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  • Nothingness in Donne's "A Valediction: Of Weeping" and Shakespeare's Cymbeline

Reading John Donne's "A Valediction: Of Weeping" in conjunction with Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness invites us to compare the "nothingness" they exalt to Imogen's Irigarayan view of a materialized sexuality in the three aubades of Cymbeline's first act. As he fosters the verbal possibility produced by the impossibility of love, Donne anticipates Sartre's dictum that "man's relation to being is to modify it." In contrast, Imogen challenges the idea that, in Luce Irigaray's terms, we "constitute [ourselves] through our productions," and suggests instead a "culture of growth" that renders language as an "oeuvre" of the "flesh."

"Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being like a worm."

—Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

The John Donne of "A Valediction: Of Weeping" prefers the picture to the real (an image, rather than the body, of the beloved). For Donne and for Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom he is aligned in this essay, the preference principally involves issues of control. As Sartre writes, "It's not enough that a certain picture which I have in mind should exist; it is necessary as well that it exist through me."1 While the more conventional predilection for the virtual over the actual assumes the durability of art, Donne's sequential portraits in the poem confirm, as Sartre puts it, that "man's relation with being is that he can modify it" (BN, pp. 59–60). The vanishing images—their very ephemerality—represent the instability Donne covets, and are achieved by the modality upon which the reflections in "Of Weeping" are—oddly—"coin[ed] . . . stamp[ed] . . . and mint[ed]."2 Embossing on the watery tear is [End Page 60] like writing on shifting sand. But the affinity between the seventeenth-century poet and the twentieth-century philosopher is more profound than a desire for change. Each assumes an existential premise that pulls him toward, and up from, the nothingness essential to his existence as a writer who works from the productive absence that determines imagistic presence. In that respect, they fall into the Petrarchan tradition where, in Thomas M. Greene's words, "the self creates itself out of the self's own language."3

I will contrast Donne's Sartrean connections to Imogen's Irigarayan treatment of nothingness in Cymbeline's opening act. This difference centers on Luce Irigaray's question about the very artifacts Donne and Sartre exalt: "why has man throughout history privileged making?"4 While Sartre and Donne "constitute [themselves] through their productions" (WL, p. 93), Irigaray challenges both the end product and the route to selfhood such constructions entail. The "nothingness" from which Sartre and Donne build always necessitates destruction. For Imogen, being instead involves the Irigarayan "letting-grow" (WL, p. 129), which she describes when her husband, Posthumus, leaves her hypothetical line of sight and "melt[s] into [the presumed nothingness of] air."5 Though Sartre revised some of his earlier thinking in his later work, reading "Of Weeping" through Sartre's Being and Nothingness and Imogen through Irigaray's recent writings emphasizes concerns crucial to all: the representation of poetic creation and the connection of the visual to the tactile.

Because it is based on what Roland Barthes calls separation and its anxieties,6 the poetic genre most closely related to Imogen's speeches and "Of Weeping" is the aubade, in which lovers mourn impending absence and its internally felt duties (as in Donne's own "The Sunne Rising") or its externally compelled separations (as in Romeo and Juliet). And, because all focus on the urgency of departure, I will juxtapose Imogen's three aubades in act 1 of Cymbeline to the three stanzas of Donne's "A Valediction: Of Weeping." Both "Of Weeping" and Being and Nothingness foster the seemingly contradictory possibility produced by the impossibility of assimilation. For Sartre and Donne, the productive stage for art is a transfer of power that enables the "modifications" Donne describes in the first stanza and retracts in the third. For both writers, the safety derived from the distance of vision is preferable to the dangers inherent in the proximity of touch. Contrastingly (in 1.4.25–38), when Posthumus is completely out of her range, Imogen invents a linguistic [End Page 61] scenario that preserves the memory and anticipates the recovery of the very bodily presence Donne and Sartre seek to obviate.

