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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0806. Wednesday, 18 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 18:09:31 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0794  Re: *MV*
 
(2)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 22:45:02 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0801  Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
(3)     From:   Jodi Clark <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 14:54:18 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0787 Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
(4)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 14:32:27 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0801  Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
(5)     From:   Paul Crowley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 01:15:05 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 18:09:31 +0100
Subject: 6.0794  Re: *MV*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0794  Re: *MV*
 
Stephanie Hughes writes
 
>I believe that in Sir Toby's remark to Malvolio, "Dost think
>because thou art virtuous there will be no more cakes and ale?"
>(not sure I remember it right) we have the playwright's
>statement to the rising tide of Puritanism that was threatening
>even then to engulf the theater, and all the arts in England.
 
It's a short step from here to the kind of thing still appearing in
'Shakespeare Calendars' on sale in Stratford UK bookshops:
 
          'Never a borrower or a lender be' - William Shakespeare
 
>I see Shakespeare's work as in great part an effort to save
>what he saw as golden in the culture, encapsulate it in works of theater that
>would survive the cultural holocaust to come, to gladden a less ideological
>time at some future date.
 
What evidence is there for this? Doesn't his non-participation in the printing
of his plays suggest the opposite? Compare with Jonson's meticulous control of
the printing of his own works. Since the only way for plays to be revived after
an anticipated cultural holocaust would be either to preserve the prompt books
(and we've no evidence Shakespeare tried to do this) or to have as many copies
printed as possible (and we've no evidence that Shakespeare tried to do that
either) I think you're barking up the wrong tree here.
 
Your use of the term "ideological" to mean 'tight-assed' prevents any serious
discussion of the concept. Some SHAKSPERians, however, do consider themselves
to be free agents who've escaped being 'jerked around' by ideology; so they
must be using a different definition from the Althusserians. So that's three
possible meanings expressed just on this list. I personally couldn't face
another round of that debate.
 
>An unconscious effort probably, although he did have
>his eye on posterity in the sonnets.
 
Could you explain?
 
Gabriel Egan
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 22:45:02 +0100
Subject: 6.0801  Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0801  Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
Stephanie Hughes writes
 
>What are we to call the great written works that have been penned since the
>classical period? Why not literature? To know how the term was used in
>Shakespeare's day is interesting, but it seems more important to find an agreed
>upon term for here and now. Can anyone think of a better one?
 
For Shakespeare, try 'drama'. (Except the poems)
 
Gabriel Egan
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jodi Clark <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 14:54:18 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0787 Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0787 Re: Importance of Shakespeare and Related Issues
 
I just wanted to throw in one comment on this that may have already been thrown
in.  When I look at Shakespeare from a student's point of view, I see plays.
The first time I was introduced to Shaksepeare was in high school, sophomore
year, Julius Caesar.  I though it was the most boring thing I had every read.
Why?  Because as many people, teachers and students, have already contested,
Shakespeare was not written to be read as regular literature, it was meant to
be seen.  Actors are the ones who will read it, tear it apart, and with the
director, suck out all of the images and symbolism and give it to the audience.
 Then the audience can go back to the text if they wish and come up with their
own readings.
 
At the very least, this is what a sophomore in high school needs to get through
her first experience with the Bard.
 
Now I'm not denying that you can look at Shakespeare as literature.  The
stories that are presented in the plays are absolutely wonderful.  But for
someone who is not a scholar of Shakepeare, yet, and to appreciate the beauty
of the language and the imagery, seeing the play before reading the literature
is vital.
 
Now, being an college grad who studied Shakepeare in depth, saw many of the
plays performed (in London and else where), I can say that I adore Shakepeare.
But it wasn't until junior year in hgih school when we had to perform scenes in
class in addition to looking at the story that I really appreciated what I was
looking at, both on the page and on the boards.
 
