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Silver, D. (1983). The Dark Lady: Sibling Loss and Mourning in the Shakespearean Sonnets. Psychoanal. Inq., 3(3):513-527.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 3(3):513-527

The Dark Lady: Sibling Loss and Mourning in the Shakespearean Sonnets

Donald Silver, M.D.

For hundreds of years, Shakespeare's sonnets have delighted scholars and readers of poetry alike. The sonnets occupy a unique place in Shakespeare's corpus by virtue of the poet's acknowledgment that he was speaking about himself for himself. It is this personal and introspective quality that led Wordsworth to remark of the sonnets, “With this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart.” Freud, for his part, felt there could be no doubt of “their value as self-confessions” (Jones, 1957p. 455).

In this paper, I attempt to expand our understanding of the autobiographical meaning of the sonnets by demonstrating how their meaning, imagery, and special tone reflect the experiences of loss and mourning that typified Shakespeare's early life. I believe these experiences pertain not only to Shakespeare's own early sibling losses but to his relationship to a mother who had herself suffered severe losses in both childhood and adult life. Specifically, I argue that Mary Arden Shakespeare's mourning experiences and resulting depression significantly interfered with her ability to mother the poet and left him with a residue of sadness and bitterness that are revealed in his sonnets. I suggest that William Shakespeare was consigned to the status of a “replacement child,” i.e., a child replacing a dead sibling. The language and poetic imagery of the sonnets herald a return to this painful early relationship with the mother; they embody the poet's own experiences of loss.

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