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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: December ::
Re: Teaching; The Unities; Pennington & Hamlet
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0911.  Wednesday, 4 December 1996.

(1)     From:   James Schaefer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 03 Dec 1996 11:37:21 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Teaching: Video, Stage Performance, and Reading

(2)     From:   Patrick Gillespie <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Dec 1996 12:32:56 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 7.0888  Q: Shakespeare and the Unities

(3)     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 3 Dec 96 12:42:13 CST
        Subj:   Pennington & Hamlet


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 03 Dec 1996 11:37:21 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Teaching: Video, Stage Performance, and Reading

To Bob Dennis:

Not reading the "difficult stuff" in Faulkner doesn't leave a whole lot left to
read.  I remember reading -- no, trying to read -- _Light in August_ as a
freshman, and getting only half-way through it by class time.  That's OK, I
thought, I'll still have Wednesday's class.  Hah!  Old Bernie Morrissey
steamrolled right through the book, haranguing us all the way for not READING
IT CAREFULLY, and then assigned _The Glass Menagerie_ for the next class
session.

My wife, a professor of biology at another institution, has a constant problem
with students who come to her classes thinking they can get an "A" if they
"sort of know" the material.  She has a very humanist heart, but she is driven
to distraction by her colleagues in some other departments who do not seem to
challenge their students' critical skills regarding the objects of study in
their field.  A "plot summary" of the carbon cycle won't get you very far in
BIOL 100; it shouldn't count in ENGL 100 (or 3XX!) either.

Curmudgeonly, with a cold,
Jim Schaefer

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patrick Gillespie <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Dec 1996 12:32:56 -0500
Subject: 7.0888  Q: Shakespeare and the Unities
Comment:        RE: SHK 7.0888  Q: Shakespeare and the Unities

Was Shakespeare doing anything unusual? Yes and no, though the answer to this
might lead you off in unexpected directions I think you might find the book,
"Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse: Language Games in the Comedies", a useful
source although there is another work I read, a work which examined, among the
prologues, Shakespeare's Pericles, which was more useful on this subject. If
someone else can think of it work, which I detail a bit more below, let me
know. Any of my ideas come from this latter work which I can't recall.

The appeal of the unites (perhaps even in its own day only a theoretical ideal)
was in its presumed ability to create the illusion of reality. The need to
create this illusion, however, was not always necessary. Even up to
Shakespeare's day, there were those in the audience who confused the play with
reality. Come to think of it, it still happens to this day. I'm thinking of a
little old lady at an airport who, so Larry Hagman [sic?] claims, attacked him
with her purse after identifying him as J.R. What an evil man.

By the time Shakespeare was writing his plays, he was dealing with a more
sophisticated and perhaps jaded audience. While he, like most dramatists,
apparently didn't give much credence to the idea of the unities, he
nevertheless seemed more sensitive to its ideal.

In the prologue you sampled from H5:

[For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, /  Carry them here and
there; jumping o'er times, / Turning the accomplishment of many years / Into an
hour-glass.]

Shakespeare was indeed, according to my memory of the criticism, doing
something unusual. He was at once acknowledging the play's illusion while
inviting the audience to suspend that knowledge of the play's illusion. He
admits not only to the poverty of his stage effects but also invites the
audience to suspend their notion of time, which argues that  Shakespeare,
perhaps because of criticism from Jonson, was aware of the unities and
sensitive to criticism related to it. If memory serves, this is also the case
with the prologue of Pericles, which is an argument for its attribution to
Shakespeare. That is, Shakespeare was the first dramatist to deliberately
strive for a sort of meta-reality. So, Shakespeare was at once part of the
established trend and an innovator.

This also raises a host of issues, the meta-dramatic and meta-linguistic
(meta-linguistic reflections) properties of Shakespeare's plays for example -
his, to quote Elam, "expository and 'referential' construction of the
universe". All techniques which aspire to the same illusory reality of the
unities. So, I wouldn't say exactly, as you do, that "Shakespeare paid little
heed to the classical unities (time, place, and action)", rather, he
acknowledged their importance by his own acknowledgment of their omission.

Patrick

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Dec 96 12:42:13 CST
Subject:        Pennington & Hamlet

I remember a discussion earlier this year about a book by Michael Pennington on
_Hamlet_. I just found a copy in our University book store: the title is
_Hamlet: A User's Guide_ and it was published in the U.S. in August 1996 by
Limelight Editions, 118 E 30 St, NY NY 10016. Retail price is $16.95.

Chris Gordon
 

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