysical poetics. A recent coinage most closely associated with Donne (and perhaps his own neologism), “valediction” is a Latinate expression meaning a speech or words uttered at leave-taking.50 The word appeared consistently in manuscript and print as the title for four of Donne’s erotic lyrics: “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” “A Valediction: Of My Name in the Window,” “A Valediction: Of the Book,” “A Valediction: Of Weeping.” All these poems meditate on how, in the instant of taking leave, the poet allows his future absence to color his present relation to the beloved. “A Valediction: Of Weeping” begins by begging “Let me pour forth / My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here.”51 With this plea for the beloved to witness the sadness that will fill his time away, the poet collapses present and future, demanding that the current conversation be seen only in light of the coming separation. The rest of the poem spins a fantasy in which the tears are globes that might drown both lovers if the poet’s watery orbs happen to collide with those of the beloved. It concludes with a claim for how such protracted emotional displays threaten the lovers’ current union: “Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath, / Whoe’er sighs most, is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death.”52 The valedictory speech unites the lovers’ experience of absence and presence in a single unit of verse, concluding with the ultimate separation, a final image of death.

In “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” Donne’s metaphysical collapse of time—which pulls together presence and absence, life and death—produces a strange poetic causality in which a lyric imagination of the future causes effects [End Page 94] in the present. Benson’s conflated “Valediction” similarly troubles temporal boundaries. The poet repeatedly attempts to speak from beyond the grave, producing constructions filled with hypotheticals: statements about the future that nonetheless operate in the present. The first sonnet stanza, the quarto’s Sonnet 71, announces that if the beloved is reading this verse, the poet must already be dead and, paradoxically, should be forgotten: “if you read this line, remember not, / The hand that writ it, for I love you so, / that I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot” (sig. D2r, ll. 5–7). In Sonnet 72, the conditional “ifs” become more emphatic warnings—“Least,” “Unlesse,” “so should you”—of how the beloved should fear the poet’s posterity, “shamed by that which I bring forth” (sig. D2v, ll. 15, 19, 28, 27). The poet in fact demands “After my death (deare love) forget me quite,” so that the beloved will not be forced to recount his memory to others: “Least the world should taske you to recite” (sig. D2v, ll. 17, 15). While Sonnet 74 removes the conditionals that qualify the earlier sonnet stanzas, it is still located at the very limits of future life: “But be contented when that fell arest, / Without all bayle shall carry me away” (sig. D2v, ll. 29–30).53 Like Donne’s complex metaphysical conceit, the mixed time of this conflation unites the lovers’ experience of absence and presence in the transitional instant of the valediction. The poem speaks from a future that is located beyond the current moment, imagining itself as an artifact of the poet’s posthumous presence: “The worth of that, is that which it containes, / And that is this, and this with thee remaines” (ll. 41–42).

Much like “Magazine of beautie” and “Goe and come quickly,”“A Valediction” condenses meanings that originally unfolded across a cluster of sonnets, contracting the extended temporality of love (and of its leavings) into a single instant of departure. Although this poem follows the local order of the quarto, giving Sonnet 71 and then Sonnets 72 and 74, Donne’s neologism and, most importantly, the poetic model of desire implied by that word in the governing title led Benson to omit one of the sonnets in the sequence. I take it that this omission was required by the characteristic temporality of the valediction. Contrary to the provisional futurity of the other three sonnet stanzas, which contract the temporal gap between present and future, Sonnet 73 more simply sketches a scenario in which the poet embodies an extended present. His aging body is described with metaphors that pause multiple instances of waning—of a year, a day, a fire: [End Page 95]

That time of yeeare thou maist in me behold, When yellow leaues, or none, or few doe hange . . . In me thou seest the twi-light of such day, As after Sun-set fadeth in the West . . . In me thou seest the glowing of such fire, That on the ashes of his youth doth lie (ll. 1–2, 5–6, 9–10; emphasis added)54

With “in me” appearing in each quatrain, the triply repeated call to recognize that the poet’s body illustrates the instant in which age eclipses youth is uttered in a resolute present tense, one determined to freeze these transitions. Where the three sonnets in “A Valediction” imagine a moment after the poet’s death—“When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay”—his aging body is necessarily present in Sonnet 73, standing as an emblem for the various images of waning (sig. D2r, l. 10). Each quatrain contains a microexploration of encroaching death, with naked boughs replacing leaves, “blacke night” entombing day, and the fire’s ashes suffocating any remaining flames (l. 7). Most bravely (and perhaps most blindly), the final couplet of Sonnet 73 asserts that “This thou perceu’st,” the frozen progression of time, is actually what makes the poet desirable: it “makes thy loue more strong, / To loue that well, which thou must leaue ere long” (ll. 13–14).

