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  • Samuel Daniel’s The Complaint of Rosamond and an Emblematic Reconsideration of A Lover’s Complaint
  • Kenji Go

IF William Shakespeare authorized the publication of the 1609 quarto titled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS,1 it is next to impossible to believe that any other poet was the author of the 329-line narrative poem which was printed at its end under the heading: “A Louers complaint. / BY / William Shake-speare.” On the other hand, if Q’s publication was unauthorized by Shakespeare, it is conceivable that this “complaint” was not by him but was somehow added in the volume by its publisher, Thomas Thorpe. If, as Brian Vickers claims he has done, one can demonstrate convincingly that A Lover’s Complaint was written by someone else, we may then conclude that Q’s publication was indeed not authorized by Shakespeare and that it ought to be regarded as an instance of Thorpe’s “sharp practice” to “cash in on Shakespeare’s publishing prestige.”2 Whether or not A Lover’s Complaint is a work of Shakespeare is of no small consequence to our reading of his Sonnets.

In 1986, John Kerrigan’s critical edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint appeared.3 Kerrigan, for whom A Lover’s Complaint is [End Page 82] a “most intricate” and “superbly involved” poem,4 underscored Shake-speare’s authorship of the poem on the basis of the “Delian” tradition—a tripartite structure first established by Samuel Daniel in his 1592 quarto volume of Delia, which contained fifty sonnets, a short ode in anacreontics, and a narrative poem in rhyme royal titled The Complaint of Rosamond (hereinafter, Rosamond). Colin Burrow, the most recent critical editor of A Lover’s Complaint, observes that Kerrigan was “the first editor to see that the poem is integrally connected to the sonnet sequence it follows” and that Kerrigan’s critical and literary historical work “has brought the poem to life as echt Shakespeare.”5 Despite this observation by Burrow, however, Kerrigan’s enthusiasm for A Lover’s Complaint has not been shared by many other critics. In fact, not only has A Lover’s Complaint remained largely ignored in the criticisms of the Sonnets,6 but also its Shakespearean attribution, once again, has been seriously questioned on stylometric grounds in recent years.7 Moreover, Marina Tarlinskaja, who has lately examined the prosody of A Lover’s Complaint, concludes as follows: “The verse of A Lover’s Complaint cannot possibly point to ‘mature’ Shakespeare. It also differs from [End Page 83] early Shakespeare, both non-dramatic and dramatic poetry. I wish I could suggest that A Lover’s Complaint does belong to Shakespeare, after all, albeit to a very early Shakespeare. But this seems unlikely.”8 Most notably, Vickers casts doubt on Shakespeare’s authorship of A Lover’s Complaint in his attribution study of the hotly disputed A Funerall Elegye by “W. S.,” marginalizing it as an anonymous poem in his Index.9 In his more recent essay, Vickers flatly rejects Shakespeare’s authorship of A Lover’s Complaint and argues instead that John Davies of Hereford was its actual author.10 After referring to what he calls “the grotesque episode,” in which the young seducer hands over “all the love-tokens he had received from previous conquests” to the maid he woos, Vickers charges this poem with several features “uncharacteristic of Shake-speare”: “Whoever wrote this poem was trying to push the Female Complaint in a different direction from sympathy with the woman, but at the cost of psychological improbability and a confused narrative line, neither of which is characteristic of Shakespeare. The poet’s goal was not to sympathize with the deceived woman, but to anatomize the qualities in men that women fall for.”11 Shakespeare is then dismissed as the author: “Despite there being some overlaps in vocabulary (to be expected, given the breadth of Shakespeare’s), the poem’s language and style are fundamentally unShakespearean.”12 As Vickers notes, no critic indeed has yet come up with an expositional analysis of either the language or the “confused narrative line” of A Lover’s Complaint to convince skeptics that the...


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