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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Acting, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0500  Monday, 22 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Matthew Gretzinger <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Mar 1999 12:08:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0483 Re: Acting from Experience

[2]     From:   Reg Grouse <
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        Date:   Saturday, 20 Mar 1999 10:05:25 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0481 Re: Feeling and Meaning

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Mar 1999 18:54:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0493 Re: Acting, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[4]     From:   William Sutton <
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        Date:   Saturday, 20 Mar 1999 05:50:43 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Acting, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[5]     From:   Lew Kaye-Skinner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 20 Mar 1999 09:28:18 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Writing from Experience

[6]     From:   John Savage <
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        Date:   Sunday, 21 Mar 1999 17:42:47 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 10.0462 Re: Writing from Experience

[7]     From:   John Savage <
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        Date:   Sunday, 21 Mar 1999 17:43:05 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

[8]     From:   Maria Hablevych <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Mar 1999 20:01:28 +0000
        Subj:   Re: Writing/Acting from Experience and Imagination, Biography

[9]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Mar 1999 23:07:42 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0482 Re: Writing from Experience


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Gretzinger <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Mar 1999 12:08:26 -0500
Subject: 10.0483 Re: Acting from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0483 Re: Acting from Experience

I think that Lucia Anna Setari's thoughts on acting are insightful and interesting.  I love this statement, and find it true also if applied to actors: "The really true passion of a writer is writing, I think.  Hardly a writer loves somebody more or longer than his work."  Please forgive a few more comments on the acting connection.

I believe from experience that the acting of a character is always and necessarily separate from the feeling of personal emotions, even if they are ostensibly the same emotions that the character is supposed to be feeling.  It can be interesting to explore a character who feels something you've felt in life, but in the acting of it there is a necessary distance - "a little space, in the way, like a window," to quote Sondheim - and in the acting of it the artist is commenting on that emotion or experience, making a statement.  The point is not to re-endure a pain or joy for the edification of the audience.  The audience does not come to the hall for your joy or pain - they come for theirs, or to communally experience a shared pain & joy.

The artist seems to need that distance, that coolness towards her subject, in order to enact a scene - or write it, I betcha - that will stir the necessary passions in the audience.  My appreciaton of Shakespeare's mastery of form is born in this observation - that I think he recollected in tranquility his passions and the passions he observed in such a perfect way that he knew exactly which buttons to push, which levers to pull.  The use it was to him, I cannot know - but as Ms. Setari observes, "Hardly a writer loves somebody more or longer than his work."

I notice this distance most strongly during about the fourth or fifth act of the "big four" Shakespearean tragedies - Ophelia's "Will he not come again?", blinkered Lear's encounter with the blinded Gloucester ("When we are born, we cry..."), Desdemona's unpinning by Emilia (and song of willow).  In each of these scenes the writing is so beautiful, so perfectly wrought and so very evocative of humanity - and yet so formed, so immaculately formed, that I cannot believe it was written in a fit of passion.

The thing is indeed most complicated.  Thanks to Lucia Anna Setari for the thought-provocation, and to Tony Haigh for the recommendation of "Acting without Agony."  I shall seek it out.  Thanks again for your patience, and anyone's further thoughts on this I invite for offline discussion!

-Matthew Gretzinger

p. s. not a Brit - just watched "Blackadder" too many times +)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Reg Grouse <
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Date:           Saturday, 20 Mar 1999 10:05:25 +1100
Subject: 10.0481 Re: Feeling and Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0481 Re: Feeling and Meaning

I was responding recently to a friend's comment on a criticism of Bloom's new book and thought it might be pertinent to the current debate on 'Feeling and Meaning'.  I quote:

