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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1455  Monday, 19 July 2004

[1]     From:   Kathy Dent <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jul 2004 16:42:38 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[2]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jul 2004 17:42:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[3]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jul 2004 18:13:29 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[4]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Sunday, 18 Jul 2004 19:24:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

[5]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Sunday, 18 Jul 2004 20:28:49 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathy Dent <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jul 2004 16:42:38 +0100
Subject: 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

 >As James Shapiro pointed out, ". .
 >. for Elizabethans, no less than for modern audiences familiar with
 >theories of castration anxiety, the phrase 'cut off' [rather than 'cut
 >out'] could easily suggest taking the knife to a male victim's genitals".*
 >
 >Oh all right, I confess: it's just my anxiety! I'm foisting this
 >castration stuff onto a play that has nothing to do with it. Looked at
 >aright, Antonio is not "a tainted wether" (a castrated ram), Jessica has
 >not her father's "stones upon her", and the "young clerk's pen" is not
 >like to be "marred". I apologize for distracting SHAKSPERians from 'the
 >play itself'.

Is there no distinction to be made between castration anxiety and
circumcision anxiety?  Whilst it's perfectly feasible to argue that any
man in possession of a foreskin might be anxious about the intentions of
a Jew with a sharp knife, I see no reason to import an anachronistic
theory (Freud's) to explain Shakespeare's wordplay that focuses on
genital mutilation.  The pound of flesh and the genital mutilation
allusions don't, however, necessarily have to be linked at all.
'Displacement' is a clever trick in this context, just as 'denial' is an
excellent reply to the opinion that psychoanalysis is a brand of
specious quackery... Miriad-minded Sigmund was endlessly inventive when
it came to shifting his ground so as to accommodate every opposing argument.

Kathy Dent

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jul 2004 17:42:06 -0400
Subject: 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

First I would like to point out to David Evett that the contemporary
term is "discourse communities." Isn't it? But perhaps since Fish has
retired, we now call 'em something else.

According to David's illogic, our purpose as teachers is to use language
that our students do not and perhaps cannot understand.  We are not in
the business of explaining Shakespeare's language, but of occluding it
to the best of our abilities. We want to make sure that students leave
our courses with no idea of what Shakespeare may have been up to, and
with no idea of the ways in which a 21st century reader or auditor may
interpret his plays. This is surely obscurantism run rampant.

Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jul 2004 18:13:29 -0400
Subject: 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

One more point. Dave Evett writes:

"According to Bill Godshalk's logic, we all ought to be advocates for
those simplified texts of Shakespeare that spare students the pain of
trying to master unfamiliar words and unfamiliar grammar and unfamiliar
metaphors."

Does David use the Norton First Folio when he teaches Shakespeare's plays?

Or does he, heaven forfend, use a modernized text with footnotes and
introductions by noted Shakespeare scholars? Don't most, if not all,
modernized texts try to spare students the pains of interpreting unusual
words, grammatical constructions, and unfamiliar metaphors?

If you really have any doubts about this I refer you to David
Bevington's Arden edition of Troilus and Cressida. According to David
Evett, Bevington is doing no one any favor by his editorial assiduity,
and students should be advised not to use such a superlative edition.

Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Sunday, 18 Jul 2004 19:24:56 -0400
Subject: 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

In an earlier post I wrote:

 >"Why not say that all actors, for example, are signifying systems, in the
 >use of which casting directors are supposed to be particularly adept?"

Gabriel Egan replies:

 >"Indeed, but surely the phrase 'signifying systems' itself would have been
 >rejected by many as obfuscating jargon a few decades ago. Also, just to be
 >clear, it's not the actors that are signifying systems, it's their casting
 >histories."

Just to be clear: the term "signifying systems" is rejected by me as
obfuscating jargon today. One obfuscatory thing about it is that it
includes everything. For example, why are only the actors' casting
histories, and not the actors themselves, with their physique,
personality, hairdo etc., "signifying systems"? How can that line
between what is and what isn't a signifying system be drawn? If it
can't, what does it signify to call anything a signifying system? What
does it tell us that we didn't know, and how does it help us interpret
the world?

Gabriel remains confident that a phenomenon has been described and as a
result discoveries have been made. I have not seen evidence that
convinces me that either claim is true. As I said, I don't see what is
gained by calling the interplay of Tom Cruise's casting history with the
content of a movie intertextuality. There's nothing new about casting
against type. I think the term is obfuscatory, and therefore something
is lost. In that sense, in which the term "intertextuality" subtracts
from understanding instead of adding to it, I would call it a pseudo- or
perhaps anti-discovery, in the tradition of the virtus dormitiva.
Clearly Gabriel feels it has value, but I don't see that he has
demonstrated its value. What he has demonstrated, as far as I can see,
is the genuine value of his thinking about Tom Cruise.

On the question of castration anxiety in MV, Gabriel finds it important
that "Shylock's original description of the deal" is "an equal pound/Of
your fair flesh to be cut off and taken/In what part of your body
pleaseth me."

He thinks the Jew would be expected to be most pleased with castration,
and that "cut off" suggests a lopping.

