Siege Diaries 12/7/2020

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  Can I love the hand Fate deals me?

I was struck while reading the associated meditation at the card playing imagery in a quote by Marcus Aurelius–I am going to really have to look that up to understand how that is expressed in the original language, as I’m not sure the Romans played cards.  They certainly did gamble, though.  That aside, I want to look at that imagery.  When you play cards, you have to live with whatever hand you’re dealt–but what you do with it is really up to you.   If you’re gambling, and an astute master of the game, what you’ve learned, in the words of Kenny Rogers, is “knowing when to fold ’em, knowing when to hold ’em, knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run.”  Professional gamblers have made this a science, so that if they’re dealt a hand of cards, they understand–also based on the mechanics of the particular game they are playing–precisely what they can do.  They also learn how to bluff, to be able to perhaps make a hand that’s not so strong a winning one.  And playing cards is as about how others play as it is about the hand you’re dealt.

So for me, it isn’t about loving that hand, because sometimes you get dealt crap.  It’s knowing what to do with whatever you’re dealt.  And to be perfectly honest, I’ve been dealt pretty good cards over the years, and I’ve done a decent job at making the best of what I’ve got.  Sometimes you think you’re playing blackjack and know all of the rules, and it turns out it’s poker.  Or you discover that yes, you can lose at solitaire, but nobody knows but you.

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SMASH, final day.
This is the day where I completed projects mostly picked up on the fly.   Behold!  Marginalia nails (the only project left on my original list)!   Clio visits the Warplane Heritage Museum (or at least the outside of it)! An attempt at fore edge painting!   Pasta as trim!   An old hat transformed!   Some garb restyled!  Puppet show of a monologue from King Lear!  Elizabethan toilet roll ruff!   And I take on the last research project left (which isn’t a particularly weird one–see below).

The “Fair Youth” – and the bigger question

The question of the identity of the “fair youth” in Shakespeare’s sonnets has long been a question debated by literary historians.   Quite a few guesses as to his identity have been advanced over the years.  Part of the dilemma is that the sonnets as a group were dedicated as follows: “To the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets Mr WH. All happiness and that eternity promised by our ever-living poet wisheth the well-wishing adventurer in setting forth. TT [Thorpe].”  The assumption usually made is that Mr. WH and the “fair youth” are the same person, and so a variety of people with the correct initials have been proposed:  Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, who was known for his patronage (but who is actually HW), and William Herbert, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke. Researcher Geoffrey Caveney has proposed that because the title “Mr” is used, the dedicatee is unlikely to have been noble;  he believes that William Holme, an associate of TT (Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of the sonnets) who had recently died might be a good candidate.

Some argue that WH was also the “fair youth” to whom so many of the sonnets is addressed.  I am not completely convinced of that, and honestly think trying to identify WH and then to figure out what kind of relationship he had with Shakespeare misses the forest for the trees.   The real question that tends to interest us as modern readers of the sonnets is whether Shakespeare was gay—if the flood of sonnets dedicated to a man reveals something about him that the historical facts of his marriage (at 18, to the older Anne Hathaway, who was pregnant), might hide.   The problem, again, with this is that we are imposing definitions of sexuality upon the 16th century that were established in the 19th century in England.  What is abundantly clear in reading those sonnets is that Shakespeare is extremely capable of expressing, in gorgeous poetic terms, a deep and abiding romantic love for a man.  Whether those were his own feelings for a man he loved, or more abstracted,  it points out something significant about 16th century society, that is confirmed in the works of contemporaries:  expressing such sentiments did not carry quite the same hint of scandal that they would, say, in the 19th century when Oscar Wilde speculated as to who WH might have been.   What this also reveals to me is that the idea of a spectrum of sexuality—as we understand it today—was likely more acceptable in the 16th century than it has been until recently—although it was still something still slightly scandalous.  Men were allowed to express, especially in poetry, love for other men—love that might be purely platonic, but also that might have been romantic or erotic, and although later publishers of a more puritan stance might have switched around the pronouns, the poems were actually released in their original form.  Michelangelo, in fact, wrote 30 sonnets to his actual lover, Tommaso dei Cavalieri, for example, which were published in his lifetime.  If we take literary works like these as demonstrative of Shakespeare’s actual thoughts, it seems clear that Shakespeare might belong somewhere on that spectrum we now call “queer,” as someone who seems to express romantic love and desire for both men and women.  It’s also possible he was simply a writer who was able to embody, in his words, the kind of desire and love as experienced by a wide variety of people—as he does in his plays.  As Will Tosh puts it:  “Shakespeare gave us both Orlando and Ganymede in As You Like It and Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing:  perhaps it’s more interesting to think about Shakespeare as a writer who knew that his audience and readership was sexually diverse.”

Sources:  Dr. Will Tosh,  “Was Shakespeare Gay?” https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discover/blogs-and-features/2019/02/01/was-shakespeare-gay/

Dalya Alberge, “Has the Mystery of Shakespeare’s Sonnets Finally been Solved?”   https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jan/31/shakespeare-sonnets-mr-wh-dedication-mystery

Jessica May-Smith, “The Mysterious Identity of the Fair Youth,”   https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/mysterious-identity-fair-youth/

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Oh, and I guess I should mention:  It was announced today that we could start seeing vaccines in Canada as early as next week.  Going first, of course, to long term care residents, frontline medical staff, and people in isolated Indigenous communities.  As it should be.