That Benson’s “Valediction” omits all of this brave posturing in Sonnet 73 suggests how he correlated poetic and textual structures, intertwining features that were Shakespeare’s and Thorpe’s, Donne’s and Marriot’s. To that extent, it is difficult to discern where editorial practice ends and literary reading begins. Learning from Donne how lyric length might reflect the erotic scenario, Benson created units of poetry that could contain the desire that had originally unfolded across multiple sonnets in the quarto. In this case, Sonnet 73 would have inserted the poet’s waning body into a posthumous speech, thereby interrupting the consistent time that Benson’s conflation required. The solution was clear. Benson leapt across to Sonnet 74, allowing his imaginative discovery of a poetic form distinctly associated with Donne, but which was only a primordial cluster in the 1609 publication, to draw him across an intervening verse just as he more often read across the gaps between sonnets. By removing Sonnet 73 from “A [End Page 96] Valediction,” Benson stabilized the speaker’s voice, providing a uniform perspective that operated only from beyond the grave rather than oscillating between the hypothetical future and an expanded present. Benson’s editorial work enacted the experience on which this cluster of poems meditates: life after the poet has died. He cut the poet’s voice from the present moment and, as promised in the first sonnet stanza, allows us to hear him speak only as an absent presence.

Reading the conflated “Valediction,” we attribute the lines to the poetic speaker, the posthumous voice begging the beloved to forget him: “if you read this line, remember not, / The hand that writ it.” This lyric requires us to forget the operations of another hand, that of the editor. The poem’s power derives from the scenario that Benson imaginatively discovered in the 1609 Sonnets and amplified within his own textual fiction. This scenario makes it possible for Shakespeare to pen (or, more precisely, to have penned) a valediction. More than just fostering a mixed metaphysical time within Shakespeare’s lyrics, Benson’s editorial practices in the 1640 Poems unsettled neat chronologies of poetic influence. As a response to the 1609 Sonnets, Benson’s conflations not only preserved the local order of the quarto but also anachronistically read Shakespeare’s lyrics through Donne’s bibliographic example, picking up his metaphysical poetics along the way. Indeed, for more than a century, Shakespeare’s lyric authorship would remain relatively entangled with Donne’s. Although Shakespeare’s narrative poetry and drama were issued in authorial volumes in the seventeenth century, his collected lyrics seem to have receded from the public eye, and when eighteenth-century editors such as George Sewell did reprint the sonnets, they often turned to Benson’s metaphysical Shakespeare.55 Like the mixed temporality of Donne’s valedictions, which allow the future to act within the lyric present, this is a literary history unfolding in an extended moment, a history constituted textually through the influence that collections could exercise on poetic form.

Among the questions raised by Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-speare. Gent. is whether it is even possible to pry apart a history of the book and a history of the poetic texts transmitted within those material objects. I have singled “A Valediction” out as a product of Benson’s attention to the 1609 text and of his slightly presentist reading of Donne’s paradigm because it resists modern critical tendencies to distinguish between formal and material influences on lyric [End Page 97] craft. This strange hybrid poem uncovers a literary history driven by books themselves. At the same time, in the textual fiction of its reconstructed lyrics, “A Valediction” reflects a chain of influence that exceeds material transmission. Scott Trudell has suggested that “poesie must evanesce in order to be meaningful—that it is precisely its negotiation between immediate particularity and absent signification that renders it poetic.” Reading Ophelia’s mad singing in Hamlet against the tendency of book historians to dwell on the play’s concern with the material preservation of meaning, Trudell returns us to mediation, showing that “poesie is less an instantiation of an external ideal than a communication of ideas, sentiments and events.”56 Poetry exceeds the material form of the book, even as literary form preserves the complex interactions of the people and things that produce it. What Benson’s nuanced editorial practice—which, in “A Valediction,” creates a poem that materially and lyrically negotiates absence and presence—adds to this perceptive account is a sense of how the material text is not a static record but an active mediator that prompts continuous poetic experimentation. From the perspective of the collection—Shakespeare’s and Benson’s—and the poems made by and in collections, Benson’s editorial work was itself literary. [End Page 98]

Megan Heffernan

Megan Heffernan is completing her doctorate at the University of Chicago and about to take up a position as Assistant Professor of English at DePaul University. Her current research considers the development of the printed poetry collection in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.

