1993

Re: Shakespeare, Ontology, and History

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 731.  Monday, 8 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 07 Nov 1993 13:32:39 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
(2)     From:   Timothy Bowden <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 07 Nov 93 09:38:42 PST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
(3)     From:   Jack Lynch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 7 Nov 1993 13:48:41 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
(4)     From:   Michael Friedman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 07 Nov 1993 15:03:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
(5)     From:   James Schaefer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 07 Nov 1993 16:45:58 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
(6)     From:   David Schalkwyk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Monday, 8 Nov 93 10:43:11 SAST-2
        Subj:   Shakespeare, ontology, history
 
(7)     From:   Nancy W. Miller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 7 Nov 93 19:41:05 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 07 Nov 1993 13:32:39 -0400
Subject: 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
Dear Bill,
 
We might relate history and literature better if we think of literature
as special documents, flawed like all documents, but in their own way.
As literature, but very popular literature, they tell us not about the
period in which they are written, so much as the perception of that period
by those living in it.
 
Therefore, in your example from *Taming*, the example of three out of four
renaissance wives refusing their husbands' orders might not be taken to
reflect what renaissance wives were really like (whatever that is), but to
reflect what people during the renaissance took to be the norm of female
behaviour.  This is the same time when, if *Much Ado* is to be believed,
"cuckold" and "husband" were held synonymous.  Neither example means that
women actually were remarkably disobedient or unfaithful, but that popular
belief ascribed disobedience and unfaithfulness as normal traits of
womanhood.
 
We might draw a parallel to contemporary literature.  No-one would confuse
a current socially-conscious (or, if s/he is less PC, socially interested)
writer with an historian.  Martin Amis' *London Fields* doesn't tell us as
much about life in 1990s London as would any reasonably good statistics.
But he does provide an idea of how at least one Englishman, and judging by
the reception of his tome, a lot of his contemporaries agree, views his
life in 1990s London.  Needless to say, this bears a somewhat oblique
relationship to reality.
 
I hope I've made a point in this rambling.
 
        Sean Lawrence.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Timothy Bowden <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 07 Nov 93 09:38:42 PST
Subject: 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
Let me consider how my own literary travels may offer signposts along
the way towards an appreciation of actual history, and then someone tell
me if it's a valid map.  I mark in _Sense and Sensibility_ how the
expectations of a couple of country girls are exasperated by the
non-compliance of a certain suitor, to the morbid deterioration of one
and the general depression of the rest of the family.  The suitor
indicated his intentions, as far as I can detect, merely by calling on
the family more than once.
 
And yet, despite my sense I was exploring a case of group hysteria, the
author herself validated the perceptions of her characters, even to
include the contrite suitor, by the end of the novel.  I deduce that
times in early 19th century England were very different from here and
now.  Is that a fair rendering?
 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Timothy Bowden)
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Lynch <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 7 Nov 1993 13:48:41 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
    BG:  Sherlock Holmes and John Major live in London. It
    is true that Holmes and Major both live in London.
 
Don't be silly.  Everyone knows Holmes has retired to the country to take up
beekeeping, whereas the Liberals only _hope_ Major will retire to the country.
 
    BG:  But they do not have the same ontological status.
    ...  I don't have any good answers to my questions, and
    my students always fall silent when I ask them.  They
    like to say, "Well, back in those days, that's the way
    it was."
 
Do they actually hold to this?  Do they insist _R&J_'s Verona is a historical
city in Italy, for instance, or that "That's the way it was" in Hamlet's
Denmark?  Or do you get the impression that this was the first answer to come
to their minds, and seemed an easy way out?
 
    BG:  But if we go beyond naive assumptions about the
    congruence of literature and history (both as record and
    experience), then I for one am baffled. I can't explain
    how imagined, fictional worlds are related -
    theoretically - to the world we have dinner in.
 
A good source to get students, especially undergraduates, thinking about the
problem -- that is to say, one that raises theoretical issues without resorting
to theoretical jargon and obfuscation -- is an essay by Berel Lang called
"Hamlet's Grandmother and Other Literary Facts," _The Antioch Review_, 44
(Spring 1986), 167-75.  (The converse of its accessibility, of course, is that
it wants the theoretical rigor you might expect.)  The essay poses the question
of whether Hamlet had a grandmother:  we know from the text that he had a
mother and a father, even a grandfather, but the text gives no indication of
whether he had a grandmother.  Lang forces us to consider what we're doing when
we apply our common-sense knowledge of the "real world" -- but _of course_ he
must have had a grandmother; everyone does -- to the ostensibly self- contained
world of the text.  It's been a while since I read it, but I remember it as the
sort of thing one might use in the classroom very effectively.
 
