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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0787.  Sunday, 15 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Oct 1995 11:04:09 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
(2)     From:   W. Russell Mayes, Jr. <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Oct 1995 12:40:44 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0783  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
(3)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Oct 1995 11:48:44 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0783  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
(4)     From:   Marcello Cappuzzo <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Oct 1995 18:49:43 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Oct 1995 11:04:09 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0779  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
I have been pondering Terrence Hawkes statement that what Shakespeare produced
was not literature. What was it then? And if what he produced wasn't
literature, who did "produce literature"? Is this observation the result of
some four-syllable ism that has somehow passed me by? I hope someone will
enlighten me lest I continue to operate under what appears to be a vast
misunderstanding.
 
Michele Cresenzo states, if I have read her meaning correctly, that it is
ideology that has determined the selection of works and authors for our western
canon, leaving Marxist works in the dust. I am astonished by this as well. What
Marxist works does she have in mind? And what ideology is it that has so
wrongfully scorned Marxism? Some as yet unnamed ideology of the individual?
Certainly it has taken millions of individuals who have read and reread
Shakespeare, Dante, Moliere, Cervantes, over and over and passed them on to
their friends and children to place these works in the niche they now occupy.
Isms come and isms go but Art, like gold, remains untarnished, however faulty
its producers. I agree with Michele about the so-called flaming among this
group. I find it exhilarating. If others are offended they might try reading
some of the Thomas Nashe/Gabriel Harvey exchanges from the 1590s. Now there was
flaming!
 
Thanks to Michael Harrawood for the very interesting items on Carlyle and
Arnold. Certainly there is no argument (not from this sector anyway) on the
capacity of the English for pure and unalloyed hypocrisy of the worst kind, and
it is certainly necessary and worthwhile to examine the record and put it right
where necessary. Still we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the
bath.
 
Stephanie Hughes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. Russell Mayes, Jr. <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Oct 1995 12:40:44 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0783  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0783  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
Two recent posts made similar points.  Terence Hawkes writes:
 
> 1. Shakespeare was a playwright. 'Literature' is something that has been
> thrust upon him.
 
And Gabriel Egan argues similarly:
 
> 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.
 
I agree with both of these comments implicitly.  Too implicitly, I am sometimes
afraid.  My question is this:  can/should we consider the non-dramatic works
"literature?"  This question would turn us aside from the topic of "the
importance of Shakespeare" (I don't think anyone would argue that the modern
world would not be the same without "The Phoenix and the Turtle") on to the
question of how we define "literature."  On the one hand, I teach in the Dept.
of Literature and Language (a name that begs the question of this topic).  On
the other, I regularly tell my students "Shakespeare did not produce
literature."  I wonder if I should be saying "Shakespeare did not produce
*much* literature" or if I should be taking a key from Hawkes' suggestive
phrasing.  What do other people do?  Is it a distinction we make in the
classroom?  How many of us regularly teach the non-dramatic works in the
"standard" Shakespeare survey?  I guess what I am asking is how unique am I in
pondering such issues as I prepare for class?
 
W. Russell Mayes, Jr.
Dept. of Literature and Language
University of North Carolina at Asheville

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Oct 1995 11:48:44 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0783  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0783  Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
Well, Gary Taylor's "Reinventing Shakespeare" (cited by one fellow as the bible
on this sort of thing) doesn't have Shakespeare (that vexing word -- person or
panoply?) disappearing 100 years after his death. He has him (since he begins
at the Restoration) adapted all to hell then, played not becaiuse of his
greatness but because of various factors (including economic) affecting the
repertoire -- and so on. The case he makes is deliciously tendentious.  It all
depends on what one wants "disappear" to mean and this wanting might even be
driven by idelogy -- as is the wanting to refer to the texts we have as
"remnants," or deciding -- even tho, for example, one notes the Swan's plays
are in the "Norton Anthology of LITERATURE" and that the word "literature" has
included plays for many years in one of its very common senses, that a weighty
point has been made by saying that Shakespeare did not produce literature.
 
