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Naming Thy Name: Cross Talk in Shakespeare's Sonnets (Paperback)
A fascinating case for the identity of Shakespeare’s beautiful young man
Shakespeare’s sonnets are indisputably the most enigmatic and enduring love poems written in English. They also may be the most often argued-over sequence of love poems in any language. But what is it that continues to elude us? While it is in part the spellbinding incantations, the hide-and-seek of sound and meaning, it is also the mystery of the noble youth to whom Shakespeare makes a promise—the promise that he will survive in the breath and speech and minds of all those who read these sonnets. “How can such promises be fulfilled if no name is actually given?” Elaine Scarry asks, and this book is the answer.
Naming Thy Name lays bare Shakespeare’s devotion to a beloved whom he not only names but names repeatedly in the microtexture of the sonnets, in their architecture, and in their deep fabric, immortalizing a love affair. By naming his name, Scarry enables us to hear clearly, for the very first time, a lover’s call and the beloved’s response. Here, over the course of many poems, are two poets in conversation, in love, speaking and listening, writing and writing back.
In a true work of alchemy, Scarry, one of America’s most innovative and passionate thinkers, brilliantly synthesizes textual analysis, literary criticism, and historiography in pursuit of the haunting call and recall of Shakespeare’s verse and that of his (now at last named) beloved friend.
About the Author
Elaine Scarry, a professor of English and American literature at Harvard University, is the author of The Body in Pain. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"Scarry . . . poses a surprising answer to a question that has puzzled readers of Shakespeare’s sonnets for 400 years [about] the “lovely boy" of the poems. . . .She also makes a fresh suggestion identifying the “rival poet” of Shakespeare’s sonnets . . . Scarry’s conclusions . . . invite a close reading of the sonnets and a pure enjoyment of the metaphorical power and linguistic intricacy of each line." —Publishers Weekly
“Naming thy Name is a beautiful book. It is a love story: of the love between William Shakespeare and Henry Constable, and of another writer’s true love for that love. There has been no book that has so thoroughly explored the practice of poetic conversation among the sonneteers of the English Renaissance. And there has been no book, at least since Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Mr. W. H., that has been so passionate in pursuit of a theory, a theory of the love behind all Shakespeare’s other loves. Scarry has given us the latest, bravest answer to a question no reader of the sonnets can fail to ask.”—Jeff Dolven
“I picked up Naming thy Name and, as they say in Dublin, I couldn’t leave it down. I expected brilliance, having read Elaine Scarry's previous works, but am persuaded that this time she has managed somehow to outdo even her own previous outdoing. This is a major, impressively eloquent work of scholarship—who would have thought there was anything new and important to say about the exhaustively annotated Bard?—that will be read and discussed for years, no, for decades to come.” —Joel Conarroe
“. . . devoted Shakespeareans will be ravished by her brilliant speculations.” —Ray Olson, Booklist
“. . . a tantalizing exercise in literary puzzle-making.”—The New Yorker
“The book is a joy to read even if you are not completely convinced of the accuracy of Scarry’s thesis. The stories are entertaining and you can certainly appreciate the scholarship and the opportunity to see the work of William Shakespeare in a new light—the work of a man more human than demigod.”—Michael L. Ramsey, Roanoke Times
"Elaine Scarry accomplishes [a] seemingly impossible feat with a fresh, enthralling argument: The bulk of Shakespeare’s sonnets are a paean to his muse, poet Henry Constable, who in turn acknowledged mutual feelings in his own work. Naming Thy Name, then, is a model of literary criticism, scholarly yet rendered with flair, a beautiful portrayal of secretive, enduring love.” —Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune