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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Tillyard (Again)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1601  Wednesday, 13 August 2003

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 12:40:15 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1583 Re: Tillyard (Again)

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 12:18:37 -0400
        Subj:   Tillyard (Again)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 12:40:15 +0100
Subject: 14.1583 Re: Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1583 Re: Tillyard (Again)

Hugh Grady wrote,

>Gabriel Egan's defense/interpretation of Tillyard
>last week reminded me of an article by American
>Marxist Paul N. Siegel, "Tillyard Lives--Historicism
>and Shakespeare's History Plays," in the journal
>"Clio," v. 9 (1980): 5-23.

I agree with the essence of Siegel's defence of Tillyard, but he wasn't
a great theorist. This is from his overly-simplified account of 'Marxism
and Shakespearean Criticism':

"Each ruling class constructs an 'ideology,' a system of ideas
expressing its outlook on life, that dominates its age. Other classes
have different interests and ideas, but until they become revolutionary
they normally tend to accept the dominant ideology. . . . An ideology
acts as a rationalization of a class's social position and material
interests, but it is not mere hypocrisy: the rationalization is to the
class itself as well as to other classes." (Siegel 1986, 15-16)

Such an account of ideology as an expression of one class's outlook on
life ignores Marx's own changing views on the subject and will not do.
If we are only to ask ". . . what were the material and ideological
forces that brought about the Renaissance modification of the medieval
world picture and how the Elizabethan world picture is a rationalization
of the social position of the Elizabethan ruling class" (Siegel 1986,
17) we will mistake ideology for a set of "prevailing ideas" rather than
a confluence of conscious ideas, feelings, unconscious impulses, and
habits of behaviour.

I'm grateful to Terence Hawkes for putting Tillyard's work in the
context of Leavis and Eliot and the definition of the subject 'English'.
If anything, it makes me like him more!

Work Cited

Siegel, Paul N. 1986. Shakespeare's English and Roman History Plays: A
Marxist Approach. Madison NJ. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Aug 2003 12:18:37 -0400
Subject:        Tillyard (Again)

In her defense of Tillyard, Carol Barton writes:

"Almost any Shakespearean or Spenserian or Miltonic sonnet will do for
an example: they weren't the first (and won't be the last) to feel and
experience the things they write about---but who before or since has
described them so exquisitely?"

Carol seems to subscribe to an 18th-Century view of art: we recognize
greatness when we encounter what has oft been thought but never so well
expressed.

But is this seductive view right?  It implies that we are all -- or
should all be -- exclusively concerned with beautiful craftsmanship and
how it reflects long-standing, universal, unchanging truths. If we had
access to accurate measures of beauty and truth, then perhaps art would
function in the way Carol says it does. But we have no unchanging
measures of beauty, no final grasp of absolute truth. Both change over
time. In his day, Dreiser was considered an awful stylist, but some now
think his prose is filled with rugged beauty. At one time, _Moby Dick_
was thought to be mainly a fishing manual.

Looked at dispassionately, the 18th-Century view of art assumes that we
already know all the important things about "the human experience." The
only thing left is to state them beautifully. Is this really true?

I don't think that Renaissance art falls into the reified stance of Pope
and others in his time. For the Renaissance, artistic and rhetorical
techniques such as _controversiae_ and _imitation_ were potentially
creative. As just one example, Melancthon advises his teachers to take a
question from history such as, "Was Brutus right or wrong in murdering
Caesar?" The master would then train the boys to find arguments both for
and against Brutus's act. There was no propagandistic impulse to come
down simple-mindedly on just one side. In fact, the more creative,
logical, and persuasive the argument, the better, regardless of which
side the boy was arguing.

We all recognize -- don't we? -- that one Stratford pupil took this
technique to heart and ran with it for a touchdown. Perhaps more
important, think of the political implications of this 18th-Century
view, were it generally accepted. Feelings and thoughts would be frozen
in time, unchanging and unchangeable, and so would interpretations of
everything we experience. All artists would simply compete to see who
could say these "truths" the best.

Criticism (in the modern sense of the word) would be limited to
aesthetics. And whoever benefits from the present order of things would
be unchallenged and unchallengeable. At the very least, nostalgia for
such a situation is at the very heart of _EWP_.

Ed Taft

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