When Bloom speaks generally about all of us 'the deeply human presence we feel in so many of Shakespeare's plays' I must take issue with him. In my reckoning there are only about 20% of people in our community who have any interest in Shakespeare. Any influence that Shakespeare has on them is second hand.  I tell the story about my daughter who was going to Europe many years ago. I was encouraging her to visit some galleries and exhibitions there. She said, 'Dad, you are into culture; I am into shopping.' She was quite right , of course, it is that very diversity of likes and dislikes that makes life interesting.  In my many discussions with artists and architects over the years I have not found any who could enumerate one absolute criterion that distinguishes great art from the not so great.  Criteria for art are as difficult to define as human love. How could one describe an emotion like love?  And art is about loving. We could say, I suppose, that great art is about loving and minor art is about liking. It depends on the depth of emotion that is involved.  One cannot neglect the intellectual component which appeals to our sense of logic and can effect us emotionally, but I am convinced that our values of art are entirely subjective and so called 'great art' is only great by consensus and not by any absolute values that apply generally to a whole population.  Perhaps the time element comes to bear. We might say that the greater the art, the longer we go on liking it. That timelessness is probably the only way to judge art. We must wait to see if we still like it next day and the day after and ...

Reg Grouse If AE is correct is his assumption, creative ideas come from an integration of experiences; a reshuffling, mixing, stirring and upending of experiences to produce what seems to be an original concept and is in its way.  In Shakespeare's histories we have fine and very simply explicit examples where S has taken the text from the historians and transformed it into sometimes
sublime poetry.  The problem we have in understanding the nature of creative thought processes probably lies in the fact that the elements involved; the sensual experiences, the integration of these experiences and the effect of our emotional reactions to them; are so numerous, so complex and so interdependent that they cannot be modeled and consequently cannot be understood.

Cheers, Reg Grouse.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Mar 1999 18:54:24 -0500
Subject: 10.0493 Re: Acting, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0493 Re: Acting, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

Hardy  wrote:

>[Editor's Note: I have not "pulled the plug" on this discussion because
> for the most part it is not about "THE AUTHORSHIP QUESTION" but about
> theoretical issues surrounding the connection between "authors" and the
> creation of their "works."  The speculations of Edward Young in
> Conjectures on Original Composition (1759) and Wordsworth in the
> "Preface" have so profoundly changed the way that many think about the
> relationship between a work and its creator that it is very difficult
> for those persons to imagine any other paradigm. I find this connection
> so interesting that I have been willing to tolerate a variety of
> contributions. -Hardy]

Sure; but can't we just declare Mike the victor by TKO.  Stephanie is now just staggering around no longer able to defend herself.  It isn't a pretty sight anymore.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Sutton <
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Date:           Saturday, 20 Mar 1999 05:50:43 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Acting, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

Ooh, I get so mad. I'm just an angry rabbit when the evasively smug challenge the obviously unrecoverable.

Mike J. thanks for keeping your cool and reason. And following the Helsinki person's lead, let poetry answer the question.

They all want to play Hamlet -

They all want to play Hamlet.
They have not exactly seen their fathers killed
Nor their mothers in a frame-up to kill
Nor an Ophelia dying with a dust gagging the heart
Not exactly the spinning circles of singing golden spiders
Not exactly this have they got at nor the meaning of flowers
O flowers, flowers slung by a dancing girl
in the saddest play the ink-fish Shakespeare, ever wrote.

Yet they all want to play Hamlet because it is sad like all actors are
sad
And to stand by an open grave with a jokers skull in the hand
and then to say over slow and say over slow
wise, keen, beautiful words masking a heart thats breaking, breaking
This is something that calls to their blood
They are acting when they talk about it
and they know it is acting to be particular about it and yet:
They all want to play Hamlet.

Does anyone know the author of this poem?

(Maybe the Earl of O)?-)

On Shakespeare`s Sonnets:

Whether his loves were many or but two?
Whether his heart grew strong or bled to waste?
Whather he toyed with thought as idlers do
Or some unseasoned lines betray his haste?

We enter here as to an empty house;
As pale folk from a far-off clime and date,
Peep into pictured halls where the carouse
Of mummied Kings once mocked their certain fate.

