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  • Renaissance Texts, Medieval Subjectivities: Rethinking Petrarchan Desire from Wyatt to Shakespeare by Danila Sokolov
  • Frank Swannack
Sokolov, Danila, Renaissance Texts, Medieval Subjectivities: Rethinking Petrarchan Desire from Wyatt to Shakespeare, Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 2017; cloth; pp. 350; R.R.P. US $70.00; ISBN 9780820704975.

Danila Sokolov argues that early modern texts are indebted to 'medieval structures of discourse and selfhood' (p. 5). His study rereads Renaissance Petrarchism as English medievalism. Sokolov begins by examining the notion of meed as reward, payment, and gift to reconceptualize Petrarchan desire in the sonnets of Thomas Wyatt, Edmund Spenser, Barnabe Barnes, andE. C.'s Emaricdulfe (1595). He challenges Wyatt scholarship by not reading his sonnets as a reflection of Henry VIII's court. In 'What Vaileth Trouth?', Sokolov unpacks meed as the male Lover's unrelenting generosity when confronted by unrequited love. In the sonnet, Sokolov notes that pain begins as a metonym for rewarding work, to end up becoming a reflection of the Lady's cruelty.

In Spenser's economic, erotic, poetic, and religious ambitions, Sokolov finds meed as patronage and spiritual fulfilment, whereas for E. C., meed becomes the male Lover's divine servitude to his Lady as salvation. In Barnabe Barnes's work, Sokolov discovers meed as the male Lover's unashamed desire for economic and sexual gain.

Chapter 2 analyses Geoffrey Chaucer's notion of the melancholic self in Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Sir Philip Sidney. Following an impressive overview, Sokolov too readily conflates the early modern notion of melancholy and lovesickness. By confining early modern melancholy to the beginning of a single chapter, Sokolov simplifies a complex medical and philosophical [End Page 257] condition. It may have been more appropriate to focus on Chaucer's notion of melancholy, rather than delving into early modern medical treatises.

In order to construct a challenging melancholic identity, Surrey's poetic Lover adopts an anti-Petrarchan stance by modifying Petrarchan language. With Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, Astrophil's Chaucerian melancholy fragments his identity. Astrophil's theatrical transformation from a tragic to a comic identity is usually considered a melancholic characteristic associated with English Petrarchism, though Sokolov argues that Astrophil's melancholy is based on its medieval roots.

Sokolov reads the casket sonnets by Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, as opposing marriage. In the sonnets, the marriage between Mary and the Earl of Bothwell is consummated as rape. Sokolov argues that the pleasure and pain of Petrarchism are collapsed by sexual violence. The medieval influence in the casket sonnets is traced to The Kingis Quair, a Chaucerian prison poem dated 1420–1430. The poem, thought to be written by the fifteenth-century James I, passionately depicts his marriage to the English princess Joan Beaufort. Sokolov unpacks in these texts sovereign marriage as forging political and erotic identities.

In Chapter 4, Sokolov tackles the legal system in Samuel Daniel's Delia and Michael Drayton's Idea. Rather than reflecting Elizabethan legal practices, he argues the sonnet sequences contain 'recognizable permutations' (p. 177) of the laws of love in medieval poetry. In Daniel's Delia, the Lover's failure to act in love is rooted in erotic legality and the common law. These legal aspects are tracked by Sokolov to medieval courtly love. Drayton's Idea reimagines the laws of love as a murder trial with the Lady and Cupid representing the law of erotic love. Sokolov finds similar legal proceedings in John Lydgate's Complaynte of a Louers Lyfe, where the dead Lover testifies against his own murder.

Chapter 5 appears to be a reworking of Joel Fineman's Shakespeare's Perjured Eye. Sokolov acknowledges Fineman's thesis that Shakespeare's modernity is forged from medieval poetic praise. He then emphasizes the division of Shakespeare's sonnets into the young man and dark lady sonnets. The articulation of poverty, fleshly disease, and erotic desire in the young man sonnets originates from medieval begging poems, whereas in the dark lady sonnets, the lady herself causes both disease and sexual perversity. What Sokolov refers to as a 'poetics of disgust' (p. 254) is traced to Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid (1494). The dark lady is found in Cresseid's...


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