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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Neutral Sh; Bruno; Locrine
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0614.  Friday, 30 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Ben Schneider <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 May 1997 17:17:44 +0000
        Subj:   Neutral Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Graham Paul <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 May 1997 21:46:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0605  Re: Giordano Bruno and Occult Neoplatonism

[3]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 May 1997 11:24:44 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0610  Re: Locrine


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Schneider <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 May 1997 17:17:44 +0000
Subject:        Neutral Shakespeare

Dear John McWilliams,

I'm sorry I confused things by using the term "neutral Shakespeare" as
an identifying feature of "postmodern" criticism, which you rightly
describe as anything but neutral.

You say, to the contrary, that

     the notion of 'Great Artists' being neutral and above making
     political and moral choices is one which was very popular in
     literary criticism during the 50s and 60s, at the height of
     New Criticism.

1.      Isn't it the CRITIC who claims to be neutral under the protocols of
New Criticism?  Actually I was there in the 50s and 60s, and I happen to
be a full-blooded New Critic.  As such I claim that I am neutral in the
sense of "objective," unless proved otherwise.  I also claim that an
author has an intention, and that the intention is necessarily moral.

2.  On the other hand, the neutrality of the AUTHOR as opposed to that
of the critic would seem to be a feature of the postmodern school.  I
speak of the common use of such words as "plurality of meaning,"
"ambiguity," "contradictory," "problematic."  Far from the author's
having AN intention, his position is considered "equivocal," or
"undecidable," extraneous in any argument about the meaning of his
work.  If you are going to deconstruct (and thus politicize) an author's
work, this is where you usually start.  For a recent and
up-to-the-minute example, see how Katharine Eisaman Maus begins her
introduction to MV in the new Norton anthology:

     The play has generated controversy for centuries.  Is it
     anti-Semitic?  Does it criticize anti-Semitism?  Does it
     merely represent anti-Semitism without either endorsement or
     condemnation?  Are the Christians right to call Shylock, the
     Jewish moneylender, a "devil," an "inexorable dog"; or is he
     merely the understandably resentful victim of their bigotry?
     Does Portia, Shylock's antagonist in the courtroom,
     exemplify the best in womanly virtue, or is she a
     manipulative virago?

     [paragraph on early modern anti-Semitism deleted]

     Of course, the existence of anti-Semitism in sixteenth-
     century England says little about Shakespeare's own
     attitudes.  He could have written The Merchant of Venice
     either to capitalize on or to criticize the prejudices of
     his society."

Having established Shakespeare's ambivalence toward Shylock's Christian
opponents, Professor Maus, with typical postmodern gusto, proceeds to do
a brilliant job of deconstructing (destructing, destroying,
assassinating) their characters.

3. Now we have a really knotty problem on our hands.  Is this
Shakespeare's deconstruction or Professor Eisaman's?  Certainly
Shakespeare put all the data for her deconstruction in the text, but did
he mean for her to use it this way?  Professor Eisaman seems to assume
without explicitly stating that Shakespeare deconstructs his own play,
and the assumption grows on you until you have no quarrel with her
penultimate sentence:  "Shakespeare stresses the artifice involved in
his resolution," in which his agency is clear.

4. If Shakespeare deconstructs his own play, as Professor Maus seems to
say, then he DOES criticize anti-semitism; he thinks that the Christians
are WRONG to call Shylock a dog and that for this treatment Shylock is
an understandably resentful VICTIM; and it is his opinion that Portia is
a manipulative VIRAGO.  Now look where we have come out!  We have
established that same "authorial intention" that we started out by
denying.

Please understand that I am not singling out Professor Maus for special
treatment.  She just happens to have provided the first example that
came to mind of the part played by "authorial neutrality" in postmodern
criticism.  Her essay on MV is actually the best I have read, and the
fairest, since postmodernism took over.  If only she would stand it on
its head.

John, I do not think this undecidability factor derives from the myth of
the universal/essential Shakespeare.  The myth is just what you come up
with when someone asks, "What's so great about Shakespeare?" and it's a
cop-out.  But the ease with which postmodern critics impose postmodern
values (hatred of exclusivity in the case of MV) on early modern authors
leads me to believe that the postmoderns are the true essentialists.
When someone asks them, "How did Shakespeare know all about our culture
wars?" the easy answer is "That's why he's great."  Maybe that's why
there's so much bardolatry in postmodern criticism.

Yours ever to command
BEN SCHNEIDER

 [2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Paul <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 May 1997 21:46:35 -0400
Subject: 8.0605  Re: Giordano Bruno and Occult Neoplatonism
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0605  Re: Giordano Bruno and Occult Neoplatonism

Dear Valentin Gerlier:

Check out the introduction to Ted Hughes' "Shakespeare and the Goddess
of Complete Being" (1992, Faber & Faber) for a discussion of Shakespeare
as possibly influenced by Bruno and Occult Neoplatonism.

Cheers,
Graham Paul
Warren Wilson College

 [3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Friday, 30 May 1997 11:24:44 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 8.0610  Re: Locrine
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0610  Re: Locrine

Gabriel Wasserman recently wrote

> Well, doesn't Jonathan Hope have a Marlowe-Shakespeare-Dekker ---
> doesn't-sound-like-Marlowe position on *Locrine*, thus leaving
> Shakespeare and Dekker?

which is not quite what I wrote, and certainly not what I meant to
imply.  I said that *of the playwrights I sampled*, only M, S and D
could be candidates for authorship on the grounds of auxiliary 'do'
evidence - and that relative marker evidence then tends to rule all of
them out too.  So *Locrine* is probably by someone I didn't sample.

Jonathan Hope
Middlesex University
 

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