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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: Ontology, Shakespeare, and History
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 761. Thursday, 11 November 1993.
 
From:           Nancy W Miller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 10 Nov 93 15:31:19 EST
Subject: 4.0749  Re: Ontology, Shakespeare, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0749  Re: Ontology, Shakespeare, and History
 
Bill,
 
Literature as history--I'm really invoking Louis Montrose's formula here, which
he expresses as two interrelated ideas: "the historicity of texts" and "the
textuality of history."  I think we're in general agreement about the first
term--all texts are embedded in history (hence we "use" history to enlighten
our reading of texts), but the second (and its relationship to the first)
appears to be our site of disagreement.  I take "the textuality of history" to
mean that this whole thing we call "history" is comprised of received texts,
which are then compiled and interpreted by historians, who are
themselves bringing a host of internal and external (cultural, social,
psychological, ideological, etc.) operatives to bear on that which they read.
This is further complicated by the fact that the text was originally written by
someone with his or her own set of baggage which is (in my view) culturally
determined (or at the very least affected).
 
The road to "meaning" is certainly a bit muddy, but with our recognition that
texts and history are interpenetrating (if you wish to accept this theoretical
approach, that is), we can attempt to piece together material conditions (some
deny that material conditions exist beyond texts.  I'm not sure yet ).  I guess
what I'm really saying here (in far too many words) is that we shouldn't
distinguish literary texts from non-literary texts ("documents") as
make-believe vs. true.  Both types of literature are both make-believe and true
depending upon the questions you ask those texts.
 
Nowhere am I making the claim that all readers or audience members will
have identical reactions to any literary/dramatic work, but the basis for the
variety of ideas about a wife's proper role/duties in the marriage relationship
that are evoked in *Shrew* or *Kindness* (certainly the issues of obedience in
*Shrew* and constancy in *Kindness*) should be determinable as a part of
the socio-historical context.  (And yes, I would argue that a lot of these
ideas would be understood by the audience like Aristotle's tacit third term in
an enthymeme).  Take for example the "Homily on Matrimony," which was available
in every church in England and preached at weddings.  Its lengthy diatribe on
wifely obedience, whether or not indicative of the actual behavior of wives in
Early Modern England, works as a very informative companion piece to *Shrew*.
 
I hope I haven't overstepped my allotted screen-space!
 
N. Miller
 

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