Deliciously tendentious.  For example, Gary Taylor cites Dryden who notes that
two of B&F's plays were produced for every one of Shakespeare's -- this in an
overall effort to suggest that S's post on the peak of Parnassus is -- well,
the usual, suspicious, constructed and so on) yet he never mentions that Dryden
also notes that S had the most universal soul or the greater wit and that,
perhaps, the plethora of B&F was not something that Dryden might completely
approve.  And, for our purposes, it might be important to note that a rather
significant poet thought so and, for our purposes, celebrating, as we are, S's
disappearance one might note that Milton -- a rather good poet and rather good
things to say about S, who, for him at least had not yet been disappeared.  Why
S is even present in this and that way in his poetry.  It all depends on who
decides, of course -- and don't you think (I must be appealing to the gods)
that the poets might have a say?
 
Or is it only Gary Taylor who has a say?  Who, as another example, cites
Tolstoy in the effort to question S's singularity (why is it that Tolstoy, Shaw
and others who have negative opinions are always dismissed he grumpily asks)
but neglects to mention that Tolstoy also sent Michaelangelo, Beethoven, and
Dante to hell. And why when, as a test case, Taylor compares The Menaechmi to
The Comedy of Errors and prefers the former for its lack of wholesomeness and
its pagan hardness doesn't he mention that these are the very qualities that
Tolstoy abhors in Shakespeare (allowing, for Tolstoy, pagan to merge into
aristocratic).  If we are to take Tolstoy seriusly how can we take Gary Taylor
seriously -- critical wants being opposed and all?
 
The answer is that Taylor is shading some facts (I may use the word, I hope,
without at once signaling to others that I believe in access to unmediated
reality -- as most historians do not and, in fact, as many do not even when
they use the word in the company of those for whom the "fact" of no access to
unmediated reality is a "fact" of vasty ideological importance).  As T. Hawkes
seems to do when he writes that, because, S had literature thrust upon him he
did not write literature -- a "fact" construed so as to make an ideological
point and no more a fact in the sense that we must all tug our forelocks and
agree than any other fact. The fact that is shaded here so that Mr. Crowley
might be condescended to is that "literature" has a very common meaning that,
of course, includes S's plays and, if you are a person who accepts this meaning
it is obvious to you that S wrote literature.  If you want to demolish this
category because it spoils your party's pudding, then you shade the fact that
the word can have this meaning.  After all, if S is dead and cannot speak (a
fact, for sure,and given vasty significance by another writer), what does it
matter that the category of literature was not available to him?  Or, more
reasonably, when has it it been decided that the categories of action available
to the understandings of persons in one age must forever be described in their
own terms?  No-one does this -- especially culture critics.  Does the fact that
Shakespeare couldn't describe what he had as an "ideology" mean that he didn't
have one?
 
"Remnants" a word shaded in the same way.  "Death of Author" also a category of
convenience.
 
And -- as a parting shot -- there is no way except a determination to always
see the worst in a fellow who disagrees with one to construe Crowley's attempt
-- in an effort to show that he is being willfully misunderstood -- to conclude
that he thinks only Hitler mattered and that none of the victims did.  He -- in
no way -- implies this.  However, if one wants him to shut up, there is, I
think, no more effective way.
 
And -- as a parting wave from the foul and reeking orlop of what my
disagreements might be thought to imply -- I will note that I do not think S
the creator of English, in no way endorse any atrocity whatsoever, wish health
and happiness to everyone -- the drowned and the saved.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcello Cappuzzo <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Oct 1995 18:49:43 +0100
Subject:        Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
This is an addition to my previous posting (Oct 11), an attempt to make my
point as clear as possible.  Unfortunately, today (Friday!) I haven't much
time, so I apologize in advance for the schematic form of this intervention
(not to mention the probable, numerous typos and imperfections of various kinds
that I won't have the possibility to look for and amend).
 
