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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
Interpretation of History Plays...
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0975  Thursday, 29 April 2004

[1]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 12:49:12 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[2]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 08:31:57 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[3]     From:   Hugh Grady <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 13:26:26 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[4]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 09:10:16 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[5]     From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 09:08:58 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[6]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 12:19:46 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[7]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 11:46:59 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

[8]     From:   Patrick Dolan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 07:29:25 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 27 Apr 2004 to 28 Apr 2004 (#2004-81)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 12:49:12 +0100
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

It is only 'discredited' by those quick to jump on modern
literary-critical post-whatever bandwagons.

The research and insight Tillyard had with regard to history and
Shakespeare will no doubt outlast his recent detractors.

Indeed I feel sure that students are beginning to turn away from the
flakey disintegrators and deconstructivists and back to the considered
humanist scholarship represented by writers like Tillyard.

Marcus Dahl.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 08:31:57 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

I'm not sure I would say that Tillyard was discredited quickly, since it
was 40 years or more before the work was questioned.

As to the reasons, I don't have sources here in front of me, but
basically, Tillyard never questioned the reality of Tudor propaganda and
so constructed a world view that reflected the ideals of the government
rather than a social reality. More careful historical scholarship and
literary analysis revealed that not everyone held the same monolithic
beliefs.

An analogy might be the 1950s in America. Many people still hold the
fuzzy belief that it was a decade of unparalleled prosperity and unity,
when everyone was guided by strong morals and a shared view of what was
right. This view might reflect reality for a small portion of the
population, but certainly wasn't true for many women, minorities, screen
writers accused of communism, the Beat writers....

Annalisa Castaldo

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hugh Grady <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 13:26:26 +0000
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

I wrote a chapter on this very issue in my 1992 _The Modernist
Shakespeare_. The short answer is that Tillyard came to represent the
whole approach to Shakespeare which a new generation of scholars was
rejecting en masse, that his reading of the second tetralogy as
Providential was untenable, and that his idealization of
medieval/Renaissance culture was a Modernist idea being rejected by
budding, if unconscious, aesthetic Postmodernists.

-Hugh Grady

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 09:10:16 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

 >E. M. W. Tillyard in 1944 wrote an interpretation of the history plays
 >that stresses the Tudor myth, the great chain of being and the
 >Elizabethan world view.  Can someone explain why this is today so
 >discredited?  How could a mode of interpretation change so quickly?
 >
 >Michael B. Luskin

Tillyard assumes that identifying an "Elizabethan world view" is
possible.  The problem is that not all assumptions are shared, and not
all shared assumptions lead to single conclusions. I much prefer Debora
Shuger's identification of "habits of thought" in her book Habits of
Thought in the English Renaissance.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 09:08:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

To Michael Luskin,

First let me say that six decades does not really seem like all that
quick a change for new developments to occur in a discipline.  I suggest
Robert Ornstein's *The Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy* and *A Kingdom
for a Stage: The Achievement of Shakespeare's History Plays*, esp. the
intro chapters, as good places to start for answers to your question.
More recently, texts such as Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield's
*Political Shakespeare: Essays in Cultural Materialism*, esp. the intro
chapter, provide further answers.

Evelyn Gajowski
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Apr 2004 12:19:46 -0400
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

If I remember right, J. D. North's article "Some Weak Links in the Great
Chain of Being" showed that Tillyard and others were being way too
simplistic and way too sweeping in their claims.  Ulysses' speech on
degree in "Troilus and Cressida" is often quoted as if it's somehow
representative of the world-view of the time, but there's little reason
to believe that.  He's an unreliable character in a very specific
situation in a play that hardly makes claims to represent the general
mindset of its time.  Other claims about the "Great Chain" were made by
people who had considerable political and social investment in such claims.

Meanwhile, Tillyard is often accused of having a tin ear to the plays'
ironies and complexities.  In outline, the history plays may embody the
Tudor myth, but that does not mean that the plays endorse that myth.
It's possible to overstate the case in either direction; it depends on
whether you want to see the plays as drama or propaganda.  It's possible
to read "Hamlet" as a celebration of Fortinbras' victory over the
dysfunctional Hamlet family and thus an endorsement of Norway's triumph
over Denmark.  That doesn't mean that anyone, including Shakespeare,
believed the play should be read that way or that anyone in the culture
believed such things.

I don't know that Tillyard was ever fully "discredited," but he
certainly fell out of fashion, and with Shakespeare criticism you always
need to remember that there are trends, not truths.  Tillyard's
interpretation seemed to make Shakespeare a conservative and elevate
Elizabethan England to some Golden Age of social unity and coherence
based on universal acceptance of one's place in the grand order of
things.  This is a misreading of Tillyard and it was very distasteful to
critics writing in the 1960s and 70s who preferred to find dissonance
and problematics and all that.