This essay was helped along its way by many readers. I am grateful for feedback from audiences at the Renaissance and Poetry & Poetics workshops at the University of Chicago, as well as from the members of John Jowett’s “Shakespeare’s Errors” seminar at the 2012 Shakespeare Association of America conference. Shakespeare Quarterly’s three generous readers helped me expand the stakes of my argument. For particularly incisive comments, I thank Billy Junker, Caryn O’Connell, Bill Sherman, Richard Strier, Joshua Scodel, and especially Bradin Cormack.


1. Like Samuel Daniel’s Delia (1592) and Thomas Lodge’s Phillis (1593), Shake-speares Sonnets was printed as a quarto, used numbered headings rather than titles, and followed the lyrics with a lengthy complaint from the female beloved. Thorpe’s quarto awkwardly divided sonnets across pages, lacked the conventional author’s epistle and, Marcy North has argued, appeared more attuned to manuscript than print transmission, like Philip Sidney’s unauthorized Astrophel and Stella (1591). For an account of how Thorpe’s “relatively anomalous” edition was produced in dialogue with a “highly standardized print genre,” see North’s “The Sonnets and Book History,” in A Companion to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, ed. Michael Schoenfeldt (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010), 204–21.

2. Thorpe’s treatment of the Sonnets in the 1609 quarto was not reprinted until Bernard Lintot’s 1709 edition. Prior to Edmond Malone’s definitive return to the Sonnets in 1780, eighteenth-century printings tended to follow Benson’s 1640 Poems. For the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century print history of the Sonnets, see Colin Burrow, ed., Complete Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2002), 91–94.

3. Poems: Written by Wil. Shake-Speare. Gent. (London: Tho. Cotes, and are to be sold by Iohn Benson, 1640), STC 22344, sig. *2r. I cite the Early English Books Online facsimile of the British Library copy of Poems. Quotations from this imprint are hereafter cited parenthetically in the text by signature. I also consulted Newberry Library Case YS 8.64 and digital images of the Folger’s copy 6.

4. Throughout this essay, I use the phrase “local order” to designate the sequence that the sonnets take within Benson’s new composite poems; this order always corresponds to the organization of the 1609 quarto.

5. I do not suggest that Benson’s care with the local order of the sonnets resulted from any sense of fidelity to Shakespeare. In fact, these features may well reflect Thorpe’s design. One reason I bracket the tricky question of Shakespeare’s involvement in the 1609 quarto is that Benson never raised it in 1640. For a survey of recent scholarship on Shakespeare’s participation in the publication of the Sonnets, which produces theories ranging from Thorpe’s piracy to Shakespeare’s deliberate arrangement of the quarto, see Richard Dutton’s “Shake-speares Sonnets, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and Shakespearean Biography,” in A Companion to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 121–36.

6. William Shakespeare, A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Sonnets, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1944), 2:22.

7. Arthur Marotti, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Literary Property,” in Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth-Century English Poetry, ed. Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisaman Maus (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990), 143–73, esp. 143, 161–62.

8. Margreta de Grazia, “The First Reader of Shake-speares Sonnets,” in The Forms of Renaissance Thought: New Essays in Literature and Culture, ed. Leonard Barkan, Bradin Cormack, and Sean Keilen (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 86–106, esp. 87, 94.

9. In this “gather[ing] of the far-flung pieces of Shakespeare’s poetic corpus,” De Grazia aligns Benson’s volume with Heminge and Condell’s project of dramatic collecting in the Folio Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (1623, 1632). Benson even used the printer of the 1632 Folio, Thomas Cotes, for this smaller, poetic version of Shakespeare’s dramatic corpus. See “First Reader,” 87–88.

