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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: April ::
Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0817  Tuesday, 10 April 2001

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Apr 2001 16:10:40 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0764 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 06:39:00 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.0795 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

[3]     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 17:28:36 +0300 (IDT)
        Subj:   SHK 12.0764 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Apr 2001 16:10:40 -0400
Subject: 12.0764 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0764 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

I agree, probably not surprisingly, with Terence Hawkes' insistence that
Shakespeare's value as cultural bridge should not be separated from the
uses of his work (especially by 19th c British imperialism) as weapon of
cultural hegemony, but I also endorse his qualification that this is so
"in certain crucial cases," ostensibly depending on its use and the
motives of its users.

Terence may be familiar with Jameson's claim that European (esp. French)
postmodernist anti dialecticism is a reaction to a highly centralized
form of leftist politics which continually threatened to emerge as
Stalinism, but that the situation in America is just the opposite.
While "totalizing" dialectics may be anti revolutionary in an
excessively centralized revolutionary culture like France, and so needs
to be critiqued through a greater emphasis on difference and
heterogeneity, the American left, since the sixties, has become
excessively fragmented in separate movements of Marxism, feminism,
multiculturalism, etc. and thereby has lost any political efficacy.
Jameson suggests that a greater emphasis on dialectical materialism
might therefore be politically constructive in America even though it
had become counterproductive in Europe.

I think an analogy can be made to the reading of Shakespeare.  Being
taught since the third grade to beatify the treasonous terrorists and
saboteurs of the American Revolution, I can not read Shakespeare's
apparent panegyric to the divine right of British monarchs in quite the
same light as it must be read in a culture still conflicted in its
attitudes towards its own royals.  The potential use of Shakespeare to
support reactionary political attitudes of cultural superiority presents
little danger (I think) in America, as he is less a representative of
our own hegemonic culture (although certainly to some extent) than of
the obsolete political culture out of which our Republic evolved.
Simply put, Shakespeare is not really "our" bard, and reading his texts
is in itself a kind of multiculturalism.  Moreover, while Hollywood
continually co-opts his name and fame into its corporate capitalist
ideological apparatus, there is a difference between the study of
literary texts and paying ten dollars to see a Disney cartoon adaptation
of Midsummer Night's Dream.

The most serious political problem we are facing in America (I believe)
is the crashing literacy rates of the working class.  A study last week
put less than half of fourth graders (ten year olds, an age considered
to be a watershed of literacy development) at grade level.  When broken
down by race and class, the disparities between best and worst grow even
more extreme.  The worst performing students were also shown to watch an
average of six hours of television a day!

While the reinforcement of the historical canon of great English
literature has ideological underpinnings which can be politically
reactionary, I believe the greater danger is in ignorance of that canon
and its ideologies.  All of our political and civil rights still depend
on the interpretation of written texts (in their historical contexts),
and the decreasing ability of American children, especially those with
the least economic power to protect their rights and interests, to
effectively decode these texts seems to me far more reinforcing of
hegemonic power than any appreciation of the value of literary studies.

Even the banning of Mein Kampf from sale on the Internet seems to me
wrongheaded in this respect.  What message is really sent when we tell
children to nevermind what Hitler said: we say it was evil, but that the
weight of his ideas is such that it might give rise to doubts about the
evils of fascism?  Furthermore, there seems to be little doubt expressed
on this list that a simple reading of Shakespeare as panegyric is not
really supported by the texts themselves which are fraught with
ambiguities and most of all serious questions of cultural principles and
values.  The problem then is not in the texts but in ourselves.  What is
counterrevolutionary in one context may be revolutionary in another, and
we should, through debate, force the users of Shakespeare to give
account of their motives.

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 06:39:00 -0400
Subject: Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        SHK 12.0795 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

Marcus Dahl writes,

'I would dearly like to see the official English government documents
which indicate that the teaching of Shakespeare in Schools anywhere/time
before the twentieth century was stipulated, specified or mandatory.'

