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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Tragic Hero
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1141  Wednesday, 16 May 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 09:07:40 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

[2]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 13:08:31 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

[3]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 14:16:20 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

[4]     From:   Stevie Gamble <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 17:51:36 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

[5]     From:   Paul Swanson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 18:41:55 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

[6]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 May 2001 21:01:23 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 09:07:40 -0700
Subject: 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

Have you read Graham Bradshaw's books?  I am in such awe of them, that I
here disagree with him with much trepidation.  A couple of days ago he
wrote:

>The story of the bond comes from one source, pretty intact
>though changed.  Why did Shakespeare want to add the caskets

I question this rather provocative, Zen like question.  It assumes
Shakespeare started with the bond story, instead of the casket story.
Can we know Shakespeare didn't begin with the casket story, and add the
bond story to it?  Does starting with one, either one, then grafting on
the other, lead to different interpretations of this play?  For that
matter, how do we know he wasn't working on two different plays based on
the different sources.  When neither worked, he combined them?

No, I'm not seriously suggesting that.  I'm trying to make the point
that we don't know, and the answers to some of these questions are
probably not recoverable.  My own method when thinking through sources
is to note both what Shakespeare kept, and what he changed.  I further
note that among the things he changed was making Morocco a dark skinned
man, and Launcelot getting the Moor with child.  He went out of his way
to do this, even though neither Morocco's color, nor Launcelot's girl
friend really figure in the plot.  (Rereading this, I worded it badly.
I don't remember Launcelot being in any of the sources.  I didn't mean
to imply that he was, only that Shakespeare add the Moore for a reason.)

I can't conceive that the play is not about race, given this, plus all
the racial slurs and comments.  I also can't conceive it being only, or
even mostly, about race.  I THINK Professor Bradshaw's question was
designed to get us thinking about bonds, law, promises, and variations
on that theme.  Quite right too.  The narrative structure, I'm big on
narrative structure, flows that way even more strongly than it flows
racially.

I'll be glad if anyone makes suggestions on how I can improve my
methodology.  IF I really do disagree with Professor Bradshaw, I don't
disagree with a man of his learning lightly.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 13:08:31 -0400
Subject: 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

Two rather disparate responses to two of today's posts.

The first actually follows up Mike Jensen's comments on the "critical
thinking" rejected by Hughes.  In fact, "critical thinking" as a term
has some rather specific meanings that go beyond "thinking like a
literary critic."

"Critical thinking" at least since the Bloom (not Harold!) of Taxonomy
fame, refers to "higher order thinking" (I'm using quotation marks to
isolate terminology, not as scare quotes).  Higher order thinking goes
above recognition and recall and even beyond application to refer to the
intellectual processes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  Hughes
rejects "critical thinking" as "and/or" thinking and calls for "and/and"
thinking in approaching MoV and Shakespeare.  In fact, since synthetical
thinking is precisely "and/and" thinking, "critical thinking" is what we
need to do.  I would suggest, further, that the danger in synthetical
thinking is ignoring critical analysis and evaluation of the "and/and"
which leads to attempting to accrete onto perfectly valid ideas the
barnacles of obsession.  (How badly mixed is that metaphor?)  As a
Toronto newspaper notes in its TV advertising, there are opinions, and
there are informed opinions. Which do you want?

Second, in response to Karen Peterson-Kranz's citing of C.S. Lewis's
commentary set me to thinking about how powerful the blood versus money
thematic thread in MoV is. I'd love to see further discussion about that
idea in relation to the interpersonal reactions of the characters...
Jessica vs her father, Portia vs Shylock in the courtroom, Portia about
her suitors.

That thread interests me as much as the idea of the play being a
subversive commentary on all aspects of religion.

The one thing it seems to me that MoV simply cannot be is a discourse on
the Jew in the world of Shakespeare... for there were no Jews (well,
except for Lopez) in that world.

