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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: July ::
Re: Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0563.  Wednesday, 19 July 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Simon Morgan-Russell <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jul 1995 11:45:15 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0558 Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(2)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jul 1995 22:18:06 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
(3)     From:   Richard J Kennedy <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 Jul 1995 18:40:11 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Morgan-Russell <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jul 1995 11:45:15 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0558 Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0558 Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Bruce Young argues that the notion of "Shakespeare as Cultural Construct" is
reductive and dismissive -- that a "political" consideration of the text is
one-dimensional (and others on the Branagh debate have implied similarly).
How, pray, is this any more reductive than the scholar who reads "SH. as
Cultural Construct" being told by an august Shakespearean critic that the truth
of the matter resides in some sort of transcendent "business" like Love, Truth,
or Beauty?  Nothing seems more reductive to me than the the pronouncement that
*X* is REALLY about the "human condition" etc.  The option to be able to
consider an author or a text as a cultural construction was, for me, an
inspiration rather than a reduction.  Whether I am "straightforward" in my
approach to textuality I cannot say, but I might add that I'm capable of
"valuing" and "enjoying" Shakespeare PRECISELY because of his status as a
cultural construction. I've often (too often) heard academics work themselves
up into a spluttering frenzy over the "incomprehensible jargon" of THEORY --
which is more telling of their reluctance or inability to engage with
theoretical approaches than of those approaches themselves.  Similarly, I might
suggest, some readers of Shakespeare might feel that "cultural" readings of the
Bard are designed to be reductive and dismissive by their originators, when, in
fact, it is the reduction or dismissal of those discussions that appears to
render them reductive or dismissive (I apologise for the awkwardness of this
last sentence).
 
Simon Morgan-Russell
Department of English
Bowling Green State University
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jul 1995 22:18:06 +0100
Subject: 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Bruce Young has raised a question about the way debate proceeds on this list,
and it deserves attention. His argument is that the constant cry "ah, that's a
cultural construct" which drops in from the likes of Terry Hawkes is a bit of a
cop-out. Worse still: "Those making the "cultural construct" arguments seem (at
least momentarily) incapable of enjoying or valuing Shakespeare (and all the
associated phenomena) in the same straightforward way as the rest of us
mortals."
 
I am pleased to claim that I neither enjoy nor value Shakespeare in a
sraightforward way. It's very interesting to do Shakespeare studies, but I
remember answering bizarre questions like "Say what you have enjoyed and valued
in Shakespeare's xyz" at school and I had enough teenage perversity to give a
direct answer to this direct question. It is only when I became allowed to
discuss the way that Shakespeare is taught and its position at the peak of that
cultural construct (damn, I said it) 'English Literature' that I got interested
in the subject. Studying what this 'English Literature' is, what it is used
for, and by whom, leads very quickly to the real topic underlying all human
activity: Politics.
 
If you don't want to talk about politics, there is one other option: discuss
tangible empirical knowledge. For example, we can quite easily and profitably
discuss the shape of Globe. If you want to discuss why it was this shape (not
the carpentry, but the intention behind the configuration) you will find
yourself right back in there with politics: how does the signifying 'machine'
(a playhouse) running its software (the play) work? (These terms are Andrew
Gurr's I think, good aren't they?)
 
So, it's not that 'cultural construct' is a big woolly term which potentially
covers everything and hence means nothing. Rather, it's a reminder that the
shroud of immanence that Dame Poetry wears is man-made. (I know I must have
plagiarized that from somewhere; could the original owner please collect it at
the end of class).
 
You can discuss what the plays mean (which is what 90% of SHAKSPER traffic
does) and acknowledge that you're talking politics (as Hawkes, Drakakis, etc
do), or you can discuss what the plays mean and pretend you're not talking
politics (as Godshalk, amongst others does). Or you discuss the
tangible/empiricals. Hawkes and Drakakis have adopted the 'pennies from heaven'
approach because this forum is supposed to be peer-to-peer (those computer
terms do come in handy, don't they?) and its not easy to convince peers that
all interpretation is political. Undergraduates can be made to accept this
simple fact by intense dialogue within seminars.
 
Bruce Young fingers Terry Hawkes, and I am guessing that John Drakakis is
implicated too, so I have named names.
 
By the way...does anyone think that 'tangible empirical knowledge' of the kind
I mean (you know, what-shape-was-the-Globe? stuff) is culturally constructed?
No teasing answers, please.
 
Regards
Gabriel Egan
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard J Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Jul 1995 18:40:11 -0700
Subject: 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0558  Shakespeare as Cultural Construct
 
Hear, hear!
 

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