Delving deeper than the superficial pregnancy and birth Donne glorifies in the first stanza, the world Imogen creates retroactively in act 1 presumes an anterior past that bears witness to Posthumus's companionate presence at the core of her being and projectively sustains her until, recovered by fortune in act 5, she can ascend to "tender air" (5.4.140, 5.5.447), her feminine softness there anticipated by her equally feminine toughness early on. She goes beyond the visual into the verbal equivalent of what Irigaray characterizes as the prenatal state, where the "subject is palpitated without seeing."7 Thus, while Donne threatens to end his paean, Imogen begins again with a language that is both sexual and nurturing. In the last aubade, she returns to a time before the wind of her father's commanding presence separates her from Posthumus (and sets into motion the train of calamitous events precipitated by Iachimo and still unknown to her in act 1). Bypassing the past that has already happened, Imogen confidently evokes the "buds" (1.4.37) of a linguistic potential she herself begets.


Donne gives lip service to his mistress's capacity similarly to impregnate the "fruits" he cites in the seventh line of stanza 1; she "coins" his tears; their value derives from her even as his being stems from her:

                  Let me pour forthMy tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,And by this mintage they are something worth,                  For thus they be                  Pregnant of thee;Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more,When a new tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore.

(JD, p. 89)

Donne's self is initially presented as a picture frame, an accessory to the woman. His tears hold her in serial wholeness, little full-bodied images, one right after the other—convex mirrors that represent her seminal influence. With each new tear, the woman becomes once again the source of the image reflected within the boundaries of his holding. [End Page 62] Pregnant of her, the poet is surrounded by seemingly endless circles of possibility. Each tear produces yet another likeness. Yet the moment the replica is complete, Donne describes the conditions under which woman and image, as signs of excess, will vanish. The physical separation between self and other in terms of the "divers shore" of the last line is anticipated by a sequence of tiny endings, the fruit of the multiple pregnancies represented by the successive tears. Thus, from the very beginning, Donne prepares in microcosm a tiny, in-between space of blankness, anticipating the nothingness he enlarges in the distance of "divers shore[s]."

Sartre also describes the impossibility of the love relation as a shifting of power where the self is all or nothing. Like Donne's, his language is primarily that of looking relations: "Ceaselessly tossed from being-a-look to being-looked-at, falling from one to the other in alternate revolutions, we are always, no matter what attitude is adopted . . . in a state of instability in relation to the Other. . . . Thus, I am brought to that paradox which is the perilous reef. . . . I must 'force' the Other to be free" (BN, pp. 529–30). Sartre defines the abrupt reversal of direction in terms of the self as an image—being the one looked at—or as image maker—controlling "the look" that composes the other, expressing the object of feeling as an object of sight and shifting subjectivities, as if both were "tossed," thrown and falling, to get back to the circularity he describes at the beginning, the ceaseless flux that characterizes the impossibility of love. Sartre complains, "The more I am loved, the more I lose my being" (BN, p. 491).

Similarly, Donne's expectancy forebodes the despondency of self-loss as he "forces" the beloved onto the "perilous reef" of the biblical fall. The actual flesh of the "fruits of [their combined] grief" brings with it the larger baggage of Eden's corruption. As "emblems of more," the metaphors change from single examples of whole processes to complex allegorical warnings of final devolution. There is water everywhere—in the tears at the beginning, between the shores at the end—but nothing that satisfies the unquenchable thirst for the imbalance that proves inspirational to verse. In the globular metaphor of stanza 2, Donne begins with "nothingness," starting the cycle again and transmuting the tiny tear into the larger ball of the rounded earth, threatened in the end by evaporation (when the myth shifts from the snake coiled in Genesis 3 to the imperiling flood in Genesis 6).8

In the second stanza, the pivotal "so," signaling everything that comes before in the buildup and heralding the suction of the hereafter already [End Page 63] iterated in the philosophical "nothingness" of the first stanza's last line, comes earlier. It begins the middle section and functions as it does in the first stanza, starting from a nothingness that quickly (both as yet another pregnancy—expectant with life—and as speed—reversing direction toward death) leads to the productive "all" that then switches from summary to expectation:

                  On a round ballworkman that hath copies by, can layAn Europe, Afric, and an Asia,And quickly make that, which was nothing, all                  So doth each tear                  Which thee doth wear,A globe, yea world by that impression grow,Till thy tears mixed with mine do overflowThis world, by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolved so.