Mari Bonomi

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 14:16:20 -0400
Subject: 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

Karen Peterson-Kranz offers an important quote from C.S. Lewis, part of
which I wish to comment on:

"A good example of the kind of play which can be twisted out of
recognition by character criticism is the *Merchant of Venice*.  Nothing
is easier than to disengage and condemn the mercenary element in
Bassanio's original suit to Portia, to point out that Jessica was a bad
daughter, and by dwelling on Shylock's wrongs to turn him into a tragic
figure.  The hero thus becomes a scamp, the heroine's love for him a
disaster, the villain a hero, the last act an irrelevance, and the
casket story a monstrosity.  What is not explained is why anyone should
enjoy such a depressing and confused piece of work."

Lewis is a perfect example of what Stanley Fish has called "the
Anglo-American fetish to limit and control the meanings of texts."
There is NO reason why character criticism is "off limits" in MV, except
that Lewis wants it to be. Why would Shakespeare give Bassanio, Shylock,
and others psychologically realistic motives unless he wants us to take
note of them? Lewis just wants to discredit an interpretation that he
doesn't like -- to declare it out of bounds and somehow inherently
wrong. In doing so, he acts a lot like the smug, self-satisfied
Christians in the play.

The real critical issue in MV is the mixture of fairy tale and realism
throughout the play. That's what makes MV interesting and problematic.
Lewis seems to think that because MV is a comedy, it must be light and
joyous. Well, that's just not true. Is All's Well light and joyous? Is
Troilus and Cressida?  The mixing of elements leads to a mixing of
genres, which, in turn, leads to at least two ways of looking at the
play: it's mainly a fairy tale, or it's mainly a realistic story. I
favor the latter way of looking at MV, but I think the truth is that
romance and realism are mixed so that the audience can see the play as
they like it.

The story of the caskets IS a monstrosity!  Because two men who are
"outsiders" yearn to marry Portia, they must not only be humiliated but
also promise never to wed.  Talk about making sure that the "wrong kind"
don't propagate!  (What kind of a man was Portia's father? What kind of
daughter is she, really?) For my money, the fairy-tale element in MV is
a protective cover, under which Shakespeare exposes how the dominant
group in a culture makes sure that it stays dominant by using rituals,
symbols, and the law to "rig the game" from the start.

--Ed Taft

PS      I should add that Peterson-Kranz does not necessarily endorse
Lewis's quote, and thus my comments are NOT directed at her.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stevie Gamble <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 17:51:36 EDT
Subject: 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

>Clifford Stetner quite rightly points out that
>
>>No one, I believe, has addressed the question posed
>>by Graham Bradshaw:
>>
>>>The story of the bond comes from one source, pretty
>>intact
>>>though changed.  Why did Shakespeare want to add
>>the caskets
>>
>>which is also for me the center around which all of
>>the above issues are
>>tied together like a knot to form an overarching
>>theme.
>
>CS's analysis of how the folk tale narratives relate to Medieval and
>Renaissance allegory offers a valuable perspective.  The presence of
>allegorical patterns in Shakespeare has not (to my knowledge) been
>investigated much in recent criticism, and there is much still to be
>discovered.  I am not sufficiently well-versed in this area to offer a
>valid opinion; however, I recently re-read the following, which may
>relate: C.S. Lewis's brief remarks on MOV, in "Hamlet:
>The Prince or The Poem?" (Annual Shakespeare Lecture of the British
>Academy, 1942; reprinted in *They Asked For a Paper*, London 1962).
>Yes, it's old.  Yes, it's Lewis.  And I want to stress that I do not
>necessarily agree with Lewis's analysis.  But I found it interesting in
>light of this recent discussion.  Others may find it interesting as
>well, and as this address is not much anthologized, I will quote it
>below at some length:

Thank you for taking the trouble to provide this; as you have noted, it
is old, and it is Lewis, but that does not disqualify the text in any
way; what matters is the content.

It was written before much of what we now are aware of about the way
that usury doctrines developed, and the way that financial transactions
actually took place, had seen the light of day, and is, in any event, a
somewhat idiosyncratic version of Greek thought on the question. I won't
repeat the references I have given in earlier posts; scholars have
laboured hard and long in these particular vineyards, producing a view
which differs very greatly from Lewis' in many respects.