We gaze at signs he saw but only guess
How he read what we read: not bloom to fruit,
Meal to Moth`s wing, sight to blind eye is less
Recoverable! Time treads life underfoot;
These dead black words can warm us but as coal;
Once, forest leaves, they murmured round his soul.

-Sturge Moore:

Meal to a moth's wing basically sums up what we can know about Shakespeare. The Records and the hard material evidence is not exhausted. Should Scholarship be concentrating a little more on archeological exploration it up rather than digging the same plot with shiny new tools called literary theories? This last is metaphorical rather than literal, though the Rose is exciting.

By the way if you are ever in Stratford don't forget to visit the Butterfly farm!

Yours in the name of Will,
William S.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lew Kaye-Skinner <
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Date:           Saturday, 20 Mar 1999 09:28:18 -0600
Subject:        Re: Writing from Experience

Ed Taft writes in part that it seems to him "that the belief that one should 'write from experience' has 20th-Century roots (whatever the merit of 'the romantics as origin' argument)."

I am relatively new to this list and don't know if anyone has mentioned Sir Philip Sidney's first sonnet from "Astrophel and Stella."  The sonnet concludes, "'Fool,' said my Muse to me, 'look in thy heart and write!'"  (I have Kimbrough's 1969 edition at hand.  I don't believe there is any change here in the newer edition.)  I've understood this to be an injunction to write from the experience of his emotion, though it could also be an invocation of empathetic association, as has been suggested.

Lew Kaye-Skinner
Ph.D. Candidate
English Department
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Savage <
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Date:           Sunday, 21 Mar 1999 17:42:47 -0500
Subject: Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        SHK 10.0462 Re: Writing from Experience

>> Requiring of the artist personal experiences in order to create art is
unfair at the least. <<

And was Arthur Miller ever a Puritan in early New England?

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Savage <
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Date:           Sunday, 21 Mar 1999 17:43:05 -0500
Subject: Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

S. Hughes:

>>  We "know" nothing about Shakespeare the man apart from his
writing. Nada. Nothing. Zip. <<

Every time I read or hear that we know nothing about Shakespeare the man I glance over at that huge volume resting on my coffee table (almost as large as the coffee table itself <g>), S. Schoenbaum's "William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life," which contains the myriad documernts having to do with Our Will and his life.

We know more about Shakespeare than we do about most other Elizabethans except for the biggies, like Queen Elizabeth herself.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Maria Hablevych <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Mar 1999 20:01:28 +0000
Subject:        Re: Writing/Acting from Experience and Imagination, Biography,

I will use as few quotation marks as possible, so, may I be not accused of plagiarism. My special thanks to all, mentioned here by name, who have provided fuel for my thought, and material for argument.

>Requiring of the artist personal  experiences in order to create
>art is unfair at the least.
>Marilyn Bonomi<

Let us see.

Eric Luhrs citing T.S.Eliot:
>"Poetry is not the turning loose of emotion, but an escape from
>emotion;
>it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from
>personality."

It may have been so with T. S. Eliot, and writing in this way --  in escape from emotion,  -- may have been a feature of HIS personality.

>"It [the poet's mind] may partly or exclusively operate upon the
>experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the
>more completely  separate in him will be the man who suffers and
>the mind which
>creates, the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute
>the passions which are its material. "

Even this is dictated exclusively by Eliot's personal experience of a poet.  Nothing-be it art, important art, or great art, or a comment on a piece of art, or on another's comments  --  can be created beyond the author's experience,  emotion, and personality, as this very discussion demonstrates. The question is that of the degree of involvement/alienation, and, in Shakespeare's case, of imaginative power. It is, I think, exactly this self-separative attitude of Eliot's, whether conscious or unconscious, which has given to his poetry its coolly reflective colour, and to himself, the grounds to denounce  Shakespeare's "Hamlet"  as his worst of plays.

