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Home :: Archive :: 1990 :: September ::
The Second-Best Bed, Shakespeare's Life (135)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 53. Tuesday, 11 Sep 1990.
 
(1)   Date:   Fri, 7 Sep 90 11:25:00 EDT                      (8 lines)
      From:   
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      Subject: Re: SHK 1.0051  Beds and Shakespeare
 
(2)   Date:         Tue, 11 Sep 90 21:04:08 EDT              (88 lines)
      From:         Ken Steele <
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      Subject:      The Bed and Biographical Criticism
 
(3)   Date:         [Tue, 11 Sep 90 21:02:29 EDT              (19 lines)
      From:         Thomas Clayton <TSC@umnacvx>
      Subject:      The Second-Best Bed]
 
(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date:   Fri, 7 Sep 90 11:25:00 EDT
From:   
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Subject: 1.0051  Beds and Shakespeare  (34)
Comment: Re: SHK 1.0051  Beds and Shakespeare  (34)
 
  Thanks to Professor McCarty for his levelheaded remarks about WS's
marriage.
 
Paul Pival
 
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------92----
Date:         Tue, 11 Sep 90 21:04:08 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <
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Subject:      The Bed and Biographical Criticism
 
 
I am really rather astonished that no-one has picked up the gauntlet
tossed down by the self-proclaimed devil's advocate, Willard McCarty,
when he asks:
 
     what possibly could be the significance of Shakespeare's
     marital relations?  Could this matter somehow be or lead to
     a literary question?  Is there, just out of sight,
     sophisticated critical theory to support bed-ridden
     investigations?  And if so, is it appropriate to an author
     who so successfully kept his ordinary self out of his
     writings?  To put it bluntly, have we nothing better to
     discuss?
 
In fact, I'm still more astonished that the only response has been
agreement (tacit or otherwise)!
 
I could facetiously argue for the importance of beds in Shakespeare's
writing, of course.  I could present tables of data demonstrating
where beds occur in Shakespeare's own stage directions, or that they
are strongly associated with murder and sexual desire (though not
sleep) -- but that's not the point here.
 
There is, it seems to me, little question that the interpretation of
the second-best bed provision in Shakespeare's will is crucial to any
understanding of his youth, his "shotgun" wedding (please forgive the
anachronism), and his subsequent family life.  In short, the bed is
indeed a valuable clue about Shakespeare's biography.  I don't think
Willard is questioning this --he is not asking whether the will sheds
light on Shakespeare's life, but whether Shakespeare's life bears any
connection whatsoever to his work.
 
I was taught that this critical position was long outdated, that the
"intentional fallacy" was a relic of the early New Criticism.  I am
the first to admit that it *is* valuable to regard a work of art as an
autonomous artefact, but it is *also* valuable to see it in connection
to the shaping intelligence which created it, in connection to the
world it reflects, and in connection to its audience.  A literary work
is a multi-faceted gem: the more facets one examines, the more three-
dimensional one's understanding of it grows.  If, on the other hand,
we insist on scrutinizing the work through a single facet, however
polished that facet may be, we can be sure that ultimately we will see
only a reflection of ourselves.
 
In the latest *Shakespeare Bulletin* (which arrived today in the mail,
and which by the way generously announces SHAKSPER on page 36), Louis
Phillips quotes Mark Rutherford as saying, "I suppose that most
persons would rather know what Shakespeare was doing on any day from
dawn to sunset... than be instructed as to the history of the Congress
of Vienna."  True, but such an interest is not merely "bardolatry",
either -- so acute a critic as James Calderwood confesses that "it is
pleasant to think of Shakespeare as having at least temporarily
occupied live skin before being permanently bound in calf"
(*Shakespearean Metadrama*, p.6).
 
Knowing that Shakespeare's first and only son, Hamnet, died just
before he wrote *Hamlet*, or that his dissolute brother Edmund was in
continual difficulty at the writing of *King Lear*, gives us
tantalizing but significant insight into Shakespeare's naming of his
characters, and perhaps his attitude toward them.  Knowing that
Shakespeare, and James I, had daughters whom they were attempting to
"marry off" in the first decade of the 17th century explains the focus
of many of the problem plays and romances.  The examples are endless,
and doubtless many of you can think of better ones than these...
 
There *is* a Shakespeare lurking beneath his writings, and he is
almost as visible as Chaucer or Milton are in their own.  Not a post-
romantic poet, of course, pouring forth his soul or expressing himself
in rhyme -- the Renaissance concepts of psychology and poetry didn't
leave much room for that.  But Shakespeare was a skilled man of the
theatre, an actor, a businessman, and a human being -- and who he was
unquestionably affects the way his plays were written and the way they
should (or can) be read.
 
(Incidentally, for those who still doubt me, I'd like to recommend a
recent and very enlightening study of Shakespeare's works in relation
to his life, C.L. Barber & Richard P. Wheeler's, *The Whole Journey:
Shakespeare's Power of Development* (University of California Press,
1986).  The investigation skilfully weaves together psychoanalytical
readings of the works and of the biography with sensitive literary
interpretation.)
 
                                             Ken Steele
                                             University of Toronto
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------22----
Date:         [Tue, 11 Sep 90 21:02:29 EDT
From:         Thomas Clayton <TSC@umnacvx>
Subject:      The Second-Best Bed]
 
    Back after a hiatus  of a month, I  find a discussion of  the
celebrated second best-bed problem. Ancient history reveals  that
it was  discussed in  some detail,  not all  of it  facetious, in
Chutney Grasmere-Popadom, "Shakespeare's Wills and Amorous Wonts:
A  Study  in  Sibliography  Sicklied  o'er  with  a  Pail of Cast
Thoughts," PUCRED 2.1 (1973): 11-19; and 2.2 (1973): 1-11.  Among
the suggestions made is that there  is no hyphen in the will  and
placing one as usual ("second-best") is gratuitous and  question-
begging.
 
    PUCRED was an  academic-burlesque journal that  emanated from
Berkeley (CA, not U-CA) c. 1972-74.
 
                                        Tom Clayton
 

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