However, I still value this passage highly; there is not a word in it
about economic necessity, or market forces, or all the other rag tag and
bob-tail assertions so often resorted to by commentators who imagine
that by so doing they have explained the highly complex, and sometimes
inexplicable, ways in which societies and social structures may change.

And just as the historians currently working on matters Venetian have
recognised the wealth of material available to rediscover her, we
should, I think, try to familiarise ourselves with that work if we wish
to view Venice as it may have been viewed in the late 16th century by
Shakespeare and his audiences. Equally, an awareness that in medieval
texts, judaeus, judaei, and words derived from them, can and often did
have meanings other than Jew or Jews, in the strict sense of the terms,
both literally and figuratively, may inform our awareness that Shylock
is not a Jewish name in ways different to those recently noted here.
There was no single Catholic or Protestant or Muslim or Jewish take on
usury; there were a multiplicity of strands of thought which could
sometimes cross over in ways we might find surprising.  Add to that the
ambiguity of the Greek influence on Renaissance constructs of these
doctrines and we are a long way from a neat division into gold, silver
and lead.  I must thank you for the pure gold of an unfamiliar passage;
a pearl beyond price.

Best wishes
Stevie Gamble

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Swanson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 18:41:55 -0500
Subject: Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

Don Bloom wrote about "The Merchant of Venice" that:

"You could even argue that Antonio is a kind of Christ figure.  Probably
somebody has."

The University of Evansville, a nationally renowned college theatre
program did a stunning "Merchant" two or three years ago in which they
did precisely what Mr. Bloom suggests. Just as Shylock is about to
confiscate his pound of flesh from Antonio, Antonio laid down on the
floor, stretched his legs out but keeping his feet together, and then
extended his arms out away from his body, effectively making not only a
cross, but a distinct symbol of Christ ON the cross with a person of the
Jewish faith orchestrating his death.

What was ironic about this was that a select few Christians in the
audience objected to this image, apparently finding it a sacrilegious
and offensive use of a Christian symbol. That's an intriguing irony for
a play often condemned as anti-Semitic.

Paul Swanson

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 May 2001 21:01:23 -0700
Subject: 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1132 Re: Tragic Hero

>Don Bloom wrote:
>Re Stephanie on discussion: a lot depends on what you say and how you
>say it. If you make a suggestion or offer an idea in a conversational
>way, no one, I think, will object. They turn up here all the time. If
>you make an assertion or propound a theory, then you are obliged to
>offer sufficient evidence to make it worthy of discussion.

Agreed, which is what I thought I was doing with the post that caused
all the commotion.  At the risk of sounding defensive, I'm repeating the
offensive post below.

I well realize the subtle differences that phrasing can make in how a
comment is received, and am ready to hear suggestions of how I might
have phrased it so that my intent, to share an idea (hardly a theory),
would be taken as just that and no more.

At 9:16 AM -0700 4/11/01, Stephanie Hughes wrote:
>In considering Shakespeare's attitude towards Shylock and his
>purposes in dramatizing him as he did, it might be well to consider
>that the Protestant reformers regarded themselves to a great extent
>as the inheritors of the legacy of the original Jews of the Old
>Testament, a return to basics after the excesses of Rome. This was
>the beginning of what would become a sense of connection with the
>Old Testament Jews themselves, obdurate, chosen, beleaguered, not at
>all against lending money at interest, family centered, fond of
>wearing black, etc., that has lasted to the present day. The
>Protestant Reformers would quote OT scripture at the drop of a hat.
>We tend to consider only the imaginative literature published during
>that time, but it actually represents a very small percentage of the
>books and pamphlets published, both original and translations, most
>of which were Protestant sermons.
>
>Despite the fact (or what I see as a fact) that Shakespeare was one
>of the ultimate products of the English Protestant Reformation, he
>did not like the Puritans, who were, on occasion, likened to Jews by
>their enemies. It may be that with Shylock, Shakespeare is not so
>much bashing Jews as bashing Puritans by equating them with Jews,
>the traditional scapegoats of Christian society, whose putative
>faults had been imbibed by his audience with their mother's milk.
>After all, to the English of the late sixteenth century, Jews could
>hardly be seen as any sort of threat to the stability of their
>society, whereas Puritans were frequently seen by defenders of the
>status quo as a major threat.

