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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0249  Tuesday, 29 January 2002

[1]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Jan 2002 20:30:00 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0182 Authorial Intention

[2]     From:   David Kathman <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Jan 2002 21:37:24 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0221 Re: Authorial Intention

[3]     From:   Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Jan 2002 04:48:59 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0221 Re: Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Jan 2002 20:30:00 -0500
Subject: 13.0182 Authorial Intention
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0182 Authorial Intention

Laura,

Your hypothetical situation has some parallels to an actual problem I
encountered a few years ago in my research on Thomas Middleton. In act
4, scenes 1 and 3 of his play A Mad World, My Masters, the name of the
character "Penitent Brothel" changes to "Once-Ill" in the stage
directions.  All editors since the seventeenth century have changed
"Once-Ill" back to "Brothel. Sometimes this was done without comment,
sometimes with a brief note of emendation, rather rarely with any
discussion as to why the name change would have occurred in the first
place. My favorite of the latter comments is Standish Henning's blaming
of the compositor's manifest incompetence. But a compositor was have
been unable to work at all if he couldn't have distinguished Brothel
from Once-Ill.

Most critics have overlooked the textual emendation done by recent
editors, and some have made comments based upon the supposition that
Penitent Brothel is always Penitent Brothel. For those who don't know
the play, at 4.1, this character has a religious conversion. But does
the character really convert?

Arthur Marotti finds the conversion to be parody and that at "Penitent
Brothel's discomfiture[,] the full ridiculousness of his name [is] by
now quite apparent." ("The Method in the Madness of A Mad World, My
Masters," Tennessee Studies in Literature, 1970). Bryan Crockett
concurs: "Even when a character seems sincerely penitent, it is hard to
take him seriously. In A Mad World, My Masters, for example, Penitent
Brothel's very name registers the difficulty" (The Play of Paradox,
1995).

If Penitent becomes "Once-Ill" at the time of his conversion, his
recovered status would seem to contrast to the pervasive madness
indicated by the play's title. Of course the elements of the conversion
scene are still broad comedy-a succubus shows up to test the new
convert's spiritual resolve. But the criticism of the scene often
suggests a skepticism or antagonism towards religion in Middleton's
works. That, too, can be challenged by examination of other works
commonly neglected by Middleton critics, such as his 1609 Calvinistic
pamphlet "The Two Gates of Salvation" and his gosh-awful but certainly
militantly Protestant juvenilia "The Wisdom of Solomon Paraphrased."

For intention to be known, it always has to be revealed textually, which
then makes intention itself subject to interpretation. Statements of
intention do not trump the work of the critic, but if such statements
are ignored, the critics can arrive at an untenable conclusion.

Jack Heller

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Jan 2002 21:37:24 -0600
Subject: 13.0221 Re: Authorial Intention
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0221 Re: Authorial Intention

Mike Jensen wrote,

>Why does this discussion remind me of *The Prisoner* television series?
>
>Back when the show was rebroadcast on one of our local PBS stations, the
>hour was filled with what was called *The Prisoner rap session.*  The
>host had some very odd ideas about the show.  Late in the process
>someone dug up a television interview with the show's co-creator, star,
>sometime writer/director, Patrick McGoohan.  In it, McGoohan completely
>contradicted everything the host had been saying for weeks.
>
>The host's response was, "Well, that's just his opinion."

On a similar note, Isaac Asimov told a story in his autobiography about
how, when he was 30 years old and not yet famous, he attended a lecture
by one Gotthard Guenther, in which Guenther used Asimov's short story
"Nightfall" as an example of the ways in which American science fiction
inverted and distorted Old World views of the universe in ways in which
European science fiction did not.  Guenther went on and on in this vein,
building up an interpretation of the story that, in Asimov's words, "had
me gasping".  After the lecture, Asimov went up to Guenther and informed
him that his interpretation of "Nightfall" was all wrong.  Guenther
replied, "Well, that is a matter of opinion".  Asimov replied, "No, I'm
certain that you're wrong, because I am Isaac Asimov, and nothing of
what you said was in my mind when I was writing that story."  Guenther
replied, "Oh, I'm very pleased to meet you!  But tell me, what makes you
think, just because you are the author of 'Nightfall', that you have the
slightest inkling of what is in it?"

Dave Kathman

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Jan 2002 04:48:59 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0221 Re: Authorial Intention
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0221 Re: Authorial Intention

Don Bloom writes,

> . . . In plays premiering when S may not have
> lived in London (and
> > thus been unable to attend rehearsals and clarify
> his intent), do others
> > besides me notice an abundance of "spoken stage
> directions"?  In other
> > words, dialogue that cannot persuasively be
> delivered WITHOUT a given
> > physical action taking place on stage, and that
> may be considered
> > "direction from afar"?
>
> I hate to be too nitpicky, but there seems to be a
> massive, ongoing
> dispute amongst the foremost experts about the dates
> of Shakespeare's
> plays and very little information about where he
> lived when. Have I
> missed something major here?
>
> A little worried,
> don

A clarification -- I was picking up on something that an old college
professor *theorized* about the purchase of New Place in 1597, namely
that it *might have* coincided with S spending less time in London
during productions.

The question remains, though -- what about all those "stage directions"
incorporated within the spoken text? Is it my imagination, or are there
many more of them in post-1597 plays than in pre-1597 plays? I was
watching a video of MACBETH last night and was astonished at how many
such "imbedded" stage actions there were (notably during scenes
involving the witches).

Does it seem likely to anyone else that he was writing in such a manner
as to "direct" the scene, at least in terms of physical staging?

Brandon

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