>if author had fully 'experienced' the progress of Lear she would
>have been dead by the time the concluding lines were composed, we
>must surely try to understand >aesthetic and emotional distance as a
>prerequisite for composition.
> If they [the actors] 'truly felt' the mental and physical effects the play
>explores, they would have been incapacitated... The actors' continue
>existence as beings depended on a technique whereby such feelings
>were simulated.
>Clearly the process of writing, or the Act of Creation, is to a
>great degree analogous.
>Harry Hill<

Yes, as a night's dream is analogous to a day's life: the actor live  a character's life in flesh and blood, but the dramaturg just dreams of it, as we have dreams, with our eyeballs moving, etc., or even awakened at the height of a passion experienced in the dream and not necessarily destructive. Non-destructive passion, when it reaches its height, ends in a bliss.

I know how I may behave in a dream only because I am able to IMAGINE it, by ANALOGY with my own experience of watching others dream.

Compare both lives, as created (simulated) by an actor and by a  dramaturg, in their outward and inward intensity. It's not the emotional distance, nor an aesthetic technique, but the very nature
of artistic dreaming which saves the dramaturg his soul and body that would otherwise soon come to a ruin, - in  Shakespeare's case, after a couple of histories plus Titus, had he indeed played all their parts in the process of writing, instead of just imagining he is playing them. He would never live to write King Lear

Shakespeare knew pretty well how passion works in an actor, and wears him down,  viz. the First Player's "passionate monologue" in "Hamlet". There hardly were tears in his own eyes when he was composing the monologue, - writing it over and over again in order to suffuse it with the intensity of feeling that would fully justify his character's tears (I can argue the point by textual analysis). Were he able to write it without identifying himself with the character, i.e. without imagining himself to be an actor who imagines himself an omniscient witness to Priam's slaughter? If he weren't, then he should have worked himself into tears AS WELL, - albeit imagined tears, like weeping in a dream (cf. Son.34). He would never have reached the mental and physical effect he was looking for, were he emotionally distanced from what he was writing in this monologue.

Also the MND's passionate mechanicals and Shakespeare's apology for their lack of technique is something worth remembering.

Ask actors among the members, if they can be completely uninvolved while acting, and if they can, whether it is this art of estrangement which has lured them into the profession.

Ask other poets, besides T.S.Eliot, about their degree of emotional involvement, and one of them will say
              Never durst poet touch a pen to writ
             Until his ink were temper'd with Love's sighs
             O, then his lines would ravish savage ears
             And plant in tyrants mild humility.
This is clearly a piece of evidence in support of Stephanie Hughes' case.

NB: "Love" is capitalised and personificated-not quite as "sexual love", and not quite as a "feeling" (cf. below). Nor is it Cupid, the love-god who never sighed. (Please correct me.) Lovers often become poets while in love (the idea the passage from Edward III suggests [> Nely Keinanen <], also in LLL, TGV, and elsewhere), yet a born Poet is unthinkable without Love. It was Plato's Idea, and definitely shared by Shakespeare since he gave it a Form [> Marilyn Bonomi <], -- a human Form.  In voicing what Shakespeare the man and the artist had learned from Plato's books and from his own experience, Berowne certainly IS his alter ego [>Larry Weiss<].

A question on the margin: To which sex did he mean to assign this Ideal human Form? Did he imagine "him" or "her" sighing?

The degree of the poet's/actor's involvement does account for the degree of exhaustion-and, very essentially, to be sure, for the quality of a creation (for its Greatness):
             But love, first learned in a lady's eyes
             Lives not alone immured in the BRAIN;
             But, with the motion of all elements,
             Courses as swift as thought in every power,
            And gives to every power a double power,
            Above their functions and their offices.
The powers mentioned are those of seeing, hearing, feeling (including the courage to speak out, cf. "durst" above and Son. 23), and of speech:
           And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
           Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.

For a poet it is a natural balm, a soothing bath, to have finally got down on paper and given away to the reader what his silent love hath writ-otherwise his own Intemperance and Intoxication [>Wes Folkerth<] -- his unspoken fears and hope heart errors and blisses, his madding love fever (strange malady) -- would soon Dionysically [?] eat his heart up (23, 107, 119, 144, 153-154).  In writing, he "turns loose" his emotions ("unpacks his heart with words"), and, by writing, harmonizes them, and thus calms them down.

