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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0764  Wednesday, 4 April 2001

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Mar 2001 21:38:01 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

[2]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Saturday, 31 Mar 2001 08:35:53 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

[3]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Mar 2001 12:59:26 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Shakespeare-as-Barrier

[4]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Sunday, 1 Apr 2001 11:48:38 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Mar 2001 21:38:01 -0500
Subject: 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

> why the newby
> language, e.g., problematize, essentialize? Who translated these texts?
> What types of people avoid clarity? (bad priests and dictators is the
> correct answer) > Kezia Vanmeter Sproat

Leaving aside the question of whether what Deepak Chokra is marketing is
Indian culture which I doubt, I would suggest first that every new human
intellectual endeavor, from Plato to Einstein, has employed newby
language.  The need for new sciences arises from the insufficiency of
existing terms to treat ideas arising from newly acquired insights.  You
might describe Einstein filling five blackboards with mathematical
expressions, some of which he had to invent himself as avoiding clarity,
or you might describe it as pursuing clarity.  Every literary theorist
is not Einstein, but neither is all specialized language merely
mystifying.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
http://phoenix.liu.edu/~cstetner/cds.html

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Saturday, 31 Mar 2001 08:35:53 -0800
Subject: 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

With regard to Shakespeare as smasher of as opposed to gateway to other
cultures, it is a tribute to the subject perhaps that he/it can be seen
in such contrasting ways. Although I'm still not quite sure what
Terrence Hawkes had in mind, it may be to the point that Francis Bacon
felt quite passionately that Aristotle was being used by the scholastics
more as a set of chains than a path to enlightenment.

I suppose I should have said that Shakespeare "can be" a gateway to the
other cultures of the world, rather than "is." I should not project my
own experience onto others. As I've expressed here before, my
introduction to Shakespeare was far better than that of a bored high
school kid forced to read him for grades by a teacher as bored as
herself. I was taken to see Olivier's Hamlet by my parents when I was
eleven and left the movie theater in a daze. I had not known until then
that language could "do that." At home that night after the film, what
luck that my parents had the complete works bound separately, and what a
rush to find that Hamlet was at least twice as long and ten times as
rich as it was on the screen. Many others, including a young man on this
list and the prisoners discussed in a recent post, have found him a
similar gateway, if not in exactly the same way.

By gateway I mean that finding such riches in Shakespeare's often
difficult language, difficult not only because it's four hundred years
old, but also because he's often ambiguous and digressive (and also
because he tries to express things that only great poets and
philosophers dare even to think about) encouraged me to consider that
with other things as well, including science and eastern religions,
difficulty might be a clue that, with a little effort, riches were to be
found. Which has in fact proven to be the case.

As a middle class American, bred to a relatively restricted use of
language, a good description of my first experience of Shakespeare is
best expressed by Emily Dickenson: "Bred as we among the mountains, can
the sailor understand, the divine intoxication of the first league out
from land." Other vessels than Shakespeare can take us out of ourselves,
but his is good and true and has so transported many more than myself
from the narrow confines of many other kinds of mountains, confines not
only of language, but of thought, and that which lies beyond thought,
beyond expression.

Stephanie Hughes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Mar 2001 12:59:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Shakespeare-as-Barrier

Terrence Hawkes' remarks certainly set off something of a storm, but the
example provided of an English-educated Hindu doctor at Harvard, who
only knows Shakespeare until he gets to the US, seems especially
instructive.  If you keep the wogs busy memorizing _Merchant of Venice_
they won't have time to muddy their heads with stuff from their own
culture.

True, sacred texts from other cultures are now readily available here,
but it is an open question whether exposure to our culture via
Shakespeare is intended as cultural exchange, or as cultural
brainwashing.  Depends on whether the curriculum is broad or narrow, and
I get the impression there were times when schools in India were quite
narrow indeed.  Are they still?

On the other hand, consider places like Northern California in the
1850's, where prospectors apparently had only two books to hand, the
Bible and the works of Shakespeare.  If Edwin Booth's account is any
indication, your chances of survival among 'hicks' if you tried to
improvise your way through the Bard's work were nil.  They'd catch you
with your pentameter down and throw stuff at you.  Cultural transmission
comes in all shapes and sizes, often with surprising results...