Aside from finding "cut off" less suggestive in that respect than
Gabriel does, I think "an equal pound" sounds more like an amount of a
more generalized commodity, and less like the elephantine genitalia of
"a tainted wether of the flock".

Gabriel rests his case on a quote from the first act, though the issue
of the pound of flesh comes to a head in act four. I find the following
quotes from the courtroom scene more relevant--the first two are Portia,
the last Shylock:

Why, this bond is forfeit,
And lawfully by this the Jew may claim
A pound of flesh, to be by him cut off
Nearest the merchant's heart.

And you must cut this flesh off from his breast.

Ay, his breast.
So says the bond, doth it not, noble judge?
'Nearest his heart': those are the very words.

This forfeit does cause anxiety in Antonio and others, because they are
afraid he will die. When Antonio calls himself "a tainted wether of the
flock,/Meetest for death" he implies that as a wether he already lacks
something of a man. What case can be made, on this evidence, that
Antonio suffers from castration anxiety?

Of course, Gabriel doesn't see the point of asking whose anxiety this
is: "I can't see how asking whose anxiety it is could count as an
objection to the assertion that such an anxiety might be at work." This
argument seems to me subtle to the point of invisibility.

Gabriel goes on:

 >"Oh all right, I confess: it's just my anxiety! I'm foisting this
castration
 >stuff onto a play that has nothing to do with it. Looked at aright,
Antonio
 >is not 'a tainted wether' (a castrated ram), Jessica has not her father's
 >'stones upon her', and the 'young clerk's pen' is not like to be
'marred'. I
 >apologize for distracting SHAKSPERians from 'the play itself'."

The stones certainly suggest testicles to the audience on and offstage,
though not--part of the joke--to Shylock. One might call Solanio's
joking play on lost stones an indication of castration anxiety,
assuming, as Gabriel seems to, that every reference to missing testicles
justifies the use of this Freudian term, and that no particular
character need be the locus of this anxiety. But I would say that
Shylock is really anxious about his moneybags, and his jewels. If a
joking image of lost "stones" emphasizes their dearness to him--and the
fact that for him money is more precious than all else--to call this
castration anxiety seems to get the emphasis backwards. For most people,
the loss of jewels would not be equated with castration. The image
serves to ridicule Shylock because he so grotesquely overvalues money.
It is the monetary loss (leaving aside Leah) about which Shylock is
anxious, or, perhaps a better word, distraught. This, I think, is an
aspect of the play "itself" from which the term "castration anxiety"
distracts us.

As for the young clerk's pen, it presumably stands for a penis, not for
testicles, can be marred without being cut off, and besides, this young
clerk does not exist. Gratiano is threatening a non-existent prospective
cuckolder, which could be taken as evidence that he is anxious about
being cuckolded. That would hardly be a surprise, since his wife has
just threatened him with it. But any such anxiety fails to get the upper
hand here: it's all part of the joke.

Gabriel's tone suggests that the  importance of castration anxiety in MV
is an established fact, which no responsible professional could deny. I
continue to disagree, for the reasons given above, among others. The
assertion of the value of the term "intertextuality" and of the work of
Julia Kristeva also still leaves me unconvinced. That Gabriel finds
their value so inarguable--or, as I would say, confirmed by such weak
arguments--shows, I believe, how firmly this common wisdom is now
embedded in the minds of the academic establishment. I would suggest to
any graduate students out there that a little skepticism would not come
amiss.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Sunday, 18 Jul 2004 20:28:49 -0400
Subject: 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1445 CFP - Shakespearean Intertexts in Canada

David Evett writes:

"The key is in his word "constituencies."  A modern term for that is
"speech communities"; most of the folks on this list operate in several,
and it has been a generally accepted assumption within the discipline of
rhetoric for two-and-half millennia that each speech community has its
own appropriate speech modes, which include things like levels of
lexical and syntactic complexity."

This is mainly right, but not completely. To see why, ask yourself why
it is that every year the NY Times parodies a session or two of MLA but
never, ever, does the same at meetings of, say, the AMA or at scholarly
paper sessions in physics or chemistry or mathematics.

The answer is revealing. The general public grants the latter
disciplines their jargon and specialized vocabularies because the public
accepts the idea that, for these disciplines, jargon and technical terms
are necessary. Why? Because the results of these disciplines justify the
specialized speech modes used. Doctors cure disease; physics explains
the universe; chemistry is DOW writ large, and mathematics is the
indispensable tool of all sciences.

But from us the public expects essays that are entertaining to read and
that offer insight into Shakespeare and his plays. It also expects that
we can talk to each other (as well as the public at large) in prose that
is plain, direct, and to the point. When we don't, the public mocks us.
Why don't we learn?

Isn't the public right?  After all, whatever side you take, Harold Bloom
and Stanley Fish have one thing in common: they write vigorously,
entertainingly, and generally without jargon. If they can do it, why
can't the rest of us?

The mounting tragedy of all this is that we are at the point of simply
being written off and not taken seriously. Even the disciplines of Latin
and Greek escaped such infamy. In fact, the only parallels I can think
of are to alchemy and astrology. And even astrology is taken seriously
by some!

Ed Taft

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