(JD, p. 89)

Moving from the solid mark of the woman's singular "minting" in the first stanza to the vagueness of "impression" in the second, Donne recasts everything that came before into an influence of the mind rather than as a clearly visible object. The "impression" is a mirage caused by the doubling of the woman's tears, which wash away the worlds the moment they come into being and which cause a fusion Donne castigates in the third stanza. There, the aubade switches from dawn song to moon song, even as—with that shift—it seems to revert, once again, to the woman's influential strength. In the third stanza, however, that power is wholly fruitless, the pull of the woman's moon overcoming the pushback of the self's determination.

The governing word of the first stanza is "bear," in the sense of the expectancy of fruit; that of the last stanza is "forbear," warning of the despondency of death. When power returns again to the woman and the poet casts her as the moon that controls the tides, he loses the verbal finesse that named him as the formulator of her energy. With too much mothering, the woman is smothering:

                  O more than moon,Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere,Weep me not dead, in thine arms, but forbearTo teach the sea, what it may do too soon;                  Let not the wind [End Page 64]                   Example find,To do me more harm, then it purposeth;Since thou and I sigh one another's breath,Whoe'er sighs most, is cruellest, and hastes the other'sdeath.

(JD, p. 89)

As the distinct image coined in the first stanza—and disseminated by the elegance of the poem—dwindles into the inarticulate sigh that goes nowhere but to the other, there are no words left. Dependent on difference, the poem is dead. In becoming the other, the lovers lose themselves and remain, like the tide to the moon, indistinguishable, caught in what Sartre defines as the slimy:

From the time of our upsurge into the world, we are haunted by the image of a consciousness which would like to launch forth into the future, toward a projection of self, and which at the very moment when it was conscious of arriving there would be slyly held back by the invisible suction of the past . . . until finally it [is] completely lost [to] itself.

(BN, p. 778)

When he identifies the slimy as female, "a sickly-sweet, feminine revenge" (BN, p. 777), Sartre figures it as a ghost of the maternal imago, evident from birth and "our upsurge into the world." Associating it with the "invisible suction of [a] past" that disallows the formation of a separate self, one incapable of articulation, he describes the same mutual dissolution that Donne evokes in the grasp-gasp of the third stanza, a regression at once insidious and contagious.

Donne's "A Valediction" ends with a threat against the mutual relocation of power that, in the first stanza, provided the productive nothingness that permitted song. In the third stanza, the "quickness" that generated successive globes, paralleling the convex mirrors of the opening, degenerates into the "haste" that threatens lovers, love, and words. If all are drowned in one sphere, the circle of exchange emerges as a "fixed instability" (BN, p. 774), the oxymoronic state of the slimy that cancels out the desired fluctuations producing image and voice.


While Donne opens his first stanza by begging to stay, Imogen begins her first aubade by urging Posthumus to leave. In fact, in the three aubades, she is aware that the "big wind" lurking outside is more than just a symbolic enemy. The angry breath of her father hovers in the [End Page 65] background. And, while, in the earlier moments, she speaks of herself in terms of looking relations, by the time of the third aubade, she articulates her presence in the linguistic terms that Donne declares impossible at the end of stanza 3. She starts with the large terror of what might still come and concludes with the small pleasures of what might have been. For Donne and Sartre, artistic fluency is totally separate from bodily reality, existing in a vacuum. For Imogen, internal and external creation are connected: body and word are symbiotic, signifying what Elizabeth Harvey defines as Irigaray's sense of the "constant interplay of tactility's capture within the net of language."9 In that context, freedom is contingent on the corporeal reality Irigaray pronounces as intrinsic to linguistic blossoming and hybridized in the verbal "buds" of Imogen's third aubade: "form from within and form from without . . . and in which the words address[ed to the other] . . . are the oeuvre of . . . flesh."10 Imogen's potential language in the third aubade is situated in the memory of a physical closeness so important in the first two aubades, where her confidence in Posthumus depends on embodiment.