10. On the historical formation of Cavalier poetics and Benson’s role in that process, see David Baker, “Cavalier Shakespeare: The 1640 Poems of John Benson,” Studies in Philology 95 (1998): 152–73.

11. Cathy Shrank, “Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets: John Benson and the 1640 Poems,” Shakespeare 5 (2009): 271–91, esp. 274, 278.

12. On the commonplacing of fragments from Shakespeare’s poems and plays as a contribution to his contemporary status as an author, see Peter Stallybrass and Roger Chartier, “Reading and Authorship: The Circulation of Shakespeare 1590–1619,” in A Concise Companion to Shakespeare and the Text, ed. Andrew Murphy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 35–56, esp. 43–55. On Shakespeare’s sonnets as a reflection of commonplacing, see De Grazia, “First Reader,” 97–99.

13. Patrick Cheney offers a useful working definition of “literary” in the period: “pertaining to... what Shakespeare and his age called ‘poesie.’” See Cheney’s Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008), xviii. Where Cheney is concerned with authors and poesie, however, I turn to editors, textual agents we might expect to be less engaged with the fictive or imaginative world of the poems.

14. For an account of the 1633 publication of Donne’s Poems, as well as the editorial refinement of the volume in 1635, as foundational for print culture’s incorporation of the single-author poetry collection, see Arthur Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and the English Renaissance Lyric (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995), 247–59.

15. On the effect of changing the bibliographic format for Shakespeare’s lyrics, see De Grazia, “First Reader,” 88, 91.

16. On the indexical reading enabled by the codex, see Peter Stallybrass, “Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible,” in Books and Readers in Early Modern England, ed. Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2002), 42–79.

17. For an account of how Benson’s dislocation of the quarto’s order may have been responding to that volume’s page breaks, since “nearly every poem in the 1640 edition conflates sequential sonnets—sonnets, that is, that appeared on the same page, page opening, or leaf of Q,” see Coleman Hutchison, “Breaking the Book Known as Q,” PMLA 121 (2006): 33–66, esp. 61.

18. OED Online (Oxford: Oxford UP, December 2012), http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/37781?rskey=kc9PNe&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed 4 January 2013), s. v. “compose, v.,” 5.

19. The 1637 Decree Starre-Chamber concise Printing stipulates that “any person ... not allowed Printer . . . shall worke at any such Presse, or Set, or Compose any Letters to bee wrought by any such Presse,” sig. G2v (quoted in OED Online, s. v. “compose, v.,” 7).

20. By calling Benson an “editor” and his collection an “edition,” my aim is not to equate his practices with modern ones. Instead, I explore how his manipulations of the 1609 Sonnets demonstrate a concern with the textual form of Shakespeare’s poems even prior to post-Enlightenment editing. For a prehistory of dramatic editing, see Sonia Massai, Shakespeare and the Rise of the Editor (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007).

21. On “book use” as a textual activity that encompasses not only reading but also a wider, more productive range of practices—annotating, compiling, commonplacing—see William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2008); and Bradin Cormack and Carla Mazzio, Book Use, Book Theory: 1500–1700 (Chicago: U of Chicago Library, 2005).

22. For a reading of a similar effect in the final stanza of “Injurious Time,” a conflation of Sonnets 60 and 63 to 66, where the opening line of Sonnet 66 contains a deictic that seems to point back to Sonnet 65 and gestures forward to its own scenario, see Shrank, 277.

23. Like many poems in 1640, “Magazine of Beautie” does not contain any pronouns indicating the beloved’s gender. I use male pronouns because Sonnets 4 to 6 fall into the group that, since Malone’s edition, have been considered to be addressed to the young man. Although this decision feels necessary, it obscures the indeterminacy of much of the 1640 Poems and the 1609 Sonnets.

24. On Benson’s title of “Magazine of Beautie,” see Shrank, 279; and De Grazia, “First Reader,” 96.

25. OED Online, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/112144?rskey=XP6rDn&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed 4 January 2013), s. v. “magazine, n.,” 1.

