1999

Re: "Gnostic" Gospels

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2044  Monday, 22 November 1999.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 19 Nov 1999 08:36:35 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2024 "Gnostic" Gospels

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Saturday, 20 Nov 1999 13:39:02 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2024 "Gnostic" Gospels


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Nov 1999 08:36:35 -0800
Subject: 10.2024 "Gnostic" Gospels
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2024 "Gnostic" Gospels

My apologies to John Velz.  Indeed, it was I who first mistakenly used
the expression "gnostic gospels" when I thought I wrote "apocryphal
gospels."

John did use the gnostic expression, which puzzled me, but reading over
the posts I notice that I inadvertently used the expression first, and
John put it in quotes since he was responding to that expression.

No blame on John; all blame on me.  I apologize.

Credit to John for the gentle way he responded to my correction.  I hate
it when I do that.

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 20 Nov 1999 13:39:02 +0900
Subject: 10.2024 "Gnostic" Gospels
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2024 "Gnostic" Gospels

Dear all,

Since the references to the gnostic heresy seem to be causing a bit of
confusion, may I recommend the lucid (and exciting) account in A. D.
Nuttall's recent book, THE ALTERNATIVE TRINITY: GNOSTIC HERESY IN
MARLOWE, MILTON, AND BLAKE (Oxford University Press, 1998).

Meanwhile-or in addition-a comment of my own. Offered in (amateurish)
humility, as well as in opposition to the "infallible" Polish actor/pope
(whose equally "infallible" wartime predecessor is now a candidate for
beatification on the one hand, and vilification on the other-for his
connivance with the Nazis in matters relating to the Jews).

"Heresies" are often, or usually (perhaps just because of relative
unfamiliarity) more difficult to grasp than the (usually more familiar)
orthodox position they oppose. The Gnostic heresy is much easier to
grasp, it seems to me, than the peculiar orthodox opinion it opposes,
because its most heretical element addresses what many fine but
unorthodox minds have found peculiarly difficult in Christianity.

Witness David Hume, the greatest British philosopher, who observed that
one peculiarly difficult feature of Christianity resulted from its claim
that God is both omnipotent and benevolent. To believe in a creator who
was/is omnipotent but not benevolent isn't so difficult, given the evil
and pain in the world; likewise, it's not so difficult to believe in a
creator who was/is benevolent but not omnipotent-something of an
"under-achiever", as Woody Allen once put it. But to look at the world
we know, and believe that it was created by some being who was both
benevolent and omnipotent is, well, difficult.

This problem looked very different in the Renaissance, because
Renaissance science offered no alternative account of creation. So, it
was more easy, or even compelling, to present "atheism" as lunacy, as
well as sin. This is one reason why the literature attacking atheism
predates texts confessing atheism by some two centuries (cf David
Berman's history of atheism).

I.e. the word "atheism" doesn't, or couldn't, mean the same thing or
things in 1600 that it did, or could, after the late eighteenth
century.  This historical difficulty has bred much transatlantic
confusion, I suspect, because so many American critics follow Greenblatt
in maintaining that "atheism" was almost "unthinkable" (as distinct from
unprintable!) in the Renaissance, whereas so many British critics like
Dollimore and Sinfield (as well as the historians they read, like Keith
Thomas) maintain that "atheism" existed in the Renaissance. Censorship
distorts everything, but when St Oliver relaxed censorship in the brief,
blessed Interregnum, even St Oliver couldn't endure radical (real?)
Christians like the Levellers on the one hand, or Renaissance Lollards
who appalled him by saying, e.g. "The only heaven is woman, and the only
hell is marriage"...

