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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: July ::
Re: Shakespeare as Bible
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1370  Monday, 10 July 2000.

[1]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Jul 2000 10:15:58 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1359 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

[2]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Friday, 07 Jul 2000 08:28:50 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 11.1367 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 8 Jul 2000 21:38:18 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1335 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

[4]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 Jul 2000 18:46:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1351 Re: Shakespeare as Bible


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Jul 2000 10:15:58 -0400
Subject: 11.1359 Re: Shakespeare as Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1359 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

Gary Taylor's book Reinventing Shakespeare has been cited at least twice
in this thread, but I think his more useful essay here would be
"Bardicide" (in *Shakespeare and Cultural Traditions,* edited by Kishi,
Pringle, and Wells, University of Delaware Press, 1994). In this essay,
the bard who suffers bardicide is not Shakespeare but Cinna the Poet in
Julius Caesar--at the hands of the plebian mob who don't appreciate his
status. Of Shakespeare's construction of this scene, Taylor writes, "To
tell the truth boldly, the more I think about Shakespeare's scene, the
less I like it. It is wrong historically, it is wrong morally; it was
wrong then, it is still wrong now." In the course of the argument,
Taylor notes other poets--including Shakespeare's contemporaries--who
have been the losers to bardolatry: Nashe, Marston, Middleton. Of
course, as the editor of the forthcoming Oxford Middleton, Taylor is not
a disinterested commentator.  Still, his argument helps me to examine
the cultural problems of having "Shakespeare as Bible."

As part of this thread,

>Carol Barton makes what she thinks is a "risky statement"
>
>>If Shakespeare had not written _Lear_, _Hamlet_, _Macbeth_, and
>>_Merchant of Venice_ and _R&J_ and _Taming of THE Shrew_, we might not
>>pay as much attention to _The Tempest_ and _MSN_ and _As You Like It_
>>and _Troilus_ and _Coriolanus_  and _Timon_

One could observe that a similar question could be raised of the Bible
itself. Compared to the gospels, how much attention do the Chronicles or
Haggai or Zephaniah get or merit? Indeed, Carol doesn't mention the one
play I haven't seen mentioned more than five times since I joined the
list 18 months ago, Pericles.

And Larry Weiss responds to Carol,

>I think this is a rather obvious point -- but not without interest --
>and not at all risky.  I have long pondered the question of when in his
>career Shakespeare became *SHAKESPEARE* the Olympian figure towering
>like a colossus over the whole of world literature.

Perhaps the right play for grounding this discussion would be Romeo and
Juliet. My guess is that it is (and has been) the most-read and
most-performed bad Shakespeare play. One may easily explain its appeal
without adequately explaining its cultural significance/status. Wouldn't
it be easy to list a bunch of plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries that
are better than Romeo and Juliet, including perhaps Ford's
transformation 'Tis Pity She's a Whore? What would have to happen for
more high schoolers to read The Maid's Tragedy than Romeo and Juliet?

Jack Heller

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 07 Jul 2000 08:28:50 -0700
Subject: Re: Shakespeare as Bible
Comment:        SHK 11.1367 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

Hi Ken.

> Good grief, Mike.  What has inspired you to assert such a judgmental
> dismissal of so crucial a text as 'The Woman's Prize'?

Not difficult to explain.  I've read it twice and think it is a really
bad play.  I used to wonder why some enterprising festival didn't revive
it along with Shrew.  Then I read it.  I gather you feel differently.
I'm interested to know why.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 8 Jul 2000 21:38:18 -0400
Subject: 11.1335 Re: Shakespeare as Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1335 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

Mike Jensen asks:

"Can't we do both?  Can't we acknowledge that a set of circumstances
lent themselves to turning this playwright into the sweet swan of Avon,
yet also acknowledge that some of us find a fascination and challenge in
his work that exceeds that of most other artists? "

It seems to me that the stricture that we can't do both comes now only
from the anti-historicist side of the new wave of debate.  Purely
aestheticist critics, or those who claim that such a thing is possible,
always include an anti-historicist claim as to the "right" way to read
poetry, while, on the other hand, there is nothing in historicist
criticism that prevents making use of aesthetic and structural elements
in developing a reading of literary works.

While these antipoststructuralist New New Critics frequently complain
that historicist reading in some way corrupts a "true" reading of
literature by imposing considerations that are "outside," it is in fact
they who impose an ahistoricist reading that would have been
unintelligible to early and premodern literati.  In other words, their
claim to escape the imposition of anachronistic principles of reading
conceals the very anachronism of their supposed ahistoricism.  But in
fact, as the simple example of changing word definitions such as
"presently" illustrates, there is no such thing as a reading that does
not, at least minimally, depend on knowledge of history.  There are only
those that labor to conceal that dependence under a phantom of "pure
aesthetics" which approaches a mystical concept and is currently the
most influential form of "bardolatry."

Helen Vendler's study of key words in the sonnets was a revelation to
me, but it is attached to an ideology that explicitly rejects the
"jaundiced reading" of postmodern criticism.  I join Mikey in asking,
then, why can't we do both?  Why shouldn't the investigation of
structure be made use of in developing a "complete" rather than a "true"
reading that shows the relevance of the structure of literary works to
the structure of culture and history?  As an historicist, I tend to
surmise that political forces are ultimately at work in this attitude of
repression and concealment.  But I don't object if, while I am pursuing
an understanding of these forces, other scholars are pursuing a better
understanding of aesthetics.

Clifford Stetner

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 Jul 2000 18:46:56 -0400
Subject: 11.1351 Re: Shakespeare as Bible
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1351 Re: Shakespeare as Bible

Se

 

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