In the first aubade, Imogen's synecdoche postulates that Posthumus might return. She casts him as a jewel that, in its mirroring, reflects her to herself. His being gives her the courage to "abide" the "angry eyes" whose looks kill:

You must be gone,And I shall here abide the hourly shotOf angry eyes: not comforted to live,But there is this jewel in the worldThat I may see again.


Representing Posthumus as both a current and a prospective image (always present in potential reflection), the jewel also functions as an emblem of her confidence that Posthumus will remain rock solid.

Imogen repeats her understanding of the looking relations in the second aubade when she commands Posthumus both to "stay a little" and to "look here, love," offering him a literal jewel reflecting her maternal lineage and acknowledging the short time she has:

Nay, stay a little:Were you but riding forth to air yourself,Such parting were too petty. Look here, love;The diamond was my mother's; take it heart;But keep it till you woo another wife, [End Page 66] When Imogen is dead.


When shall we see again?


Coinciding with the injunction to remain physically is the psychological reminder in the diamond, what Irigaray calls the space between "expectation and commemoration."11 And it is as remembrance of her biological mother that, contrary to the wishes of the court, Imogen brings Posthumus into a familial ascendancy that extends from her mother's life all the way to her own death. The reflection from the ring encompasses a generational mandate, now including Posthumus in a matrilineal line that bypasses both her father and the queen. But then Cymbeline intrudes and compels Posthumus to leave, directing him "hence, from my sight" (1.2.56). He dispels Imogen's confidence, corroborating the temporal-looking relations that have so much control over her. Her question at this point in the play—"When shall we see again?"—is governed by her belief that, without Posthumus, she has no active agency, her visual capacity itself the pawn of her father's ocular and linguistic command. In the first two aubades, Imogen (like Donne and Sartre) finds the bodily only through the visual.

However, after Posthumus actually leaves, Imogen turns from a temporal to a spatial advance, making room for a hypothetical third aubade, where language opens up to a vista based on the imaginative proximity she creates. Bruce R. Smith explains the link between the visual and the tactile when he writes that, for early modern men and women, "to see was to touch."12 Imogen prepares for the imaginary embrace that returns Posthumus to her as she herself arrives at the end of the scopic power she feared losing in the second aubade. Rebuking Pisanio for not lingering long enough at the shore when Posthumus departed, she "castrates" herself visually as she re-creates Posthumus:

Thou shouldst have made himAs little as a crow, or less, ere leftTo after-eye him. . . .


I would have broke mine eye-strings, crack'd them, butTo look upon him, till the diminutionOf space had pointed him sharp as my needle:Nay, followed him, till he had melted fromThe smallness of a gnat, to air: and thenHave turn'd mine eye, and wept.

(1.4.18–23) [End Page 67]

First, Imogen moves beyond the breaking point, savagely annihilating distance by shrinking Posthumus. While for Donne the mirror only exists when the lovers are opposite each other, for Imogen the "diminution of [Posthumus's] space" is matched by the theoretical force of her "after-eye," the strings forming a manacle that yokes her to him, corporealizing the symbolic bind of the bracelet he gave her and thereby appropriating his image as her own.13

