Oppos’d to honesty

“Shakespeare Droeshout 1623” by Martin Droeshout: http://shakespeare.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Never Before Imprinted:
A New Shakespeare Sonnet Identified
by Eugene Fletcher-Beaumont.
University of New Texas Research Unit for Education:
NTU Press, 2023.

On the title page of Shake-speare’s Sonnets, published by Thomas Thorpe in 1609, it has the advice ‘Neuer before Imprinted’ (though, in fact, a couple of the sonnets had already appeared in print in 1599). The last sonnet, number 154, is immediately followed by ‘A Louers Complaint’ dubiously attributed to the same author.

Yet Professor Eugene Fletcher-Beaumont (surely a case of nominative determinism in action here, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher being collaborating Jacobean playwrights) believes he has identified a further sonnet amongst papers collected by the Irish editor Edmond Malone, one of the foremost Shakespearean scholar of the Georgian period.

Fletcher-Beaumont makes, he believes, a strong case for this individual work, comparing it with the defective but important 1609 text and with subsequent academic editions for consistency in style and thematic treatment with the Shakespearean canon. Does this fourteen-line verse stand up to scrutiny as authentic?

Shakespeare’s memorial in the chancel of Stratford’s Holy Trinity church

In reproducing the transcribed sonnet below I retain the original orthography as printed in the monograph rather than modernise the spelling; I also haven’t changed the erratic punctuation in order to help interpret the poet’s possible intentions but left it as published. Entirely appropriately Fletcher-Beaumont’s transcription is published in a monograph today, the kalends of the month of Shakespeare’s birth, believed to have been on the 23rd day of April, 1564; and of course this November will mark 400 years since the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623.

Againe one time my friend did me entreat
Perforce to ever speake both straight and true,
Renouncing all dissembling and deceit,
In honoure of the loue that is her due:
Loe see then how my heart doth beating falter,
For feare that in old age or mispris’d youth,
Oppos’d to honesty I failed to alter
One word unfair or false, to speake a truth.
Let mountaines fall and earthie crusts be riu’n,
Ere loathesome falsehoods steale past mine owne tongue:
To conquere guilefull art none more hath striu’n,
Headlong to shun than I, nor traduce wrong.
On holy relicts swere I soon’st to die,
Upon the wicked utt’rance of a lie.

‘Sonnet 155’

Professor Fletcher-Beaumont is persuaded this standalone verse is genuine, on the basis of the detailed analysis in his monograph. Variant spellings aside, most if not all the vocabulary is feasibly the poet’s, and the rhyming scheme – three quatrains and a concluding couplet, the pattern of the so-called ‘English sonnet’ – and the rhythm of the pentameters match closely with the 154 sonnets generally accepted as Shakespeare’s originals.

The Shakespeare ‘Chandos portrait’

In Dover Wilson’s second edition of the sonnets (1967) this piece would fit under the section which that academic termed ‘To the Dark Woman’, more specifically under the subheading of ‘Perjury of Eye and Heart’: it covers similar themes to those found in No 152 (‘In loving these thou know’st I am forsworn’) and even No 151 (‘Love is too young to know what conscience is’, which opening line is, incidentally, the epigraph to C S Lewis’s Till We Have Faces).

Is it a good poem? Fletcher-Beaumont is a little less forthcoming here: though he admits it is workmanlike he suggests that there may have been good reasons for not including it in the canon as first published in his lifetime. He does however offer the thought that cryptologists of a conspiracy theory persuasion might find much to excite them, for example hidden messages revealed by artful acrostics.

Personally (and bearing in mind the verbal antics of ‘Francis Bacon is Shakespeare’ fans) I think such approaches and speculations are best left out of academic papers.

Shake-speares Sonnets. 1609. Facsimile. Scolar Press, 1968.
• Eugene Fletcher-Beaumont. 2016. Shakespeare’s Legacy: Four Centuries of the Swan of Avon. NTU Press.
• John Dover Wilson. 1968. The Sonnets. The New Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press.

More posts like this appear here.

22 thoughts on “Oppos’d to honesty

        1. Well done! And did you notice what the initials of the (nonexistent) University of New Texas Research Unit for Education spelled out? I tried to hint at how matters stood at the start 😁

          Liked by 1 person

            1. 🙂 As I was composing this little spoof, Mallika, I was reminded that I still hadn’t read my copy of The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips.

              Recommended to me by a couple of other bloggers what seems like eons ago, it too presents some pseudo-Will writing, this time a play, all embedded in a pretend memoir and commentary by Mr Phillips.

              Such a clever novel, one which I’ve just started, and it conveniently fits in with Lory’s Reading the Theatre this month! I wasn’t consciously influenced by the novel’s premise when I wrote my own post, however, as I’ve slyly posted several other April the First ‘reviews’ under the tag ‘poisson d’avril’: https://calmgrove.wordpress.com/tag/poisson-davril/


          1. Thanks for your endorsement, Gert: according to Jimmy Wales’s endeavour “Cunning folk, also known as folk healers or wise folk, were practitioners of folk medicine, helpful folk magic and divination in Europe from the Middle Ages until the 20th century. Their practices were known as the cunning craft…” I’m clearly one of the last, in your view!

            Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Oppos’d to honesty – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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