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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Presentism and Maps
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1166  Wednesday, 18 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Jarrett Walker <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 12:29:51 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1141  Re: Maps

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 13:32:16 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 9.1154  Re: Presentism

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 18:50:54 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1154  Re: Presentism and Maps

[4]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 19:20:25 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1141  Re: Maps


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jarrett Walker <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 12:29:51 EST
Subject: 9.1141  Re: Maps
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1141  Re: Maps

The joke is on us, of course, when a practical educator's innocent
request for maps of the places referenced in Shakespeare sends us all
off on volleys of introspective theory.  But then, the joke is on this
educator as well.  As a credentialed Shakespearean who is also a
cartophile-and who must know where north is at all times-I'd offer the
following on the relationship between the map and the stage.

Michael Ullyot is surely right when he argues for the relative
meaninglessness of Shakespeare's geographical lapses.  In geography as
in all things, Shakespeare is prone to introduce confusion where his
sources were much clearer.  There is no sorting out the intentionality
of each instance.  (Indeed, how bracing to find you all discussing
authorial intent after all these postmodernist years!)  Shakespeare's
factual inaccuracy feels to this close-reader more like a habit than a
choice, rather like his inability to resist the pun.

More to the point, the Elizabethan stage has its own rules of geography,
just as it has its own rules about time, personal identity, and scores
of other weighty philosophical themes.  To understand this geography, a
literal map is about as helpful as a Fauna of Coastal Bohemia that gives
every bear and mosquito its scientific name.

"So this is the forest of Arden."  Fine-who cares, really, what
direction we have traveled from the court?  Who cares which
Mediterranean atoll best resembles Prospero's Island, or which patch of
flat Kentish ground should be set aside as the Lear's Suicide Royal
Historic Site, where tourists may solemnly "take the leap" themselves?
To the theatrical mind, literal maps are nothing but wormholes, in the
science fiction sense of the term.  We can go anywhere, anytime, at the
director's whim.  The size and distance of places can shift with a
thought. Is the world-hugging Rome of A&C really "bigger" than the small
town of the same name in CORIOLANUS?  Is Egypt any further from Rome
than Corioles is?  Not in the geography of the stage.

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, Shakespeare's geographical
accuracy is inversely related to the spatial or temporal distance from
Stratford, which is no surprise for so untraveled a traveler.  (Does
anyone yet have evidence of Shakespearean footprints outside of the
south of England?)  Shakespeare cares about literal space and time only
when describing events so famous that he must acknowledge some prior
education in his audience.  Given the position of Henry V in the English
hagiography, is it any surprise that ONLY when treading this well-trod
topic does he feel the need to apologize for the materials of his stage,
and the distortions they will impose on space and time?  (Even then,
"apology" hardly describes a prologue that bubbles with pride in the
very transgressions it lists-a Clintonian apology, indeed ...)

Is Shakespeare unconsciously cavalier with facts, as Ullyot suggests?
Yes, certainly.  If you are putting out two plays a year while working
fulltime in a theatre and managing distant real estate, you learn to
focus on what matters.   Maps, such as appear in Asimov's Guide, simply
do not speak Shakespeare's language, so they are worse then useless if
our goal is to teach and understand the plays.

Jarrett Walker

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 13:32:16 -0500
Subject: Re: Presentism
Comment:        SHK 9.1154  Re: Presentism

' "racism" in the 18th century was very different than our present
understanding of the term'

I'm astonished to learn from Bill Godshalk that there are still
historians -huddled together for warmth in Missouri it seems- who
continue to believe that it's possible to obtain an undistorted view of
the past. Poor souls.  Could we not arrange to drop them a few crates of
E. H. Carr's 'What is History'?  It sounds as if they've eaten all their
copies of Fowler's 'English Usage'.

T. Hawkes
Presentist Pursuivant

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 18:50:54 EST
Subject: 9.1154  Re: Presentism and Maps
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1154  Re: Presentism and Maps

>  > On this subject of Shakespeare's 'warping' of time and space, Robin
>  > Hamilton writes that his dislocations of time (as in characters
>  > referring to things with which they clearly should not be familiar)
>  > universalises the dramatic present in a kind of trans-temporal Everytime
>  > (I paraphrase).
>
>  Instead of making the fictive world universally imminent, might it not
>  underline the alterity, even transcendence, of it?

Perhaps seeing _WT_ as "universalising" is arguable-what I was most
concerned to point out is that the imaginative strategy adopted in _WT_
differs considerably from the relative verisimilitude of, particularly,
the History Plays and the Roman plays.  I'd be happy with
"transcendence".  What I'd suggest is that a variety of features in
_WT_, including both geographical and temporal paradoxes, suggest a
coherent imaginative strategy on Shakespeare's part.  This could
encompass the kind of stage presentation we find in I-III contrasted
with the strange mix of literary pastoral/realistic country types in
IV.  Either Shakespeare is messing up something considerable, or he's
doing what he does for a definite purpose.  And considering the way that
the play has been successfully staged for hundreds of years, the later
possibility is pretty clearly ruled out.

Robin Hamilton

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Nov 1998 19:20:25 EST
Subject: 9.1141  Re: Maps
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1141  Re: Maps

>  I wonder if we can't forget this problematic issue of
>  Authorial Intent. Indeed, this author is long dead, but to situate
>  ourselves in what we know of his cultural context for a (tenuous)
>  moment, we might view these temporal dislocations in another light: when
>  Hector speaks of Aristotle in _Troilus and Cressida_ (2.2), or reference
>  is made to clocks in _Julius Caesar_, Shakespeare may be universalising
>  his narrative, but what seems more likely is that he was either muddled
>  about his dates or hoping his audience wouldn't catch his anachronisms.

>  What critical work would be left to do if all we could do was
>  throw up our hands and guess at the minds of authors?

Re Authorial Intent, I'd agree it's a problem, and more so when we're
dealing with a playwright-when can we ever say, "Shakespeare says ... "
rather than "X Character says ...".  Against this, I think we +can+
discern artistic strategies at work in the plays which allow us to
(well, avoiding the collusive 'we', leads me to want to) say, "Here's
what seems to be at work."

Equally, while we don't necessarily know what Shakespeare knew or
didn't, it's possible to make an approximation to what he would be more
or less likely to know.  And if we allow such an approximation, to
separate specific instances into mistake/irrelevance/'deliberate
error'.  For me, in these terms, the (lack of a) seacoast of Bohemia
would be so close to common knowledge as to suggest 'deliberate error';
Aristotle would be casual confusion.  But the clock +is+ a problem, in
that it was one of the Big Four New Things which were recognised as not
present in classical antiuquity, along with gunpowder, the compass, and
the printing press.

>  >The (relative) rareness of geographical and temporal errors in
>  >Shakespeare's plays generally suggests that their co-existence
>  >here is for a purpose.
>
>  Relative, indeed: the histories are riddled with temporal and, in
>  reference to what prompted this discussion, geographical
>  reconfigurations.

Sorry-sloppy of me.  I should have said "+significant+ geographical and
temporal errors", but even that, I'd agree, begs more than several
questions and is maybe at bottom a bit impressionistic (along with "What
is Shakespeare likely to have known?").

Cheers,
Robin Hamilton
 

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