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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Towards a New Dunciad
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0961  Friday, 5 April 2002

[1]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 19:32:52 -0500
        Subj:   Towards a New Dunciad

[2]     From:   P. D. Holland <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Apr 2002 12:04:15 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0923 Re: Towards a New Dunciad

[3]     From:   P. D. Holland <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Apr 2002 12:35:47 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0936 Re: Towards a New Dunciad


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Apr 2002 19:32:52 -0500
Subject:        Towards a New Dunciad

A hundred years ago, upon the establishment of English Literature as an
academic discipline, an Oxford professor famously remarked that it would
all be nothing more than "mere chatter about Shelley."  He struck a
definite nerve, for his statement has been remembered.  I often see it
quoted, not as an obvious example of fossilized benightedness, but as a
continuing challenge to the academic and intellectual legitimacy of the
discipline.  Eng Lit scholars with a conscience about such matters meet
this challenge by, inter alia, maintaining definite standards as to what
deserves sustained intellectual analysis.  They realize that a
discipline governed by the sole criterion of "Anything Goes" cannot be
taken seriously.  "Chatter about Shelley" is a gauntlet flung in their
faces, a dare that may not be ignored or discounted, a test that keeps
them up to the mark.

Substitute "Shakespeare" for "Shelley:" the meaning is unchanged, and it
brings the statement into line with our subject.  What would the Oxford
professor have thought if he could have peered forward a century to see
the devolution of English Literature into "chatter about Shakespeare
movies?"  And not just film versions of the plays, but "adaptations"
that dispense with Shakespeare's language altogether?  Sitcom episodes
whose only Shakespearean nexus is a two-second reference to Romeo and
Juliet?  Porn films on the order of The Taming of the Screw, A
Midsummer-Night's Cream and As You Lick It?   What would his reaction be
at witnessing the degeneration of English Literature into Cultural
Studies into Anything Goes?  He would not have seen this as a
progressive trivialization of the discipline, but as a gradual unfolding
of the discipline's inherent triviality, its slackness, frivolity and
utter lack of rigor.  As an erstwhile English major, with many good
memories of my undergraduate years, I would hardly wish to endorse this
position.  But when I read the stuff written about Shakespeare on Film,
I begin to wonder.

--Charles Weinstein

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           P. D. Holland <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Apr 2002 12:04:15 +0100
Subject: 13.0923 Re: Towards a New Dunciad
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0923 Re: Towards a New Dunciad

I'm sorry to have been so gullible for so long. It took me till today to
realise that Charles Weinstein is really Terry Hawkes playing another
brilliant joke on us all. Congratulations, Terry! You had me really
fooled. But I thought you overplayed your hand when you put in that
phrase about 'Universal Darkness'. After all, Pope's great poem is a
satire in its own method as well as an attack on those he considered
dunces. Your persona of 'Charles Weinstein' is a brilliant parody of a
fossil from the past but, like so many parodies, it makes the mistake of
going over the top. I'll go back now to learning how to write poems and
plays, clearly studies I had better undertake before writing another
word about Shakespeare's works.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           P. D. Holland <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 5 Apr 2002 12:35:47 +0100
Subject: 13.0936 Re: Towards a New Dunciad
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0936 Re: Towards a New Dunciad

>>Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors is not a masterpiece.
>
>Yes it is.

The above exchange is extremely dispiriting. Yes it is. No it isn't.
Yes it is. It sounds like a couple of kids squabbling. It is not
academic discussion and it shows more signs of the onset of Universal
Darkness than any Shakespeare film.

OED, incidentally, helpfully reminds us that the word 'masterpiece'
probably derives from Dutch and German words used for the work achieved
by a craftsman to make the transition to the status of a master. It's a
useful idea and, on that basis if no other, would mean that *Errors* is
unquestionably a masterpiece.

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