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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: November ::
Re: De-Canonization
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0864.  Friday, 3 November 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Simon Morgan-Russell <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Nov 1995 11:48:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0861 Re: De-Canonization
 
(2)     From:   Scott Crozier <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Nov 1995 09:04:21 +1000
        Subj:   Re: De-Canonization=
 
(3)     From:   Roger D. Gross <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Nov 1995 16:48:18 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   de-canonization
 
(4)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Nov 1995 09:09:30 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0861  Re: De-Canonization
 
(5)     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Nov 1995 10:04:22 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   de-canonization
 
(6)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Nov 1995 12:20:47 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0861 Re: De-Canonization
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Morgan-Russell <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Nov 1995 11:48:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0861 Re: De-Canonization
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0861 Re: De-Canonization
 
In response to Vic Gallerano:
 
Well, yes, I think I understood you correctly initially.  I used the term
"glib" of your use of Plato, not, as you suspect, because I needed you to
explain Plato for me (we certainly share a canon, Vic, I received a good
classical English schoolboy's education).  I'm more concerned about the glib
use of the term "human beings."  What Plato understood by the term "human
being" and what, therefore, was necessary to better it and make it "more brave"
hardly seem relevant in a late twentieth century classroom. My students,
products of an American high school system that has, it seems, other priorities
than teaching students about Plato have not heard of *Meno* -- probably not
even of *Republic*.  They may have received a very orthodox conception of what
"it means to be human" and few want to question this.  You may suggest that
Shakespeare represents the "window of opportunity" -- the means by which
students question this orthodoxy. BBut I suggest that Shakespeare is commonly
employed to sustain this orthodoxy -- we know what it means to be human because
we know Lear, or Prospero etc. etc.  My suggestion is that whatever Plato
understood by the term "human being," or what Shakespeare understood, or you,
may not accurately represent what my students understand about their late
twentieth century consciousness.
 
I can't understand, Vic, why you think that "Theory" is orthodoxy.  Many of the
depts. I've had contact with still appear to sacrifice pigs to E. M. W.
Tillyard and carry fetish dolls of G. Wilson Knight. I'm off to lazily pick my
way through some Epicurus.
 
Indolently,
Simon Morgan-Russell
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Crozier <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Nov 1995 09:04:21 +1000
Subject:        Re: De-Canonization
 
Why an English Major? If, in 1945 the average size of a working vocabulary was
45,000 words and in 1995 25,000 words, then surely the answer is self evident.
If it isn't, then are we happy to allow our ability to frame our lives through
language go and hence quicken the pace of cultural entropy.
 
Scott Crozier
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger D. Gross <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Nov 1995 16:48:18 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        de-canonization
 
I'm sure there is nothing we can study which is guaranteed to make us better
human beings (some students remain unregenerate despite having heard my
lectures).  I'm sure it is possible to become a better human being by studying
the most despicable examples of human behavior (some students have become
better human beings despite having heard my lectures).  The real issue for me
is the POSSIBILITY that this or that might open my mind a bit, broaden my
awareness.  Some things offer a greater LIKELIHOOD of provoking that kind of
growth.  For many of us, Shakespeare offers a greater likelihood than any other
writer.  But of course it depends on how you approach him and what you're open
to.
 
Testimonial: specifically, I think that thirty-five years of directing and
acting Shakespeare have made me a more tolerant person, more likely to find
people reasonable and honorable, even when I disagree with them. It has helped
me escape the destructive error of assuming that all brains work more or less
alike, that all people live in more or less the same world.  That mistake leads
us to judgments of error or ill-will which we'd be better not to make.  It
encourages conflict where we ought to help each other to common understanding.
(Does anyone remember Kenneth Burke's [inimitably esoteric] concept of
"consubstantiation"?  That is that true persuasion occurs only when we discover
our common interests, shucking off the errors which led us to believe that we
were necessarily in conflict.  I think Shakespeare, more than Kenneth Burke,
helped me to understand consubstantiation.)
 