So far as the basic issue is concerned, it seems to be, whether "God"
conforms with our notions of "good". Of course people like Calvin reject
that question altogether, but it still troubled people like Erasmus (in
his dispute with Luther), or Donne (in "Satyre III"), or Milton (in
setting out to "justifie" the ways of God to man). It didn't trouble
some people so much, who weren't so much concerned with OTHER people's
appalling sufferings (e.g. George Herbert, whose universe was, despite
his interest in proverbs or folk wisdom, rather thinly populated:
usually, there's just God and George). Robert Burns and James Hogg are
good on this!

So was William Elton, in "King Lear and the Gods". Elton provides
copious evidence of the existence, in Shakespeare's lifetime, of that
anti-providentialist position which, in the later seventeenth century,
Browne would call "secondary atheism": the idea that God withdrew, from
and after, creation...

So, going back to the Gnostic heresy, it can seem most heretically
attractive because it dismantled the orthodox trinity and supposed that
God the Father was in conflict with Jesus. This is William Empson's
territory: what is the moral nature of a God whose lust for vengeance
(the destruction and damnation of most of his own "creation") could be
appeased only by the agonising self-sacrifice of his only begotten son?

It's also William Blake's territory, as Nuttall so wonderfully shows.
Some Gnostics supposed that Jesus himself was the serpent, who (unlike
Nobodaddy) wanted Adam and Eve to "know" the difference between Good and
Evil. Nuttall doesn't mention one (so far as I know, unique) Blakean
title-page for the "Songs of Innocence and Experience" which shows the
bird of paradise flying back (up) to Paradise-with the apple in its
beak.

Sorry to take up so many kilobytes, or whatever they're called. But the
whole issue seems terribly important. Not least because so many people
(post-Honigmann, and the famous conference) are getting absorbed by the
question of whether Shakespeare was ONCE (in those romantically-named
"lost years") a Roman Catholic. Might the critically interesting answer
be, of course he was, once-for a while!--before he, like Donne, Ben
Jonson, William Chillingworth, and countless others beyond those
overlapping circles, gave it up?

Isn't it the case that in Shakespeare's tragedies Christianity often
figures as a source of further terror, but never-ever-as a source of
consolation? How do we explain that?

Cheers,
Graham Bradshaw

Re: Winters Tale and the Bear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2043  Monday, 22 November 1999.

[1]     From:   Peter Hyland <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:29:52 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.2021 Re: Winters Tale and the Bear

[2]     From:   John Savage <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:51:19 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 10.2007 Re: Winters Tale and the Bear


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Hyland <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:29:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 10.2021 Re: Winters Tale and the Bear
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2021 Re: Winters Tale and the Bear

For clear theatrical reasons it has always seemed to me that THE
WINTER'S TALE demands a man in a bear suit at this point, and one who is
as creakily obvious as possible. This is, after all, the pivotal moment
that turns a tragedy of jealousy into pastoral romance, underscored by
the immediate switch from verse to prose. The play reminds us again of
its own artifice through the figure of Time in the scene that follows.
The Clown's description of the bear devouring Antigonus would surely be
rather less comic and much harder to take if he had been pursued by a
real bear than if he had been pursued by a man in a pantomime outfit.

Peter Hyland

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Savage <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:51:19 -0500
Subject: Re: Winters Tale and the Bear
Comment:        SHK 10.2007 Re: Winters Tale and the Bear

Melissa Aaron wrote:

>There are three plays with bears in them <

Do you mean Shakespeare plays?

Re: Who was fighting

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2041  Monday, 22 November 1999.

From:           David Skeele <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Nov 1999 12:14:07 -0400
Subject: 10.2037 Who was fighting?
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.2037 Who was fighting?

>Having recently read Much Ado About Nothing again, I am wondering on
>what basis some other readers have concluded that the battle the men are
>returning from (in Act 1) was between forces for Don Pedro and forces
>for Don John? I hope I'm not being dense, but I don't see that indicated
>in the text. I am, of course, noting Leonato's comment that the brothers
>have recently been reconciled? Does that make them the combatants?