1.  As far as I can see, no SHASPERian is questioning the "importance" of WS or
the "importance" of the role of English in the world today.  The problem was
(at the beginning of this discussion) and is (as far as I am concerned), (a)
*which* English are we talking about, and (b) *what* is the English we are
talking about.  My opinion is that to say, as it has here been said, that we
are talking of Shakespeare's language (in the sense that English was "created"
by WS -- and there an end) is the same as maintaining that the history of
England (and of the whole world) began and ended with WS.  I think that we
should make a distinction between *International* English and the various
national "Englishes" in the first place.  The former is an almost merely
"instrumental" language; it is a language almost completely devoid of cultural
substance referable to a particular nation; it is, in short, a language that,
in all its aspects, is being developed *internationally*, by international
politics, international economics and finance, international science,
international tourism, etc. etc. (the predominance of the US in most of these
fields is beyond dispute, but as to the "English" of -- say -- contemporary
physics, there is nothing in it that can be traced back to the culture of the
American people and ONLY to that:  it's a sort of code through which the
physicists of ten or more different nationalities and mother languages working
for -- say -- the "Conseil Europeen des Recherches Nucleaires" exchange ideas
with their colleagues, they too of ten or more different nationalities and
mother tongues, working somewhere in the US, or in India, or in Ukraine:  the
words are [most of the times, not always] English, but the thought these words
*mean* is neither peculiarly American nor peculiarly French or Italian or
Indian -- it's *inter-national*;  a decidedly *international* literature has
not yet been born, as far as I can see, though the works of some authors --
V.S. Naipaul's, for instance -- may perhaps be looked at as the first step in
this direction).  A completely different case is that of the various national
"Englishes".  If I read -- say -- "The Second Coming," 1920, either I am able
to recognize it as a discourse inseparable from certain problems of the Irish
culture of the time, and from the language of certain areas of that culture, or
I'll understand nothing of it -- nothing of its thought, or pathos, or poetical
truth, nothing even of its literal meaning.  In *The Palm-Wine Drinkard* --
just another example -- the words are (generally) English, but the thought that
*informs* them, and the rhythm, and the imaginative content of Tutuola's prose
are distinctly African, Nigerian, more precisely Yoruba.
 
2. If the foregoing can be broadly agreed on, what -- to put it in Appelbaums's
words -- is the point of claiming that Shakespeare somehow invented English?
What is the point of proclaiming that English is not only the second most
spoken language in the world, but "the most important in every other way"?
Which English are we talking about?  American English?  OK:  it is a very
important language -- it's the language of the culture of the American people
(or, better, of the majority of that great and composite nation);  English
English?  it is very important, it is the language of the English people;
Australian English?  my answer is always the same;  are we talking of Nigerian
English?  OK: it is very important, it is the official language of Nigeria and
the language of an important section of the literature and culture of that
people.  And what about Turkish, Aramaic, Zulu, Xhosa, Swahili, Russian,
Finnish, Japanese,... Spanish?  Are these languages, or any one of the other
idioms issued from the Tower of Balel, less "important" than any one of the
"Englishes" I've hinted at?  I'm waiting for someone to say that the Zulus, or
the Afghans, or any one of the other nations of this planet is not as
"important" as any one of the English-speaking nations.  I warn this potential
"someone" (should such a SHAKSPERian exist):  I can say "stupid ignorant
racist" in no less than twenty different languages (in five or six of which,
International English included, I could add something even more precise and
pungent).
 
3.  If we want to do WS justice, if we really want to acknowledge his
"importance", then, I think, we must not deify him:  on the contrary, we must
question his greatness and, in any case, not worship, but *discuss* his works
(which, by the way, as works of art, belong to the whole world -- not because
of an abstract moral principle, but because no *Hamlet* or *Lear* or *Merchant
of Venice* or *Macbeth* or anything could ever have been "created" by a WS out
of the history of European society, of European culture, of European art,
including all links between that history and the history of all other parts of
the world then known).  Thank you.
 
Marcello Cappuzzo
University of Palermo
 

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