Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character (plus War and Peace)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0632.  Sunday, 24 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Zachary Lesser <ST101105@BROWNVM.BITNET>
        Date:   Saturday, 23 Jul 94 14:00:56 EDT
        Subj:   Response to Godshawk and Schneider
 
(2)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 23 Jul 1994 15:36:04 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0630  War and Peace
 
(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 23 Jul 1994 17:48:40 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0630  Re: Character
 
(4)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 24 Jul 1994 00:09:20 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0630  Re: Character
 
(5)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 24 Jul 1994 01:29:55 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0627  Re: Character
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Zachary Lesser <ST101105@BROWNVM.BITNET>
Date:           Saturday, 23 Jul 94 14:00:56 EDT
Subject:        Response to Godshawk and Schneider
 
The question of whether or not we can *understand* Shakespeare's playtexts
seems to me to have little to do with whether or not our biological
circumstances are similar enough to the Elizabethans. Certainly some things
don't change that dramatically. But if by understand we intend *find meaning
in*, then we cannot help but understand them, for we find meaning in
everything. If we intend the stronger sense of understand, i.e., *determine the
intent of Shakespeare* (for the New Critics and others) or *determine the
meaning found in the play by its contemporary viewers* (which I don't believe
is New Historicism but which some of its critics and practitioners do seem to
think), then it seems still possible for us to understand the play. I simply
think it would be one hell of a lucky guess. Considering the variety of
interpretations of our own contemporary texts, I can't doubt but that
Shakespeare's contemporaries would have had a similar variety of
intepretations, and I believe the contemporary documents about the theater bear
this out. Whether an interpretation on of us happens to put forth is in fact
Shakespeare's own or his audience's (whatever that means) is not only luck,
however, but simply unknowable. As we will never be able to ascertain this, why
do we continue to search for it?  If we post-modernists (among whom I count
myself) take our theory seriously, we must admit that *we* and not just other
critics are not *finding* meaning, but *making* meaning. At the moment, I find
the meaning New Historicism makes to be the richest, most useful available.
Soon that will certainly change. Texts can only be read profitably ($$) so many
times with the same theory. And once New Historicism has been enshrined in the
Renaissance Studies discipline, the meaning it makes will surely come to seem
passe, and other theories will spring up to assist.
 
On the matter of the Tudor and Stuart view of war, I think the evidence is
highly ambiguous. Just because the conduct books glorify the virtues of war
does not mean everyone felt that way. Not everyone thinks and certainly not
everyone behaves as recommended in _Everything I needed to Know I Learned in
Kindergarten_. Further, who read these conduct books? Who was their audience?
In the Civil War, at least, the populace appears to be overwhelmingly in favor
of peace -- most towns elect to remain neutral. Perhaps this is a special case
because it is a civil war, I'm not sure, but the evidence for "peace-loving" is
there.
 
Zachary Lesser

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 23 Jul 1994 15:36:04 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0630  War and Peace
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0630  War and Peace
 
Ben Schneider might be interested in Steven Marx's essay "Shakespeare's
Pacificism," _Renaissance Quarterly_ 45 (Spring 1992) 49-95.  Schneider's
assertion that "Shakespeare's contemporaries basically approved of war" is
subject to considerable qualification, much of it stemming from some far from
obscure figures who, while not exactly contemporaries of Shakespeare, were
still having an effect in his time: More, Erasmus, Castiglione, Vives.
"Shakespeare's contemporaries" comprises a pretty various group.  I'd want to
know _which_ contemporaries before attributing common attitudes, and even then
I'd expect to find many exceptions.
 
                                              --Ron Macdonald
                                                <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 23 Jul 1994 17:48:40 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0630  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0630  Re: Character
 
I would like to agree with Ben Schneider. We can find many Renaissance writers
who are in favor of war -- for various reasons. In fact, Ben could have quoted
Machiavelli, who advocated hunting as a pastime because it prepared the prince
for war. War was big in the Renaissance.
 
But I think you could find other Renaissance voices that were not in favor of
war -- perhaps a minority, but still a presence, if not a very vocal one. And
at present no famous name pops into my head. Perhaps someone will help me out.
 
Of course, manners change from decade to decade. And when I was a graduate
student I used to read Ruth Kelso, and I still read Miss Manners. What I'm
arguing is that we can understand English Renaissance culture; we have enough
in common with them so that we can understand the differences. We no longer
burn people at the stake because they have a different religious believe; now
we use napalm. Think of Northern Ireland and Bosnia and so on.
 