Andy White

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Sunday, 1 Apr 2001 11:48:38 -0500
Subject: Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        SHK 12.0726 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

Dear Stephanie Hughes,

You ask  'Who are these "bearers" and how have they used Shakespeare as
a "massive barrier" against the great cultures of the world as they
"stamp" them out?'

Historically, the most effective bearers of modern English-speaking
culture have probably been the bayonet and the Gatling gun. The British
colonial project aimed initially to impose a set of British
presuppositions and priorities on native languages and cultures by
force. The suggestion that the high road to more effective subjugation
might lie, less expensively, in a programme of co-option and enlistment
--the idea, as someone put it, that a teacher is worth a squad of
dragoons-- involves the notion of barriers and policing, not release and
opening. You can hear it surfacing in Lord Macaulay's speech in the
House of Commons in 1833, where he comments on 'how rapidly the public
mind of India is advancing, how much attention is already paid by the
higher classes of the natives to those intellectual pursuits on the
cultivation of which the superiority of the European race principally
depends.' If, as he later put it, 'To trade with civilised men is
infinitely more profitable than to govern savages', then the obvious
stratagem must be to propagate 'that literature before the light of
which impious and cruel superstitions are fast taking flight on the
banks of the Ganges . . . And, wherever British literature spreads, may
it be attended by British virtue and British freedom!' The result was a
flood of examinations in the new academic subject called 'English',
spearheaded by Shakespeare, for the recruitment of Britons into the
Indian civil service: a development warmly supported by Matthew Arnold
amongst others. Meanwhile, to quote Chris Baldick, the report of the
East India Company in 1855 had decided 'that knowledge of the languages,
customs, and economy of the natives themselves was not to be required of
their prospective rulers, since this could be learned by the successful
candidates while waiting to catch the boat'. Broadly similar educational
programmes involving Shakespeare and designed to obliterate  'impious
and cruel superstitions' no doubt pertained in respect of Africa, the
Middle East, Malaya, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere.
Wholesale cultural and linguistic cleansing had of course long ago been
brutally undertaken nearer home in Wales, Ireland and --interestingly--
in areas of England itself where many a rough-hewn Caliban has felt the
cutting edge of Prospero's plan. It is, of course, comforting to reflect
that they order these things differently in the United States.

Needless to say, I'm not the originator of these ideas nor the first to
make observations of this sort. Work by Terry Eagleton, Edward Said,
Margaret Mathieson, Homi Bhabha, Chris Baldick, and many others is
entirely relevant. Gauri Viswanathan's 'Masks of Conquest: Literary
Study and British Rule'  (London: Faber, 1990) is especially
interesting. It's worth remembering that two years after the East India
Company's report, the Indian Mutiny (as it was called) erupted.  J. G.
Farrell's wonderful novel about it, 'The Siege of Krishnapur' (1973),
teases out some of the ironies implicit in the notion of Shakespeare as
a cultural 'weapon' in a scene where the British, besieged in the
Residency, discover that they have run out of ammunition.  Hastily
improvising, they cut off the heads of a number of statuettes of
literary worthies for use in their muskets:

' . . . of the heads, perhaps not surprisingly, the most effective of
all had been Shakespeare's; it had scythed its way through a whole
astonished platoon of sepoys advancing in single file through the
jungle. The Collector suspected that the Bard's success in this respect
might have a great deal to do with the ballistic advantages stemming
from his baldness.  The head of Keats, for example, wildly festooned
with metal locks which it had proved impossible to file smooth, had
flown very erratically indeed, killing only a fat money-lender and a
camel standing at some distance from the field of action.'

Given all this, your own assessment that 'Shakespeare is the magnificent
doorway to the modern English speaking culture, and through it, to the
rest of the great cultures of the world, past and present' struck me as
a touch unfocused. You can't separate 'Shakespeare' from the uses to
which the plays are put. To attempt to do so is only to use them in a
particular way.  Of course, cultures survive and flourish, even under
the colonial knout.  But I'd be more inclined to say that, in certain
crucial cases, the transmission of some of  'the great cultures of the
world' has been in spite of, rather than because of the Bard.

Terence Hawkes

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