Jodi D. Clark
Marlboro College
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Oct 1995 14:32:27 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0801  Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0801  Re: Shakespeare, Literature, and Importance
 
There are (probably) no books entitled "The Triumph of Finnish" because the
Finns didn't have the ships, money, guns, interest, opportunity etc. etc. to
create an empire or to establish the prestige of their language in the usual
ways -- economic, military, cultural.  However, it doesn't take a great leap of
the imagination to suppose that in the next 100 years we will see a book
entitled "The Triumph of Chinese." Linguisitc nationalism is hardly peculiar to
speakers of English and that is why I think a larger context is needed if we
are to look for an English "essence" that can "travel through the continent and
extract the best" and return unchanged.
 
Mr. Harrawood reminds me that attitudes towards Italy were complex and, of
course, this is part of my point.  Everyone knows this -- Italy at once the
repository of culture (the best) and the center of Catholicism (the Papacy in
particular) which was equated with "the worst."  And, lots of room for
complexity here. Ascham's comment, of course, doesn't have to be interpreted as
xenophobic but, in the context of wondering about an English essence, I thought
that Mr. Harrawood saw it as such and, if it is seen as such, it is an entirely
typical comment for persons of any nationality to make. In any case, his
citations of Carlyle and Arnold and his allusions to an English essence that
might be pursued led me to assume that these were examples of the English
essence projecting itself -- and my point is that these projections seem
typical.  If Shakespeare represents "Englishness" (with the ability to gad
about the continent doing as Mr. Harrawood suggests), then Pushkin represents
"Russian-ness" and Racine (maybe) represents Frenchness and so on.
 
My remarks on the deficiencies of Taylor's book were not part of an anti-Taylor
crusade (doomed, anyway, if I were to lead it) but simply a placing of T.
Hawkes remarks as to Shakespeare not writing literature into a larger context.
My point is that both fellows are making the same sorts of moves.  Taylor may
gleefully announce his bias and his shading of "facts."  T. Hawke may assume
that this sort of thing is all that is done and not care to announce it at this
time or may, in fact, think that he is triumphantly making a weighty point.  I
don't know.  But these moves are of a piece with much contemporary criticism.
It is not clear that everyone reinvents Shakespeare as Taylor does or uses an
easy sophistry to attain a temporary advantage as I think T. Hawke does.  The
usual gesture -- proclaiming that this book is ideological and an
interpretation and after all what else can be done -- begs the question.  It
can't be very serious.  How many would welcome a book on, say, the treatment of
Native Americans in which the author, in a self-delighting mood and convinced
that this is, after all, all that can be done invites the reader to find what
he has suppressed? Some might feel that he is being admirably honest and that
he is admitting that he may *unconsciously* suppress this and that as everyone
does who wreaks his will on the "facts."  Others might feel that there are
options that might be followed to help reduce the chances that this might
happen.  I pointed out a few of these and following them was what used to be
expected even of undergraduates.  What should I say to an undergraduate who
objects to my disapproval of his poor scholarship who then tells me "I never
claimed I was the ultimate authority.  Sure, I never mentioned that.  Do you
expect me to weaken my case?"  I suppose I must look soulfully at him and
inform him that he is, by God, right and all we can do is celebrate our
differences.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Crowley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Oct 1995 01:15:05 GMT
Subject:        Re: Importance of Shakespeare
 
What interesting responses!  I had forgotten the reasons I fled academia all
those years ago.   However, I expected a certain amount of "flaming" because my
broad thesis is very simple, if not banal.  If it is true then the concepts it
expresses should form the bedrock of literature courses.  They do not.  So
either the thesis is false or there is much that is wrong with most courses and
much thinking on WS and on English literature.  Personally, I have no doubt
that it is the latter.  The thesis is, in essence:
 
  WS = literature = individual_freedom = democracy = stability = power
 
The "equals" signs need elaboration in each case.  To take the last one first:
this is a straightforward historical question, and Robert Appelbaum quotes
Switzerland as a counter-example.  However, stability is only a necessary
condition of long-term power;  it is not a sufficient one.  There are many
other factors, such as geography, which would have inhibited any imperial
ambitions by the Swiss.
 
