“Love’s usury, poet’s debt: Borrowing and mimesis in Shakespeare’s sonnets”

2007. Literature Compass 4(3): 809-819.

In Shakespeare’s sonnets, sustained self-reflexive deliberation on the nature of poetic representation is at times figured in terms of the nascent capitalism of early modern England: an intersection of “mimesis” and “economics” that is manifested in images of usury found in a number of the sonnets. My paper surveys critical responses (by David Hawkes, James Dawes, Thomas Greene, John Mischo, Howard Felperin and others) that offer some insight into this aspect of Shakespeare’s work. In doing so, the paper attempts to reconcile potentially divergent perspectives on Shakespeare; it also suggests new ways in which the sonnets can be read, revisiting the relationship of the speaker/poet not only to certain figures in the sonnet sequence (the “fair youth” and the “dark lady”) but also – perhaps more importantly – to his own poetic enterprise.