So, Ben, when you talk about "us," you mean those of us who do not believe in
war. There are many, many people in our world who do believe in war. In fact,
perhaps, we passivists are still in the minor -- the same as 400 years ago. I
don't believe in a universal human nature, but I call 'em the way I see 'em.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 24 Jul 1994 00:09:20 -0300
Subject: 5.0630  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0630  Re: Character
 
Hello, all.
 
I read with interest Ben's comment on conduct books, and agree that his work
really sounds very worthwhile indeed.
 
I have a problem with it, though.  You mention their classical origins.  Might
this indicate that some of their content could have been repeated, without much
reference to the surrounding ideological structure, for quite a while?
 
I suppose I'm just rather suspicious of using prescriptive works of literature
as historical evidence.  After all, if the United States is ever studied
through (say) the sermons of Oral Roberts, whoever makes the study will end up
with a image at least partially skewed.  And we spend a lot of time in most
countries doing lip service to various traditional or pseudo-traditional values
that have long since ceased to have any but the most cosmetic effect on our
lives.
 
Incidentally, I also read Henry V and find him a hero, so perhaps I'm just very
much out of step.
 
Anyway, just a thought.
 
        Cheers and good luck with the conduct books,
                Sean.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 24 Jul 1994 01:29:55 -0300
Subject: 5.0627  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0627  Re: Character
 
Hello,
 
To David Evett:
 
I'm very sorry if I read your original post incorrectly.  I don't, though,
agree with your description of Hamlet.  After all, being a prince when you feel
that you're supposed to be king is a somewhat equivocal self-definition.  The
characteristics listed by Ophelia sound like a hodge-podge of other
roles--soldier, scholar, courtier.  Fortinbras' actions are prescribed by Old
Norway, and damned to hell by his own sergeant.  Hamlet is criticized by
Gertrude, supposedly for not living up to her image of a son, if not a prince.
But perhaps I've misread you again.
 
To Bill Godshalk:
 
I tend to see the big story in Shakespeare as being the inappropriateness of
ideals (and, by extension, "realism" in the medieval sense) to reality.
Starting with Titus Andronicus, there's a pattern in which established laws and
ideologies are subverted, often by their over-rigorous, or over-confident
application (Lear's or Richard II's overestimation of royal power, Titus'
sacrifice of what's-his-name).  This leaves a fairly nihilistic vacuum, in
which people, who were defined by the old order of roles (the great chain of
being), seem to experience a sort of angst (which is an anachronistic word, I'm
afraid) and must find a new, and more individualistically Renaissance,
self-definition.  Call it self-fashioning, if you like Stephen Greenblatt.
 
Right, on to Hamlet.  For the first three acts (and maybe four) he bounces
around in despair, desperately trying to *do* things, ecstatic over the mission
which his father gives him as though it were a key to his renewed existence,
exaggerating his feelings for Ophelia in the hopes of giving himself a role as
lover, and so on.  In fact, he contrasts his supposed love of Ophelia to the
new and alien vision of a universe in which the earth is displaced from the
centre.  As Dave Evett said, it's like a nightmare of not knowing your lines.
In his letter to Claudius, however, he describes himself as "naked" and
"alone."  In the passage on board the pirate ship, robbed of all but the
resources of his self, Hamlet discovers a sense of individuality quite apart
from his role.  Instead of fighting the failure of the great chain of being to
give him a purpose, he's willing to accept fate, knowing that "There is a
divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will" (quoted from
memory).  He enters the play as a disillusioned medieval, and leaves it as a
Renaissance man.
 
To John Drakakis:
 
I was just reading some Huizinga on a plane trip recently, and stumbled across
his chapter on formalism in regards to realism and anthropomorphic allegory in
14th century Burgundy.  He argues that in one poem by Deschamps (Le Miroir de
Mariage, incidentally) "The personification has more or less absorbed the idea
which gave it birth."  I thought of *The Vision of William Concerning Piers the
Plowman* and how the anthropomorphism of the (supposed) allegories tends to
take over from whatever the allegory was meant to express.  The parade of
deadly sins is almost a case in point, in which they repent, which should be
impossible for something without independent personality.  One might also think
of *Gelosy* in *The Faerie Queen*:  "It woxen so deform'd that he was quight /
Forgot he was a man, and Gelosy is hight" (3.10 last lines).  This seems to
draw a fairly definite line between allegories and people.  But perhaps the
allegories to which I refer are not like the emblematic characters to which you
refer.
 
To Terry Hawkes:
 
Thanks for explaining why my toes have turned black.
 
Anyway, back to writing that last thesis chapter!
 
        Cheerio,
                Sean
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.