In 1601, at the height of his career, Shakespeare wrote a 67-line untitled elegy - now frequently known as "The Phoenix and Turtle"- that has been praised as highly as anything he wrote, while, at the same time, remaining almost entirely neglected by biographers, literary critics, scholars, and the general public. Why then, since the end of the nineteenth century, have some of Shakespeare's closest readers recurrently called it one of his "best" and most "beautiful" poems? This lecture considers the question of how this "lost" masterpiece, regarded, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Frank Kermode as one the most important works in the canon, has become so elusive. It analyzes the historical question of why "The Phoenix and Turtle" was commissioned for inclusion in Robert Chester's Love's Martyr, and it offers an invitation to consider Shakespeare's art at its most riddling, erudite, and "metaphysical."
James P. Bednarz, author of Shakespeare the The Truth of Love: The Mystery of "The Phoenix and Turtle is Professor of English at Long Island University-Post, where he has received the Trustees Award for Scholarly Achievement and the Newton Award for Excellence in Teaching. His prior study, Shakespeare and the Poets' War, was selected by TLS as an "International Book of the Year."
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