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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1185  Thursday, 3 June 2004

[1]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 13:21:16 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[2]     From:   Ted Nellen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 08:00:04 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 14:22:24 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[4]     From:   Brad Berens <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 07:02:59 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1151, 1164 & 1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[5]     From:   Kathy Dent <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 16:56:22 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[6]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 11:52:40 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 13:21:16 +0100
Subject: 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

Jack Heller thinks that an Elizabethan audience would not have responded
to the profusion of linguistic jokes in LLL.

I wonder about this.  As literate people we respond more to the
complexities of writing than we do to speech. If that were not true then
Dubbyah would not get away with half the linguistic faux pas that he
does.  Of course, I may be misunderestimating him!

Shakespeare's audiences were not literate in our sense of the term so
they may well have responded very differently, and they would have been
much more sensitive to the nuances of spoken language than we are,
wouldn't they?  If Shakespeare showed very little interest in publishing
his plays then his primary audience was the the theatregoers of London.
  Unless we want to plough the fruitless furrow of a Shakespeare
secreting hidden meanings in his texts available to only a few
cognoscenti, then we really need to revise our opinion of his audiences.
  I would suggest we revise upwards rather than downwards. Elizabethan
audiences had an auditory capacity that may have been better than we think.

Just a thought

Cheers,
John Drakakis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Nellen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 08:00:04 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

I have always had a special fondness for LLL. It is about education
IMHO.  Three scholars set out to do scholarship and are interrupted by
three lovely women, also on this quest of knowledge. In the middle is
our hero Holofernes, not the gentle, kind pendant.

That the play holds more puns than ant other of his plays and is about
language and education is a near and dear pplay to my heart as an
educator. In fact during my summer of study in Stratford-on-Avon in
1986, it was the center piece to my thesis that Shakespeare was a tutor
and learned much during what has been referred to as his "Lost Years."
Sam Schoenbaum, of course deals with this notion as well.

To see the product of that summer go to:
http://www.tnellen.com/ted/holofernes.html

I was particularly proud of this piece as it received great comments
from the Shakespeare scholars conducting the Institute that year and was
lauded fro some original ideas, never posited with good proof from the
text of Shakespeare. It is perhaps a study I will continue in my retirement.

tednellen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 14:22:24 +0100
Subject: 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

Jack Heller wrote:

 >Some might say that I was crazy to do this, but I began my first-ever
 >Shakespeare course with teaching Love's Labour's Lost. That may have
 >been fortuitous; it led to an immediate discussion of why the plays must
 >be read. With LLL, I suggested to the students that if Shakespeare's
 >intention were for the play's performance only, then he seriously
 >overworked (which is a possibility, by the way). Too many language jokes
 >would be missed by the listening audience. As for how long have the
 >plays been studied--maybe not in a formal classroom setting, but I would
 >say since the 1590s, just as soon has his contemporaries started lifting
 >lines.

Well, you're certainly doing your bit towards misleading the rising
generation.  Although I suppose we should blame Lukas Erne and his
ridiculous "Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist" thesis.  I don't know how
old Lukas Erne is, or whether he qualifies as one of Gary Taylor's
"Enfants Terribles", but I certainly had half a mind to nominate him for
the Ernst Honigmann Award for the Most Influential Piece of Misleading
Shakespearean Scholarship.

John Briggs

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brad Berens <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 07:02:59 -0700
Subject: 15.1151, 1164 & 1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1151, 1164 & 1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

Hi everybody,

This has been an interesting thread and I'm only sorry that I didn't
manage to read it until after Bruce Millar's Financial Times article (to
which Al Margary shared a link) was no longer free to read.  Two fairly
substantial notes, one responding to Susan St. John and one to Jack Heller.

Susan, English Lit as a profession is only about a century old, but
Shakespeare has been a cornerstone of that profession since its
inception.  Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction has a nice
overview of the birth of English Departments.  To my mind, the more
interesting question is when did Shakespeare move from being popular
entertainment (that is, accessible to all) to being culture (and in some
way restricted to the elite, or at least often dull to the ears of the
non-elite).  This happened BEFORE the prodigious birth of English
Departments.  Two handy citations on this: I can never say enough nice
things about Michael Dobson's brilliant book "The Making of the National
Poet:  Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769" (OUP 1992),
which traces Shakespeare's transformation into high culture.  For an
American take, Larry Levine's book "Highbrow/Lowbrow:  The Emergence of
Cultural Hierarchy in America" (Harvard 1988) has an astonishingly
interesting and funny chapter on Shakespeare in the USA.  Not to be
missed: a pre-Civil War Lt. Ulysses S. Grant playing Desdemona in a
barracks production of Othello in Corpus Christi, TX.  Generally, Susan,
I think that saying the plays were meant to be performed instead of read
is something of a truism, since Shakespeare only ever published the
plays when he was in need of ready money.  However, see below for more
on reading vs. listening.