In 1855, the Civil Service of the East India Company outlined plans
under the provisions of the government's India Act of 1853 to institute
a set of competitive examinations for prestigious administrative posts.
Listing appropriate subjects for examination, the relevant committee
wrote that 'Foremost among these subjects we place our own language and
literature'. Chris Baldick argues that the provisions of the India Act
accordingly became '. . .  an important precedent, officially (sic.)
encouraging the study of English literature for the good of the empire'
(Baldick, 'The Social Mission of English Criticism, Oxford 1983, p. 70).
Courses in English literature involving Shakespeare were certainly
taught in many schools and universities well before the twentieth
century. In University College London, for example, the literature
examination for the year 1854-55 firmly specifies the presence of the
Bard on the syllabus and includes questions such as

'Turn into prose the following passage from Hamlet, arranging the words
so as to make the syntax and meaning  more obvious.'

and

'In the following passage (Hamlet addressing the Ghost) explain the
phrases 'fools of nature', 'shake our disposition' and 'reaches of our
souls'; and state in what respect the whole passage . . . is to be
regarded as characteristic of Shakespeare's habitual manner of thinking
and feeling.' (Cited by Linda Ferreira-Buckley in Robert Crawford, ed.,
'The Scottish Invention of English Literature' Cambridge, 1998 pp.
191-2).

We presentists have come a long way.

T. Hawkes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Apr 2001 17:28:36 +0300 (IDT)
Subject: Re: Bard Bade Goodbye
Comment:        SHK 12.0764 Re: Bard Bade Goodbye

>Stephanie Hughes concludes 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.'  Eh?  My impression
>is that the bearers of 'modern English speaking culture' have not
>infrequently tried their best to stamp out some of the great cultures of
>the world, past and present. And far from acting as a magnificent
>doorway to them, Shakespeare has often been employed as a massive
>barrier against them.
>
>Terence Hawkes

That T. Hawkes loses some of his well acknowledged intellectual rigor
when addressing a deeply felt subject attests to his humanity.

Still, I find disturbing the use of his Sepoy citation (which I decline
to recopy).  The story is just an allegorical rendering of his thesis,
that Shakespeare is used to destroy other cultures, and,
parenthetically, is more effective in doing so than, say, Keats because
it translates more smoothly.  His invocation of sepoys as human bowling
pins in a "funny" story does not tickle my sense of humour. It seems to
me, rather, to be a tasteless expression of that cultural imperialism he
wishes to decry.

I would also question the examples he brings of great cultures, unless
he means to say that all cultures are great.  Great cultures lived and
died without immolating wives with their dead husbands, without
glorifying juggernauts, and without institutionalizing untouchability.
And I would also question his pointing the finger at the British civil
service as a nefarious agent. I would submit, for example that the
suppression of aboriginal culture began with in recent human history
with Rome, in occupied Celtic Britain as elsewhere. I think an argument
could be made that the British presence in India may have helped
preserve the indigenous culture by interposing itself between
destabilizing influences that threatened cultural continuity as well as
commerce. Angkor Wat reverted to the jungle without British help, and
the Taliban didn't inherit their iconoclastic tendencies from the Raj.

I don't want to speak for Stephanie Hughes, and her prose may have a
touch of the purple, but I think her theme might be approached from the
standpoint of Shakespeare adopted rather than imposed.  The observation
that Berlioz the Frenchman and  Verdi the Italian for two had enough
fascination with Shakespeare to put his plays to music in their
respective idioms, with enough sensitivity that their work can be
enjoyed, (how weak words can be) back in Covent Garden can be answered
with the argument that we are not dealing here with separate cultures.

But the Japanese Kurosawa used Shakespeare as a seed and sent us back,
as through a warp in space-time, uniquely Japanese gardens in his
renderings of Shakespearean themes and structures. I don't think Hughes'
bi-directional metaphor of "doorway" is that far out.

Hawkes, in expounding on putative British cultural imperialism, points
out:

>Needless to say, I'm not the originator of these ideas nor the first to
>make observations of this sort.

Quite so!

Some 120 years ago the Lord High Executioner of Titipu had already made
a little list of persons who "would not be missed", including

" ..... the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,  All centuries
but this, and every country but his own;"

This from the pen of W.S. Gilbert whose anti-establishment credentials
are impeccable.

Best wishes,
Syd Kasten

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