Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0101. Wednesday, 9 February 1994.
From: William Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date: Tuesday, 08 Feb 1994 12:56:35 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0100 Re: The Human Condition
Comment: Re: SHK 5.0100 Re: The Human Condition
I had insomnia last night, and I remembered someone asking what was at stake in
the Great Debate over the Human Condition. Since I couldn't sleep, I thought
about that question, and I now think that the possibility of understanding is a
stake. If someone from another culture comes to my office and says, "I hurt,"
and explains why, I think I can understand. I have experienced life and I know
what it is to hurt.
Those of us who reject Terence Hawkes's position do so because we want to
establish a common ground for understanding. Hawkes would seem to be saying
that we can only understand others who share our culture, and I'm not sure how
narrowly he describes "culture." Is it possible that I just do not understand
this Welshman and his Dragon?
And if we cannot understand across cultures, we surely cannot understand across
history. Shakespeare is doubly distanced from us by both time and by a
different modus vivendi.
And if we take this cultural isolationism one step further, we realize that
each of us is subjectively isolated. The brain beneath the skull stands in
absolute isolation. How can I understand what you feel, what you say?
I reject this isolationist point of view because I believe that we can
understand Shakespeare's plays. We may not live the way Shakespeare lived, but
we can understand how and why a human could and would live as Shakespeare
Of course, Mr. Hawkes will tell me that I am totally deluded, totally
determined by my culture into believing that I can understand. But since he is
also caught inside his culture, completely time-bound, as myopic as the next
scholar, how can he KNOW this?
No, I'll keep arguing that we do have a basis in human experience for
understanding each other and for the humans that have come before us. We eat
and have eaten; we copulate and have copulated; and we die.
Yours, Bill Godshalk