On another of Appelbaum's comments: Of course, James_I did not get enthusiastic
about individual rights as a result of seeing a WS play.  Potential tyrants can
always find good reasons to extend their power.  The point is that he could not
extend it.  The citizens had to courage and confidence to stand up to him.  The
"tyranny" exercised by the Stuarts was minimal in comparison to that of Henry
VIII or any modern dictator.  Charles_I did not meet his end for anything he
had done - merely for the possibility of what he might do with unlimited power.
It was the absorption of the implicit lessons of WS by the cultured elite that
mattered.  Whether this came directly from WS, or through Milton or through
others, is irrelevant.
 
At the core of this discussion is the sense of individual liberty, of rule of
law and freedom of debate, that dates back to the reigns of Elizabeth and
James_I.  Their achievement were the greatest glories of those times.  It's
impossible to say how much literature contributed to them;  my own view is that
it was indispensable;  and I'm even more sure that literature would have been
very different without WS;  almost certainly too different.
 
To Michele Crescenzo who says: "I see no *inherent* connection between
literature and the individual."  I would reply that the connection is almost
certainly inherent.  Great literature is invariably produced by intensely
egocentric and eccentric individuals.  They must necessarily live in tolerant
open-minded communities.  (Another problem for the Swiss - historically.)
 
Marcello Cappuzzo asks:  ". . what is the exact meaning of Crowler's
[[sic]-sic] statement according to which to abhor wars and genocides is "almost
futile [...and] certainly unhistorical"?  Isn't this the same as saying that
commoners (let alone intellectuals) should not meddle in state affairs?"
 
No, no, no . . . how do you derive this sense?  All I meant was that historians
try to prevent their judgements being clouded by emotional issues. It is hard
to forgive the conduct of the English in my country for 800 years. It must
never be forgotten, but it is in now in the past and should not unduely affect
current policy.  My country allowed its history to affect its views in 1940 and
took no part in the fight against Nazism. That is still a source of shame,
however understandable it may have been.
 
To Cappuzzo's question: "Is it always true that behind a bigger gun there is a
linguistically and culturally bigger man?"  I would say that "linguistically
and culturally bigger" is far too vague;  a statement that "Culture X is bigger
(or better) than Culture Y" instantly arouses our hackles and usually displays
only the speaker's ignorance - especially of Culture Y.
 
Germany undoubtedly produced more effective soldiers and army corps than did
(say) Italy from 1914-1945.  But a Prussian sense of duty and obedience hardly
counts as being "culturally bigger".  A more relevant point, surely, is that
Germany lost those two disastrous wars which, if she had been "culturally
bigger", she would never have started.
 
I am appalled by an attitude of intellectual/moral agnosticism which I feel has
pervaded this discussion, and is best expressed by Gabriel Egan:  'What is a
"historical fact"?  I thought historians had abandoned such silly notions, and
if they haven't they need to.'
 
The simplest way to counter this is to note Shirley Kagan's contribution. She
is, of course, utterly wrong in the attitude she infers from me.  My hasty
analogy about there being only one person who 'mattered' in Germany 1933-45 was
solely to do with political power;  perhaps I should have been more circumspect
in using it, since those horrific events are so recent and so painful to so
many of us.  However, it is a salutary reminder that we are *not* discussing
abstractions.  No one questioning "historical facts" would ever dare to put
theory into practice and say "The Holocaust is not an historical fact".
 
A certain amount of questioning is appropriate.  We should often ask "Do we
really know what we claim to know?".  But we must never extend it into "We can
know nothing, and should say nothing, and must never make any judgements". This
extension has, unfortunately, become all too common, leading to an intellectual
and moral vacuum.  Dictatorships *are* vile.  Hitlerism and Stalinism are just
recent instances;  they will inevitably lead to holocausts of one kind or
another.  The concepts of individual liberty, literature, democracy and the
rule of law are all bound up together.  If you are claiming to teach one
without the others then, at best, you are teaching nothing.  If you are
undermining any of them (for example, with foolish nonsense that there is no
such thing as an "historical fact") then you doing your bit to set the stage
for yet another holocaust.
 
Paul Crowley
 

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