The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0353.  Thursday, 13 March 1997.

From:           Terence Hawkes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 1997 12:45:40 -0500
Subject:        Ideology

Paul Hawkins asks for a demonstration of the 'irreducibly ideological
content' of, for instance, T.S. Eliot's judgement that Hamlet is an
'artistic failure'. Try this. The assessment of Hamlet was part of a
larger realignment of the Shakespearean canon, indeed a re-mapping of
the whole of English literature, strenuously proposed by Eliot when he
arrived in Britain. The British have always had difficulty in living up
to American ideological expectations of them and Eliot wasn't the first
- or the last-to feel compelled to append 'See Me' to what he perceived
as an appalling cultural scenario. Certainly, it wouldn't be difficult
to argue -as F.R. Leavis did, for instance - that Eliot's Harvard-honed
inability to come to terms with the awkward crudities of an inherited
British way of life contributes to his down-grading of Hamlet. A
Coriolanus-like unease with the sort of popular culture from which
Hamlet springs certainly runs throughout his work. How dare it draw on
'intractable' material! How dare its 'workmanship and thought' occupy an
'unstable position'! How dare it include 'superfluous and inconsistent
scenes'! It's hardly surprising that, for him, the culmination of
Shakespeare's 'tragic successes' turns out in fact to be the play he
associated with the career of Woodrow Wilson as well as his own
situation - Coriolanus: an indisputable masterpiece, he claimed,
'intelligible, self-complete, in the sunlight'. The award of 'F' to
Hamlet and 'A' to the latter play form part of the same alarming
project. Its thrust is clearly ideological. You could say Eliot had come
a long way from St. Louis. That didn't stop him from trying to
reconstruct it on the banks of the Thames.

T. Hawkes

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