As the person who started all the trouble with my comment on this, I
probably should respond.  No, there is nothing specific in the text that
I see which dictates that the war has been between the Dons, and in fact
it is almost NEVER handled this way in production.  Usually, a director
interested in transposing the play to a particular historical period
uses some major historical battle to dictate the time period.  However,
there is nothing in the text to indicate that the battle was NOT between
Don Pedro and Don John, and in fact it makes an awful lot of sense to
play it that way.  Otherwise, you have to celebrate the return home from
WWII, or whatever, and then conjure up some OTHER unnamed transgression
for which Don John is forgiven.  It also has the effect of casting
Leonato and Don Pedro in a very sympathetic light, as they would have to
be REALLY forgiving to let Don John off the hook for causing such
bloodshed, and as someone pointed out, this is something to be
considered if one's vision of the play is really dark.

David Skeele

Lords of the Rings

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2042  Monday, 22 November 1999.

From:           Dana Shilling <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:22:25 -0500
Subject:        Lords of the Rings

As a general rule, rings and other betrothal gifts and gifts of
affection have about the same longevity in Shakespeare as a new
girlfriend in a TV cop show (or the only black person in a horror
movie). They have a way of getting lost (with extremely negative
consequences, if handkerchiefs) or given away, often for bad reasons
(Bertram's purported use of his ancestral ring to seduce Diana,
Shylock's ring bartered for a monkey). We don't know what happens to
Olivia's ring (TN II,ii) except that Malvolio won't take it back and
Viola doesn't want it.

Olivia must have had plenty of rings, because by V,i,153 the priest says
that her contract with Sebastian is "strength'ned by interchangement of
your rings"-i.e., each gave one to the other. Although I would suspect
Petruchio of carrying a wedding ring on the off-chance of encountering
an heiress, I don't think Sebastian would. I just hope the ring wasn't a
gift from Antonio.

So far, it looks as though the pattern is that rings are not successful
in establishing lasting same-sex relationships. However, the experience
of the OTHER Antonio is a mirror image. In effect, Bassanio surrenders
his wedding ring because he places the homosocial (whether or not
homosexual) relationship higher than the more socially sanctioned
heterosexual marriage relationship.

"Keeping safe Nerissa's ring" is, as you'd expect of Gratiano, a crude
dirty joke-but at least in Yorkshire (see Reginald Hill's Dalziel and
Pascoe detective stories), "ring" is an anal rather than a vaginal
reference. Presumably also in Stephen King's Maine, where "ringmeat" is
a favored intramale insult.

Dana (Shilling)

War & Lechery

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2040  Monday, 22 November 1999.

From:           Dana Shilling <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 19 Nov 1999 11:07:18 -0500
Subject:        War & Lechery

The other day I was musing (not on virginity, however) about the
similarity between Helena and Angelo, not only as participants (although
one as instigator, one as victim) in bed tricks, or characters in plays
probably written at about the same time, but as "dedicated" (in the
computer sense) sexual obsessives. That is, each has an uncharacteristic
obsession with one particular person, rather than being lecherous as a
character trait.

Then I realized that I couldn't think of any Shakespearean character who
is shown or even reliably reported to engage in promiscuous sex-yet one
would think this a reliable source of comedy. There are innumerable
cuckoldry jokes, but few about skirt-chasers or their female
counterparts.

Even Hamlet doesn't think Gertrude is having inappropriate sex with
anyone except Claudius. Parolles does describe Bertram as "very ruttish"
and "a whale to virginity," and Lucio calls the Duke a bastard-rearer
and beggar-snogger, but you can't trust either of them. There doesn't
seem to be any evidence for Berowne to call Rosaline a whitely wanton
who will do the deed although watched by Argus. Cressida loves Troilus
and has good pragmatic reasons for securing Diomedes as protector. It
has been remarked that Falstaff's motives in "Merry Wives" are far more
financial than sexual...and too much sack keeps you out of the sack if
you see what I mean, and I think you do.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more,
Dana (Shilling)

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