Mike Jensen wrote:

>All Stephanie Hughes had to do was say, _You know, you're right. I did
>make a suggestion without backing it up. Possibly I'm right, and
>possibly wrong. I should find out before I assert it again._

Again, when Hardy tells me that his rules require that no comments be
made without the kind of citations required in books, articles, etc., I
will conform. Until then, I suggest you exercise your delete finger if
you don't like what I post.

>There is no difference in
>kind between saying that *MOV* is based, in part, on a real incident,
>than there is in saying Shakespeare was an alien sent to enlighten us
>with poetry from another galaxy. The difference, huge though it seems,
>is only in degree. Both ascertains are flawed because they are without
>substantiation.

Sometimes, Mike, I think you may be somewhat lacking in a sense of
humor.

Anyway, I said I'd get something to you by the fall. If in the process I
discover that my idea isn't worth the electricity to post it, I will
apologize with all due humility. Chances are, however, that I will be
pleased with the result and you will not.  Nevertheless, it's worth
doing, if only to please myself.

>  >>Is it likely that there were bed tricks, people sneaking into wives
>>>rooms to steal bracelets and look for moles, and ghosts going to
>>>their sons to request revenge? Why would *MOV* be more likely
>>>to be based on a real event than these incidents?
>
>Ms. Hughes replied:
>
>>Actually, there are indeed real incidents behind the first and last of
>>these that are to be found in the biography of He Who Must Not
>>be >Named. (Those who are interested in my reasons for saying this
>>are > welcome to post me off-list.)
>
>Proselytizing again. Oh, dear.
>
>There is no reason to go there. Ghosts demanding revenge? That didn't
>happen to de Vere, and you know it.

Not proselytizing at all.

I don't know whether they demanded revenge or not, but in 1580, in his
charges against Oxford, Henry Howard wrote that Oxford told great lies,
among them, "that Charles Tyrrell apperid to him with a whippe after he
was dead and his mother in a shete fortelling thinges to come . . ."
Charles Tyrrell was his stepfather. Not his real father, but probably
better known to him.  You can find this on Alan Nelson's website.

As for the bed trick, that this was connected in the popular mind with
Oxford is to be found in Wright's "History of Essex," 1.517 and "The
Traditional Memoires of the Reigns of Q. Elizabeth & King James I" by
Francis Osborne. This is from R.L. Miller's edition of "Shakespeare
Identified," 1.234. I can give you the exact quotes if you wish, and if
you need the name of the publishers and the dates of publication before
these constitute worthy citations, I would get them if I thought it
would make one iota of difference to you.

>You also SHOULD know that most of
>Shakespeare's stories are based on sources, which he sometimes even
>quotes or closely paraphrases, something you denied in a post a couple
>of years ago. *MOV* is an example of this, as I pointed out last week,
>and Stetner pointed out in his post on Monday. We know where many of
>Shakespeare's stories come from. Attributing them to life in not
>necessary. If you can show something in Shakespeare's life that is as
>convincing a parallel as the sources, we will have cause to be
>interested and grateful, but the source stories and histories are an
>adequate explanation.

Of course they are based on sources. Most of his plays are based on
multiple sources. As for me denying this years ago, I think we need some
citations here, some proof. Your record on faithfully quoting my past
responses is not so good that the reader should take you at your word.

I happen to think it makes a lot of sense that the plays were ALSO based
on current events and on incidents in his own life. The operative word
here is ALSO. Why you and others must have it that if a thing is one
thing it can't also and at the same time be another is beyond me.

>  >Then use them yourself and either ignore those who don't or politely
>>suggest how they might better make their points, and IF
>>they >continue to ignore you, THEN ignore them. Don't seek to damage
>>  either their self-esteem or the opinion in which others regard them.
>
>Isn't it more important to get the ideas right?

How can you be so certain that your ideas are the right ideas?

