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Home :: Archive :: 1990 :: September ::
Beds, Biographical Criticism (120)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 1, No. 56. Wednesday, 12 Sep 1990.
 
 
(1)   Date:     Tue, 11 Sep 90 22:45 EST                     (15 lines)
      From:     "Blondeness: Not just a colour, but an attitude!"
                  [Jeannette Schaffrath]
      Subject:  the second best bed debate
 
(2)   Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 01:00:13 EDT                      (31 lines)
      From: 
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   [Stephen Matsuba]
      Subject: No more beds
 
(3)   Date:         Wed, 12 Sep 90 19:46:57 EDT              (47 lines)
      From:         Ken Steele <
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 >
      Subject:      A Defense of Biography (II)
 
(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date:     Tue, 11 Sep 90 22:45 EST
From:     "Blondeness: Not just a colour, but an attitude!"
Subject:  the second best bed debate
 
When I asked for theories about why Will left the second best bed to
Anne, I did not envision the heated debates that this subject would
arouse.  In regard to what Professor McCarty said about my inquiry,
I have to disagree.  My area of study is History, not English.  My
interest in Shakespeare's will was for pure historical significance,
not to suggest marital problems that he and Anne may, or may not have
had.  I have no wish to jade Shakespeare's image with tales of troubles
or strife between Will and Anne.  My purpose was simple historic
significance of the entry.
 
Jeannette Schaffrath
 
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------56----
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 90 01:00:13 EDT
From: 
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Subject: No more beds
 
I agree with Willard McCarty and also ask "does it matter?" The danger
of placing significance on such biographical matters is that one
really can never know whether or not a particular element would be
significant to the work.
 
My work dealing with Bernard Shaw (a nasty name in Shakespearian
circles) showed me that while you could know a great deal about a
writer's life, and can find some interesting links between the life
and the work, one can also let these items cloud the work itself.
*Heartbreak House* was written during the First World War, and one
finds echoes (something for Tom Horton's query on allusion searching
programs) of Shotover's sentiments in Shaw's letters.  Indeed, the
mysterious attacker in the sky can be traced to a letter that Shaw
wrote to Beatrice Webb in which he describes a zeppelin attack near
his home.  But if one cannot simply write about the play as a work
about war because there are enough elements within it to contradict
such an interpretation.  How can Mazzini Dunn claim that "Nothing will
happen" if a war is on?
 
If one needs to separate the work from the man in the case of Shaw,
for whom a great deal of biographical material is available, how can
we do the same for Shakespeare?  And I have not even touched on the
theoretical arguments that one could make.
 
Stephen N. Matsuba
York University
 
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------51----
Date:         Wed, 12 Sep 90 19:46:57 EDT
From:         Ken Steele <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Subject:      A Defense of Biography (II)
 
 
The ultimate test of any critical approach to a work of
literature is, I believe, the results and insights it achieves at
its best.  There was (and perhaps still is) a pronounced
prejudice against author-oriented criticism -- intentional,
biographical, or psychoanalytical -- which would unnecessarily
eliminate an entire approach from legitimate consideration... and
this seems to me to be a distinctly unscholarly narrowing of
vision.
 
I am the first to admit that much psychoanalytic criticism of
Shakespeare (and other literary figures) has been utter nonsense.
Then again, much computational, feminist, new historicist, and
marxist criticism of Shakespeare (etc) also deserves to be
relegated to the garbage can icon.  The mere fact that some
critics can use the approach successfully, or the prospect that
some critic might do so, should be sufficient to quiet objections
to the approach per se.  If a critical argument is convincing,
if it sheds light on the text and deepens our understanding, surely
that alone is sufficient justification.
 
Ultimately, I confess, I am not interested in Shakespeare *the
man*, but Shakespeare *the poet/dramatist*.  I don't really care
what he ate for breakfast, or who did his laundry; I am
fascinated, though, by the interconnections between his plays and
poems, by the echoing of common themes and image clusters through
his works, and by the creative mind which lies behind it all.
The catalyst for my interest in authorial revision is a distinct
sense that it is possible to catch a glimpse of Shakespeare, the
poet, at work.  The evidence which survives of his attitudes to
certain words, images, or scenes must be drawn almost exclusively
from his dramatic and poetic work, but is invaluable when
attempting to understand minor authorial tinkering or verbal
substitutions.
 
It might be possible, in a sterile and oh-so-precise scholarly
manner, to speak not of Shakespeare's habits or preferences, but
of numerical probabilities and emphases in the texts -- but as
students of the humanities, wouldn't we lose an essential
component of our study by so doing?  If we are ultimately seeking
to understand humanity's vision of itself, does it not help to
bring human beings into the equation?
 
                                        Ken Steele
                                        University of Toronto
 

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