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date: 12 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Appearing in 1609, the quarto editions of Troilus and Cressida and Shake-speares Sonnets offer contradictory lessons in the twin economies of literature and sex. Both are prefaced by boasts of their unsullied novelty: Troilus is ‘a new play, neuer stal’d with the Stage, neuer clapper-clawd with the palmes of the vulgar’; the Sonnets are poems ‘neuer before imprinted’. At the same time, each invites its readers to recognize—and value—the familiarity of what they contain: words whose richness inheres in their resemblance to what has already been said and written by others. These competing models of literary value parallel a debate within each text about the objects of erotic desire, which either thrive on ‘increase’ or wither as they grow common. Critical responses to Troilus and the Sonnets tend to recapitulate that debate, revealing a continuous thread of anxiety about the incommensurable values on which poetic (and sexual) reputations are founded.

Keywords: rhetoric, gender, value, publication, copia, commonplacing

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