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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: August ::
Re: Is this British
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1395  Monday 9 August 1999.

From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Aug 1999 20:01:04 -0400
Subject: 10.1380 Is this British?
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1380 Is this British?

I would like to offer a retraction.  On closer reading, I believe that
Capulet's conceit that Juliet will stand "in reckoning none" imports
that she is beyond reckoning not beneath reckoning as the other uses of
the proverb cited signify.  Other scenes in the play make it clear that
Capulet strongly wishes Paris to marry his daughter, and so, with the
unlikely alternative of undue modesty, he must be praising her as a
nonpareil.  This contrasts with Benvolio's earlier argument with Romeo:

At this same ancient feast of Capulet's
Sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so lov'st;
With all the admired beauties of Verona.
Go thither, and with unattainted eye
Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow. I.ii.86

Which brings me to the realization that a piece of text does not
necessarily contain within itself all the information necessary to
decode it.  To stand in no reckoning or no one's reckoning is an
ambiguous figure.  If someone said it to you might wonder whether you
had been flattered or insulted.  Only recourse to evidence outside the
immediate context is able to imbue the lines with a determinate meaning.

The movement of twentieth century criticism away from the search for
historical allusion is related more to political conflicts within the
academy than to the consensus that such allusions (if present and
discoverable) are of no value to the decoding of Shakespeare's texts.
Specific allusions, of course, make reference to authorial
intentionality, which is an issue that postmodern critics have (in my
view, unsuccessfully) tried to dance around since Foucault.  The death
of the author seems to me to be a metaphysical exercise which denies the
most obvious truths about the nature of literature, truths upon which
even postmodernist criticism somewhat hypocritically depends.

Certainly British cultural materialism, like American New Historicism is
a form of "contemporary interpretation," but there is a line drawn
between textual and personal allusions that seems to me artificial and
at variance with the principle of heterogeneity of interpretation
valorized by postmodernists.

Actual allusions in Shakespeare may "seem very limited" if limited to
Banquo as James, but Hamlet as James, or Hamlet as Luther (a 20th
century North American contemporary personal interpretation), would be
extremely far reaching if accepted.  If not accepted they provide
Americans with an access to the study of British history which we did
not get in public school.  My own interest in Shakespeare is based
largely on a perception of Elizabethan England as a defining moment in
the cultural and political genealogy of America, and I do not see the
value of dismissing any information that might bring this moment into
clearer focus.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
C.W. Post College
www.columbia.edu/~fs10/cds.htm

Brian Haylett asked:
>
>This group has lately carried a lot of speculation on the relationship
>of elements in the plays and sonnets to facets of Elizabethan life and
>society.  ... Of course Shakespeare writes
>from the experience of his own society but actual allusion seems very
>limited: such things as Banquo and James I, Mistress Mall, perhaps Dr
>Lopez, just possibly Richard II as Elizabeth. The sonnets are obviously
>a special case, but even so, speculation in established English
>criticism this century has been rare, to say the least. Even A. L. Rowse
>was Cornish, for goodness' sake! And before him, you are off to the
>Irish Wilde.
>
>So a hypothesis to destroy: the personal contemporary interpretation is
>a North American phenomenon. What should we make of it, if true?  Is it
>also evident in academic journals?
>
>With miching mallecho,
>Brian Haylett
>Caister-on-Sea
 

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