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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Plain Dealers; Thomas More; Ideology; Afterlife
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0499.  Friday, 25 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Apr 1997 09:12:22 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0475  Re: Lear; Cordelia

[2]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Apr 1997 12:18:03 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   *Sir Thomas More*

[3]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Apr 1997 01:00:37 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Ideology

[4]     From:   Paul Hawkins <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Apr 1997 21:37:53 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0494  Re: Afterlife


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Apr 1997 09:12:22 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 8.0475  Re: Lear; Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0475  Re: Lear; Cordelia

I realize I am entering late into this conversation, but I did want to
respond to Ben Schneider's comments:

> As Terence Hawkes has so well reminded us, "The past is another
> country.  They do things differently there."  In the light of that past,
> Cordelia appears to have been a Plain Dealer, an archetypal character
> who began with Socrates, was picked up and carried through the middle
> ages by Cicero and Seneca and dumped on Shakespeare's England through
> scores of conduct books, dozens of translations, and the public
> schools.  These schools were founded in the 16th century on Cicero's
> premise that man is rational, therefore educable and civilizable.  His
> De Officiis was the core of the curriculum.  Shakespeare's England,
> let's face it, was Stoic, and Stoicism, which fostered the needs of
> society, is a foreign country to us, who prioritize the needs of the
> individual.
>
> Kent is a Plain Dealer, too, and so is  Lear, temporarily misled by
> flatterers.  Edmund is a Plain-Dealing Villain, and Goneril and Regan
> are Double-Dealing Villains.

I find this an intriguing argument, but either it is over-stated here,
or I am being particularly dim-witted this morning.  Certainly the Stoic
Plain Dealer was a Renaissance type, but used only sparingly in
Shakespeare (who else but those mentioned above?  Enobarbus?  I'm
running out of ideas...).  The most striking example of the type that
comes to my mind at present is Diogenes in Lyly's _Campaspe_.  But he
is, first of all, a comic character (as are the more famous Plain
Dealers of Wycherley and, especially, Moliere a couple of generations
later). Secondly, whereas his influence must be felt by Alexander in
order for the latter to be an appropriate sovereign, it is crucial that
Alexander NOT adopt his traits: Diogenes exists to maintain balance in
the world.  If Cordelia fulfills a similar function, then her Plain
Dealing must be maintained to counterbalance the fawning of her sisters,
but is not itself the stuff of appropriate royal behavior. Cordelia then
returns to the "center" of the Plain/Double Dealing continuum at the end
of the play... as well she should.

I need hardly mention that I have yet to work these thoughts out
completely.  I'm not even sure whether I'm agreeing or disagreeing with
Ben...  Perhaps he (or someone else) would be kind enough to tell me?

Rick Jones

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[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Apr 1997 12:18:03 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        *Sir Thomas More*

For those asking about any STM plays in the renaissance.  A play exists
probable date just about same time as R3; the work, most say, of several
artists, of which one was Shakespeare (most scholars believe), who
contributed a scene, 147 lines, which survives in the ms. in
Shakespeare's own hand, so most people agree.  Some of this you will
know already from others.  But do take note that there is a whole book
from Cambridge U.P.  1989 titled  *Shakespeare and 'Sir Thomas More':
Essays on the Play and its Shakespearian Interest* ed. T. H.
Howard-Hill.  A variety of scholars, a variety of approaches.

It would be the place to start.  But note that this book originated as a
60th anniversary volume of a similar volume published in 1923 and titled
*Shakespeare's Hand in The Play of Sir Thomas More."  The 147 lines, if
we accept them as Shakespeare's, and I have no doubt about this, are the
longest piece of his writing by far that survives in ms.

John Velz
Professor of English (Emeritus)
University of Texas

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Apr 1997 01:00:37 GMT
Subject:        Re: Ideology

Thomas Bishops writes

> At some point in this descent to the more and more
> basic, ideology as a system of organizing information
> ought to encounter the biological and Darwinian
> apparatus of the brain, which, as neurobiologists
> and evolutionary theorists can show, is a highly
> structured system designed to facilitate the survival
> and reproductive success of the organism that owns it.

If I understand Richard Dawkins right, it's a system designed to
facilitate the survival and reproductive success of the _genes_ that
made it, not the organism in which it resides. Depending on the
circumstances this might encourage altruistic or selfish behaviour
according to how this behaviour affects the survival of other organisms
sharing the same genes.

> Do "deep" ideology theorists posit an absolute gap
> between the biology of language function in the brain
> and the formation of ideological commitments to concepts
> like "self as individual", a concept with potentially
> powerful Darwinian resonances?

Again, accepting that genes, not individuals, are the primary unit of
reproduction (the Dawkins position), the "self as individual" concept is
already a construction serving a biological need at a lower level. (That
is, genes find that making me feel I have independent consciousness is a
good way to reproduce themselves.)

'Individual' is one of those delightful words which has undergone a
reversal in meaning: once denoting the indivisibility of the member from
the group, it now denotes the difference between the member and the
group.  If Raymond Williams is to be believed, changing notions of self
and society underlie that reversal.

The language function and the selfhood feeling don't go all the way down
to the hardware. To the end of promoting a social end (the genes'
survival) an illusion of unsocial existence (my consciousness) is
constructed.

Gabriel Egan

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Hawkins <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Apr 1997 21:37:53 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0494  Re: Afterlife
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0494  Re: Afterlife

In relation to Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, and questions of
the ghost and the afterlife, someone recently (sorry that I've forgotten
who) cautioned against reading a 17th century document through 20th
century eyes.

I wouldn't for a moment question the value of scholarship which offers
and examines conflicting accounts of the theological, historical,
cultural, ideological content of the plays, their production, or their
initial reception.  But of course, 20th century eyes are inevitably what
we read through, and as various contemporary criticisms teach us, we
can't possibly screen out our own concerns when we read (or at least,
certain contemporary Marxists may be able to, but old historicists like
Tillyard and the rest of us can't possibly).

But leaving aside the questions of the value of historical scholarship
and the inevitability of critical blindness, isn't bringing our own
concerns to the literature of the past-allowing our concerns to inform
our reading and the literature itself to interrogate our concerns-a part
of what great art is for?  And isn't our willingness to reinvent certain
works of literature, and the ease with which they can be reinvented,
testament to the aesthetic power which, more than ideological content,
defines something's greatness?  And isn't it that aesthetic power which
enables a work like Hamlet to transcend the ideology in which it was
born and from which it detaches itself as art?

Reading the play recently through 20th century eyes I was struck by the
counter-intuitive and almost nonsensical quality of Hamlet's thinking on
his predicament:  death would be welcomed were it oblivion, as an
unknown it is to be feared.  Living in the late 20th century, I would be
more inclined to say the reverse.  Hamlet's conclusion is particularly
Hamletian, rather than universal, I thought.  For him the overwhelming
burden is any consciousness.  Oblivion alone can satisfy him.

Whatever the merits of my reading, the greatness of Hamlet is in the
power of the textual nodes mentioned that demands and satisfies
interpretation and re-interpretation through 20th century eyes.  The
power is not in the 17th century concerns that informed the writing and
first reception, but instead in the aesthetic achievement through which
the work transcends its ideology.

Paul Hawkins
 

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