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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Shakespeare's Personal Faith
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0620  Friday, 1 April 2005

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 13:44:57 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[2]     From:   Norman Hinton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 12:57:22 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 21:26:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[4]     From:   Michael Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 10:44:52 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Apr 2005 01:24:07 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

[6]     From:   Alan Horn <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 23:02:36 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 13:44:57 -0500
Subject: 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >We cannot know the
 >degree to which a text establishes, guarantees or gives access to what
 >its author personally believes.  For one thing, how could the truth of
 >such a claim ever, with certainty, be proved?

It can't be, but that's what makes it so much fun.  I doubt there is
much of literary criticism that can "with certainty, be proved."

 >For another, it leaves
 >entirely out of account the act of writing itself which, far from
 >transparently giving utterance to the writer's innermost state of mind,
 >notoriously imposes its own bending, shaping devices upon it. Whatever
 >authors think, writing also writes.  In the case of Shakespeare, this
 >means that whilst it may be profitable at any crucial point to ask what
 >the play is saying, it is both pointless and naive to ask what the Bard
 >is thinking or believing.

I am not sure there is all that much difference.  If a play has a theme
or "message" the author is responsible for a large part of it (the
residuum left when we boil out the shaping which the very act of writing
imposes), and a reasonable surmise can be made as to what that is,
especially if we consider it in light of the playwright's other works.
The impossibility of ascertaining "with certainty" all that the author
intended, and only what he intended, does not mean that it is pointless
to make the effort.  We would embark on precious few ventures if we
insisted on being assured of complete success.

 >As for speculation about the beliefs or
 >thoughts of specific characters in the play, that remains the last
 >resort of a long-discredited realism, the bane of our depleted culture.

I take more serious issue about the fruitfulness of attempting to
discern the motivations of the characters.   Indeed, it seems to me that
this is more essential in drama than in other forms of narrative
literature.  In a novel, for example, we are usually told what the
characters think and believe.  In drama they act and speak in propriae
personae, and it is up to us to figure out why they behave as they do.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norman Hinton <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 12:57:22 -0600
Subject: 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

 >the act of writing itself which, far from
 >transparently giving utterance to the writer's innermost state of mind,
 >notoriously imposes its own bending, shaping devices upon it. Whatever
 >authors think, writing also writes. In the case of Shakespeare, this
 >means that whilst it may be profitable at any crucial point to ask what
 >the play is saying, it is both pointless and naive to ask what the Bard
 >is thinking or believing.

Then we must not believe what you write in your notes?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 21:26:38 +0100
Subject: 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

I haven't really been paying attention to this thread, but I don't think
that anyone has mentioned that in "Henry V" Act 4, Scene 8, line 124:

"Let there be sung /Non nobis/ and /Te Deum/,"

Shakespeare appears to display a greater familiarity with the Book of
Common Prayer than with the Vulgate Psalter.  This has the effect -
whether intentional or not - of turning King Henry V into an Anglican!

John Briggs

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 10:44:52 -1000
Subject: 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Once again the vexed and difficult matter of literary-critical proof
rears its lovely head. The demand for absolute assurance is the reddest
of herrings, for how can the truth of virtually anything be established
with total confidence in such ambiguous waters? Surely we must
acknowledge degrees of certainty, depending on the question-Terence
Hawkes is altogether too sweeping when he asserts that 'it is both
pointless and naive to ask what the Bard is thinking or believing.' In
fact, we can often be reasonably confident (i.e., achieve a high degree
of probability) in a great number of cases. Hamlet's advice to the
players, for instance, carries a personal resonance ('O, it offends me
to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to
tatters,' etc.), that is almost certainly the writer's own. Many another
passage in The Collected Works could be placed in the same column. On
the other hand, whether Shakespeare was a Catholic seems unanswerable,
and may not even be a legitimate question, for like all of us he likely
changed his beliefs through life.

But these are hard issues. It would be both useful and interesting if
some of the deeper thinkers on this list would share their thoughts
about them.

--Michael Egan

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Apr 2005 01:24:07 -0500
Subject: 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Professor Hawkes again prods us with his bayonet toward the realm of the
absolute. Characteristically, the theoretical professor enjoys pushing
thought to the wall with expressions like "with certainty, be proved",
"transparently" and "innermost".

Plays are plays, of course, and people are people, and there is much we
will never know about both, since we are not God. Given that poignant
limitation, we do the best we can. We speculate about all manner of
meanings and beliefs, in plays, in people, and in between. We argue, we
weigh evidence, we make our case. If you want to speculate about Lady
Macbeth's children, you have at least her own mention of giving suck.
What that signifies, or implies, may be argued, and is--most of the time
more or less incompetently. But both authors and texts are capable of
implication. How can we tell what they imply, and what it means? Not
being God, we can only do the best we can to make whatever progress we
can manage toward understanding. To cut the Gordian knot with the
Hawkesian blade seems likely to leave one with a rather uninteresting
conviction of purity. Meanwhile the rest of us can get back to
practicing our appreciation of people in part through appreciating how
plays imitate them and their actions. If most of the time we're
stumbling in the dark, that's life.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Horn <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 Mar 2005 23:02:36 EST
Subject: 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0608 Shakespeare's Personal Faith

Terence Hawkes writes, "We can know a great deal about what a text says.
We cannot know the degree to which a text establishes, guarantees or
gives access to what its author personally believes."

As helpful as this sort of caveat can be in some contexts, in others
it's unnecessary and tedious, or even counterproductive, as when you
want to be able to hold somebody to his words, or be taken at your own.
Perhaps we should do without all-purpose rules about what we can and
cannot know, and save our skepticism for when it's called for.

Alan Horn

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