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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 837. Thursday, 24 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   David Bank <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Nov 93 19:41:21 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
(2)     From:   Dennis Kennedy <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Nov 1993 19:56 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0833  The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
(3)     From:   Robert O'Connor <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Nov 1993 15:52:02 +0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0833  The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bank <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Nov 93 19:41:21 GMT
Subject: 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
I can't think that Bill Godshalk is right. Shakespeare was writing *out*
of "early modern/Renaissance England", not "about" it. The difference
is fundamental. The next point in Bill's first paragraph I also take
issue with: "He [Shak.] was trapped inside his own history, his own
material culture". I'm reluctant to believe that anyone so dazzlingly
verbal and intellectual could have been "trapped" by the 2,500 years
of European history and culture of which the Elizabethan period was
 - in Shakespeare's lifetime - the then present. The main point here
is that culture is an accretive process. Coral reef, that sort of
thing. We forget some important things of the past, but without others
actively present *to us* we should be very different cultural beings.
Inherited notions of soul/"psyche" for instance. There is a great
book by Rohde on conceptions of these among the ancient Greeks.
Recognizably mutual interest to Greeks, Hamlet, us. It is this
old tradition which gets in the way of attempts to banish
purgatory by the 16th c. Reformists, who wanted everyone to believe
that when you die you go *straight* to wherever you're going.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dennis Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Nov 1993 19:56 EST
Subject: 4.0833  The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0833  The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
Sounds like Bill Godshalk got it right at last.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert O'Connor <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Nov 1993 15:52:02 +0700
Subject: 4.0833  The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0833  The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
Dear despairing Bill Godshalk,
 
As has often occurred on this forum, I find someone else raising an issue
that has recently got to me.  It occurred to me the other day - while
trying to draft an abstract for a conference - that we in the late 20th
century are somewhat handicapped in approaching Shakespeare.  The dominant
discourse of his time - and for some time after - was religious.  In ours,
it is scientific.  The religious and moral pamphlets of Elizabethan London
have been replaced by popularised science books such as Hawking's *A Brief
History of Time* (obviously I am avoiding the issue of popular fiction here
. . . . )  Witness the on-going attempts to put criticism on a "scientific"
footing, if not on par with scientific discourses.
 
I, too, despaired (briefly) when I realised this.  How can we "approach"
Shakespeare, or even begin to understand/analyse his works, when the
framework in which we operate, like it or not, is so radically different
from, if not diametrically opposed to, Shakespeare's.  *Sigh*  What's the
point?
 
Are we all out of a job?
 
Well, maybe, but not yet.  Surely we have learned that it is impossible for
us to put a finger on "our own grammar, our own archive, our own culture",
as much as it is impossible to do the same for Shakespeare.  In fact -
casting despair aside after another cup of coffee - we are operating within
such a fluid discourse - scientifically biased though it may be - that we
can try to find a "way out" even if there is "no way back".
I do not agree, however, that "the new historicists do not sound like the
old historicists or the nineteenth century historical critics."  Dollimore
and Tillyard have more in common that I previously thought, and their
methodologies, after all, are not too different.
 
More Caffeine!!!
 
Robert O'Connor
 

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