Imogen's descriptions of herself—stretched to the breaking point—are linear. She matches her phallic vision to Posthumus's imagined, omnivorous self. Her images allow him to join her in devouring the distance between them as she fine-tunes his biting agency from crow's beak to needle's prick to gnat's persistence. When, in her imagined "pointing," he passes through the eye of the needle, he becomes in the simile the very weapon she would have used against Cloten and her father at once; her "after-eye[ing]" anoints Posthumus as likewise a "pricking" agent. Earlier, she expresses her rage against the "goer[s]-back," identifying their betrayal of her in the same retrogressive terms she uses as she remakes her future while tracking Posthumus. Cymbeline and Cloten's "go[ing]-back" there forms a chiasma to her retrieval here: "would they were in Afric both together, / Myself by with a needle, that I might prick / the goer-back" (1.2.98–100).14

In belatedly sharpening Posthumus into the very needle she uses to corner her enemy—before with a vengeance, after with allegiance—she transfers the phallic agency she brought to bear against her father and Cloten to Posthumus. As prelude to his "melting," her linear stretch brings him beyond the needle to a sexual climax as, finally, he spills upside down and over into the vessel of her watery tear. In this complicated exchange, they become the other and close the space separating them, he eating her eye strings, she imagining him identical in agency to her weapon. At the same time, because of the way in which they become the other in Imogen's similes, they fulfill an Irigarayan ideal and move out of the biological imperatives of the intergenerational family into a whole new definition of what nurturing might mean. Irigaray goes beyond infancy to extend the time span, and redefine the genders, of supportive alliances: "An act which was, originally, apparently univocal, becomes biunivocal. The mother seems to unilaterally engender the child, but, as adults, man and woman have the responsibility of continuing to engender themselves reciprocally" (WL, p. 129–30). When she "turn[s] her eyes to weep," Imogen plays her part in a "mutual engendering," one that bypasses the vertical, generational axis of the [End Page 68] first two aubades and suggests instead the horizontal axis of the relationship between man and woman. Unlike Donne's, whose holding space evaporates language and self, Imogen's tears inaugurate a new verbal ascendancy. As Posthumus becomes ever more vulnerable, melting into thin air, she emerges as ever more protective in the watery maternal holding space she devises.

For Sartre and for Donne, the opposition between two people results in a completeness of the one at the expense of the other (WL, p. 10), but for Irigaray and Imogen there is the possibility of a third world where space and time can be shared. When she absorbs Posthumus, Imogen gives birth to him, but with the hypothetical last aubade she displays a verbal agility based on a carnal closeness that in its grounding assumptions binds language to fleshly materialization. In the after-eying here, Imogen first inhabits (with the phallic stretching) a maleness very similar to her images of Posthumus. But, in the melting, she commands a particularly Irigarayan engendering, one that prepares for the transformations that follow.

In the third aubade, Imogen shifts her thinking backward, figuring the departure she feared early on as an event she declares has not yet taken place. Affirming a steady sequence of still earlier pasts that connects to her now vivid present imagining, she traverses the distance of separation:

I did not take my leave of him, but hadMost pretty things to say: ere I could tell himHow I would think of him at certain hours,Such thoughts and such: or I could make him swearThe shes of Italy should not betrayMine interest, and his honour; or have charg'd him,At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight,T'encounter me with orisons, for thenI am in heaven for him; or ere I couldGive him that parting kiss which I had setBetwixt two charming words, comes in my father,And like the tyrannous breathing of the north,Shakes all our buds from growing.


When Imogen proclaims that she "did not" take her leave of him, she delays Posthumus's departure indefinitely and aligns the "go[ingback]" and the "after-eye[ing]" with a "before saying" that figures a remembered sexuality as an event that has both occurred in the earlier [End Page 69] past of their "encounters" and not yet transpired in the recent past of her separation. Through a circular vision that can only exist because of that past, Imogen links Irigarayan expectation to a commemoration of a once and future sexuality. The value of her "did not" in the opening line (transforming something we know has happened into something that has not yet occurred) conflates hope and memory. The logic works backward to counter the hell of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129 with a "heaven" Imogen imagines. In the sonnet, the line "before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream,"15 converts the "after" of the sexual act into the unreality of a fantasy rather than the experience of fact. A "joy proposed" becomes, in the aftermath, merely a hallucination that makes one feel as if the act had never occurred. But Imogen's casting the leave-taking into something that has still not come to pass turns the thought of a sexual experience into an erotic recapitulation that schedules, hour by hour, a future reenactment, one that situates itself between the "pretty things" and "charming" words that exist both as culmination and evocation.