26. William Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, ed. Stephen Booth (New Haven: Yale UP, 2000), 140–41.

27. It is often noted that the binaries that seem implicit in Petrarchan poetry are rarely so neat. For an account of how Petrarchism is often impossible to disentangle from its opponents, see Heather Dubrow, Echoes of Desire: English Petrarchism and Its Counterdiscourses (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995). Gordon Braden discusses how, even with its explicit concern with a bodily erotics, Shakespeare’s Sonnets is “one of the most Petrarchan sequences of the age” in “Shakespeare’s Petrarchism” in Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Critical Essays, ed. James Schiffer (New York: Garland, 1999), 163–83. Richard Strier argues that Petrarch “refuses to give the soul absolute priority and to dismiss and devalue the body” in The Unrepentant Renaissance: From Petrarch to Shakespeare to Milton (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011), 59–97.

28. This sense of “Petrarchan” as concerned with the larger form of the collection can be thought of as deriving from Richard Tottel’s editorial project in Songes and Sonettes (1557). On the Petrarchan origins of Tottel’s title, see Donald Guss, John Donne, Petrarchist: Italianate Conceits and Love Theory in the Songs and Sonnets (Detroit, MI: Wayne State UP, 1966), 51.

29. “Weight” is Benson’s emendation of the quarto’s “waight,” a choice that Booth follows. For Booth’s extensive reading of Sonnets 50 and 51, see his edition, 214–22.

30. Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991), 269–70. Proponents of this shift, like Smith, cite Benson’s apparently strategic adjustment of gendered pronouns in Sonnet 101 from male to female and in Sonnet 104 from male to the neutral “love” (sigs. E1r–v, F6r–v). They note that he added three titles that assume the beloved is a woman, as in “Selfe flattery of her beautie,” which heads Sonnets 113 to 115 (sigs. E4r–v). Colin Burrow shows that Rollins was the first to propose that Benson was explicitly concerned with gender. Burrow concludes that it is “extremely unlikely” that Benson “sought to eradicate traces of a male addressee.” See “Editing the Sonnets,” in A Companion to Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 145–62, esp. 149.

31. Sasha Roberts, Reading Shakespeare’s Poems in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 154, 167.

32. Other critics have agreed that Benson was not primarily concerned with altering the quarto’s erotics. De Grazia finds that the 1640 Poems “hardly seems concerned with covering up amatory poems to males,” since the opening sonnet stanza contains “eleven male pronouns, more than any other” sonnet and celebrates “an emphatically male beauty.” See “The Scandal of Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” in Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Critical Essays, 88–112, esp. 90.

33. Marotti, “Shakespeare’s Sonnets as Literary Property,” 159–160.

34. Baker, 156–57.

35. Baker shows that William Marshall’s portrait of Shakespeare clutching a laurel in the 1640 Poems both recalls Jonson’s recent status as poet laureate and aligns Shakespeare with Marshall’s portrait of Jonson wearing a laurel wreath in his translation of Horace published by Benson in the same year (160–61). I would add that the portrait takes up the posture from another of Marshall’s images: his portrait of Donne clutching a sword that was added in the 1635 Poems by J. D.

36. As Roberts (160) observes, “Like Shakespeare’s Poems, Benson’s editions of Jonson attempt to collect and preserve his lyric poems; to do Jonson a service by gathering together his amorous and occasional verse, sonnets, epigrams and elegies, and in so doing provide a worthy supplement to the largely dramatic Works.”

37. Joshua Scodel, “Seventeenth-Century English Literary Criticism: Classical Values, English Texts and Contexts,” in the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, vol.3, The Renaissance, ed. Glyn Norton (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999), 543–54, esp. 545.

38. On how Digges’s poem is “pitched against Johnson from the outset,” see Shrank, 275.

39. The 1640 publication of this poem was posthumous. Digges died in 1635, but John Freehafer argues that this expanded version of the prefatory verse was intended to replace the original poem in the 1632 Second Folio, finding that the poem’s aggressive response to Jonson probably kept it from being published there. See his “Leonard Digges, Ben Jonson, and the Beginning of Shakespeare Idolatry,” Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (1970): 63–75. For Jonson’s “To the memory of my beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare,” see the Folger copy of the First Folio on Early English Books Online: Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies (London:, 1623), STC 22273, sig. A4r.

40. On the continuous republication of Shakespeare’s narrative poetry, see De Grazia, “First Reader,” 88.

41. Given the frequency with which Drayton’s Poems was reprinted, it is possible that Marriot was following that example, although Drayton’s poems are largely narratives, not lyrics.