Since then we've had several trends and they just keep popping up and
falling away.  I don't know that there's any consensus about the history
plays now, or that anyone even thinks there needs to be consensus--which
just goes to show you how little unity and coherence matter anymore.
And good riddance.  Let interpretation thrive!

John-Paul Spiro
Villanova University

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 11:46:59 +0100
Subject: 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0966 Interpretation of History Plays...

Michael B. Luskin wrote

 >E. M. W. Tillyard in 1944 wrote an interpretation of the history plays
 >that stresses the Tudor myth, the great chain of being and the
 >Elizabethan world view.  Can someone explain why this is today so
 >discredited?  How could a mode of interpretation change so quickly?


Taking the second question first, I'd say that they've been a rather
busy 60 years all round. In no particular order: feminism, discovery of
structure of DNA, gay rights, invention of the digital computer, atomic
fission, exploration of space, rise of American imperialism, and the
collapse of communist states.

A change in how Shakespeare's history plays are interpreted seems
relatively small fare compared to that lot. For the first question, it's
worth knowing that Tillyard was, in his own time, accused of
homogenizing Elizabethan views of historical change, as when Geoffrey
Tillotson complained that Tillyard "has become interested in certain
notions of theirs, and he tends to think of them as repositories of
those notions" (English 5 (1945) pp. 160-61). Tillyard failed to spot
that, like Shakespeare's plays, the chronicle sources offer multiple
explanations and points of view rather than a single providential
account of history, as Henry Ansgar Kelly shows in _Divine Providence in
the England of Shakespeare's Histories_ (Cambridge MA: Harvard
University Press, 1970).

This topic has come up a number of times on SHAKSPER, and anyone
unfamiliar with it could start with Hugh Grady's chapter on the rise and
fall of Tillyard in his _The Modernist Shakespeare_.

Specifically on the Elizabethan World Picture, Tillyard mightn't have
been so wrong as many people have thought. Bizarre as it may sound,
cybernetics and systems thinking/theory could go some way towards
rehabilitating aspects of it, as I argue in: "Shakespeare and
eco-criticism: The unexpected return of the Elizabethan World Picture",
as essay on Blackwells' Literature Compass website at

http://wip.literature-compass.com/shakespeare/view_LICO_049.asp

Gabriel Egan

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patrick Dolan <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 07:29:25 -0500
Subject:        Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 27 Apr 2004 to 28 Apr 2004 (#2004-81)

It's interesting that the first post on my digest inquires as to why
Tillyard is in disrepute and then Al Margery's post asks this question.
As I understand it, the simplified version of Tillyard that New
Historicists and post-modernists used as their kicking boy would have
denied that Shakespeare could have questioned the legitimacy of a King,
especially of a Tudor King, because of the Tudor Myth. Tillyard's more
nuanced than his successors made out. But the points his critics
oversold are valid ones: he may have identified themes and beliefs
common in Elizabethan intellectual history, but history and culture are
neither of them monolithic, so you've got to be real careful about using
intellectual history to undergird a particular interpretation of a play
and plays can be seen as actions in cultural/political history, they are
not just symptoms.

In the case of monarchal legitimacy, I think Shakespeare's kings and
queens are more analog than digital--i.e., they run a gamut of
legitimacy from Richard III/Macbeth/Claudius usurpers to--oh jeez, I'm
having a hard time naming a 100% legitimate, benevolent, effective
monarch. The plays present, it seems to me, a much more contingent
notion of legitimacy than we might think if we only read Tillyard.
(Examples: does Prospero's otherworldliness before he is deposed render
him so poor a Duke that his legitimacy is questionable? How about Lear's
egomania? Does Hamlet's pedigree make him the optimal king of Denmark? I
think the plays open up exactly those questions.)

It may be that there's a high correlation between believing that there
are/were questions about Elizabeth I's legitimacy (in both senses) and
that those questions (discourses?) are echoed in Shakespeare's plays
themselves and questioning President Bush's legitimacy and/or
competence. On the other hand, my Shakespeare teachers at Michigan
assigned Tillyard to us as undergrads and I'm pretty sure they were, on
balance, more liberal than conservative in political orientation. Maybe
they'd be neocons now, I don't know. (Actually, the best of them, John
Arthos, is, alas, dead.) But again, political orientation is analog, not
digital, so that lumping all the people who don't like W (or those who
like him) together is about as legitimate as lumping all non-positivist
versions of literary history together.

Cheers,
Pat


On Apr 28, 2004, at 11:00 PM, Automatic digest processor wrote:

 >   Monarchs of dubious legality?  Why, so then Henry VIII, as the
 > son of a usurper.  And Edward VI and Mary and Elizabeth were of really
 > dubious legality, like poor Jane.


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