By placing the earlier reality as the premise of her future endeavors, Imogen makes the "behind" of their union the "before" of a reunion coinciding with the appointed hourly encounters. In her reformulation of language, Imogen transposes the "not said" into a possible still-to-say that posits the memory of the already done as the plausibility of the still-to-do. Imagining her own "certain hours" as synchronized to those of Posthumus, Imogen charges him to "encounter" her in a similar temporal ritual. And, figuring her carnal experience into a promised haven of supreme pleasure, she also turns the ritual sacraments of the orisons into harbingers of physical ecstasy. Though critics generally question the consummation of their marriage, it seems impossible to read these lines without thinking that Imogen's evocation of a heavenly future is based on her recollection of a sexualized past.16

Imogen moves backward in time just as, previously with her eye-strings, she had moved forward in space. The regression of all those "befores" (starting with the "ere" of line 26, through the "or" of lines 28 and 30, and until the "or ere" of line 33) culminates in a still earlier time, so that her retractions pull them together with the verbal equivalent of eye-strings. Step by step and hour by hour, Imogen and Posthumus "meet," she in her thoughts, he in the "orisons" she outlines. The commands demonstrate her active imagination, compelling the Posthumus she remembers to parallel his diurnal activities with her thoughts. She thereby turns anticipated joy into consecrated acts and, through that [End Page 70] ritual, assumes that she will wait in heaven for him, as she had, in the before/before, already been in heaven with him. In a curious reversal of prolepsis, she places the physical and verbal body together as they had been in the previous two aubades. All the "eres" are caught between linguistic mysteries.

What are the "pretty things" of line 26 and the "charming words" of line 35? In between those unspecified terms, Imogen schedules an itinerary of imagined possibilities very like those in the second stanza of Sir Thomas Wyatt's "They Flee from Me," where, steadily disrobing, Wyatt's lady "sweetly kiss[es]" the speaker, leaving as unexpressed the "this" of her question:

    but once in special,In thin array after a pleasant guise,When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,And she me caught in her arms long and small,Therewithal sweetly did me kissAnd softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"17

The lady's "how like you this" is both a congratulatory salute, lauding her accomplished duplication of male entrapment, and a promissory note, testifying to her imminent delivery of exactly the release the speaker might desire. In the salute, she mirrors male behavior. In the promise, she demonstrates her understanding of where the seat of male pleasure lies. Since she is "like" him, she knows what he likes. The pun in the first half of the question suggests the overlapping of gender similar to that of Imogen and Posthumus in the "after-eye[ing]" speech: "Dear heart, how like you this?" As female deer and male hart, the speaker is both the passive recipient of what the lady is about to give and the active model for her knowledge. She is identical to him in assault. The erotic mystery between the lady's "this" and her kiss remains to tantalize, as Imogen's indeterminate words do, with the strength of having commanded and caught her lover. If Wyatt's lady titillates with her mysterious "this," Imogen excites with her "charming words," at once magical and sensual, commanding and giving—but left still unsaid. The "charm" and the "prettiness" provoke and evoke because, in the previous speech, "she," like Wyatt's lady, had become "he" even before she gave birth to the "he" she commands in the aubade.

