Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: October ::
Re: Facts and Gary Taylor
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0841. Wednesday, 25 October 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Joseph M Green <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 1995 12:00:04 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0834  Re: Historical Fact
 
(2)     From:   Robert Appelbaum <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 1995 10:56:06 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   facts
 
(3)     From:   Valerie Gager  <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 95 12:13:00 PDT
        Subj:   `Now what I want is, Facts . . .'4
 
(4)     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 95 09:27:18 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 6.0826 Gary Taylor
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 1995 12:00:04 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0834  Re: Historical Fact
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0834  Re: Historical Fact
 
I think that David Skeele is reinventing me.  I never argued that Dryden's
opinion has more historical relevance than the theatre-going public's opinion.
I argued that Taylor, since he cites Dryden's opinions at length in the chapter
we are discussing, should have included Dryden's opinion that the popularity of
B&F was not exactly how he would order things if he could.  Taylor finds more
than one occasion to cite Dryden's opinions as "typical of the period."  He
doesn't cite this opinion -- because it doesn't fit what he sees as typical.
Throughout the chapter Dryden's opinions are given the utmost relevance by
Taylor -- who is not, by his own admission, merely giving an objective account
of Shakespeare's reception in the theatre, the Restoration repertoire, or
Shakespeare's reception by critics and artists.  Taylor is very explicit.  He
is showing how, in every age, Shakespeare is restored, reinvented, with nothing
beside remaining.  He is showing that the history of Shakespeare is a history
of appropriations which are utterly limited by episteme, period, the gestalt of
the age in which he is restored.  So there is a Restoration Shakespeare, a
Neo-Classic Shakespeare, A Romantic Shakespeare, a Modernist Shakespeare and so
on. Each of these Shakespeares is a kind of floating signifier signifying
nothing other than the spirit of the age.  Taylor also wants to demonstrate
that Shakespeare's was not a singular excellence. To this end he cites instance
after instance of negative criticism that he finds worthy but ignored by those
whose business it is to set up Shakespeare as a god.
 
So he is not simply providing a stage history.  He deploys Dryden for his own
ends and silences him when it is not in the interest of his argument to let
Dryden speak. Taylor himself establishes Dryden's relevance through extensive
quotation.  My bias had nothing to do with it.  Dryden is simply deployed
whenever he can be made to support Taylor's argument: sometimes he is silenced,
sometimes he is permitted to speak with Taylor interpreting. Taylor claims that
when Dryden claims that he "loves Shakespeare," he actually hates him.  A
dubious argument but, at least, in this instance, Dryden's opinions are made
known.
 
But, on the whole, Taylor deploys Shakespeare's cultured despisers for whatever
effect can be gained.  As I pointed out, he makes much of Tolstoy's negative
opinions in one chapter while, in a subsequent chapter indicting Shakespeare
for not possessing exactly those qualities that Tolstoy valued above all.
Taylor's is a star-chamber judgment.  He prosecutes -- the defense is, mostly,
silenced.
 
Witness after witness is called to show that each is utterly caught up in
whatever the prevailing paradigm was -- as established by Taylor.  No-one
escapes his period as all opinions are reduced to reflections of the age.  The
argument that artists -- and even some critics -- can escape the prevailing
regime, think beyond it and even might be influenced by a reality that they
recognize as standing apart from them is never confronted.  Taylor simply takes
his simple reflection theory as truth.  The subject/object problem, it seems,
has, at last, been solved and all that one can do is present criticism that is
simply a version of one's self -- a self completely bounded by one's episteme:
"We find in Shakepeare only what we bring to him or what others have left
behind; he gives us back our own values."  True for Taylor, I think, but not
for everyone.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robert Appelbaum <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 1995 10:56:06 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        facts
 
Let's get our facts straight!
 
I did *not* say that  *MV* does not address anxiety about Puritans.  I said
that there is no demonstrable "rising tide" of Puritanism to which such an
anxiety might be correlated.  In the 1950s in America there was no "rising
tide" of communism, but many people feared that there was one.  In the same
way, although Puritanism in the 1590s seems to have been actually on the wane,
WS may well have been articulating (as I wrote) an anxiety "about the
possibility of something like Puritanism." The point, again, is that plays do
not respond to facts like billiard balls to a stick.
 
This, however, is just how Martin Green seems to want to understand the
diference between a fact and an artifact.  For Martin Green, longing for the
scholarship of the 1930s, the fact is a stick, pushing the ball of cultural
production around.  And as a consequence, only the stick seems really to
matter.  We *appreciate* the play, whose "literary worth" and "psychological
profundity" already goes without saying; but if we want to *understand* it we
have to go the stick from which, as it were, the play takes its cue.  This is
positivism.  And I'm sure that many SHAKSPERians noted that under the mantle of
positivism -- with its faith in hard pushy value-free facts -- Green has gone
so far as to dismiss 9/10 of the contributions to this list on matters
interpretive, our "largely lamentable" discussions on such apparently unfactual
things as the problem of understanding anti-semitism.  But look at what has
been put in the place of our "lamentable" discussions of the ethics of
interpretation and performance: speculation!  A hypothetical discussion of a
household where WS *might* have been welcome, where he *might* have palled
around with some Italians, and where he *might* have met a pair, not of Jews,
but of conversos, becomes the "fact" out of which one of the most puzzling
challenging characters in English literature is once and for all to be
explained.  These conversos, who *might* have been regarded "ethnically" (as
Green puts it, although there is room to question whether ethnicity as a
category is not something of an anachronism when applied to the Elizabethan
period) as Jews, and treated equivocally by Englanders as a result, *might*
therefore have been "mirrored" (Green's expression) in WS's treatment of
Shylock, which *might* finally mean that Shakespeare's Shylock is "based, it
seems, not so much on race as on personal traits, rendering futile any attempt
to categorize that treatment as pro or anti-Semitic."  Make your facts
hypothetical enough, apparently, add enough "mights" in other words, and you
come up "it seems" with a complete repudiation of the interpretive crux.  There
is no anti-semitism in the play, since WS *might* have known a pair of men who
were conversos, and who *might* have been regarded as "ethnics" but not
practitioners of Judaism, who *might* have had off personalities, etc. etc.
 
