Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Shakespeare Usurped
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0107  Thursday, 23 January 2003

[1]     From:   Alec Wild <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 10:31:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 08:40:23 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped [Hamlet]

[3]     From:   Don Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 11:22:07 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

[4]     From:   Sophie Masson <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 23 Jan 2003 10:40:11 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

[5]     From:   Brian Willis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 17:45:48 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

[6]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 22:02:50 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alec Wild <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 10:31:17 -0500
Subject: 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

Sam Small writes

>By "usurp" I do mean that "Rings and Potter" et
>al, have encouraged a perception of evil which is apart from ordinary
>beings like you and me.  What makes Shakespeare so powerful is that he
>get his hands dirty in putting words into the mouths of the truly
>despicable.  Some of those words may ring true. They may be funny.
>They
>may be a logical and credible alternative to what we all believe to be
>good behaviour.  This can be very disturbing.  Lady Macbeth can have
>that effect on people.  Tolkein and Rowling never do that.

But doesn't Shakespeare also adhere to a perception of a greater evil
(and good) that is apart from "ordinary beings?" When Lady Macbeth calls
on the "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" to "unsex" her, isn't she
calling upon a power greater than herself to aid her in her design? Much
of Hamlet's action (or lack of!) comes from his concern that the ghost
is the devil, come to tempt him to commit murder.

What about the appearance of Jupiter in Cymbeline, as the representation
of the God which orders the universe? How much more "black and white"
can you get?

One of the things that makes Lord of the Rings enduring (if you'll
accept the adjective) is that the struggle isn't simply the good guys
versus the bad guys - and on this point Karyn White is right on the mark
when she quotes C.S. Lewis - we're engaged primarily by the struggles
the good guys have with themselves, faced with the temptation of
ultimate power. Throughout the trilogy, we witness the falls of
essentially good beings who give in to this temptation: Gollum, Saruman,
Boromir, and eventually even Frodo (our "daft" hero).  Succumbing to
that temptation can be seen as "logical and credible." And it can be
"very disturbing." Doesn't Macbeth face the same overwhelming draw to
evil (suggested to him by the witches, who are quite "apart from
ordinary beings like you and me.")?

Witches, ghosts, spirits, fairies, sprites, God, Satan - these are part
of the cultural landscape of the Renaissance. Shakespeare relied upon
them, and upon his audience's conceptions of them.

Alec Wild

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 08:40:23 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped [Hamlet]
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped [Hamlet]

Sam Small quotes me, in part, "Bill Arnold writes: 'I . . . find that
Hamlet rose to the occasion and became the Good Prince and overcame Evil
in a triumph of Good on behalf of the people of the kingdom.'"

Then writes, "It seems we read a different play.  I see Hamlet as a
failure - note the last scene full of bodies and the invader
victorious.  But the fact we can argue about the play means that
Shakespeare's portrayal of the good/evil struggle is never
simplistic...."

As many have noted, when a Good Hero dies in the end of a Will
Shakespeare play because of a personal "flaw" it is called a tragedy.
So, I do not believe we have "read a different play."  We have read the
same play, and just see the same character from polar opposites.  Never
in my wildest imaginings would I accept that Hamlet in Will S's play
Hamlet was "a failure"--as portrayed by its author.  Again, I remind all
that I find Hamlet's role as Prince became his guiding light as he
matured--and I use the latter term wisely.  My remarks about the spirits
of Good vs. the spirits of Evil, are in the archives.  Hamlet clearly
laid out the dichotomy in the opening meetings with the ghost of his
father, the dead King, and the resolution of what is Good and what is
Evil: "was the ghost Good or Evil?" is not resolved until the ending of
the play.

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 11:22:07 -0600
Subject: 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

Sam Small writes that, among the reasons he finds Hamlet (the character)
"a failure," is "the last scene full of bodies and the invader
victorious." For one thing, I am puzzled as to what Sam thinks of as
success and failure under Hamlet's circumstances, and how he can make
that judgment and still complain about the "black and white" judgments
of others.