Writing about love and life (with or without love in it) is a Poet's way to love, and live: if he were to choose, a Poet would prefer writing to all other ways of living  - and of earning for a living, see DAMON the craftsman, who earns his living in no other way but by making his Apollonian contribution, worth of a senate membership, in building up Greek ideology (mythology, religion).

Here enter Sweetwine, Tunemaker and Melody and Reveller-Apollonian aesthetics, here Love embraces with Beauty. Even if it is a weeping, or indignant love; even if it is hate, or indifference, or any of deadly sinful desires: whatever passion a Poet would choose to communicate, whatever technique to apply, however emotionally distant to be, he is called to his choice by this one overwhelming passion- his love for creating Apollonianly [?] beautiful Forms ("shadows", in Shakespeare's sonnet terminology) [>Charles Costello<].

This Love - "THAT which gives his Muse all his [her?] might" when ushered through the Poet's heart (24, 100) -- has the voice of ALL the gods, -- not just Venus's or Cupid's.

A question on the margin: How is this Love Shakespeare was never out of, reflected in Shakespeare in Love (I haven't seen the movie)?

Sonnets 24 and 100 give more evidence in support of Ms. Hughes' case, -- yet in a way contrary, I am afraid, to what she sees in them, judging from her remark:

 >Painters use their friends as models, writers base their characters
>on people they know.

Painters do self-serve as models; the more so, writers.  I think, even if Shakespeare happened to sit for his friend, this experience  was not enough for him to liken, in 24, Writing to Painting. The parallel could have come from one source - that of creative experience in general, the BASE for which is KNOWing ONESELF. Or, at least, being in quest for the knowledge.  We do learn from others (and from others' works) what ourselves are like, but we will hardly accept any piece of knowledge before we find it corroborated, at least in a seminal form, by our own (which is our COMMON) psychological and physical experience (common sense? Please, correct.). The rest is imagination-bordering on fancy.

>Shakespeare did not have to experience forbidden love to write R&J
>any  more than he had to experience cannibalism, a ghostly vision,
>faeries dancing in the woodland, or homosexual desire (if you accept
>that the sonnet sequence is NOT autobiographical, as in sonnet 20)
>in order to write about these things.  His greatness lies in his
>ability to COMMUNICATE these great heights of passion and deep
>abysses of pain.  To assert that he only could have done so by
> having already experience them himself is to narrow the scope of his
> (or any other artist's) greatness.
>Requiring of the artist personal experiences in order to create art
>is unfair at the least.
>Marilyn Bonomi <

I guess, he had first to personally experience love, to be able to imagine what "forbidden" love may feel and look like.  The same with cannibalism, a ghostly vision (any vision, hallucination, nightmare), with faeries dancing, or homosexual desire. In order to communicate great heights and deep abysses one surely needs a personal germ of experience, to base his imagination on, before letting it stretch into fancy (= "invention").  (Has anybody come across any powerful passage on the abysses of pain in child-birth, ventured by an imaginative male writer?)

Yet the poet's fancy is the area where I should be very careful before I land on a judgement about his (auto)biography. Lest I begin inventing myself. Especially when he himself witnesses, that

     The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, (as in sonnet 20
     Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
     And as imagination bodies forth
     The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
     Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
     A local habitation and a name.

I refuse to believe Shakespeare had any homosexual feelings not because I lack such experience or cannot imagine it like he could, but because my sexual experience tells me that he didn't.  It tells me that sexual love has certain manifestations, whatever subtle, which betray its sexual character, and these are explicitly lacking in the young man's sequence. Even the "lascivious grace" as the apostrophy in 41 would not persuade me it is a homoerotic - or even simply erotic - sonnet, for I neither know nor can imagine a living man's or woman's "grace" as being "lascivious". (Can anybody?  Though I can accept, for example, "Your grace is lascivious" in a certain dramatic situation.)

