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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0783.  Friday, 13 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   John E. Perry <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 10:34:50 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
(2)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 17:40:03 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0779 Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
(3)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 13:01:38 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
(4)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 11:34:05 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0779 Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
(5)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 23:49:40 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John E. Perry <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 10:34:50 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
Please let me inject some fact (hopefully) into all the (allow me to euphemize
a bit) opinioneering going on in this discussion.
 
First, I was taught in my Shakespeare class (25 years ago, I admit) that
Shakespeare's work all but disappeared from view for nearly a century after he
and his immediate contemporaries died. Is that not so?
 
Second, there is no question that the work of WS's contemporaries, the
committee that petitioned King James for formal authorization to publish a new
Authorized Version of the Bible, was much better known, and had more to do with
stabilizing the English language than all the "literate" publications. It
outsold all other books in English for three and a half centuries.
 
So whether the English language worked for good or ill, or was irrelevant, its
effect cannot be rationally laid at Shakespeare's feet.
 
Finally, even a cursory look at history will show us that the size of the gun
at the beginning of a substantial conflict has little to do with the outcome.
Obvious examples are the two World Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, and the American
Revolution.
 
john perry

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 17:40:03 GMT
Subject: 6.0779 Re: Importance of Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0779 Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
Dear Paul Crowley,
 
1. Shakespeare was a playwright. 'Literature' is something that has been thrust
upon him. Listen to your uncle Bill Godschalk (for once) on this issue.
 
2. Who 'matters' is not a question of historical fact. 'Historical fact' may be
a question of who matters.
 
3. So you left out the words "having understood the ideas". Don't apologise.
Given your argument, it was very wise.
 
Terence Hawkes
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 13:01:38 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
Ascham's comments anent the Book of the Courtier don't reflect a xenophobia
that is particularly English.  There may be some cultures that did not fear the
foreigner -- but not many.  Obviously, for Ascham, fashioning oneself by
reading the best Italy had to say about such self-fashioning instead of
actually going to Italy and coming back all Italinate and Devil Incarnate made
sense.  One avoided the allure of Babylon.  The attempt -- as it seems to me --
to demonize England and imply that its crimes are not the same sorts of crimes
committed by most cultures if they can seems very ahistorical, of a piece with
the usual creation of cultural capital that many are abhorring here, and
typical. If we ask about the English essence that thinks it can scoot about
taking and not being polluted, we should also ask about the many other essences
-- including non-european ones -- that think/ thought they could do the same
thing.
 
And, alas, there is an inherent connection between literature and individuals.
Individuals view/read it, individuals -- even when working as collectives or
passing down some Volkish runes -- write it. And, for a good part of its
history in the West, it glorified individuals -- either the individuals who
wrote it or the individuals remembered in it, or the groups that individuals
wanted glorified (catalogues of ships at Troy) or the individual who recited it
and wanted some cash/position/favor/admiration from individuals. Also,
Shakespeare wrote literature -- whether the term is an invention of 18th
century fellows intent on hegemony or a description of a body of writing
admired and preserved by whomever off and on in the last few thousand years.
 
As to who gets to decide -- by and large artists decide with critics and kings
mucking about, or representatives of the "people" or actual members of "the
people" (the folk songs Tolstoy admired), or priests and merchants, or the
fellows who burnt the library at Alexander, or the bookworms who chewed up the
last remaining scroll of the only social realist epic at UR.
 
And, of course, the individuals in all these situations were not the sort of
individuals gadding about assuming that they had ungraspable essences that made
for meonic freedom -- but neither were they everywhere persons wholly given
over to membership in a collective.  Aside from the suspicion that maybe vast
forces were moving one's hand across the page, my bet is that there was some
"I" felt to be moving the hand.  Nameless persons medieval -- no matter how
completely identified by whatever hegemony -- felt an "I."  Only, it seems,
Kings, Popes, and odd bishop here and there, modern demagogues, and, of course,
many modern critics, feel/felt the odd "WE" coming on in most situations.
 
To say that the bourgeoise individual was not necessary for literature is
trite.  Of course not -- since the "bourgeois" individual is a representation
constructed (perhaps to achieve a particular hegemony for its creator) and its
essence is that it did not exist before so and so (fill in your favorite guess
here, do not neglect your specialty of study and the group consensus on the
bursting forth of capitalism).
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 11:34:05 -1000
Subject: 6.0779 Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0779 Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
Dear Mr. Crowley,
 
How can you presume to include "everybody" in this statement:
 
"If I say that only one person mattered in Germany 1933-45, everybody knows
what I mean, accepting the over-simplification.  Who 'matters' is a question of
historical fact."
 
Although I believe I understand who you are referring to here, to assume that I
or many others "accept" your GROSS oversimplification as historical fact is
beyond shocking.  It is historical fact that to myself and to MILLIONS such as
myself, the families we have irrevocably and untraceably lost matter a great
deal more TO THIS DAY than your person of "historical fact".
 
Shirley Kagan
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Oct 1995 23:49:40 +0100
Subject: 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
Paul Crowley writes
 
> Professor Hawkes is almost
>nitpicking, given the breadth of some of my other statements; certainly he is
>on the definition of 'literature'
 
Doesn't literature have to do with the written word? (Latinists please join
in). Shakespeare was producing plays for the stage. Sounds like a perfectly
clear distinction to me.
 
> Who 'matters' is a question of
>historical fact:  who had the power, influence, money, votes or voice at the
>time;  who made the decisions and took the initiatives;  whose existence made a
>difference to his/her fellows, for good or ill (e.g., Karl Marx).
 
What is a "historical fact"? I thought historians had abandoned such silly
notions, and if they haven't they need to.
 
>  I can only turn the question back on
>Professor Hawkes and ask him why he would never be prepared to tolerate
>tyranny. It is, of course, his sense of personal dignity, his sense of history
>and national identity, and the affront it would be to the traditions of his
>country.
 
Perhaps Paul Crowley knows Hawkes personally, and these are Hawkes's own
reasons. If not, and these reasons for resisting tyranny are offered as general
ones, then may I demur. Some people's sense of their personal dignity, of
history and national identity, and the traditions of the country in which they
live, are the very things which have brought about tyranny for many of the
citizens of the UK. Northern Ireland is good example: the rhetoric of C17
anti-papism is used by people desperately afraid of losing the priviledges
given them in return for supporting the British state. The state's police force
(the Royal Ulster Constabulary) has an internal crime rate higher than the
population they serve, and it is used to intimidate the civilian population of
one religious minority. Tyranny is not very far away for many citizens of the
UK, and yet the three theatres in Stratford are frequently packed.
 
> Further, his [Shakespeare's] printed works had
>an excellent circulation and were read by those "who mattered".
 
When exactly? Figures for pre-1623 sales of quartos that you've just
discovered? Or the fact that the Folio ran to several editions? If the latter
then 'death of the author' needs to be considered in all its ramifications.
 
> Nothing he says is taken seriously as
>though it were a real person saying something he meant to say in a real
>political and historical context.
 
My turn to nit-pick...Shakespeare doesn't say anything, he's dead. The remnants
of his plays are available to us through mediated texts which bear some
relation to the scripts for performance. The texts are available for
interpretation, and those who are interested in political and historical
context can claim to do some kinds of reconstruction of these contexts and
locate the texts within them. This process is not the same as asking your
friend her/his opinion, and can't be taught as such without intellectual
dishonesty.
 
Gabriel Egan
 

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