Katherine Duncan-Jones

“Matz proves himself to be a sharp and subtle analyst of individual Sonnets, and he forges a workably convincing connection between the power relations of courtly love and—for instance—the “masochistic intensity” (88) of a poem such as Sonnet 57 (“Being your slave”). He is also clever, and convincing, in teasing out the essential offensiveness of virtually all of what he calls the “black mistress sonnets” (7), including some of those that have generally been found more pleasing, such as Sonnet 128 (“How oft when thou, my music, music play’st”). As he lucidly observes, “Shakespeare” (as he calls the speaker throughout) “wouldn’t talk sexually to the young man in the way he talks to the black mistress” (116). Here, as elsewhere, the speaker’s “teasing tends to slide from playful eroticism to insult” (117). Matz is also highly attuned to the speaker’s complex and uncomfortable inner life, and he argues “that the black mistress serves as a scapegoat for anxieties about duplicity or sin in the relationships between fair young men” (147).

–Katherine Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare Quarterly