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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: History and Literature
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 822.  Friday, 19 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Jim McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
        Date:   Thursday, 18 Nov 1993 11:50:44 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   history and literature
 
(2)     From:   Jim McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
        Date:   Thursday, 18 Nov 1993 10:55:36 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   literary texts, historical texts
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
Date:           Thursday, 18 Nov 1993 11:50:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        history and literature
 
Hear, hear, Martin Green!!
 
I wonder too how theory can spin off theory in literary investigations.  The
plays were written then, not now, and what was going on then matters (sorry,
Dr. Godshalk).  A colleague of mine is working on what promises to be a
fascinating investigation of the relationship between castle architecture and
the development of character and plot in George Gascoigne's _Adventures of
Master F. J._.  I'm eager to see what she comes up with because she's
discovering historical facts that directly inform the meaning of the text.
Hurrah for scholarship that puts history in service of literature!
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
Date:           Thursday, 18 Nov 1993 10:55:36 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        literary texts, historical texts
 
Re Nancy W. Miller's advice to abandon distinctions btwn literary and
nonliterary texts: This question always hangs me up b/c its true that we can
find valuable material in any scrap of text--marginalia, dashed-off notes,
textual variations in manuscripts or printed texts, etc, etc.  I think, though,
that there is a functional difference between those things we find interesting
as scholars and those we would break to the public as ideas worth rethinking or
images to ponder.  Forgive me for dealing in soft distinctions, but we must
draw some line between what we consider valuable and all the rest of the wide
world.
 
The problem appears to have less to do with what is valuable, though, and more
to do with what it is valuable for.  I am a little uneasy, Ms. Miller, with
your implication that _Shrew_ and the homily on matrimony are equivalent on the
grounds that both give us information about Renaissance ideas about marriage.
I agree absolutely that both inform us, but I disagree that this makes them in
any way equivalent.  My interest in Renaissance ideas about marriage is not the
same as my interest in _Shrew_.  I look to history to tell me at least a little
about the material conditions that lie behind the play, and some about how the
world came to be how it is today.  And, of course, I read it skeptically.  The
play is a much richer thing.  I can glean possible historical information from
it; I can read familiar stories in it; I can feel moved by it; I can be
entertained by it.  All rather intensely, all at the same time.  The play is
vaulable for these complex and sometimes impassioned purposes.  A nonliterary
text has a more utilitarian value.
 
This distinction is as soft as the first one, between what is and is not
valuable, and I think it underlies it.  Just as we must draw a line between
what is and is not valuable, we must also establish hierarchies of value,
hierarchies of what we will defend and at what cost.  Perhaps the fact that
these distinctions don't stand rock firm makes them suspect for some.  Hell, I
suspect them myself.  But make them I must and defend them I will.
 
To equate subliterary texts with literary ones implies a different purpose than
the study of literature.  If all texts are reduced to little more than their
testimony concerning material conditions, we impoverish ourselves and make our
inner feelings suspect.  Material reality is just not the only acceptable
reality.
 
Jim McKenna
 

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