42. A collection called Poems by Robert Gomersall was issued in 1633, the same year as Donne’s first edition, and by Marriot, Donne’s publisher. For an account of Benson’s volume “as one of a group of posthumously published poetic collections” by Carew, Randolph, and Beaumont, all “entitled Poems” that “celebrate the elevated status of their authors on the title page,” see Shrank, 275. Although I agree that these three volumes are akin to Benson’s, they participate in a larger trend that responded to Donne, another socially prominent and deceased poet.

43. For the dimensions of the 1616 Folio, see Mark Bland, “William Stansby and the Production of The Workes of Beniamin Jonson, 1615–16,” Library 20 (1998): 1–33, esp. 23–24.

44. Donne’s collection seems to have been known primarily as an octavo rather than a quarto. William London lists it as an octavo in his Catalogue of the Most Vendible Books in England (London, 1657), sig. Ee4v.

45. On the biographical basis for the editorial revisions to Donne’s Poems, see Marotti, Manuscript, Print, 254–55.

46. Poems, by J. D. With Elegies on the Authors Death (London, 1635), sigs. A8v, B2v, C5r, D3r.

47. On the diaeresis in the running head as a classicizing feature, see Shrank, 275. Although Shrank questions the Jonsonian influence on the 1640 Poems, she does not propose an alternative source for this feature.

48. Donne’s poetic popularity peaked well after 1609. The surviving manuscripts suggest that coterie verse circulation picked up in the later 1620s, while Donne’s erotic lyrics with the “Valediction” title were first published in the posthumous edition of Poems, by J. D. in 1633. On Benson’s use of the novel “valediction” in his title, see De Grazia, “First Reader,” 96.

49. For an account of how the Petrarchan sequence had largely fallen out of favor by 1640, see Shrank, 276. Like my reading of “A Valediction,” Robert Matz proposes that Benson transformed some of Shakespeare’s sonnets into elegies, another verse form often used by Donne. See “The Scandals of Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” ELH 77 (2010): 477–508, esp. 486–87.

50. Somewhat circuitously, the Oxford English Dictionary uses the evidence of John Donne Jr.’s 1651 printing of his father’s letters to date the origins of the “valediction” to Donne’s 1614 letter to his friend Henry Goodyer. See OED Online, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/221123?redirectedFrom=valediction (accessed September 12, 2012), s. v. “valediction, n.,” 1, 2.

51. John Donne, “A Valediction: Of Weeping,” in The Complete English Poems, ed. A. J. Smith (New York: Penguin Classics, 1996), p. 89, ll. 1–2.

52. Donne, “A Valediction,” ll. 26–27.

53. Bradin Cormack finds that bail operates in the Sonnets as a legal structure that offers a provisional release, “a delivery to imprisonment conditional upon the posting of a bond to a court.” In this sonnet, the conditional release of bail is circumvented by death, which is figured as a final, total arrest. See “On Will: Time and Voluntary Action in Coriolanus and the Sonnets,” Shakespeare 5 (2009): 253–70, esp. 260.

54. Although I here cite Booth’s facsimile of the quarto, Sonnet 73 does appear later in the 1640 Poems, in a conflation of Sonnets 73 and 77 entitled “Sunne Set.” This new poem was a notable and, I think, deliberate anomaly in Benson’s practice. Although Benson conflated non-contiguous sonnets in five cases, this two-stanza conflation is the only instance in which that gap is not anchored within a longer poem. What is more, this conflation cleverly unites two sonnets on waning youth, juxtaposing the poet’s description of his own aging with his prediction of the moment in which the young man will begin to show his: “Thy glasse will shew thee how thy beauties were” (sig. F6r, l. 15).

55. On Sewell’s use of Benson for his 1725 edition of Shakespeare, see Burrow, ed., Complete Sonnets and Poems, 94. On the lack of interest in a “historically specific identification” of Shakespeare prior to Malone’s late eighteenth-century “apparatus of authenticity,” see Margreta de Grazia, Shakespeare Verbatim: The Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 Apparatus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 162–65.

56. Scott Trudell, “The Mediation of Poesie: Ophelia’s Orphic Song,” Shakespeare Quarterly 63 (2012): 46–76, esp. 69, 75–76.