You take this too lightly, Ms. Bearing.

E. M. Ashford, Ph.D


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Age Range
Act 1, Scene 1 (It is one continuous play)
Time & Place
English Classroom, Twenty years ago
Time Period
Show Type

Monologue Context

Professor E.M. Ashford is Vivian Bearing’s professor of English literature during

Monologue Text

You take this too lightly, Ms. Bearing. This is Metaphysical Poetry, not The Modern Novel. The standards of scholarship and critical reading which one would apply to any other text are simply insufficient. The effort must be total for the results to be meaningful. Do you think the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail?

The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with death, calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about overcoming the seemingly insuperable barriers separating life, death, and eternal life.

In the edition you chose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation:

And Death- capital D- shall be no more- semicolon!

Death- capital D- comma- thou shalt die- exclamation point!

If you go in for this sort of thing, I suggest you take up Shakespeare.

Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript source of 1610- not for sentimental reasons, I assure you, but because Helen Gardner is a scholar. It reads:

And death shall be no more, comma, Death thou shalt die. (As she recites this line, she makes a little gesture at the comma.)...

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