Published in Critical Essays on Shakespeare's A Lover's Complaint: Suffering Ecstasy, January 1, 2006, pages 79-90.
Copyright © 2006 Ashgate Publishing Group. The definitive version is available at http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=2741&edition_id=4334.
In A Lover's Complaint, Shakespeare registers concerns about a penitent's inability to overcome the effects of sin and emphasizes the importance of private or auricular confession. By representing what amounts to be the confession ofa 'fickle maid' (5) to a 'reverend man' (57), Shakespeare underscores the paradox of the Protestant confessional model: if a penitent can be forgiven of sins without priestly intervention, what happens when he or she does not experience consolation?' By modeling the poem on the conventional rite of penance, Shakespeare creates a poetic space in which to explore the intense effects of seduction and desire (as James Schiffer, Stephen Whitworth, and Jon Harned indicate in their respective essays in this volume), but also to demonstrate the limitations of individual subjectivity in overcoming the Christian economy of shame and guilt.
English Language and Literature