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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Importance of Shakespeare
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0766.  Monday, 9 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Paul Crowley <
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        Date:   Sunday, 08 Oct 1995 19:34:39 GMT
        Subj:   Importance of Shakespeare
 
(2)     From:   Marcello Cappuzzo <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Oct 1995 20:09:35 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Crowley <
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Date:           Sunday, 08 Oct 1995 19:34:39 GMT
Subject:        Importance of Shakespeare
 
I'd like to come in on the side of Stephanie Hughes in this debate.  We are
dealing with some very fundamental questions as to the relationship between
literature and society as well as with the facts of history. First we must, as
far as we can, eliminate the "moral" issue that Marcello Cappuzzo appears to be
so sensitive about: "that behind a bigger gun there is necessarily a
linguistically and culturally bigger man!"
 
It is simply an historical fact of life, from long before Genghis Khan and up
to and including Desert Storm, that those with the bigger guns have massacred
and/or enslaved the others.  And I am not an imperialistic Brit.  My mother was
born in sight of Kilcolman castle where Spenser was burnt out in 1598.  My
father was brought up near the place where Ralegh and Spenser, as officers in a
force of 200 English soldiers, cold-bloodedly murdered 600 prisoners after
promising them safety.  "Lord Grey's word" is remembered around there as though
it was last week.  Our right to hate those "wolfish English Earls" goes back a
long, long way.  That's what they were like.  But that's what people with guns
are always like.  It's almost futile to complain about it;  it's certainly
unhistorical.
 
The first question is: How did the Brits and then the Americans become the
world's most powerful nations?   To summarize Western history in two lines we
could say that they did it by having very stable governments.  They got this
from democracy - in a broad sense (many were excluded or had restricted
rights).  But within the group recognised as "citizens" the rule of law
prevailed, rights were respected, freedom and the individual were recognised.
 
The recognition of the individual is also the foundation stone of literature.
Literature and the absence of tyranny (in other words: a broad democracy) go
hand in hand.  The strength of English literature can only be properly
understood as arising from English civil liberty, and vice-versa.  They are
closely intertwined.  English literature, effectively, starts from WS.  And his
influence was the deepest and most intense of all.  Whether Joe Bloggs had
heard of him, or used his words, is irrelevant.  He affected all those that
mattered - directly, or indirectly:  Milton, Donne, Ben Jonson, Samuel Johnson.
 He was the favorite playwright of Elizabeth, James I and Charles I - and of
all who mattered then, and from then on.  It was not so much his language,
although that was important;  it was much more his attitudes, and those that he
so well articulated;  it was the sense of history, national identity and
respect for the individual, that he expressed so eloquently.  Literature, at
least of the WS variety, is different from the other arts.  You cannot come out
from most of WS's plays and be in a mood prepared to tolerate tyranny.  My
Spanish is non-existent, and whether you can say the same for De Vega or
Spanish literature in general I can't say;  but looking at Spanish history, and
that of other Spanish-speaking countries, I must express grave doubts.
 
Paul Crowley
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcello Cappuzzo <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Oct 1995 20:09:35 +0100
Subject:        Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
On Oct 7 Ms Stephanie Hughes wrote:
 
        I seem to be unable to express my thought, or perhaps I should say,
        question, without offence to Marcello Capuzzo [Cappuzzo] (and probably
        others as well), [...] .... which is, that any culture that arrives at
        the crest of empire does so in part because of the qualities of the
        language it uses and spreads, and the ideas inherent in that language
        (for all language is sensitive to certain ideas and awkward with
        others) [...]. My critics here may well be correct, that it is
        weaponry alone that spreads culture. But I will continue to persist
        in my notion, however eroneous, that the weapons are but the right
        hand of an ongoing thrust of which language, language created to a
        great extent by literary artists, is the left hand.
 
It seems to me that the more Ms Hughes clarifies her original suggestions the
higher and the thicker grows the wall that tends to separate her world from
that of some other SHAKSPEReans, amongst whom myself.
 
In her most recent posting Ms Hughes does not answer Robert Appelbaum's
question ("So what [...] is the point of claiming that Shakespeare somehow
invented our language?"), but I think that Ms Hughes' thought is now
sufficiently clear and, from my point of view, almost totally unacceptable. As
I understand it, Ms Hughes' great argument is modelled on Aristotle's syllogism
(e.g., "all men are bound to die, all Greeks are men, therefore all Greeks are
bound to die"):  Shakespeare's inventions can be said to be of a special and
superior quality, the English language is one (and the most important) of
Shakespeare's inventions, therefore the English language can be said to be of a
special and superior quality.  The sentence 'works,' and, consequently,
Appelbaum's insinuation that Ms Hughes' second proposition is perhaps not as
credible as the correspondent premise in the above example of Aristotle's
reasoning may well be ignored.  After all, what really matters is one's own
faith and one's intention to justify the ways of English to men;  if a few (?)
incorrigible pagans have something to say on this subject, well, surely their
opinions do not deserve any direct response.
 
Anyway, I must say I'm happy.  At last I can perceive something in Ms Hughes'
thought that perhaps I can agree with:  weapons [of all kinds, I suppose -- and
I hope I suppose well]  are located on the right, language and culture on the
left (see epigraph).
 
But surely my happiness is not complete.  Unfortunately, my personal idiom,
sensitive to the concept of "weaponry" as, collectively, weapons of war,
instruments of destruction and death, is decidedly awkward with the idea that
"weaponry alone [...] spreads culture".  Nor does my native culture (but I
acknowledge that this is a serious limitation) allow me to misappropriate a
thought that I haven't in the least contributed to conceive or express.  Thus,
alas, all the credit for this idea is to be given to Ms Hughes, perhaps,
certainly not to me.
 
Finally, I have a request and a supplication.  May I ask Ms Hughes to make just
one or two examples of the ideas that clearly characterize modern English and
make it into "the most important" (Hughes, Sept 8) of all languages and
cultures today?  [I take the liberty of reminding Ms Hughes of the inspiring
suggestions offered on this matter by certain French thinkers of the 18th
century;  of course, those people aimed at demonstrating the superior quality
of their own language, but I'm sure that, if duly revised and adapted, many of
their arguments and examples would readily embrace the case of American
English.]  As to my supplication, here it is:  will Ms Hughes be so magnanimous
as NOT to use the power of her Imperial Language to systematically deprive my
poor family name of one of its two -- only two -- little supports.  Thank you.
 
Marcello Cappuzzo
University of Palermo
 

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