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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Tillyard (Again)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1650  Wednesday, 20 August 2003

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003 12:13:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1637 Re: Tillyard (Again)

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003 13:18:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1637 Re: Tillyard (Again)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003 12:13:50 -0400
Subject: 14.1637 Re: Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1637 Re: Tillyard (Again)

Dear David, John, Ed, and all:

I think we are veering very close to the edge of semiotics here (because
my students choose to read "gay" as meaning homosexual, does that make a
"gay party" a males-seeking-males-only event?---or have anything to do
with the seventeenth-century meaning signified by such a phrase?), but I
would venture to say that the value of a text depends on who you are
when you read it. I have never liked "Prufrock" (still don't, and every
member of this list screaming at me that it's a wonderful poem is not
going to change that), though I have in recent years developed a taste
for _The Waste Land_ where none before existed---not because other
people said it was great, but because, being forced to teach it (and I
use that word consciously), I learned to see greatness in it. You could
not pay me to say that Aphra Behn's _Oroonoko_ is on par with Swift or
Sterne or Pope or Dryden (though many feminist critics insist that it
is, and would exclude them from the canon in favor of her). On the other
hand, having reached the half-century mark, I love Jenny Joseph's
"Warning," and don't care who says it's "pop lit," or looks down his/her
bespectacled nose at me in contemptuous horror at my having made that
declaration. More to the point, when I read Milton's _Hirelings_ as a
graduate student with only a superficial understanding of the real
issues involved, it was duller than dentist music, but coming back to it
now with a much richer knowledge of the period (and the Miltonic canon),
it seems an entirely different text. Likewise a recent re-visit to
Westminster Abbey: as a child of eleven, what I could comprehend of what
I was looking at was so little that my only abiding image of it until
now was of the architecture, whereas, as an adult, I was awed to stand
at the sarcophagus of Chaucer and whisper "whan that Aprille with his
shoures soote . . . ";  delighted to find Ussher's headstone, not even
knowing he'd been buried there;  thrilled to see John Philips' memorial
(the one Dean Sprat called a "profanation" because its text contained a
reference to Milton); reverential, alone for a quiet moment before the
effigy of Elizabeth; shocked to find Strafford had been interred there;
intrigued by the history of Cromwell's ill-fated monument (and amused,
to find his statue outside Queen's Gate, across the street in front of
Parliament); a little disdainful, before the sarcophagus of the mother
of James I, and so on.  Can't we (fairly) say that the same principle
applies to texts, also?---that what appeals to us is what speaks in
words and images that strike a chord in our souls, and what leaves us
cold does so because we cannot (for whatever reason) "read it aright"? I
had a friend, a poet himself, who could not read Whitman because
something about his cadences didn't gyve with the rhythms in the
reader's head---yet for me, reading "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" and "Out
of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking"---something I can visualize vividly,
having grown up in New York---still bring chills that reach across the
centuries to that other kid from Long Island in whose birthing-room I
once stood, reading his Janus-like poem.

Perhaps you will indulge me still, for yet one more example. I use
William Carlos Williams' "This is Just to Say" as my introductory
so-what poem in the classroom (followed by his "Red Wheelbarrow,"
Sandburg's "Fog," Pound's "In a Station of the Metro," and Ashbery's
"The Cathedral Is"), because most students read such things and
think---"so what?"

By the time I've finished asking them the questions involved in a good
literary analysis ("Who is the speaker? to whom is he speaking? Look at
the date of the poem: whose paycheck is likely to have purchased these
plums?  Then why is he apologizing for having eaten them? Hmm--she
wanted to please him by making a nice breakfast? But he *is*
pleased---delighted, even. But not according to her agenda? Oh! Now
we're getting somewhere . . .") they understand that this little so-what
poem is a reflection on the selfish nature of love---and then the poem
has "meaning" and "value" for them, where it was unfathomable (or worse,
uninteresting) before.

This is not an argument for aesthetics as the only source of
"greatness"---but being honest, how many of you teach or write about
works you cannot yourselves appreciate, and do them justice? If you have
ever had the experience of creating a canon (that is, of having to
narrow a list of possible-works-to-teach down to
what's-doable-in-this-lifetime) you know that the activity bares your
critical soul---why do you leave this in, and cast that aside? How do
you justify leaving work A on the reading list because you love it, when
doing so means excluding work B, which is one they "should" read---and
so on? Is this not a political activity, too, to some degree? (I know
that critic as a person and dislike her; I refuse to put that woman's
work in my syllabus!---or I know that Wagner was a Nazi sympathizer---we
won't be listening to the Ring Cycle on my watch!)--and so on?

Nonetheless--saints preserve us, every one, from ever having to teach
Shackerley Marmion!

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Aug 2003 13:18:51 -0500
Subject: 14.1637 Re: Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1637 Re: Tillyard (Again)

One good thing from this pounding of EMWT (a good thing from my
standpoint, anyway) is that it spurred me to order a stack of stuff on
WS for our library while the budget allows it and we are being
encouraged to do so. In the process I went back in history, looking up a
number of classic names (Bradley, Van Doren, Frye, Spurgeon, Knight,
Bradbrook, Mack, Campbell, Ornstein, Wilson and others) to check on the
availability of their works.

Some of these books were already quite old when I was in grad school but
I remembered them fondly because they all had in common a clear writing
style, immense knowledge, and a willingness to focus on the works rather
than theories about the works. The middle term excepted, criticism of
this sort is hard to come by any more. Since I don't have grad students,
the terminology-heavy, highly-politicized work that is so commonly
produced these days is of no use to me. It doesn't matter how brilliant
and erudite it is, if beginners can't get anything out of it, I'm not
going to squander my library budget on it.

That doesn't mean I didn't order any recent criticism, but much less
than I would have liked. It may be my distorted view but it does seem
that, compared to today, the "old days" had a great deal more major work
by major critics that undergraduates could use.

Cheers,
don

(PS: I could not find a copy of Chambers' *The Elizabethan Stage*
listed.  Has it been completely superseded, and if so, by what?
Alternatively, where might I find it, preferably on-line?)

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