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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: January ::
New on the SHAKSPER Fileserver: HIGH_LOW CULTURE
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0022. Tuesday, 9 January 1996.

From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Tuesday, January 9, 1996
Subject:        New on the SHAKSPER Fileserver: HIGH_LOW CULTURE

As of today, SHAKSPEReans may retrieve Harry Hill's "The Mixture of "High" and
"Low" Culture in Hamlet I,i: a Close Reading" (HIGH_LOW CULTURE) from the
SHAKSPER Fileserver.  This paper was delivered at Popular Culture Association
Meeting in Syracuse, NY, on November 2nd 1995

To retrieve "The Mixture of "High" and "Low" Culture in Hamlet I,i: a Close
Reading," send a one-line mail message (without a subject line) to

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The Mixture of "High" and "Low" Culture in Hamlet I,i: a Close Reading

     It was Oscar Wilde who best said that the people have to be brought up to
the level of art. As with many of his utterances, he probably had Shakespeare
in mind. Clearly, Shakespeare's perennial success as a popular playwright has
to do with his mastery of levels and his ability to inveigle the common
spectator into his worlds, and then, in a sense that I shall demonstrate, up to
his people's reactions to those worlds. This paper is based on the assumption
that popular culture is not folk culture but low culture elevated to high. And
in Shakespeare's case it is mostly his negative capability, his refusal to take
political positions or to write in either the overwrought or too plain styles
of most of his contemporaries that makes and keeps his art popular. Mostly, it
is his negative capability in the sense of empathy that does this. His hearing
the way people speak, and his feeling the way they think..which he can
reproduce in metaphor and verbal texture.

     The line that famously opens Hamlet with a question is more than that. It
is a contraction, "Who's there?", that may also be seen to introduce
stylistically and therefore tonally the earthbound ordinariness of its
characters, the sentries of Elsinore, before elevating their perceptions to a
more intellectually ethereal level. To this latter level the characters are
forced in this scene by their reactions to events.

     I use "high and low culture" as ways of describing the modes and levels of
speech, which are of course outward and visible emblems of inner states.
 

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