At the same time, I don't understand the word "invader" at all. The
country that Fortinbras invaded was Poland not Denmark. He has moved his
army through Denmark on pledge of good behavior. Moreover, he must be
some close cousin to the Hamlet-Claudius family since he is evidently
the next heir and will be elected the king of both Norway and Denmark.
He didn't have to invade Denmark; it fell into his lap.

I'm not suggesting that Sam doesn't have a right to set up his personal
standards as to what constitutes success or failure for any given
individual, real or fictional. But he does need to make clear what those
standards are and why they are applicable. The succession of Fortinbras
doesn't strike me as having much to do with it.

Cheers,
don

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 23 Jan 2003 10:40:11 +1100
Subject: 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

We can only imagine that Shakespeare is in some way, more 'modern' than
Tolkien or Rowling because we all too often assume, lazily, that
'medieval' equates 'backward.' In fact, Sam, if you read medieval
literature, you will soon realise that, just as with literature now, or
in any period you care to name,  just what an enormously diverse thing
it is. Within it is the dry wit and pyschological acuteness of a Chaucer
or a Chretien de Troyes; the misogyny of a Jean de Meung or the
assertive feminity of a Marie de France or a Christine de Pisan; the
obscenity and radicalism of the Roman de Renart or the honourable ideal
of Arthurian knighthood, as well as the fact that the Arthurian romance
represents probably the most amazing evocation ever of the human
psychological journey: without it, no Shakespeare, no novel, no
psychology, , even, not to speak of the way in which it reconfigured
relationships between men and women. Not to speak of countless
religious, political, social commentaries, songs of all types, mystery
plays, a vast, vast body of literature which together with the classics,
is at the very root of Shakespeare's art. Ambiguity, uncertainty,
fluidity, seeking: these are all very strongly in the medieval mind-set.
Despite popular sterotypes, rigidity was the least characteristic
expression of medieval thinking and imagination. Indeed, it's because
they were thought of as disordered and lacking in systemic thinking that
the medievals got such a bad rap from certain self-important chroniclers
later.

When I was last in France, at Easter 2001, I went to a performance, at
my niece's school, of a medieval mystery play, by Arnoul de Greban. A
stock piece, perhaps, but which was an extraordinary demonstration of
the ways in which such plays would have been an inspiration to the
Elizabethan dramatists. Yes, there were long-winded speeches; but there
were also many wonderfully vivid vignettes, and explorations of human
life, of great and very moving psychological acuteness: Mary, for
instance, pleading with Jesus to give up his calling, in terms that any
mother would completely understand; the cheerfully amoral carpenter
knocking together the wood for the cross, blithely indifferent to the
suffering he's a part of; and the subtly-shaded, witty portrayal of the
Devil and all his little devils, displaying the ambiguity of evil very
well indeed. There were incendiary discussions, through Caiphas and
Pilate and so on, of the ways in which the powerful of this world will
always sacrifice the innocent, and very pointed comments about how those
who are supposed to be the shepherds and protectors are often the
wolves. There were denunciations of wealth and power and cruelty; and a
whole wealth of other things; and amongst it all, a great sweetness and
humility, coupled with compassion, clarity and fire.  Anything further
from some stereotypical rigid mindset would be hard to find. And this is
just one play amongst many.

It's my opinion that in Shakespeare in fact, we find the culmination of
the Middle Ages. Because he was a genius, who combined quick
intelligence with compassion, clarity and understanding, he was able to
tease out all the elements of what he was borrowing from, and dipping
from(including tradition), and making it his own. But we also might see
him as modern simply because we know his work so well--because it's been
more accessible to most people than the older medieval literary
tradition. I think in fact that this may change--that the rise again of
the fantasy genre(which has its roots deep in medieval romance as well
as its older precursor, the chanson de geste)is seeing a huge renewal of
interest and re-evaluation of the medieval. This is not to be deplored
but cheered. And as far as Shakespeareans are concerned, it can also
help to deepen people's appreciation of Shakespeare and his
contemporaries, inheritors of a gorgeous, deep-rooted culture which is
still intensively relevant to us.  There is an interesting book, by
David Gress, which is one of the first modern books to properly
acknowledge the debt that the 'new West' owes to the medieval, or 'old
West': Plato to Nato, by David Gress, which upends both the old Grand
Narrative doctrine of jumping from Classical times to the Reformation,
and postmodern theories. It is an intriguing look at just how much we
lose by writing off 1,000 years of history and culture as if it had
nothing useful, sophisticated or psychologically acute in it.

