A Lover's Complaint
is a narrative poem published as an appendix to the original edition of Shakespeare's sonnets
Shakespeare's sonnets are 154 poems in sonnet form written by William Shakespeare, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality. All but two of the poems were first published in a 1609 quarto entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.: Never before imprinted. Sonnets 138 and 144...
. It is given the title 'A Lover's Complaint' in the book, which was published by Thomas Thorpe
Thomas Thorpe was an English publisher, most famous for publishing Shakespeare's sonnets and several works by Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. His publication of the sonnets has long been controversial...
in 1609. Although published in a book of Shakespeare's work, the poem's authorship is a matter of critical debate.
Form and content
The poem consists of forty-seven seven-line stanzas written in the rhyme royal
Rhyme royal is a rhyming stanza form that was introduced into English poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer.-Form:The rhyme royal stanza consists of seven lines, usually in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c. In practice, the stanza can be constructed either as a terza rima and two couplets...
(with the rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...
), a metre and structure identical to that of Shakespeare's poem The Rape of Lucrece
The Rape of Lucrece is a narrative poem by William Shakespeare about the legendary Lucretia. In his previous narrative poem, Venus and Adonis , Shakespeare had included a dedicatory letter to his patron, the Earl of Southampton, in which he promised to write a "graver work"...
In the poem, the speaker sees a young woman weeping at the edge of a river, into which she throws torn-up letters, rings, and other tokens of love. An old man asks the reason for her sorrow, and she responds by telling him of a former lover who pursued, seduced, and finally abandoned her. She concludes her story by conceding that she would fall for the young man's false charms again:
- O that infected moisture of his eye,
- O that false fire which in his cheek so glow'd,
- O that forc'd thunder from his heart did fly,
- O that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow'd,
- O all that borrowed motion seemingly ow'd,
- Would yet again betray the fore-betray'd,
- And new pervert a reconciled maid!
Despite its appearance in the published collection of the sonnets, critics have often doubted attribution to Shakespeare. A Lover's Complaint
contains many words and forms not found elsewhere in Shakespeare, including several archaisms and Latinisms, and is sometimes regarded as rhythmically and structurally awkward. Conversely, other critics have a high regard for the poem's quality – Edmond Malone
Edmond Malone was an Irish Shakespearean scholar and editor of the works of William Shakespeare.Assured of an income after the death of his father in 1774, Malone was able to give up his law practice for at first political and then more congenial literary pursuits. He went to London, where he...
called it 'beautiful' – and see thematic parallels to situations in Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well
All's Well That Ends Well is a play by William Shakespeare. It is believed to have been written between 1604 and 1605, and was originally published in the First Folio in 1623....
and Measure for Measure
Measure for Measure is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603 or 1604. It was classified as comedy, but its mood defies those expectations. As a result and for a variety of reasons, some critics have labelled it as one of Shakespeare's problem plays...
. The poem can, along the lines of John Kerrigan in Motives of Woe
, be regarded as an appropriate coda
A caudate sonnet is an expanded version of the sonnet. It consists of 14 lines in standard sonnet forms followed by a coda .The invention of the form is credited to Francesco Berni...
to the sonnets, with its narrative triangle of young woman, elderly man, and seductive suitor paralleling a similar triangle in the sonnets themselves. John Mackinnon Robertson published a study in 1917 claiming that George Chapman
George Chapman was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets...
wrote the poem, as well as originating Timon of Athens
The Life of Timon of Athens is a play by William Shakespeare about the fortunes of an Athenian named Timon , generally regarded as one of his most obscure and difficult works...
. However, a scholarly consensus emerged in the 20th century that the poem was Shakespeare's, in particular in notable studies by Kenneth Muir
Kenneth Arthur Muir was a twentieth-century literary scholar and author, prominent in the fields of Shakespeare studies and English Renaissance theatre...
, Eliot Slater
Eliot Trevor Oakeshott Slater MD , was a British psychiatrist who was a pioneer in the field of the genetics of mental disorders. He held senior posts at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London, and the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital...
and MacDonald P. Jackson
MacDonald P. Jackson is a New Zealand scholar of English literature. He is currently Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Auckland. Most of his work is on English Renaissance drama, and he specializes in authorship attribution.-External links:*...
An article by Marina Tarlinskaja "Who Did NOT Write A Lover's Complaint" in Shakespeare Yearbook
15, 2005, argues that the author of A Lover's Complaint was neither Shakespeare nor Davies, but a still anonymous early Elizabethan poet, a follower of Spenser.
In 2007 Brian Vickers, in his monograph, Shakespeare, "A Lover's Complaint", and John Davies of Hereford
, attributes the Complaint
to John Davies
John Davies of Hereford was a writing-master and an Anglo-Welsh poet. He is usually known as John Davies of Hereford in order to distinguish him from others of the same name....
. He details arguments for the non-Shakespearean nature of the poem and lists numerous verbal parallels between the Complaint
and the known works of Davies: – such as 'What brest so cold that is not warmed heare' and 'What heart's so cold that is not set on fire'. On this evidence it was omitted from the 2007 RSC
The Royal Shakespeare Company is a major British theatre company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The company employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon and plays regularly in London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and on tour across...
, a decision which MacDonald P. Jackson calls a 'mistake' in his RES
review of Vickers's book, arguing, among other reservations, that 'Evidence that, in poems undoubtedly his, Davies exhibits an intimacy with Shakespeare's works equal to that of the author of A Lover's Complaint
is very meagre.' He rejoins also:
Harold Love, in his TLS
The Times Literary Supplement is a weekly literary review published in London by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.-History:...
review, has similar questions: