Reading Update: ‘Nothing Like the Sun’, 157?-1587: Chapters I-III

Young Shakespeare

Chapters I-III find young WS delivering gloves for his father; encountering the Stratford drunk belching “the soul of an alehouse” (and otherwise putting young WS in mind to go to sea); making love to a black-haired girl he doesn’t much care for (though he yells out something ingenuine about love mid-O because that’s the type of “romanticizing” young man he is); witnessing his mother’s contempt towards her husband for being a layabout below her Arden social station; visiting the local fortune-teller/witch, “Old Madge,” who tells him he won’t go on a journey (e.g., to sea) until he meets a woman who gives him a reason to do so and that he should try to catch a “black woman or a golden man”; attempting (and barely succeeding) to write a sonnet; slapping his sister Joan and screaming, FOR THEE, BITCH in a rage (caused by her laughing at his poeticizing and his mother’s contempt towards his “idle” art); and leaving with his father to rescue his young brother Richard (aka “Dickon”) from the town ruffians.

But permeating all of this are visions of an exotic “goddess” with a “golden face in the East” (6). A vision of his fantasy woman? Dark. Deep-but-soft-voiced. Oriental (at least to an Elizabethan English lad). Sexual (and often nude in his “visions”). “Smelling of the Indies” (9). Akin to the Queen of Sheba (10). Setting the stage for his passion for the Dark Lady, without a doubt.

There are also traces of a much more subtle undertone: WS’s repressed homosexual desires. When thinking of fears of being beaten and ravaged by savage sailors at sea, “A dark excitement came that guilt at once pounced on in a rearing wave to wash away” (8). And then there is Old Madge’s prophecy that he will try to catch a “golden man” (Henry Wriothesly, the Fair Youth of the sonnets?).

And the language is splendidly Shakespearean. Witty. Playful. Loaded. By turns hilarious and poignant.

The reading is a superb difficult pleasure thus far. Hoping it endures.

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