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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: June ::
Re: Why Biography?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0497.  Tuesday, 20 June 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Monday, 19 Jun 1995 11:31:03 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0495  Re: Why Biography?
 
(2)     From:   David Wilson-Okamura <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Jun 95 11:33:22 CDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0495 Re: Why Biography?
 
(3)     From:   John Owen <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Jun 1995 11:12:50 -0700
        Subj:   RE: Why Biography?
 
(4)     From:   Chris Stroffolino <LS0796@ALBNYVMS.BITNET>
        Date:   Monday, 19 Jun 1995 16:51:05 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0495  Re: Why Biography?
 
(5)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Jun 1995 11:17:54 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Why Biography?
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Monday, 19 Jun 1995 11:31:03 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0495  Re: Why Biography?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0495  Re: Why Biography?
 
If someone discovered that Mary Arden had a part-time job as a fishmonger, can
you not imagine the smug, knowing, meta-theatrical chortles and glances from
those spectators who had read about it, when the word occurs in a performance
of *Hamlet*? Oh, dear. It would do sweet damn all for the play.
 
        Harry Hill
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wilson-Okamura <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Jun 95 11:33:22 CDT
Subject: 6.0495 Re: Why Biography?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0495 Re: Why Biography?
 
Stephanie Hughes writes:
 
> How could the man who wrote "who steals my purse steals trash", who
> made a hero of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, a noble character of
> Antonio in Twelfth Night, who portrayed the heroic self defeat brought
> on by the generosity of Lear, etc., etc., have left as a paper trail
> only a handful of litigations over a matter of pounds, have been held
> up for vilification as a hoarder of grain in time of famine, and have
> a left a gift in his will to the local loan shark! The only possible
> answer is, he couldn't!
 
There is, I think, another possible answer, and that is "How odd of God!" The
film *Amadeus* is, in my opinion, instructive here.  If we look around us, or
look into the biographies of successful people (including successful poets or
composers), we cannot but be struck by the fact that our Creator does not
always bestow his gifts on those that we would deem most worthy of them.
Mozart and Wagner were both, in my opinion, great artists, but they were not
good men; neither, in my opinion, was Picasso.  Babe Ruth was a great baseball
player, but he was a terrible husband.   Do I make my point? I don't mean to
say that biography has no place in criticism; quite the contrary.  But I do
think there are mysteries in life, and if what you say about the man from
Stratford is representative, then this is one of them: "Good bard, great
bard--and yet not greatly good."
 
Yours faithfully,
David Wilson-Okamura

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Owen <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Jun 1995 11:12:50 -0700
Subject:        RE: Why Biography?
 
Regarding Stephanie Hughes' recent postings on Shakespearean biography --
 
1. There seems to be an unstated assumption on Stephanie's part that authorship
of a work may be disproven based on a certain level of inconsistancy with the
rest of the attributed author's work, or with known biographical details. I
agree that this evidence may be useful; the most damning evidence against the
Baconian theory was always the complete incompatibility of Bacon's work with
Shakespeare's.
 
However, I would avoid basing any conclusion on this type of reasoning. In the
absence of corroborating biographical evidence, I could argue that Rev. Dodgson
was incapable of writing both dry mathematical treatises and nonsense
verse/children's literature. Or, I could claim that the eminent divine, Dr.
Donne, couldn't possibly have written the early love poetry "attributed" to
him. To address this, I would appreciate it if Stephanie made clearer her views
regarding authorial consistancy, avoiding if possible the specific example of
Shakespeare.
 
2.  Shakespeare values generosity highly in -
        a. King Lear, when the king gives his kingdom to his daughters.
        b. MoV, where the selfless Antonio is a hero.
        c. Twelfth Night, where the generous Antonio is presented in a positive
           light.
 
Right, well -- in Lear, the King is being self-indulgent and irresponsible, not
generous. In MoV, the author, through Portia, is at great pains to demonstrate
to Bassanio and Antonio (titular but hardly heroic) the perils of undervaluing
possessions and, through them, oneself (Act V). Which leaves Twelfth Night,
which I'll grant. So how much theory shall we hang on a one dimensional minor
character?
 
Finally, how can the Stephanie Hughes who promises on Friday not to revive the
authorship debate, do exactly that on Sunday?  Examine these two quotes:
 
"I have promised to keep that issue (authorship) out of the arena"
 
"This . . . has driven a number of those interested . . .to consider the
possibility that . . . someone else did the writing."
 
The answer is simple. She couldn't. I therefore propose that we either question
the authorship of the Sunday posting, or at least adopt the provisional measure
of identifying two separate stylistic threads, to be named Stephanie A and
Stephanie B.
 
No offense,
John Owen
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <LS0796@ALBNYVMS.BITNET>
Date:           Monday, 19 Jun 1995 16:51:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0495  Re: Why Biography?
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0495  Re: Why Biography?
 
Dear Stephanie Hughes--The problem with the bibliographical is not a problem
distinct to Shakespeare. Given much of the current academic climate (in which
people can get hired having done 'vulgar' analysis of Yeats' "fascist
metrics"), one may do well to consider the fact that there are so little facts
on the historical Shakespeare actually a boon in terms of employing
Shakespeare's "oeuvre" to, as old critic Harold Goddard said, "inspire and
rebuke the present." One may even wonder if Shakespeare PURPOSELY buried the
facts of his biography because he knew it could get in the way. This is not to
say I am not interested in "the man behind the text"--only that "the man behind
the text" is often a fantasy structure (which is not to demean it), a
projection of "the ideal author" or "the ideal reader." Speculating on the
subjectivity that emerges from engagement with the plays IS a valuable
activity--but how this ties in to the pre-existing social grid of christianity,
or whatever, is more of an intellectual (abstract) issue considering various
discourse systems than it is about the plays. ART is not the handmaiden of
religion!-- It "competes" with it, and just as harold Bloom said "perhaps we
should do a Sakespearean reading of Freud" etc--so does this hold for the
biographers (be they biographers of Shakespeare or of contemporary poets like
Frank O'Hara)....Chris Stroffolino
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Jun 1995 11:17:54 GMT
Subject:        Re: Why Biography?
 
The answer to Stephanie Hughes is that objective, transparent and
non-manipulative accounts of the lives of the great and the good do not and
cannot exist. At best, biography is one of the forms that fiction takes. At
worst, it is propaganda with a college education.
 
Terence Hawkes
 
PS  This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get the names right. The greatest
comedian of the 20th century was Frankie HOWERD (not Howard).
 
[Editor's Note: I'll take credit for this error.  Apologies to all.  --HMC]
 

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