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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: October ::
Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 681.  Friday, 29 October 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Oct 93  16:59 GMT
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0677  Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
(2)     From:   Dennis Kennedy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Oct 1993 23:33 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0677  Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
(3)     From:   Jason Hoblit <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Oct 1993 05:06:35 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0677 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Oct 93  16:59 GMT
Subject: 4.0677  Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0677  Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
Not guilty! The CORIOLANUS debate started on 22 Sept, when somebody seems
to have gained access to a machine, sent out message quoting Brian
Vickers's view that the play is politics-proof, and then had the temerity
to sign Bill Godshalk's name to it. Probably a Cultural Materialist, I'd
say: they'll stop at nothing.
 
Terence Hawkes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dennis Kennedy <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Oct 1993 23:33 EST
Subject: 4.0677  Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0677  Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
It's interesting how often Bill Godshalk's notes use the phrase "I believe
that . . ."  (I believe that there are authors, I believe that Shakespeare
wrote his plays, etc.)  And yet he asserts that "aesthetics, not politics, is
the basis for all human activity."  Hmmm.  I am missing something here?  I
always thought that credos were ideological.  Silly reformed Marxist me!
 
Dennis Kennedy
University of Pittsburgh
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jason Hoblit <
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Date:           Friday, 29 Oct 1993 05:06:35 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 4.0677 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0677 Re: "Versions" of *Coriolanus*
 
Bill, I am not sure that I am avoiding a *descent* into 'quiddities and
quillities', but I would take issue with several of the assumptions that
I believe you make in your last post (forgive me, and correct me if I
missed your point or misrepresent you).
 
First:
>at a fundamental level he wrote his own plays. His plays were not written
>by committee. (I've seen committees trying to write simple paragraphs.) I
>believe there are authors. I believe that I'm writing this, for example. I
>know that the French killed the concept of authorship in the 1960s. I
>remain skeptical.
 
I am not trying to deny that 'there are authors' or that Shakespeare ( or
you or I for that matter) lacked agency, nor I am I denying the
usefulness of the concept of Shakespeare 'the author'.
 
Second:
>I believe there's a difference between a production of MACBETH and a
>production of McBIRD - as I've said before, and I'll probably say again.
>I at least can tell the difference.
 
I am also emphatically *not* claiming that *versions* are completely
indistinguishable.  It is usually even possible to recognize which
*versions* are closer to *authoritative* 'Shakespearean' readings.
However, some cases are clearer than others, it is not *necessarily* a
cut and dried issue in all cases.  Finally, the issue is one of
determining what is an (or THE) *authoritative* version of a
Shakespearean text.  Granted _McBird_ may be clearly different from the
bulk of what may be assumed to be an *original* or *authentic* text of
Shakespeare.  It may be easy to make an easy determination that Kemble's,
Olivier's, or (to borrow Cary Mazer's term) what's-his-name's text is
closer to or farther from what we consider to be an *authoritative
version*.
 
The problem comes with establishing an (or THE) standard or
*authoritative* text in the first place.  What is the *authoritative*
_Lear_, or (to follow your choice of plays) even the *authoritative*
_MacBeth_?  It is not at all easy to make a clear and unequivocal
determination of what (from the various Folio's and Quarto's) belongs in or
out of those texts, not to mention correcting for problems with scribal
and compositorial intervention.  At a recent party one of my colleagues
was arguing that she prefers less modern editorial intervention in the
texts of Shakespeare's plays.  We were chided for talking about 'work'
before we could get anywhere.  However, I would argue that if the printed
versions of the period are privileged, editorial intervention is far from
circumvented.  Instead, in effect, the editorial decisions of the printers
(and possibly scribes, prompters and others) are privileged as
*authoritative* editorial decisions.  I have no problem with minimalizing
modern editorial intervention.  At the same time, it is important to
remember that this is no more an *original* text, nor is it possible to
completely escape from 'interpreting' or to banish editorial involvement
completely.  Outside of making valuative judgements upon the merit of a
text as *original*, or as "Shakespeare's own", at the expense of a
particular reading, I have no problem with assessing a *version's*
relationship to an assumed standard text.  It is only when a 'standard'
text is considered to be somehow unimpeachable or, in some ontologically
grounded sense, *primary* that I question whether the critic is aware
that s/he is not pointing to a clear line, but to a debatable range of
solutions to textual problems.  Praxis consists in making judgements and
decisions.  I do not argue that such decisions should not be made, nor
that the are not valuable in, and even crucial to, our discourse.
Nevertheless, in the end they cannot be founded as 'unimpeachable' or
ontologically grounded.
 
Finally:
>And finally let me assert that aesthetics, not politics, is the basis
>for all human activity. In fact, we select our political affiliations on
>aesthetic grounds.
 
Just as easily: we select our aesthetic grounds based upon political
affiliations.  Preference for *authoritative* readings is not too far
from *authoritarian* politics (No, I'm not claiming that this is
*necessarily* the case, nor that your politics are such).  It is not so
easy to erase either politics or aesthetics - there is a deep connection
between the two.  This connection can be seen, perhaps, in American
preferences for accentuating individualism in the New Historicism (or our
very preference for the 'New and Improved' label for our critical schools).
 
Any of these 'quiddities and quillities' can be easily swept away with a
'Yes, but' followed by an appeal to praxis.  The real subject of our
difference over the 'red herring' is where to set the level of critical
discourse.  Paul de Man was correct in saying that 'The resistance to
theory is a resistance to the use of language about language.' (_The
Resistance to Theory_, Minnesota 1986:12)  One might argue that such
arguments are a 'waste of time' while practical interpretations and
evaluations are being put off.  One might also argue that it is just as
important to question our own methods in engaging in such a practice of
interpretation and evaluation.
 
The critic may not be far from Shakespearean clowns: 'How absolute the
knave is.  We must speak by the card or equivocation will undo us.'
(_Ham._ 5.1)  Critical discourse at this level may be no more than
fooling and equivocation.  Perhaps I am a 'whoreson knave', but then
again I always found the fools to be stimulating figures.
 
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  | Jason  Hoblit            University of Washington - Seattle |
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