At the same time, what I am most sure of, is Shakespeare's mastery of language (isn't this part of his greatness, which is the unspoken yet commonly shared reason for this conference?). If, I say to myself, he has decided on such a strange word combination, he may have had something in mind that still is, to me, "a thing unknown". (To prevent sneers: though I am not able to experience the masculinity described in 151, this "self-based" sonnet doesn't ring false to me.  It has, though, its little riddles. Sonnet 20's riddles, by comparison, are huge.)

>Modern literary critics are more than willing to
>dispense with the annoying biography in order to concentrate on the
>text.
>Stephanie Hughes<
>I have looked at these words for so long that I see what I expect
>more than what is really there.
>Mike Jensen <

Very much like as it is with Shakespeare's texts: his words have been looked at for so long that one sees in them what he is expected to see rather than what there really is.

Shakespeare the poet WAS a practicing actor. So much I can tell about him, judging by his texts-by his writing from experience and from imagination, in the supposed biographical vacuum. The best way to refute the biographical argument for Oxford is to come forward with that for stratfordian Shakespeare.

What I here honestly and seriously propose is to concentrate upon his texts and dispense with the annoying vacuum in his biography. I do have ample grounds to claim that it is a feasible task, though, certainly, a Herculean one. I, with my weak command of English and my melancholy that I am not a Hercules, nor even a Ghost, to be hic and ubique, in all possible Shakespearean libraries, to gather precious scraps of information to bring them together, -- I claim that this task can be most successfully completed by the brilliant company of the university wits I have encountered here.

I propose that some volunteers on this list read those parts of Hamlet's Q1 which are relevant to the actors (not the mousetrap-play itself), as well as the cemetery scene, in the historical context and the literary and theatrical discourse of 1590 (Q2, taken as the background, will help a lot). The one who will try will get  a very "blood and flesh" glimpse into Shakespeare's biography if he/she switches on his/her imagination (not fancy), and will imagine himself writing the text for the Queen's Men that have just returned to London from their two years' tour around England, to be spoken before the audience who well knows about the Allayn-Burbage contract of 1590, about Robert Greene's (Cor-ambis') "double-heartedness" in his "Orlando" deal with the Admirals,  and about his disdainful attitude toward actors as described in his book and published the same year.

Accordingly, the same (and some more) passages in Q2, when read in the 1601 context, will tell the reason for Corambis's transformation into Polonius, andl another odious person will be recognized behind the personified character: Ben Jonson.

I suggest that the Hamlet discussion could be organized under separate topic on or off-list, and the  results published in a book, with an additional volume of appendices written by individual participants on relevant issues. The recomposing and editing, I am sure, could be brilliantly done by our editor, as well as by the two superb writers from experience-our Beatrice and Benedick (NOT Petruchio and Katherine).

Yours, very sincerely,
Maria Hablevych.

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Mar 1999 23:07:42 +0000
Subject: 10.0482 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0482 Re: Writing from Experience

> Stephanie Hughes wrote quoting me:
>
> >>My original rebuttal to Ms. Hughes used sonnet
> >>sequences as an example.  Since most of them are not autobiographical,
> >>it seemed to fit.  Then I thought of Hamlet captured by pirates and a
> >>lot of other things.
>
> Then she replied:
>
> >Where is the evidence for your belief that the sonnets are not
> >autobiographical?  (Or that the author of Hamlet was never himself
> >captured by pirates?)
>
> Ms. Hughes, I have realized for some time that you are not a very
> careful reader.

Different people read for different kinds of information. Apart from that, reading is a fifty-fifty proposition, with half the burden of discourse on the writer. Perhaps I misread. Perhaps you didn't make yourself clear.

>As you can see, I am not referring to
> Shakespeare's sonnets, but sonnet sequences in general.  I am not an
> expert on the subject. That they are not usually autobiographical is
> widely accepted in the books I have read.  If that is so, my statement
> needs no justification.  Burden of proof is on anyone who says they are.

