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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1192  Friday, 4 June 2004

[1]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 12:11:15 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 03 Jun 2004 12:49:03 -0400
        Subj:   Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[3]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 13:46:39 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[4]     From:   Al Magary <
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        Date:   Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 12:49:41 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

[5]     From:   R. A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Thursday, 03 Jun 2004 16:52:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 12:11:15 -0400
Subject: Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

John Briggs is right about Lukas Erne.  Is it any surprise that, after
decades of sifting by ambitious graduate students, Shakespeare should
eventually appear in the form of a committed book-worm, anxiously
overseeing his work for publication like some academic in peevish
pursuit of tenure? All history is the history of the present.

T. Hawkes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 03 Jun 2004 12:49:03 -0400
Subject:        Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

Kathy Dent thinks "it was a good business plan for the Lord
Chamberlain's / King's Men to be putting on plays that repaid multiple
viewings." This is a good point that is often missed by those who try to
dumb Shakespeare down by insisting that any interpretation must be
obvious to an intermittently attentive audience during its first viewing
of the play.

I'd suggest, however, that if a playwright writes a play that rewards
multiple viewing, then he or she is almost automatically going to see
that play as highly crafted and thus worthy of publication. It's often
forgotten that a print culture had been slowly evolving for about a
hundred years by the time Shakespeare wrote.

Susan St. James raises the usual objections to Shakespeare's possible
desire to see his plays published, but they are not as clear cut as she
makes them. We don't know if Shakespeare visited the print shops to
oversee the publication of various quartos. As for not seeing the FF
through the press, maybe retirement and sudden death played a part in
that. Certainly Hemings and Condell thought the plays worth reading -
"again and again."

Finally, John Briggs is entitled to his own view of Lukas Erne's
scholarship, but I certainly don't share it, nor do lots of others more
knowledgeable about these matters than I. I fear John is in danger of
becoming a "grumpy old man."

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 13:46:39 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

Funny how one's comments one might think of as offhanded may provoke the
largest response. But I'll try to respond to some of this.

I am wondering if we know--and if there is a way to know--whether or not
the theater-going audience of Shakespeare's time would have commonly
taken the opportunity to see a play two or more times. Early records of
the remarkable run of Thomas Middleton's A Game at Chess suggest that
for some plays, some audience members would see a play multiple times.
The epilogue to The Roaring Girl also tries to get the audience to
return for a repeat performance. I suppose that under those
circumstances, some of the nuances of language and performance would
become clearer with repeated attendance.  Similarly, after one viewing
of The Crying Game or The Sixth Sense, a person may enjoying watching
them again to see what she or he missed the first time.

I don't want to minimize the intelligence of the early theater-going
Shakespeare audience. But the language of Love's Labor's Lost has been
remarked by numerous critics as unusually demanding. (Katherine Eisaman
Maus gives a brief survey of such critics in her feminist reading of the
play's linguistic complexity.) In what sense would the play appear to be
so demanding? I would suggest that it is demanding in relation to other
Shakespearean plays and especially in relation to the plays of his near
contemporaries, such as those by Webster, Massinger, Middleton, Marston,
Dekker, Kyd, maybe even Marlowe. I don't wish to minimize Kyd's
achievement, but put The Spanish Tragedy next to Hamlet. Ben Jonson
makes fun of the popularity of Kyd's play in his own Every Man in His
Humour. Familiarity assisted by cultural prominence may make Hamlet more
accessible to us, but The Spanish Tragedy was perhaps an easier play for
the early audiences to grasp. What had Shakespeare to gain for his
complexity? Did he have a greater share of the theater-going market than
his contemporaries? That last, by the way, is a serious rather than a
rhetorical question. Here's a little something from an old editions of
the Encyclopedia Britannia about Thomas Heywood:

"In his preface to the English Traveller (1633) he describes himself as
having had "an entire hand or at least a main finger in two hundred and
twenty plays." Of this number, probably considerably increased before
the close of his dramatic career, only twenty-three survive." From a the
commentary of a recent edition of Heywood, that 23 may now be up to 30.

So, to the responses:

 >From John Drakakis:

 >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.

I would agree with this but for two questions: (1) Should we begin with
Shakespeare's plays for setting the base level of the Elizabethan
audience's auditory capacity? Would Kyd or Heywood have been easier to
follow? (2) While I can agree that theatergoers were the primary
audience for the plays, would this exclude a significant secondary
audience of readers? We know from the works of contemporary poets,
especially Donne, that publication was not the only way to reach the
desired reading audience--whoever, for Shakespeare, that might be.
(Maybe Ben Jonson, for one.)

 >From Susan St. John:

 >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??

As I note above, even poets did not necessarily do this. But there is
the other option I suggested, that Shakespeare overworked. Dramatists in
his time could and did get by with less.

Brad Berens has offered an interesting bibliography in response to your
inquiry about the history of studying Shakespeare. I would endorse Hardy
Cook's addition of Gerald Graff's Professing Literature.

 >From John Briggs:

 >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.

I haven't read Lukas Erne. Because I also work on Thomas Middleton, I
have read much of Taylor's work and I've read some of Honigmann on King
John (which I think he dates improperly). As for whether my students are
misled--unless anyone wants to claim that she or he knows all there is
to know about Shakespeare and has the definitive reading, there's always
that risk. I think my students could attest to my efforts to present
various possibilities for interpretation.

 >From Brad Berens:

 >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?

Not at all. Not even by one student (and the course is not required of
all its students). As a matter of fact, I think the majority of the
students enjoyed the play, and some got to see it performed later in the
semester.

<snip>

 >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.

No doubt. But consider also that a performance may firm up one meaning
when the text(s) may open up multiple meanings. As I've told my
students, the action hero Hamlets of the recent movie versions are
hardly the only interpretations of his character.

I appreciate the reference to your own article, which I will look up on
Amazon soon.

I'll close with this thought: Maybe Love's Labor's Lost itself, with its
interrupted drama of the Nine Worthies, should be considered further for
this discussion. Armado: "Sweet royalty, bestow on me the sense of
hearing" (V.ii.662-663, Bevington ed.).

Jack Heller

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Thursday, 3 Jun 2004 12:49:41 -0700
Subject: 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

 >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 Magary shared a link) was no longer free to read....

I saved a copy of the FT article and will send it to anyone on request.

Cheers,
Al Magary

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. A. Cantrell <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 03 Jun 2004 16:52:42 -0500
Subject: 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1185 Shifting of Cultural Tectonic Plates

John Drakakis <
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 > writes,

 >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 you actually want to know what Sir Nathaniel, Holofernes, et al are
discussing, then read (not read about or read a synopsis or review of,
but read) William Shakespere's Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, by T. W.
Baldwin.  There is no substitute.

 >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!

President Bush has not, as has Kerry, resorted to flipping the bird in
lieu of language.


 >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?

Nuances of spoken language are not germane. This is very direct,
tangibly allusive banter that would have been transparent to anyone
educated beyond Petty School. Grammar School was conducted in and for
Latin, and the "educated," whatever their numeric representation in the
audience, would have kenned this badinage as readily as J. Dukakis buys
into libspeak.
 >since Shakespeare only ever published the
 >plays when he was in need of ready money.

Is this now considered fact? Do we have evidence the Shakespeare
published one of his plays?

Kathy Dent <
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 > writes,

 >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??

Well and succinctly put

 >Susan.

-- All the Best, R.A. Cantrell 
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