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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Historical Fact
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0800.  Tuesday, 17 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Oct 1995 16:48:35 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0788 Historical Fact
 
(2)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Oct 1995 09:56:14 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0794 Re: *MV* AND historical fact
 
(3)     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Oct 95 21:52 CDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
(4)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Oct 1995 22:59:30 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
(5)     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Oct 95 09:32:30 IST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
(6)     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 09:41:55 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Oct 1995 16:48:35 GMT
Subject: 6.0788 Historical Fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0788 Historical Fact
 
Oh dear, David Lindley's first simple 'historical fact' seems very dubious.
Elizabeth was certainly NOT succeeded by 'a Scottish monarch, James 1'. Keep
trying.
 
T. Hawkes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Oct 1995 09:56:14 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 6.0794 Re: *MV* AND historical fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0794 Re: *MV* AND historical fact
 
It has often been suggested -- even here on our list -- that Shylock is a
cipher for what Professor Hughes calls a "rising tide of Puritanism."  If
Patrick Collinson is correct, however, Puritanism as an alternative system of
religious and cultural practices was all but dead during the 1590s; Elizabeth
and her bishops had seen to that.  Perhaps the absence of Puritan
oppositionism, like the absence of Jews in England during the 1590s, is another
one of those "facts" that has something to tell us about what WS was up to.
But in this case "the fact" is just the opposite of what empiricists want facts
to be; it is the trace of an absence whose verifiability can only be deduced
from the presence of countervailing "facts" in other places and at other times.
 
Positivist criticism -- as in the example of the reinterpretation of *The
Golden Age Restored* subsequent to a new dating of the masque -- can only tell
us what a text might mean in terms of what seems to be immediately present.  It
cannot tell us what a text means in terms of what is absent.
 
In the case of *MV* Jews are absent; England is absent; in England itself
mercantile capitalism is by and large absent, a juridical system capable of
adjudicating the dispute at the end of the play is largely absent, and Puritans
are by and large absent too.
 
All of which may serve to remind us, as Freud pointed out, that *MV* is
something of a fairy tale.  Which is not to say that it doesn't MEAN anything
-- only that it can't be expected to mean exactly what it says, or to correlate
exactly with what a positivist might come with as a "fact."
 
Robert Appelbaum
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Oct 95 21:52 CDT
Subject: 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
I really do not wish to jump into this controversy, but I feel I must.  Don't
we have the "death certificate" fact that Elizabeth I died on 24 March 1602/3?
If she didn't, is she still alive?
 
The important issues must be: what did it mean?  why did James VI become James
I of England?  What did that mean for politics, religion, literature, and us?
 
When I die the "fact," I would have thought, is that I am dead.  The questions
for people to ponder and discuss:
 
1.  did he not hear the train?
2.  did someone distract him so he did not hear the train?
3.  did someone trip him so he fell under the train?
4.  did he have a fit a fall under the train?
5.  did someone push him in front of the train?
6.  was he reading +Hamlet+ and just walk in front of the train?
7.  he saw the train as his destiny and tried to grasp it?
8.  fate?
9.  he was drunk?
10. the entire English department saw this as a way to get another tenure-track
    position?
 
Some of these are odd, some are a little odd, but all should be considered.
 
My point is, that I am dead is a fact, the reason why I am dead is not.
 
Does this help?  Probably not.
 