Among other things this speculation, which purports not only to repudiate other
interpretations but to render all ("lamentable") interpretation pointless,
leaves us with a William Shakespeare, playwright, who was basically pretty
stupid, who didn't know anything about the long tradition of anti-semitism in
English thought, or about *The Jew of Malta*, or about the Vice and scapegoat
conventions of English theater, and who was blandly indifferent to the relation
between psychological and socio-political motivation.  He had seen a pair of
Spanish Roman Catholics whose ancestors had been Jews and voila -- the "mirror"
of art came up with "Hath not a Jew eyes..."
 
Actually, I find the information Martin Green provides to be extremely
interesting; I would like to know more about it.  And I am grateful that he has
called it to my attention.  I'm sure that his facts have a lot to tell us.
Perhaps somewhere lurking in the anecdote we have a key to the character not
only of Shylock but of Malvolio.  But let's get serious.  Historical anecdotes,
like historical grand narratives and historical statistics, are only keys.  We
are the ones who have to figure out what locks they might fit -- and there are
a lot of locks out there. To grant an ontological priority to the historical
fact, such that the artifact is thus merely its mirror, is to make the job of
the scholar pretty easy, and the plays themselves, with all their inner
tensions, inconsistencies, and dramatic dilemmas, something less than what they
*really* are.
 
        Robert Appelbaum
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Valerie Gager  <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 95 12:13:00 PDT
Subject:        `Now what I want is, Facts . . .'
 
David Skeele asks for examples of how Gary Taylor `has so grossly
misrepresented facts.'  In his chapter on `Victorian Values,' Taylor
illustrates Frederick James Furnivall's analytical approach to metrical
analysis of Shakespeare's plays with a quotation:  `"Now what I want is, Facts
. . . Facts alone are wanted in life"' (166).  Presented as Furnivall's ideas,
the words have a startling effect upon a Dickensian SHAKSPERean. While a reader
familiar with Dickens may be irritated by Taylor's verbal `reinvention' or
literary shock tactic, Taylor soon draws attention to his own cleverness be
revealing that he has indeed been quoting the famous opening sentence of *Hard
Times*.
 
However, Taylor never confesses his similar sleight-of-hand in his subsequent
use of another quotation, also from Dickens.  Discussing the nineteenth-century
obsession with quantification, Taylor states parenthetically that `some
enthusiasts wanted to dig up Shakespeare's skull and display it "in the
phrenological shop-windows"' (194).  The full text of Dickens's letter as it
relates to Shakespeare reveals the opposite sentiment:
 
`It is a great comfort, to my thinking, that so little is known concerning the
poet.  It is a fine mystery; and I tremble every day lest something should come
out.  If he had had a Boswell, society wouldn't have respected his grave, but
would calmly have had his skull in the phrenological shop-windows.'
 
Further, the earlier quotation from *Hard Times* demonstrates Taylor's
knowledge of Dickens's position as one who deplored the very obsession he uses
Dickens to support.  Were Dickens participating in this conference, he would
likely attribute Taylor's distortion to the American habit, satirized in
*Martin Chuzzlewit*, of `taking liberties' with great liberty.  Taylor surely
ignores Thomas Gradgrind's exhortation to the educator:  `Stick to Facts, sir!'
 
By the way, as a public figure, Dickens was accustomed to being misquoted.
During a speech to the Birmingham and Midland Institute on 6 January 1870, he
humorously invoked Shakespeare after exposing a false representation (or
`reinvention,' if you Will) of his `shortly and elliptically stated' political
views: `perhaps in these respects I do not sufficiently bear in mind Hamlet's
caution to speak by the card lest equivocation should undo me.'
 
Valerie Gager
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 95 09:27:18 -0500
Subject: Gary Taylor
Comment:        SHK 6.0826 Gary Taylor
 
When I discovered Gary Taylor's book, I was delighted. He was obviously
knowledgeable, witty, and well-versed in the history of Shakespearean
production. His writing was pleasantly free of jargon. As someone who spent the
late 70s in graduate school, I was introduced to the joys of post-modern
theory, and found most of it unbearably tedious and less-than-useful. I was
then, and still am, interested in literature, in story-telling, in the reasons
why we read fiction, see plays, recite poems. Taylor made all that come alive
in interesting ways and invited me as a reader to play along with him. His work
does not have the deadly serious tone of far too many contemporary academics,
who believe that their truth (or perception or [horrors] fact) is more true
than all other truths that have every been spoken. I have been recommending his
book to friends and colleagues ever since.
 
Chris Gordon
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.