“Praise and Paradox”

Saturday, 1:30-3pm

306 Wheeler

Moderator: Oliver Arnold


Samuel Arkin (UC Irvine)

Waxen Words: Shakespeare's Poetry of Consent

In Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece, every possible form of human communication, from the most primal to the most contrived, appears open as a mode of expressing Lucrece’s experience of what has happened to her over the course of the poem. At one point or another, she engages in formal apostrophe, in sighs and moans, in song, and in imaginary conversation with everyone from a rather cold and formal Night to Philomel and Helen. And yet, the poem is driven by a sense of what Lucrece cannot bear to tell, of those aspects of her experience that refuse the summons of expression itself. How and why does Shakespeare make his particular articulation of the Lucrece legend stand for an experience that resists communication? And in particular, why does Shakespeare identify his own poetic voice with Lucrece’s desire to withhold that which would force her to be articulate? My paper will argue that all of the traditional critical struggles in and around this poem might best be thought of as versions of the dilemma of inarticulateness. Because the poem’s concerns with gender are necessarily folded into its concern with the origins of republican Rome, the question of voice, and of how Lucrece’s voice is articulated throughout the poem, are also questions about the ways in which all of our voices are represented in the fertile area where art and politics share the same willingness to speak for us. It is here that Shakespeare turns the attention of his poem, and discovers in poetry a unique capacity to preserve the desire not to be spoken for, which is also the desire that certain of our experiences not be articulated, even as this desire must always be expressed by a need to share them in some way.

Sam Arkin is finishing his dissertation on Shakespeare, which argues whether and how sympathy might come into dialogue with consent as a way of thinking through our sense of political obligation.


Jason Morphew (UCLA)

Hamlet’s Inarticulacy

Queen: To whom do you speak this?
Hamlet: Do you see nothing there?

A sense that inarticulacy is inevitable pervades Hamlet. Readers are accustomed to a view that the play abounds with language whose precision—perhaps because of the profound nature of the play’s themes—serves to underscore language’s inability to be precise. However, my paper connects recent work by Heather Dubrow, Margareta de Grazia, and Carol Quillen in order to argue that Hamlet’s inarticulateness stems from an overlooked aspect: Hamlet is a lyric love poet, in the process of turning from “Petrarchan” to “anti-Petrarchan.”

I argue that to be “anti-Petrarchan” is to insist on inarticulacy, to refuse to imply that the female is non-human. Quillen has raised the question of whether women fit into Petrarch’s vision of humanism; Dubrow has shown that to say a poem is Petrarchan is to say far more than that it employs the conventions the speaker of Shakespeare’s own Sonnet 130 rejects. However, neither scholar has stressed that the celebrator of Laura is also the “Father of Humanism.” That one achievement cannot be separated from the other is essential to understanding why Hamlet, and Hamlet, cannot articulate their meanings: rhetoric that celebrates the human is insufficient to celebrate the non-human. Thus, linguistic prowess constitutes an intellectually dishonest trap, in which the gifted speaker condemns what he means to praise, then seeks rhetorical shelter in wholesale condemnation. Thus, the ghost of another “father” appears over Hamlet’s shoulder, dead and in need of killing.

Jason Morphew is a graduate student in English at UCLA, specializing in Renaissance literature.


Margaret Kolb (UC Berkeley)

Harmonizing Speechlessness: The Impossible Poetics of Praising Cromwell

For Andrew Marvell and his contemporaries, “to be ingenious” was equivalent to “speaking well.” Yet two of the best-spoken men of the century, the unofficial poet laureate, Marvell, and the poet laureate-to-be, John Dryden, admit speechlessness in their musings on Oliver Cromwell.  Speechlessness develops as a subtext in Marvell’s three poems to Cromwell and resurfaces overtly in Thomas Sprat and Dryden’s elegies of 1660.  The motivation of such expressions of praise becomes immensely problematic in the context of the patron-client relationship; if the poet hopes for recompense for his expressions of praise, and if these expressions are simply claims of poetic inadequacy, what political or economic work can the poem be doing?  To what extent can such claims be read as “veiled expression to the hatred and mistrust Cromwell inspired so widely” (Worden 175)? Charged by the circumstances of patronage, the politics of Cromwell’s regime, and the political orientation of each poet, the poems demand that we look beyond the obvious logic of grief, praise, and adoration in order to develop an adequate context for the trope.  In so doing, we can begin to determine the degree to which embedded claims of uselessness are subversive or self-damning, and the degree to which they are praise.

I propose a model in which the poet discusses compatibility of the regime with art through claims of inexpressibility, thus opening up a space that is both conveniently ambiguous and sufficiently laudatory for the economic and political purposes of the poem.  On these terms, each poet can explore his identities (as poet and as member of the regime) simultaneously, albeit in veiled terms, express the difficulties inherent in writing in circumstances of political patronage, and illuminate the conflicts between the work of the poet and the accurate expression of political reality.  

After majoring in mathematics and English at Washington University in St. Louis, Margaret Kolb spent two years doing economic research on Ireland, the UK, and Spain. She's currently a third year in the English department at UC Berkeley, where she dabbles in history of probability and the novel.