William Proctor Williams
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Oct 1995 22:59:30 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
Would it help to distinguish between "data" (raw, uninterpreted evidence) and
"facts" (primary interpretations of this data)?  William Ingram, *The Business
of Playing,* has a good discussion of "data" and "fact" vis-a-vis Shakespeare's
marriage in his first chapter.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Oct 95 09:32:30 IST
Subject: 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
In the spirit of the debate/critique of "fact" vs. "interpretation/opinion" it
seems to me that William Blake's notion of a "contrary" might be a most useful
and even essential idea to consider.  Basically, Blake saw too many "Negations"
like Body/soul, reason/imagination as the guiding errors of his day, and he set
about trying to show that without recognizing the interconnectedness and indeed
the essential reliance of each of these concepts on their paired "other" we
fall into a situation in which one concept attempts to annihilate its other, or
"negate" it.  It's not that Blake saw Derrida's binary oppositions coming, but
rather that he recognized in his peculiarly Romantic way that all so-called
"facts" are a function of perception, AND that perception is likewise inescap-
ably a function of "facts."  Hence he coined his version of a new, non-negative
relationship of tense coexistence and interrelationship, "Contrary."  When he
states that "Without Contraries is no Progession" (Marriage of Heaven and Hell)
he means, I think, that the sort of tense and even acrimonious discussions we
have witnessed over the past weeks on SHAKSPER are very important to progress
in "Mental War and Hunting" as long as no-one tries to turn them into negations
or domination.  This is of course to take sides with those who recognize the
constructedness of history, but also to point out that the facts (as David
Lindley constructs them) have constructed us and our perceptions.  We need not
then placidly sit back and fall into some comfortable form of anomie or stasis,
but rather take up mental arms and try to stride once more into the many inter-
pretive breaches the works of WS and others present--without fooling ourselves
that they are any more "real" than our perceptions and the facts that have and
continue to condition them are.  It's exhilirating, to me, and even important
if one accepts, as Blake would, the proposition of Paolo Freire that our one
ontological vocation in this world is to become more human.
 
Non-tendentiously yours,
Michael Yogev
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 09:41:55 GMT
Subject: 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0793  Re: Historical Fact
 
Well, I must have 'arrived' on the list to have elicited a lecture from John
Drakakis (though to be rebuked by John for 'self-righteousness' does seem a bit
ripe!) My points were brief, and no doubt 'tendentious' - but when Gabriel Egan
says that the change of reign 'is generally accepted without gainsay' he in
essence admits the central, simple point I was trying to make.  I don't
disagree with John Drakakis that it's in the movement from the 'fact' to
interpretation that a narrative is constructed, but would argue that there is
independence as well as interdependence between the two things. We can agree or
disagree about the significance of the event, but not about the date of its
happening.  Gabriel Egan suggests that John Orrell's evidence about the dating
of Golden Age Restored is merely the 'putting forward of some documents ... to
change what gets said'. That is the effect of his evidence, but not the single
purpose or sole validation of it.  The empirical discovery of the actual
document materially and irrevocably changed the framework for interpretation.
 
Of course 'facts' are often provisional, often later proved to be mistaken.  Of
course what we do with the evidence changes as, from our particular positions,
we seek to construct a story - John can rest assured that  I have read my
Hayden White, etc.- but it seems to me, perhaps naively, that the scope of
interpretation is limited and controlled in some significant measure by the
stubborn materiality of evidence.
 
I don't think I was ever trying to argue, as John Drakakis suggests, for 'the
integrity of "fact"' in a simple kind of way. I was rather worrying that the
very valuable recognition of the constructedness of history has itself
congealed into an over-simple formulation which lifts the responsibility of
scholarship from the shoulders of the critic.  Gabriel Egan is right, of
course, that what was once treated as 'fact' may turn out to be mistaken - but
this doesn't seem to me to render the notion of factuality totally untenable.
Some things are, as he accepts, incontrovertible - and  some things are
entirely a matter of opinion or interpretation. I don't suggest that the world
is divided up into 'two categories', but that there is a sliding scale - and
one which ends in demonstrable error.
 
I'd actually want to go further, and say that abandonment of any notion of the
possibility of 'factual' evidence resisting and challenging interpretation has
fearsome consequence for our political and social life.  There may be a
connection here with some of the heated debate about Merchant of Venice that
has been pursued on this list. Auschwitz - fact or construction?
 
David Lindley
 

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