I'm now working on a class paper on Boswell's _Life of Johnson_, and of course
the biggest question in twentieth- century Boswell studies is the relation of
_The Life of Johnson_ (capital L, set italic) to the life of Johnson (lowercase
L, set roman).  I'm now looking at Riffaterre's _Fictional Truth_, which
meditates on the theoretical problem as it appears in nineteenth-century
fiction, in the hopes that some of his insights will help me approach Boswell's
handling of history and such.
 
  -- Jack Lynch; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Friedman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 07 Nov 1993 15:03:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
Along the same lines as Bill Godshalk's query about the relationship
of fictional texts to history, I'm running into a similar difficulty with
*Measure for Measure*.  Much of the criticism on the play refers to Eliza-
bethan betrothal and marriage laws, such as those concerning the custom of
handfasting, to explain various questions, but such a strategy has always
struck me as not entirely legitimate, for a few reasons:
 
        1. Shakespeare's play specifically takes place in Vienna, a Catholic
state, where the laws, particularly after the Council of Trent (1563) are
different from those in England in 1604.
        2. The only law we can be sure about in the play, the one against
fornication which Angelo enforces against Claudio, is far more severe than
any English law ever was, although certain Puritan divines would have liked
to have seen the death penalty for fornication.
 
Given that the laws of this fictional foreign world are clearly different
from those of Shakespeare's England, what gives the critic the right to
assume that all other laws, for which there is no textual evidence, are
simply those of the country in which the play was written?  My own answer
is that we cannot simply apply the laws of the "real" world to the play world
unless the text specifically invites us to do so.  However, I am also open
to the argument that any playwright assumes a shared body of assumptions with
his or her audience that may include ideas about what is legal or illegal,
right or wrong, and these shared assumptions are largely the product of living
in the same society.  In other words, Shakespeare knows his English audience
will judge an act legal or illegal by English law, and he doesn't have to make
any mention of the law even when he is placing his action in a foreign context.
 
Can anyone throw any light on this question?
 
                                                        Michael Friedman
                                                        FriedmanM1@jaguar.
                                                                uofs.edu
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 07 Nov 1993 16:45:58 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
It's hard enough to keep straight the relationship between that which
is described in the work and its _presumed_ world context, let along
the (presumed?) _real_ one.  Hamlet (he) exists only between "Who's there?"
and "The rest is silence."  That's all we've got, and we have to try
to make do with it.
 
Jim Schaefer
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 8 Nov 93 10:43:11 SAST-2
Subject:        Shakespeare, ontology, history
 
Bill Godschalk writes:
 
"I can't imagine how imagined, fictional worlds are related - theoretically -
to the world we have dinner in."
 
Can we imagine how the utterance "I promise/wish/hope/imagine that I will have
dinner with you tonight" is related - theoretically - to the world we have
dinner in?
 
David Schalkwyk
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nancy W. Miller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 7 Nov 93 19:41:05 EST
Subject: 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0728  Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
William Godshalk recently commented:
 
Like most teachers and scholars of Renaissance or early modern literature, I
use history and historical
> documents to enlighten and enliven the literature that I teach. But can
> literature be used to enlighten history? In THE TAMING OF THE SHREW . . .
> let's say that in the Renaissance two out of every three wives
> disregarded their husbands' commands and felt themselves quite independent
> within their marriages. If history can be used to read literature, then
> literature can be used to read history. WRONG! But why.
 
First let me say that I believe that literature CAN be used to read history
(--as far as I'm concerned, literature IS history), but the relationship cannot
be expressed as direct one to one correspondences: we can't use _Shrew_ as an
indication of statistical probabilities.  What we can do is read the way
concepts and ideas are used (better yet, taken for granted) within the
literature, go back and look at other written documents that engage the same
ideas, compare, contrast, and come up with some theories about the ideologies
of the era, etc. (This appears a bit simplistic here, I know, but others
have said it much better: Montrose, R. Williams . . .).  A few years ago, Sybil
Wolfram, a British cultural anthropologist, visited OSU and spoke about using
Trollope to explore marriage relationships in nineteenth c. England.  She found
him a "reliable" source.  I would argue that all literature is a "reliable"
source, if only one cares to look.
 
N. Miller

Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 731.  Sunday, 7 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Michael Sharpston <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 04 Nov 1993 23:12:00 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0705 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
(2)     From:   Cary M. Mazer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >
        Date:   Sunday, 7 Nov 93 9:58:01 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0724  Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Sharpston <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 04 Nov 1993 23:12:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0705 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0705 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
In reply to James Schaefer:
 
It seems to me extremely helpful that James Schaefer has given us a
concrete example as a focus for our discussions.
 
