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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: June ::
Re: What joke was that?
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0453.  Tuesday, 18 June 1996.

From:           Peter L. Groves <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Jun 1996 16:05:12 GMT+1000
Subject: 7.0440  Re:  What joke was that?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0440  Re:  What joke was that?

Jane A Thompson <
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 > asks, *re* the Florence Amit posts, "By what
means did readers decide to receive the postings as spoofs or as arguments? . .
. If scholarship can be parodied, it must have not only surface conventions to
tie the parody to the parent genre, but other contentual conventions which the
parody importantly violates--or isn't that so?"

It's an interesting question, but (speaking as the original cowardly mugger who
gave rise to this particular thread) I have to 'fess up that I never took it
for either parody or scholarship in the first place: I was only pretending to
treat Ms Amit's contention (that Shakespeare's work is full of elaborate
bilingual puns accessible only to someone with a sophisticated knowledge of
Hebrew) as a joke, as a way of suggesting that it was not really a useful way
of expending bandwidth.  Without wishing to speak for him, I suspect this is
true of Professor Hawkes as well.  My original posting was facetious because
(in my innocence) I didn't think Ms Amit's ideas required a formal refutation:
who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

I'm not entirely sure what is meant by "contentual conventions which the parody
importantly violates", but I would expect a parody of scholarship to emphasize
the *apparatus* of academic work--learned footnotes, quotations, etc--and to
steer clear of large claims or revolutionary ideas ("Treatment of the
semi-colon in the Folio text of *Love's Labours Lost*" would be nearer the
mark).  I would also expect a deliberate avoidance of illiteracies like the
following:

     The Ed prefix, pronounced od, means 'until', pronounced aud, it
     means 'more',  . . . 'more' combined with 'until' is suitable for
     Edmund, if we allow that Shakespeare has united the Hebrew with
     the Latin stem, "mund".  'More until death' suggests Edmund's
     greediness and destiny. (F. Amit, *Shakespeare's Hebrew*,
     henceforth SH, available from 
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 )

It will be interesting news to classicists that 'the Latin stem, "mund"' means
'death'.  Ms Amit twice quotes Hamlet's famous first words as "A little more
kin than kind", which misquotation elicits the following rhapsody:

     The k itself is a prefix meaning 'like' also c-ain is like while
     the ain can mean 'not' or 'nothing'.  On the other hand ken can
     mean 'yes' . . . There are more meanings such as like an eye or
     like a fountain.  The K-ind may mean like an ornament or
     something worn, or bound. Also if we dare, as it is customary in
     Hebrew speech, to include the opening weak vowel into the
     pronunciation of the preposition, what results are like a dike or
     heap and like movement. So then Hamlet may be saying . . .
     'Though I bear a likeness to you it is not binding' or 'I am like
     an eye that sees rather than a decoration that is flourished' or
     'I am more a fountain that wells up from within than a dike that
     contains standing waters' or 'I am more affirmative than
     changeable'. (SH)

Ms Amit's postings represent not a spoof of scholarship but a perfectly serious
contribution to a quite different genre, which might be called Advanced
Rosicrucianism.  Shakespeare has always had a huge attraction for people who
(without wishing to be offensive) one can only describe as cranks.  I don't
want to sound superior about this: we all find Shakespeare's work so
fascinating, and yet know so little of his life (and almost nothing of him as a
man), that we project our fantasies and our anxieties onto those blank spaces:
every age remakes him in its own image (the "Shakespeare our contemporary"
phenomenon).  But some of us go a little further in this process of remaking:
followers of J. T. Looney, for example, refuse to believe that an upstart
provincial actor could have written *Hamlet*, and seek to father the plays on
the suitably aristocratic Earl of Oxford; others see the author as Bacon, or
Marlowe, or Queen Elizabeth.  Ms Amit's obsession surely fall into this class
of phenomena; it resembles the Baconian or Oxfordian fantasy that the plays are
actually a labyrinthine cryptogram concealing the identity of their true
author. There is nothing wrong with this sort of amiable eccentricity--in fact
I enjoyed Ms Amit's postings, just as I am fascinated by the publications of
the Flat Earth Society--but it shouldn't be allowed to masquerade as scholarly
discourse.

Peter Groves
Department of English
Monash University
 

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