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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 835. Thursday, 24 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Nov 93 12:39 BST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
(2)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Nov 93 18:35:00 GMT
        Subj:   SHK 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing
 
(3)     From:   Al Cacicedo <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Nov 1993 0:32:54 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   History and despair
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Nov 93 12:39 BST
Subject: 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing Shakespeare
 
I think Bill Godshalk has got the Historicist position about right. If
all cultures are prisoners of the presuppositions of their way of life,
then so is our own. You can't step outside history. But why the despair?
That is only appropriate if we persist in regarding the acquisition of
permanent historical truth as the object of the exercise. In fact, I'd
always thought that the abandonment of that quest constituted the
great American contribution to philosophy, in the form of Pragmatism. Hence
(if anyone remembers it) my own despair at the spectacle of 'Commander'
Wannamaker's continuing genuflections in the direction of the Bard's
supposed universality.
 
Terence Hawkes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Nov 93 18:35:00 GMT
Subject: The Paradox of Historicizing
Comment:        SHK 4.0833 The Paradox of Historicizing
 
>Recently, in our discussions of Shakespeare's ability to transcend his own
>time, it seems to have been the historicist position that Shakespeare was
>writing about early modern/Renaissance England no matter what names he gave
>his locales or what history he was supposedly dealing with. He was trapped
>inside his own history, his own material culture.
 
>If he was, then so are we. It is impossible for us to transcend our own
>grammar, our own archive, our own culture. That's why the new historicists do
>not sound like the old historicists or the nineteenth century historical
>critics. We are being written by our culture.
 
>And it follows that the attempt to historicize only results in the
>dehistoricizing of Shakespeare's text. Instead of reclaiming, or rewriting,
>the early modern/Renaissance culture, we merely superimpose our own. If we are
>caught in material culture, there is no way out, and certainly no way back.
 
>The words of the ghosts ring in my ears: despair and die.
 
I can't make up my mind whether Bill Godshalk has already sold his soul to
the devil, or whether he's regards himself as some kind of Ricardian nemesis,
come to scourge those of us who have committed the evidently regicidal crime
of pointing out that certain imperial figures in Shakespeare criticism have
no clothes.  What makes him think that Shakespeare was "trapped inside his
own material culture"?  Doubtless Shakespeare worked under certain cultural
constraints (he may even have exercised a degree of self-censorship as one of
a number of possible responses to those restraints), and we can attempt to
produce some narrative of those conditions.  The point is, surely, that this
isn't quite so simple as it sounds, and we now have some idea why.  When he
says that "the attempt to historicize only results in the dehistoricizing
Shakespeare's text", then he's doing nothing more here than playing with
words. Having committed himself to the metaphor of history as a form of
entrapment, he collapses all DIFFERENCES into similitudes. When we look at
modern culture seriously we don't "merely superimpose our own" upon it. There
are serious tensions thrown up by differences, and the way forward is not to
pretend that we can totally submerge ourselves in the object of our enquiry,
and then to lament the fact that we may not be able to.
 
Clearly, having deprived Godshalk of the universalizing strategy which allows
him to range freely within the zodiac of his own wit, all he can do is
despair. Maybe he needs to think a little more about what "materialisms"
involve, instead of continually chewing on what must by now be a pretty
tasteless insane root that takes the reason prisoner.
 
Lang may yer lumb reek
 
John Drakakis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Cacicedo <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Nov 1993 0:32:54 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        History and despair
 
I think David Bank is right that culture is an accretive process.
And I agree with him that "trapped" is the wrong word to apply to
Shakespeare--or anyone else--in regards to his/their historical
contingency.  I know French theoreticians are often tiresome, but
they are tiresome, I think, because they are very careful (some of
them) to steer the delicate path between the two determinisms,
social and biological, which have agitated human thinkers for as
long, apparently, as there have been human thinkers.  One result
of that careful steering is that some of them seem (to me, at least)
to get right the inventive potential of the historical subject.  At any
rate, in an very old fashioned way, I guess I just don't get why Bill
Godshalk is so despairing.  Yes, Shakespeare is as much a
historical subject as any of us--"No more but even a human," to
paraphrase Cleopatra.  To transcend such contingency, I think, is a
divine attribute, or so theists and other romantics (Cleopatra with
immortal longings?) might argue.  Should we make our Will our
golden calf, I wonder?
 
Neither glittering nor gold,
Al Cacicedo (
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Albright College
 

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