>Some years ago (you'll know when in a moment), I played the character
>Clive in a production of Van Druten's 1951 play, *I Am A Camera*.
>(For those who may not know, he drew the material from Christopher
>Isherwood's *Berlin Stories*; the play later became the basis for the
>musical, *Cabaret*.)  Clive is a rich, ignorant (expletive deleted)
>American who has no idea what is going on in Berlin around him and
>couldn't care less.  His character is succinctly revealed when he
>describes how he had just encountered a Nazi demonstration and asks,
>"Say, who are these Nazis, anyway? ... Are the Nazis the same as the
>Jews?"  In describing the demonstration, he says, "...we ran into a
>bit of shooting....  Seemed just like Chicago."
 
>When I delivered this throw-away line on opening night, I (and the
>director and the rest of the cast) were stunned to find that it
>brought down the house.  Why?
 
>This production was staged in the fall of 1968, about 100 miles from
>Grant Park in Chicago.  The mere suggestion of a Chicago riot was a
>politically powerful metaphor for that particular audience, in that
>place and at that time.  The line got the same audience reaction every
>night of the run.  As an actor, I loved it.  But years later, while
>investigating the effect of context on performances, I realized this
>reaction was _absolutely antithetical_ to the meaning of the play.
 
> [Text deleted]                         ...In the post-Holocaust
>context of the play's first performances in 1951, Clive's off-handed
>comparison of the Nazi's with the largely internal violence of
>Chicago's gangland wars could have been another device of the author's
>to show Clive's political and moral blindness (or at least naivete)
>and self-centeredness -- and by extension, the way in which these same
>qualities applied to American society before the war.
 
>The 1968 audience, composed largely of undergraduate college students,
[Text deleted]                          ...For them, Van Druten's
>simile seemed to be newly true but still accurate:  the Chicago police
>were like the Nazis, Mayor Richard Daley was like Hitler, and the
>violence used against the student demonstrators was akin to the Third
>Reich's efforts to exterminate the Jews.
 
>But such an interpretation reverses an irreversible equation.  The
>simile is not "Chicago is like Berlin," but rather, "Berlin is like
>Chicago," and in any case, the demonstrators in Berlin were the Nazis
>themselves, not their victims.  I believe that in 1951, Clive would
>have been understood to have belittled the threat of the Nazis and
>thereby discredited himself with the audience.  By contrast, the
>audience's understanding of Clive in the fall of 1968 inflated the
>evil of the Chicago police, significant though it was, and made him a
>sympathetic character in so far as the audience agreed with, rather
>than rejected, his comparison.  The result was a spontaneous,
>simultaneous recognition by all present at the performance of a new
>meaning that was not intended by the author, and that ripped the
>delicate fabric of relationships he had constructed.
 
>We retained the line in subsequent performances, and got the same
>response each time.  But by staying true to the author's text, we
>imposed a meaning from our performance context that was at odds with
>the play's internal context, for in every other respect, Clive's
>interactions with the other characters in the play show him to deserve
>nothing but our disgust.
 
The example of the importance of audience and context is excellent,
but I would not quite agree that Clive as being made a sympathetic
character.  Largely, the actor playing Clive, and the play-givers more
generally are certainly made more sympathetic to the audience:  they are in
the know and known to be in the know.  The audience is also likely to have
become more emotionally roused (perhaps involved), yet also more conscious
that they are watching a play with another historical context, a kind of
dramatic irony.  Cf. that wonderful early line in Sophocles' Oedipus
Tyrannus:  "ho pasi kleinos Oidipous" -- "Oedipus famous to all":  although
there of course the dramatist also was clearly in the know.
 
Lapsing perhaps into a dialect of Cyberspeak, can I suggest that the
dramatist, director, actors, and audience constitute a Virtual Community
over Time and Space.  There are shared meanings and resonances and ones
which are not shared.  New meaning is created and some resonances produce
wave interference.
 
Michael Sharpston
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cary M. Mazer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >
Date:           Sunday, 7 Nov 93 9:58:01 EST
Subject: 4.0724  Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0724  Re: "Versions" of Shakespeare
 
Terence Hawkes writes:
 
> Cary Mazer refers to 'the script that we have inherited' of Macbeth. Where
> is it? What does it look like?
 
If Terence Hawkes is hoping that I will nibble at his bait and defend the
supposed authority of a supposedly stable supposedly received text, he's
asking the wrong person.  Assuming that his rhetorical question is a trap,
he's making my point precisely.  Thanks, Terry.
 
CMM

Q: Apartment Swap

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 729.  Sunday, 7 November 1993.
 
From:           Cynthia L. Wimmer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 06 Nov 93 11:52 EST
Subject:        Apartment?
 
Is anyone out there interested in exchanging apartments (Washington for NYC)
part or all of next summer?
 
I have a large one-bedroom apartment with a beautiful view of Silgo Creek
Park on the tenth floor of a high rise with 24-hour security and garage
parking, a mile and a half from the Wheaton Metro station providing easy
access to downtown Washington, the Folger, and the Library of Congress.
 