I don't need to prove anything. I'm not trying to convince you of anything. I'm simply making what I believe to be a true statement, which you are completely free to disallow, ignore, or dispute, as you are, in fact, doing.  I find a great deal of evidence both within the sonnets themselves, and in the history that surrounds them, that they were written out of true feeling. Apart from the kind of evidence the mind provides, based on correspondences, data, etc., the heart provides another level of evidence, one far more convincing to me personally.

> It is true that many, probably the majority of scholars, do think that
> Shakespeare's sonnets are autobiographical.  I have asked this list
> about that 2 or 3 times, but no one has come forward to help me
> understand.

There is a tremendous amount of material that has been written on the
sonnets, from all points of view. I can only suggest the one that comes
closest to my own view, "Such is my Love," by Joseph Pequigney

> I don't pretend to know that Shakespeare was not kidnaped by pirates,
> but I think it is unlikely.  Perhaps you will inform me.  Was the Earl
> of Oxford?

Yes. At age twenty-five, in 1575, while returning from the Continent, pirates overtook the ship and he was robbed. It happened again ten years later, when he was returning after being recalled from the post of military leader of the English forces in the Lowlands, when replaced by Leicester and Sidney.

> Ms. Hughes wrote:
>
> >Show me a worthwhile sonnet sequence that was not based on personal
> >feeling and I'll eat my mousepad.
>
> Bon appetite.

First, the worthwhile sonnet sequence, please.

> First, my statement allows that this can happen, which you seem to have
> missed.  Even so, you have not earned the right to say this,
> argumentatively speaking, until you engage points made by myself and
> others in Tuesday's posts.  This issue is roundly answered there.
> Ignoring those points does not make you right.

What points were those?  I can only respond to what I can understand, and I must confess I sometimes get bogged down in verbiage and can't puzzle out the meaning.

> I wrote:
>
> >>Thus someone who agrees with Ms. Hughes
> >>main point could still insist that Shakespeare experienced great grief,
> >>and could therefore write Titus A,
>
> Ms. Hughes wrote:
>
> >Grief? Rage perhaps. Hamlet's the one written out of profound and very
> >real grief.
>
> You betray ignorance of the literature on the play.  It is open to more
> than one interpretation.

You betray ignorance of the play.

> I wrote:
>
> >>I don't think this approach really addresses Ms. Hughes point.  Finding
> >>examples of moving art that was not deeply felt by the artist seems more
> >>decisive.
>
> Ms. Hughes wrote:
>
> >Yes? We're waiting . . . .
>
> Again, answered in Tuesday's post, which you have ignored.  This tactic
> does not impress.

Like all of us, I am busy. If I missed something I should have paid attention to, forgive me.  Please repost.

> Not to take permanent sides on this one, but I always thought Drayton's
> Idea was pretty good and it's also pretty clear from the title alone
> that it isn't related to personal experience.

Sorry, I'm ignorant of the reference.

> Also, I understand that
> Herrick's Corinna, Julia, etc., are all fictional (as was Ovid's
> Corinna, come to that.)

Who could possibly know this?  What possible weight could an opinion on this have, published or unpublished? No one can possibly know for a fact whether Ovid's Corrina was a real girl or not.  And no committee of scholars can make it a fact. It is a matter of sheer opinion. I think it's likely she was real. Does that make me a fool? No, it makes me a person with an opinion.

> I think part of the problem is defining what we
> mean by "autobiographical."  Falling in love, eating, drinking, death,
> etc., are pretty common experiences.  I've never been a Moor working for
> the Venetian government but I can certainly understand being jealous.

Absolutely. The author of Romeo and Juliet knew what it was like to fall in love. That's all I'm saying, and all I've ever been saying.  I happen to think that the author had a very similar love experience to the one expressed in R&J, but that also is hardly radical, as a good percentage of humanity has experienced a love situation that could not, for whatever reason, be consummated.

