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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0051  Wednesday, 10 January 2001

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Jan 2001 11:41:28 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Jack Lynch <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 9 Jan 2001 18:05:56 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Moira Russell <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Jan 2001 19:06:03 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespea


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Jan 2001 11:41:28 -0600
Subject: 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

From  Terence Hawkes:

>Don Bloom tells us that 'Johnson was not only remarkably learned but had
>tremendous insights'. Such as his remarkably learned conclusion that in
>Shakespeare's day, the English were still struggling to emerge from
>barbarity, and that Shakespeare found the English stage in a state of
>'the utmost rudeness . . . Neither character nor dialogue were yet
>understood'?  Or his tremendous insight that 'imperial tragedy' is
>always less powerful when performed than when read?

The "learned conclusion" about the barbarity of the Englizabethans may
seem wrong to us, but had been a received truth for about a century.

As to the lack of understanding of character and dialogue before
Shakespeare's writing, is Terence suggesting that his work did not
represent a significance advance in development of character and writing
of dialogue, or that Johnson is exaggerating too much when he equates a
lesser skill in these with a complete lack of understanding?

Finally, if what Johnson saw in the theater were productions of
"imperial tragedy" that used those awful revised texts with actors whose
technique was bombastic, then he was doubtless correct.

On the other hand, I always find plenty to disagree with when I read
Johnson -- sometimes violently. You just have to think about why.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Lynch <
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Date:           Tuesday, 9 Jan 2001 18:05:56 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

Terence Hawkes writes:

    Don Bloom tells us that 'Johnson was not only remarkably
    learned but had tremendous insights'. Such as his
    remarkably learned conclusion that in Shakespeare's day,
    the English were still struggling to emerge from
    barbarity . . . ?  Or his tremendous insight that
    'imperial tragedy' is always less powerful when performed
    than when read?

I confess I don't see Professor Hawkes's point.  "Learned and
insightful" doesn't imply every word he wrote was Gospel truth; Johnson,
like every other critic since criticism began, had his blind spots and
perversities, some his own, some shared with his contemporaries.  Surely
that's not news.

Still less does "learned and insightful" imply Johnson should agree with
our own opinions and our own blind spots and perversities.  "What a
curious vanity it is of the present to expect the past to suck up to
it.  The present looks back at some great figure of an earlier century
and wonders, Was he on our side?  Was he a goodie?  What a lack of
self-confidence this implies" (Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot, p.
130).

It's easy to pick out passages that seem wrong-headed to us in a Preface
of 18,000 words and many thousands of textual and explanatory notes:
it's shooting fish in a barrel.  Is there a critic who lived more than
half a century ago who'd make for more challenging sport?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moira Russell <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Jan 2001 19:06:03 -0700
Subject: 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0045 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

Not to mention Johnson's profound insight that oatmeal was something fed
to horses in Britain but which sustained the population in the Hebrides.

<wink>

Moira Russell
Seattle, WA
 

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