I lived next door to the Lamont Doherty Geological Observatory, a
division of Columbia University, during the '60s, at the time that the
truth of Continental Drift was forcing itself on the "right ideas" that
the Academy had "established" so absolutely until then. A few hundred
cores from the floors of the oceans of the world, and down tumbled that
particular Humpty Dumpty. I suggest that a more flexible posture would
be wise

>It is my belief that the reason the de Vere nonsense has gotten so out
>of hand is that Shakespeareans saw it as a harmless argument by silly
>people. Instead of pouncing on it and educating people decades ago, they
>spent their time doing more important work. The problem is that,
>unchecked, the conspiracy minded proliferated and made converts. One
>day, we looked up, found a stunning number of people unskilled in
>critical thinking believing specious arguments, and realized there was a
>price to pay for doing that more important work. Possibly that price was
>worth paying, but it was still a price.

"Nonsense." "Silly people." "Conspiracy minded." "Unskilled in critical
thinking." The same kind criticisms that the geologists who "knew" that
Continental Drift was lunacy levelled at its crazy proponents, pre-1965.

I'll use the advantage you've given me by bringing up the subject to
make just one point: why have intelligent readers, not all of them
silly, conspiracy minded or unskilled in critical thinking, been
unsatisfied with the Stratford biography for some two hundred years,
while no one has ever questioned the biographies of Ariosto, Lope de
Vega, Moliere, or any of Shakespeare's Continental counterparts?

Don't bother to answer. I promised Hardy I wouldn't open the debate,
that I'd only respond to provocation, and I promised myself I'd never
take it further than a single response, so if you want further argument,
please post me privately.

>With that in mind, I'll paraphrase your suggestion quoted above. "Don't
>stand up to people with specious ideas and arguments.  If they ignore
>your correction. Let them proliferate."
>
>No. I won't. Why should I? Why should anyone?
>
>>Of course the quotation is out of context, which I'm sure would
>>  reveal that the point I was making was that the function of
>>thinking, > sans modifier, is far more important to a search for
>>the truth than
>>  the modified version you call "critical" thinking.
>
>I never suggested you thought otherwise. You missed the point. You
>missed it again when you wrote:
>
>>Critical thinking is useful, but only when something needs
>>to be critiqued, that is, closely examined, compared with other
>>data, >ideas, etc. There may be many kinds of thinking, but
>>certainly an >important one is the opposite of the either/or of
>>critical thinking but >an "and/and" sort of thinking. It is out of
>>this kind of thinking that we >get the right questions. Without the
>>right questions, no amount of >critical thinking will find the
>>right answers. I happen to believe that in >the areas we discuss,
>>we've been asking a lot of wrong questions, or >even, no questions.
>
>Critical thinking, or as a logic professor I know once called it, logic
>without the math, is a tool for several things, including determining if
>you are asking the right questions, so I have you covered there. It is
>also how we keep from making the kinds of mistakes I suggest you are
>making when you assert that *MOV* has a source in life, without having a
>reason to back it up. Cute, how you changed the subject.  Changing it
>doesn't eliminate the critical thinking error.

I'll try putting it another way. There's holistic thinking and linear
thinking. We learn linear thinking (with the left brain) when we learn
to read and use numbers to add and subtract, but holistic thinking is
something that we're born knowing how to do. I think that sometimes when
kids are forced to learn linear thinking too soon, they try to use it
for everything, for thinking that is better done holistically (with the
right brain). Much of what we call common sense is holistic thinking.

My argument with much that is called critical thinking has to do with
this. It is part of the difficulty I see with getting a response to the
idea that two things can be right at the same time. MOV can be about the
accepted sources (Fiorentino, Massucio, Gower, et al) AND Mark Edmund
Andrews' suggestion that Shakespeare was making a point to the legal
community about Equity Law AND some situation in his own life.

>  >You may be less concerned that we are asking the right
>questions >than I am. This is not to say that you are wrong and I am
>right, >simply that there may be more involved for me, and possibly
>others >who remain silent, than there is for you, who are
>comfortable with >the questions as you see them.
>
>You sling a pretty mean insult yourself!

If you think this last comment was insulting, I can only say I meant no
harm, but was simply stating what seems obvious to me from the things
you say.

Best always, Mike. I may disagree with you, but I respect your
willingness to stick with something and hash it out.

Stephanie

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