I am looking for a place in NYC from June 1st through July 8th, preferably
near Lincoln Center.  The balance of the summer I plan to be traveling,
taking my 85-year-old mother to visit and revisit places from Florida to
Seattle and back.
 
If you think you would find an apartment exchange advantageous, please contact
me.   Thanks so much!
 
Cynthia L. Wimmer
English Department
University of Maryland
College Park, MD  20742
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(301)649-7585

Re: Gertrude

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 730.  Sunday, 7 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Ann M. Cox <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Saturday, 06 Nov 93 23:27:02 EST
        Subj:   SHK 4.0723 Re: Gertrude
 
(2)     From:   Elizabeth Miller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 7 Nov 1993 09:14:18 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Gertrude's guilt
 
(3)     From:   Ronald Dwelle <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 07 Nov 93 10:45:34 EST
        Subj:   SHK 4.0723  Re: Gertrude
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ann M. Cox <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 06 Nov 93 23:27:02 EST
Subject: Re: Gertrude
Comment:        SHK 4.0723 Re: Gertrude
 
Gertrude's act of marrying Claudius is not just bad judgement in
choosing an evil man or being disloyal to her husband's memory, she is,
in the social mores of the 17th century, committing incest. This is the
reason she is so reviled.
 
Ann M. Cox
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Elizabeth Miller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 7 Nov 1993 09:14:18 -0500
Subject:        Re: Gertrude's guilt
 
I'd like to add two points. First, notice that Gertrude does not share
Claudius' reaction to the play (III,ii) but rather queries Claudius "How fares
my lord?" Not the sort of response one would expect from an accomplice.
Secondly, there's her response to Hamlet's accusation (III,iv) "A bloody deed -
almost as bad, good mother/As kill a king and marry with his brother". Note
that she accepts the first part but exclaims, "As kill a king?" I don't think
Gertrude would have the presence of mind to be able to "cover up" so
successfully. Along with the point raised earlier by others, these show quite
conclusively that she was not an accomplice to murder.
 
Elizabeth Miller
Memorial University of Newfoundland
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ronald Dwelle <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 07 Nov 93 10:45:34 EST
Subject: Re: Gertrude
Comment:        SHK 4.0723  Re: Gertrude
 
Ah, the chance to disagree (somewhat) with a former teacher!
 
I think Ken Rothwell is too kind to Gertrude. She's a cow. The closest I see
her coming to any self-understanding or reflection is in the bedroom scene when
Hamlet forces her to turn her eyes inward upon herself. But, then, she recovers
quite nicely by the final scene.
 
Gertrude doesn't know about the murder and wouldn't want to know.
 
(Hi, Ken!)

Shakespeare, Ontology, and History

Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 728.  Sunday, 7 November 1993.
 
From:           William Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 06 Nov 1993 18:03:18 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Shakespeare, Ontology, and History
 
I was pleased to see that several of us are interested in pursuing the question
of the relationship of literature to history. Jean Howard asked the questions
this way: "what is the nature of that relationship? Does the [literary] text
absord history into itself? Does it reflect an external reality? Does it
produce the real?" ("The New Historicism in Renaissance Studies," ENGLISH
LITERARY RENAISSANCE 16 [l986]: 25).
 
My question was, indeed, more than rhetorical. Like most teachers and scholars
of Renaissance or early modern literature, I use history and historical
documents to enlighten and enliven the literature that I teach. But can
literature be used to enlighten history? In THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, we have
several sets of lovers and potential lovers: Sly and his new-found "wife,"
Lucentio and Bianca, Katherine and Petruccio, and Hortensio and the nameless
widow. Sly's wife says no when he invites her to bed - comically; Bianca
controls Lucentio throughout the play and refuses to come at his insistance in
the last scene; Hortensio's wife also refuses to come, and only Katherine, now
Kate, comes at her husband's call. Leaving Sly and his "wife" out of our
calculations, let's say that in the Renaissance two out of every three wives
disregarded their husbands' commands and felt themselves quite independent
within their marriages. If history can be used to read literature, then
literature can be used to read history. WRONG! But why?
 
Sherlock Holmes and John Major live in London. It is true that Holmes and Major
both live in London. But they do not have the same ontological status - even
though Holmes receives a great deal of mail from would-be clients. What is
Katherine Minola's relationship with William Shakespeare?
 
I don't have any good answers to my questions, and my students always fall
silent when I ask them. They like to say, "Well, back in those days, that's the
way it was." But if we go beyond naive assumptions about the congruence of
literature and history (both as record and experience), then I for one am
baffled. I can't explain how imagined, fictional worlds are related -
theoretically - to the world we have dinner in.
 
It's dinnertime.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk

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