The puzzle of someone else’s notes

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By Sara Marie Westh

I have over the past half year or so been working my way through the J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps notebook on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, held at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archives.

As you can imagine, puzzling out the notes of another person, notes compiled more than a century ago, and a vast amount of them cut from the pages of books that Halliwell-Phillipps considered relevant, is an interesting and, at times, frustrating task. The interesting bit consists of playing archive detective: identifying the books from which the bits of pages were cut (preferably down to year, edition, and page), and thereby creating a fictional library of the tomes Halliwell-Phillipps took his scissors to. From the point of view of a bibliophile he was quite heartless; there are fragments cut from pages dating to the late 1500’s here.

The frustrating part springs from pages like this one, that I invite you now to consider.


SBT Gl12/127 Halliwell Phillips notebook - The Tempest

Copyright: SBT Archives. Halliwell-Phillipps notebook – The Sonnets

I admit myself stumped. I am comforted that Halliwell-Phillipps considers Booden to have the right of it, but who is Booden? I assume that the note on “seat” occurs in an old edition of Shakespeare’s Works or the Sonnets, but my usual methods of investigation brings up nought but results related to toilets, chairs, and online presentations. The page-number 26[5?]6 should be useful, as should the information that this is taken from the first note, but neither particularly so without knowing which book it refers to.

So now I appeal to the most comprehensive database of knowledge on Shakespeare that there is: you, our readers. If you have any idea what Halliwell-Phillipps is referring to, please do get in touch. I hate an unsolved puzzle.


The views expressed in this post are the author’s own.

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Author:Sara Westh

Sara is a fourth year PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute, researching authorial intent in editing Shakespeare by way of philosophy of mind. She has been associate editor for Blogging and Reviewing Shakespeare for a year now, and is thoroughly enjoying herself. She also works for the Shakespeare Institute, the Shakespeare Institute Library, and Shakespeare Survey.
  • Sara Westh

    Wow, that is an excellent piece of research, and I am extremely grateful that you have shared it with us. While I find your argument entirely convincing, I will look into the sources you mention myself too. Thank you again.

  • proximity1

    Revision and correction

    Jim F. is right about James Boaden being the “Booden” you see in the handwritten note (pictured). But the relevant text in this matter is James Boaden’s “On the Sonnets of Shakespeare”, (1837)* Thomas Rodd, Publishers, London.

    * See the site’s text.

    Specifically, Phillipps is referring to Boaden’s use of “seat” from page 10 where he writes:

    … “here ( i.e. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II., i.) he (i.e. the author of the play) seats Oberon upon a promontory listening to a mermaid on a dolphin’s back, …”

    (Oberon) My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou rememberest
    Since once I sat upon a promontory,
    And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
    Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
    That the rude sea grew civil at her song
    And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
    To hear the sea-maid’s music. …

    and, where Phillipps refers to Boaden being “quite true”, he means all of the ensuing explanation of the playwright’s text and the meanings and intentions, often subtly symbolic and lost on modern readers, in the pages which follow this instance of “seat.” For there are only four instances of “seat” (not counting “nauseated” (p. 24) in the book which has, in all, only 62 pages of text in this edition (1837). Thus, I contend that, as for the “p. 266” in Phillipps’ note, that is a reference to page 266 of Thomas Edwards’ Canons of Criticism (1765), which work Boaden cites in a footnote on page 11. Reading on on page 266, we find:

    … “but that all these peculiarities were done by him (“Shake-spear”) advertently, and not by chance, is, I think, as plain to all sense as that Virgil intended to write metre and not prose in his Æneid.” …

  • proximity1

    If, as I think it, JimF’s reply is right, then I read this as follows–

    Here, the author is (once more) addressing Henry Wriothesley, (the fair youth of the Sonnets) in this sonnet; so “thy” and “thine” refer to H.W. “My seat” refers to the author’s place or position in the affections of H.W. (in this sense, “seat” is used at Macbeth, (I,iv, 1) and, especially, Richard the Third, (III, iii, 12) and “forbear” is meant in the sense of “control thyself” “have patience for me” as used at 1 Henry VI (III, I, 52), 2 Henry IV (IV, v,110), 3 Henry VI (III, I, 27), Antony and Cleopatra (I, iii, 73.2), The Comedy of Errors (II, I, 31), Cymbeline (V, v, 124), King Lear (II, iv, 104), Merchant of Venice (III, ii, 3), Merry Wives of Windsor (IV, I, 51) and Two Gentlemen of Verona (II, vii, 14) & (V, iv, 27); while “chide” is meant in the sense of “rebuke” (your) “beauty” and (your) “straying youth” in taking up with (the author’s rival for H.W.’s affection), the “Dark Lady of the Sonnets,” (as I think, Aemelia (Bassano) Lanier (Lanyer).

    “Ay me, but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
    And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
    Who lead thee in their riot even there
    Where thou art forced to break a twofold truth:
    Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
    Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.”

    In other words,

    O me, despite that (or even though) you might have patience, (i.e.control yourself) in light of my place in your affections,
    And rebuke your beauty and your straying youth,
    Which lead you in their riot just there
    Where you are forced to break a twofold truth*
    Hers (i.e. the Dark Lady’s) by your beauty tempting her to you, (given that she is my mistress)
    Yours, by your beauty being false to me” (given that I hold such affection for you)
    (*this is a pun on the author’s name)

  • Sara Westh

    Wow, that looks very convincing. I am aware of Pracy’s work on the H-P cuttings, but wondered whether there might be another solution to “Booden” available, since it seems uncharacteristic to me that H-P would get the name wrong.

  • Sara Westh

    I have not, that’s a really good idea – thank you!

  • Sara Westh

    Good shout – I will have to check it out. Thank you.

  • Sara Westh

    I had not at the time – thank you for suggesting it.

  • JimF

    Page 158 of the file “”:

    “This is a memorandum written by Halliwell-Phillipps, referring to a comment concerning Sonnet 41.9. ‘No.266’ is the page reference in the Variorum of 1821. James Boaden was the first to observe Shakespeare’s use of ‘seat’ in the ninth line with which Boswell in 1821 and other later editors agreed; this line was largely accepted by the time Halliwell-Phillipps was editing the sonnets. The word had been emended first by Malone, to ‘seal’ in 1780 and then to ‘sweet’ in 1790. See below for account of this editorial emendment in the New Variorum (Shakespeare 1944).”

    Line 9 of sonnet 41 in page 265 of volume 20 (1821):
    “Ah me! but yet thou might’st, my sweet, forbear,”

    Line 9 of sonnet 41 in 1609 Sonnets:
    “Aye me, but yet thou mighst my seate forbeare,”

    The “seate” is “quite true.”

  • Katherine Scheil

    Maybe it’s from James Boaden (1762-1839), “An inquiry into the authenticity of various pictures and prints, which, from the decease of the poet to our own times, have been offered to the public as portraits of Shakspeare …”

  • Randall Martin

    You’ve probably already thought of this, but have you search the BL database?
    Good luck! Randall Martin

  • Anne McKinney

    Have you checked for college professors named Booden who were active at that time? This may be a reference to a lecture rather than a publication.

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