I think I learned these things from Shakespeare because, more than any other
writer I've found, he plays without stacking the deck.  Most writers write from
a very limited point of view and have strong persuasive intentions, or they
write about their own inner life as a sort of apologia.  Shakespeare's primary
interest, it seems to me, is to get into the minds and under the skin of as
many different kinds of people as he can with a primary goal of learning what
makes them do what they do. His situation made him necessarily a generic writer
but this fundamental interest in knowing people seems always to have
overwhelmed that imperative.
 
I feel I'm lucky to have studied Shakespeare primarily through performance.
Performers, of course, are obliged to "enter" the text rather than "observe"
it.  I've played Lear twice and to have been obliged (allowed) to see and feel
and handle the world through his psyche night after night no doubt changed me.
I can't think of anything I've ever done that was as valuable to me.
 
This kind of experience doesn't make me better than any other human being but
it made me a better human being than I was.
 
When I introduce students or actors to Shakespeare, what drives me is the
desire to make this kind of connection with Shakespeare's people easier for
them.  I don't want to tell them what's there to learn; just boost them over
the obstacles time has put in their way.
 
Roger Gross
U. of Arkansas
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Nov 1995 09:09:30 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0861  Re: De-Canonization
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0861  Re: De-Canonization
 
I find the responses on this issue better reading than any newspaper or
magazine! What a sublime conversation! And evidence, if evidence were needed,
of the value of Shakespeare, for bringing together and sparking such thinking.
 
As for the man who felt himself a better person for studying Shakespeare, I
took that to mean that he felt himself to be better than HE would have been had
HE not read Shakespeare, not that he was necessarily better than some other man
who hadn't read Shakespeare.
 
After thinking about the consequences of removing Shakespeare from the required
list at colleges, I now feel that it wouldn't be such a bad thing. Requiring
students to do anything at that level is often setting up both the teacher and
the student for difficulties. Many who might have loved Shakespeare had they
come to him in their own time get turned off by such classes. Shakespeare is in
no danger of being forgotten, no matter what course is taken by English
departments. The appropriate level for teaching Shakespeare is the same level
that's most effective for teaching foreign languages, the early grades, and for
the same reason, because the mind absorbs like a sponge. What's one more
language at that age?  And we are obviously a long way from offering
Shakespeare at that level.
 
I always thought people who majored in English did so because they want to
write (not really a good idea. A budding writer should probably major in
anything but English). As an undergraduate I chose History because I had a
crush on my advisor, who taught History. My guess is that my experience isn't
all that unusual. Most people who are fascinated with life could start
anywhere. That's all a major is, isn't it? A start?
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
As for Romeo and Juliet, I heard about a phenomenon called the Juliet letters.
It seems hundreds of people each year write to Juliet seeking advice for their
love problems, and that this has been going on for a very long time. Some
fluff.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Nov 1995 10:04:22 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        de-canonization
 
"Canon formation is the work of regnant powers."  This claim is central to
arguments for the breaking up or opening up of the canon (as if anyone is
claiming that "the canon" is closed), or the anchoring of the canon in
something other than aesthetic value.
 
But who says that the claim is true?  And what do those who assume it say to
opposed (and persuasive) arguments that canon formation has little to do with
regnant powers or "ideology" when narrowly defined, but instead with the
influence of earlier poets on later poets, that writers become "great"  when
their achievement is realized as massive and burdensome and to-be-outdone in
the works of later writers, and that Shakespeare is pre-eminent because he
alone of all modern and perhaps ancient poets has the largest and most
comprehensive achievement and possesses certain qualities so enormously that he
has not and probably cannot be outdone?
 
Since it's probably obvious who makes these claims, I guess my question is,
what do people say against these kinds of arguments and in defense of the
canon-formation-by-regnant-powers argument beyond merely that the first is
"unscholarly" and the second so obviously true that any disagreement is absurd?
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Nov 1995 12:20:47 GMT
Subject: 6.0861 Re: De-Canonization
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0861 Re: De-Canonization
 
Joseph M Green does well to invoke Brian Vickers.  The Cultural Materialist
suggestion that Shakespeare might be used for political ends is clearly
ludicrous. Where do they get these silly ideas? Can you imagine, say, some
member of the present Royal family openly promoting the Bard?
 
Terence Hawkes
 

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