Jack, nobody can fault your courage in starting a semester with Love's
Labor's Lost.  Did it (successfully/unintentionally) lower the number of
students in your class?  However, I disagree with your notion that no
listening audience could catch all the wordplay.  The big tectonic shift
between Shakespeare's birth and our era, and one that started to take
place during his own career, is the move from a largely aural culture to
a largely visual one.

Early Modern playgoers, even illiterate ones, most probably COULD catch
orders of magnitude more wordplay than we do today, in the same way that
these aurally-oriented playgoers might be overwhelmed by the visual
complexity of the average Rolie Polie Olie cartoon on the Disney
Channel.  Remember, these were some of the same people that cheerfully
listened to FOUR HOUR long sermons at church.  The ears, indeed, were a
site of anxiety and vulnerability in early modern England, even more so
than the eyes.  A number of years ago, Jennifer Nelson (herself
profoundly deaf and an English Professor at Gallaudet University for the
deaf) and I co-authored an article that you might find moderately
useful: "Spoken Daggers, Deaf Ears, and Silent Mouths: Fantasies of
Deafness in Early Modern England." In The Disability Studies Reader,
edited by Lennard Davis (New York: Routledge, 1997).  At least it
mobilizes some materials that might complicate the discussion you and
your students are having about what playgoers understand.  (You can read
most of it for free using the nifty new "Search Inside This Book"
feature at Amazon.com.)

Also, I'm leery of Jack's deployment of the word "overworked" on this
topic.  Quibbles, jokes, allusions, echoes, metaphors, instances of
thematic doubling, or whatever, may not be immediately available to the
playgoer's conscious mind, but that does not mean that the playgoer is
unaware of them.  (I'm NOT talking about a Freudian unconscious here, by
the way.)  The plot trajectories in Shakespeare's plays are generally
clear enough (and he peppers the plays with little built-in cribs to
clue in playgoers who might have missed something important the first
time) that a surface understanding of who is doing what to whom, when,
and why, is easy to get.  That the playgoer understands that more is
going on beneath the surface can be an enticement to engage again rather
than a turn-off... depending on the playgoer.

Early modern playgoers were in a position to go to the
Theatre/Globe/Rose/Curtain/Blackfriars/etc to hear/see the same play
more than once in repertory.  In addition to the attractions of feeling
smart when you comprehend more of a play the second time around, you
also might want to go if you missed a section when you hired a
prostitute, spent five minutes buying an orange, or if a fight broke out
next to you.  So, to my mind the fact that every playgoer will not
understand every joke every time does not equate to Shakespeare overworking.

My learning disabled brother cannot read a newspaper and struggles with
menus, but he digs Shakespeare in performance.  Similarly, my wife and I
are taking our three year old daughter to an outdoor Midsummer in the
next few weeks and predict that she'll enjoy it.  One remarkable thing
about Shakespeare's plays is the scalability (to poach a term from the
dotcom era) of apprehension for different playgoers.

And speaking of my three-year old, she's stirring and I need to go make
breakfast.

All best,
Brad

[Editor's Note: Brad cites Terry Eagleton's <I>Literary Theory: An
Introduction</I> as "a nice overview of the birth of English
Departments." And Eagleton's book is, from a British prospective. For an
overview of the birth of English Departments in the States see Gerald
Graff's  <I>Professing Literature: An Institutional History</I>
(Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987). Further reading in this area would also
include Terence Hawkes' "Telmah" from <I>That Shakespeherian Rag: essays
on a critical process</I> (London: Methuen, 1986).]

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathy Dent <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 16:56:22 +0100
Subject: 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

Jack Heller writes:

 >With LLL, I suggested to the students that if Shakespeare's
 >intention were for the play's performance only, then he seriously
 >overworked (which is a possibility, by the way). Too many language jokes
 >would be missed by the listening audience.

Given that we view the plays across a time gap of 400 years, is this a
judgment that we can make?  Might we not consider that a) early modern
audiences were more skilled than we are at listening? b) they were
listening to something close to contemporary language and therefore
found it much more accessible than we do? c) it was a good business plan
for the Lord Chamberlain's / King's Men to be putting on plays that
repaid multiple viewings?  I don't think we can assume that if an
audience doesn't get everything first time round the plays were
therefore designed to be read.

Kathy Dent

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 11:52:40 -0700
Subject: 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1171 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

I'm sorry Jack, but your assertion that WS intended for the plays to be
read seems ludicrous to me.  He was writing sides for actors.  If
Shakespeare had intended for his plays to be read, so that every nuance
of every bit of wordplay could be studied and analyzed, wouldn't he have
made sure the works were written down exactly as he wanted them and
wouldn't he have overseen the printing and gotten his share of the profits??

Susan.

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