> Despite Ms. Hughes self-appointed status as critic superior to the
> writer-as-critic,

Now I am perplexed. What did I say to rouse such wrath?  That great art is written from personal feelings and experience?  Every writer that writes confesses the truth of this. Is there something fiendish or subversive about the term "great art"?  Did I ever define what it is?  If not, then isn't it likely I intended for everyone who read my post to think of their own collection, or canon, of Great Works?

> I would venture the opinion that it makes sense to
> consider what writers and poets themselves say about their
> biographical/emotional proximity to the subjects and feelings of their
> work.

Which is the testimony upon which I have based my opinion, many writers and many poets. Mind you, not all writers, particularly not all poets, are totally honest about the fact that their work is always based on real experience (true poets, mind you, and true artists of all sorts).  This is understandable, considering the trouble telling the truth can cause a writer. As St. Vincent Millay said, or was it Dorothy Parker, "poets alone should kiss and tell."

> Wordsworth, the least critically astute (and to my mind least
> interesting) of the English Romantics, is probably guilty of this
> idealized version of the poet as the fount of all wisdom springing from
> his own personal experience-his excruciatingly long and windy Prelude is
> perhaps the embodiment of that idea.

Now who's passing judgement? And why must Wordsworth be "critically astute"?

Yet even Wordsworth's view of the
> poets' experiences as intimately and immediately connected to the works
> they compose is qualified by a key phrase: the "spontaneous overflow of
> powerful feelings" is nonetheless to be "recollected in tranquillity".

Of course. One can hardly write about something at the time that it's happening.  Still, like memories of all sorts, returning to it mentally will evoke the feelings it inspired at the time, though perhaps not as powerful.

> The best exemplar of the poet as critic of the idea that his own
> experience forms the basis for emotional intensity and invention is, of
> course, Keats, in a letter to Richard Woodhouse (27 October 1817).  Bear
> with me for quoting a poet known for the intensity and emotion of his
> works:
>
> "As to the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort of which, if I
> am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the
> wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands
> alone) it is not itself-it has no self-it is every thing and nothing-It
> has no character-it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it
> foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated-It has as much
> delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. . . A Poet is the most
> unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity-he is
> continually in for-filling in some other Body . . . It is a wretched
> thing to confess; but is a very fact that not one word I ever utter can
> be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical
> nature-how can it, when I have no nature?"
>
> In another letter he makes a similarly insightful comment about "what
> quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature &
> which Shakespeare possessed so enormously-I mean Negative Capability,
> that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries,
> doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason" (To George
> and Thomas Keats, 21, 27[?] December, 1817).
>
> If Stephanie Hughes will grant that Keats is a "great" poet, or in his
> own terms a "Man of Achievement" in literature, shouldn't we take
> seriously his critique of the "wordsworthian or egotistical sublime"
> that, I submit, underlies her view of artistic creation?  Hence the
> wisdom of Laura Fargas' remark on the "negative" formulations used by
> Terry Hawkes, a critical version of Keats' "Negative Capability" if I've
> ever read one.  Surely Keats' comments above argue, at the very least, a
> certain artistic and ironic distance from the work created, and he
> claims that the intensity he (and Shakespeare) achieved is a function of
> this distance, as his own resonant and sensuous poetic creations
> assert.  He never had the intimate connection with Fanny Brawne that he
> so ardently desired, he never traveled foreign lands as he wished he
> could (only to Italy to die), yet his poetry shows an intensity that
> comes from an imagination carefully trained to deny or avoid the
> personal, not to indulge in biographical and emotional experience.
> Again, echoing someone else here, Keats' poetry is based more on his
> reading and speculation than on lived experiences, a product of the
> "wild surmise" he celebrates in "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer".

Doesn't it enrich your experience of Keats's poetry to know his life history? To know at what juncture in his life it was that each of his great poems were written?  Am I correct, that Keats died before he had any success with his poetry?

Stephanie Hughes
 

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