When she speaks of her father's wind as tyrannous, Imogen turns both herself and Posthumus into buds, shifting the maternal end of [End Page 71] the "after-eying" speech into the phallic source of her own linguistic potential: the tongue in verbal fellatio between her lips in the still-tobe-given parting kiss of an Irigarayan tribute that connects the mouth lips to the vulva lips: "Two sets of lips that . . . cross over each other like the arms of the cross, the prototype of the crossroads between. The mouth lips and the genital lips do not point in the same direction. In some way they point in the direction opposite from the one you would expect, with the 'lower' ones forming the vertical" (E, p. 18).

Irigaray relegates to the biological source (usually pictured in the form of a historical timeline) a physically supporting role that, in the balancing act, confers on the horizontally top-sided "mouth lips" the benefice of imaginative origination and biological continuity. She frames the crossroads in a religious setting similar to Imogen's orisons, with a Christian cross that parallels Imogen's mixing of the carnal in her thoughts and the holy in her commands. In the "after-eye[ing]," Imogen first gives a vaginal birth to Posthumus with her tears.18 In the wished-for aubade, she reverts to the "before/before" and invents a different "after," one where they might meet in a world based on the verbal potential that comes from the new order she has established. The two words—at once "pretty" and "charming"—have still to be uttered but they remain as a future possibility, achievable not through the break Sartre and Donne affirm as necessary but through the mutual understanding established by a past of shared experience. Imogen's imagined aubade is silenced by the real wind of her father's tyranny, the same wind Donne hypothesizes when he pleads for separation. Imogen's proposed "most pretty things" result not in collapsed worlds but in "buds," still pregnant with expectation in a world engendered by words made possible in the holding space she contrives.

Imogen's "might have been" aubade is preceded by Posthumus's melting into air. It grows out of the Irigarayan assumption that

the space which separates us turns us back to the materiality of the air [which is] the environment where humans come into the world, where they grow, live and work. It can be inhabited by more or fewer currents or vibrations but trying to return to the stillness of its expanse [is preferable] to trying to open an emptiness in it in order to create a still virgin space.

(WL, pp. 66–67)

Donne and Sartre need the "virgin space" where annihilation fuels the void with words. Imogen moves from air into the linguistic possibilities [End Page 72] of the aubade. In Imogen's retroactive past, the future has still to occur, a working hypothesis that turns experienced sexuality into ritualized expectation. Thus she builds a world that might have been said, creating a haven in the air of an occupation that heralds a diurnal pattern of focus and inventing a series of acts that fills the time with spaces. Imogen's "heaven" points to the always open possibility of a sexuality so enjoyable that it remains infinitely repeatable. If the Irigarayan cross begins with the carnal and ends with the verbal, so Imogen's religious "orisons" are suggestive of physical pleasure, her "charming words" sheltering the parting kiss that leads to the "buds" of expectation.

Imogen's fantasized aubade turns the mirroring of Donne's tears into the Irigarayan speculum when she connects vaginal to oral space: "not so much the reflection of the world in a mirror as the thought of the reality or objectivity of the world through a discourse" (IL, p. 60). Whereas Donne dissolves the watery mirror in order to begin the words again, Imogen holds it steady to reveal a harmony in which thoughts of the world produce the potential of words imagined beyond absence and reflective of bodily presence. Though much that is terrible occurs between the "air" of her commanding proposals in 1.4.22 and the "mollis air" she becomes in 5.5.447, Imogen solidifies the openings Donne seeks in the early modern equivalent of Sartre's fecund "nothingness." The fleshly "oeuvre" (IL, p. 129) of her third aubade anticipates Irigaray's insistence that expressive productivity be "engendered not created" (WL, p. 127).19

Barbara L. Estrin
Stonehill College


1. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Washington Square Press, 1984), p. 736; hereafter abbreviated BN.

2. John Donne, John Donne: The Complete English Poems, ed. A. J. Smith (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 89; hereafter abbreviated JD.

3. Thomas M. Greene, "The Poetics of Discovery: A Reading of Donne's 'Elegy 19,'" Yale Journal of Criticism 2 (1989): 133.

