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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0635.  Monday, 25 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sunday, 24 Jul 1994 17:22:21 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Character and the Intentional Fallacy
 
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sun, 24 Jul 1994 21:38:26 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Lear and Hamlet (5.0627)
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 24 Jul 1994 17:22:21 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Character and the Intentional Fallacy
 
I find Zachary Lesser's ideas and attitudes very congenial, especially his
skepticism, and I'm sorry that he finds my New Biologism besides the point.
(Nevetheless, keep your eyes on Gail Paster's latest work!)
 
I'd like to make two points. (1) Skepticism should not keep us from the search
for truth -- even if we doubt the existence of any absolute truth. (2) The New
Critics did not try to determine the intention of Shakespeare. Instead, we --
yes, I am one of the Old Critics -- espoused the Intentional Fallacy, i.e.,
"the error of judging the meaning and the success of a work of art by the
author's expressed or ostensible intention in producing it" (Holman and Harmon,
s.v. "Intentionalo Fallacy"). In fact, we too were and are rather skeptical of
intention and tend to concentrate on what we can make of the text. We knew and
still know that texts don't read themselves -- although many critics talk as if
they do.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sun, 24 Jul 1994 21:38:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Lear and Hamlet (5.0627)
 
Although Sean Lawrence has basically answered David Evett's comments on HAMLET,
I would like to clarify my position. David wrote about LEAR, "all the grown-up
aristocrats but Lear are known only by their titles (Kent, Gloucester, Albany,
Cornwall) and Lear is much more often 'Lear' to himself than to others, who are
more likely to call him 'king'" (5.0618). Later (5.0622), I remarked that
Horatio in HAMLET is different: named 30 times, his social and family ties are
not carefully defined in the play. Claudius is not recognized in the HARVARD
CONCORDANCE as a name appearing in the text, but I seem to recall that he is
mentioned once. (Check me.) But Hamlet, Gertrude, Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius,
and so on are NOT known by their titles. And the play begins with the
identification of soldiers by name: Bernardo (4) and Francisco (7). And
Francisco is identified by that famous line: "I am sick at heart" (9). He does
not identifu himself as a member of a category (soldiers), but as a person who
is sick at heart. Not all soldiers are sick at heart.
 
Hamlet is not simply identified as prince. He is a playgoer, dramatic critic,
amateur director and playwright, poet, actor, fencer, scribe -- in fact, a
figure so various that he might be not one, but all mankind's epitome.
 
It seems to me that you are arguing (contra John Drakakis) that what we see as
"emblematic" may very well have been "mimetic" to a Renaissance audience. If a
Renaissance person felt that selfhood depended on identification with a social
type, then plays that represented this kind of selfhood would be realistic, not
allegorical.
 
Unfortunately, I can't agree with you that HAMLET falls into this category.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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