Sophie Masson

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 17:45:48 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

>Thank you all for your robust responses.  It seems
>this subject troubles
>you as it does me.

No. That the subject troubles you troubles us.

>But the fact that
>we can argue about the play means that Shakespeare's
>portrayal of the
>good/evil struggle is never simplistic

True...

>as in Lord of
>the Rings and other
>popular modern literature.

Not entirely true. What we are trying to point out to you is that you
didn't read it or cannot base your judgment even on the film. How can
you rail on something you obviously do not fully understand? You saw 2/3
of ONE film. Read 0% of the novels. So that is about 25-30% of Peter
Jackson's version of the story.  Trust me, things get much more
complicated as it goes on. Although what you did see should have been
enough for you to see otherwise. Hell, the PROLOGUE to the film should
have been enough. Notice that Isildur CHOOSES to keep the ring. Notice
that Gollum CHOOSES his path. Distinct differences between all good or
all bad all of the time. Which is actually quite what Shakespeare's
tragedies are about. Macbeth chooses the dagger. Something in these
characters causes them to fall from their height of "goodness" (whatever
that is) and to descend into some evil or fIsildurdo good.  Isuldur
descends and fails.

>Kristen McDermott writes: "It's not just dominion
>that the Saurons and
>Voldemorts covet -- it's the ability to remake the
>world in their own
>moral image".
>
>This a good point.  But moral tyranny is more likely
>to be accomplished
>by groups and governments than by a lone madman.

Uh, hello? Hitler brainwashing a nation into thinking that his view of
what humanity should do and look like? That his struggle (interesting
word that - isn't that what Shakespeare's heroes do? And Tolkien's?)
resulted in the correct choices for Germany? True, Shakespeare's tragic
heroes rarely force their morality on others. But there are plenty of
characters who do. Measure For Measure is full of them. Look at the
damage they do.

As for conquering the triumvirate and Cleopatra?  What are the
triumvirate but the three pillars of the world? The play is about who
gets to rule the world (and his audience would have recognized the
answer as Augustus). I also think that the concept of Rome rules the
world is implied. Rome dominated the world and the Emperor in the Roman
plays is often mentioned as ruling over the world. Megalomania has
nothing to do with it.

You are quite right to mention that this two-dimensional way of thinking
can cause much damage in government. But we are refuting your attempt to
make Rowling and Tolkien the cause of such injustice in the world. Why
is culture and media ALWAYS blamed for such things? What happened to
personal responsibility? The need for parenting and moral figures for
children? That is much more of a danger than books or films. When people
see that there are CHOICES between selfishness and greed or charity and
love, they understand. The heroes in both of these works do just that -
sacrifice to do the right thing, some of these characters with their
lives. That is not rubbish, nor is it literature necessarily on the
level of Shakespeare, but how can you make the comparison?  No one is
Shakespeare. Anybody you compare to him will ultimately lose. Try using
some imagination. It expands the mind.

Brian Willis

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jan 2003 22:02:50 -0500
Subject: 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0101 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

Since this ridiculous thread is continuing, I will take advantage of it
to mention what I failed to mention earlier, C. S. Lewis's elegant
demonstration in his indispensable "An Experiment in Criticism" that the
claims by tragedians for the "realism" of their particular art are
grossly inflated.  The "noble" villainy of Aaron the Moor is as much a
fantasy of artistic genesis as is the eternal patience of Huckleberry
Hound or the ineluctably superstitious fearfulness of Shaggy and
Scooby-Doo.  The greatest villain I have ever (to my sorrow) known in
real life is neither a Sauron nor a Macbeth, but rather a vulgar little
tit who works at a mahogany desk and (quoting Lewis, but I can't recall
from where) never needs to raise his voice.

But it should also be mentioned that, within the Tolkien mythos, Sauron
is _literally_ a devil.  (I say "a devil" because _the_ devil, known in
la Matiere de Terre-du-Milieu as "Morgoth", was forever banished from
the material world thousands of years before the War of the Ring.
Sauron was his lieutenant.)

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.