4. Luce Irigaray, The Way of Love, trans. Heidi Bostic and Stephen Pluháĉek (New York: Continuum, 2002), p. 93; hereafter abbreviated WL.

5. William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, ed. J. M. Nosworthy (Walton-on-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1997), p. 16. References are to act, scene, and line. [End Page 73]

6. For a discussion of the aubade as reflective of the Barthian "anxiety of . . . passions" (Roland Barthes, A Barthes Reader, ed. Susan Sontag [Hill and Wang, 1982], p. 45), refer to F. S. Post, "The Good Morrow and the Modern Aubade: Some Impressions," The John Donne Journal 22 (2003): 34.

7. Luce Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), p. 154; hereafter abbreviated E.

8. With its reference to "emblems," its hypotheses tested and rejected as thought experiments, and, especially, its allusion to the great globe itself, "A Valediction: Of Weeping" reflects what Howard Marchitello calls "the poetics of exemplarity" (The Machine in the Text: Science and Literature in the Age of Shakespeare and Galileo [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], p. 142).

9. Elizabeth D. Harvey, ed., Sensible Flesh: On Touch in Early Modern Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), p. 14.

10. Luce Irigaray, I Love to You: Sketch for a Felicity within History, trans. Alison Martin (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 149; hereafter abbreviated IL.

11. Luce Irigaray, The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, trans. Mary Beth Mader (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983), p. 45.

12. Bruce R. Smith, "Eyeing and Wording in Cymbeline," in Knowing Shakespeare: Senses, Embodiment, and Cognition, ed. Lowell Gallagher and Shankar Raman (New York: Palgrave, 2010), p. 56.

13. On Posthumus's manacle-bracelet, Valerie Wayne writes that "as a consequence of his gift [Imogen] is doubly imprisoned early on in the play, first by a father who rates birth over merit and by a husband who tries to make up for his lack of birth and his banishment by constraining his wife" ("The Woman's Part in Cymbeline," in Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama, ed. Jonathan Gil Harris and Natasha Korda [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], p. 290).

14. Ruth Nevo maintains that Imogen displaces her unhappiness about Posthumus's leaving onto Cloten and her father; see Shakespeare's Other Language (New York and London: Methuen, 1987), p. 79.

15. William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Sonnets, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Waltonon-Thames: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1997), p. 129.

16. Among those who maintain that the wedding did not involve bedding are Nevo, Shakespeare's Other Language, p. 70; Murray Schwartz, "Between Fantasy and Imagination: A Psychological Exploration of Cymbeline," in Psychoanalysis and Literary Process, ed. Frederick Crews (Cambridge: Winthrop Publishers, 1970), p. 232; and Anne Barton, who writes that "even the convictions of Imogen and Posthumus about keeping faith when they are parted seem more appropriate to a contracted couple than to a man and woman wed" (Essays, Mainly Shakespearean [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970], p. 21). David Bergeron is most explicit: "sexual contact remains generally non-existent in Cymbeline" ("Sexuality in Cymbeline," Essays in Literature 10 [1983]: 160). Janet Adelman maintains that Posthumus's reaction to Iachimo's allegations as "an affront to his bed (3.4.22) seem [to her] to require the image of matrimonial consummation," but she [End Page 74] concludes that "the question is ultimately unanswerable" (Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays [New York and London: Routledge, 1992], p. 351).

17. Thomas Wyatt, Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems, ed. R. A. Rebholz (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 117.

18. Heather Dubrow writes of the ambivalent feelings about women in the play when she describes the relationship between "haven" and the female genitals, arguing that "the desire to erase the female in general and the maternal in particular conflicts with the fear and grief engendered by such deprivation" ("'I would I were at home': Representations of Dwelling Places and Havens in Cymbeline," in Shakespeare and Historical Formalism, ed. Stephen Cohen [Burlington: Ashgate, 2007], p. 81).

19. This is an Irigarayan rephrasing of part of the Nicene Creed: "begotten, not made." [End Page 75]

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