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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: July ::
Less said the better, it seems
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1239  Friday, 22 July 2005

[1]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 2005 14:35:04 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 2005 12:23:25 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems

[3]     From:   Kathy Dent <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 2005 19:44:39 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 2005 14:35:04 +0100
Subject: 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems

Dear All,

Isn't Terence Hawkes amusing?

Surely it is the sense in which to read Shakespeare and then for
example, Greene, Peele, Lodge, Marlowe, Nashe etc is to find that not
only is the quantity of S's work but also the quality of his work
superior? i.e. There is more of it and it is better. And the bets are
that for these two reasons alone it will outlast his contemporaries in
terms of being read and performed.

In this sense we might do well to remember how Shakespeare was once
considered the poet of Nature. The sense of this became clear to me (at
least) in a passage by Xavier De Maistre:

'Happy, too, is the painter whom the love of landscape leads out on
solitary excursions, who is able to express on canvas the feeling of
melancholy inspired in him by a gloomy wood or deserted countryside.'

Substitute the quill for a brush and a play for a canvas and you see
what Shakespeare does - he allows one in a quite unique way (for the
sixteenth century at least) to experience something of the way things
are. He's also rather good at verse.

Remember kids - Dr. Johnson is always right!

All best,
Marcus

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 2005 12:23:25 -0500
Subject: 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1234 Less said the better, it seems

Edmund Taft offers a curious defense and/or justification of my
position, despite his well-known and openly stated disagreement with
nearly everything I say. He puts my general position rather more
stridently and absolutely than I do, but I will not inspect the teeth of
this gift-horse.

I also find it odd being compared to and associated with the learned and
ailing chief justice with whom I disagree as regularly (and completely)
as I do with ET. But I will also let that pass.

The matter of authorial intentionality, however, I find a need to remark
on. He writes, "Most of all, he believes in authorial intention and that
a good reader can discern it."

First, we need to beware of arguing against extreme positions of either
side. On the one hand, I cannot imagine that anyone on this list assumes
that WS was some kind of automaton or medium whereby a supernatural
force expressed itself. He wrote (or re-wrote) "Hamlet" because he
wanted to. On the other hand, it is silly (to my mind) to assume that we
can ever uncover all of the author's intentions in any given work. Or,
alternatively, if we could, there would be nothing there to discuss- as
in a geology textbook or most political writing.

My position, thus, is that the intention of an author in any given
composition (or one worth discussing) is both real and fundamental, yet
also a matter of some complexity.

In fact, I believe it to be true that an author is only partly aware of
his or her own intentions, and that these may fluctuate or even change
radically over the course of the writing process as inspirations arise
and new possibilities develop. My view coincides to some degree with
Nietzsche's idea of the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

Any number of major works show evidence of having changed in intention
over the course of development. Cervantes apparently started out
satirizing chivalric romance but found that he could do much more by
satirizing all of his society. Fitzgerald began with a story of a
lovelorn farmboy turned gangster before the story got away from him and
he wrote something much better. Twain's satire on small-town life in the
1840's likewise got away from him when he plunged into the issues of
slavery and racism. His inability to figure out a way to regain control
makes the book a flawed masterpiece. (Satire would appear to be
especially prone to this process.)

But this change occurs because writing is always partly unconscious-
that is, the discovery and formulation of ideas is so. As such it always
remains to some degree unreachable by anyone, even the writer. The
acceptance or rejection of a given idea, however, and the verbal
expression of it remain conscious processes-as they must be.

Now discovering the intention of a given author in producing a given
work is inevitably provisional and (I fear) somewhat circular. You
arrive at an idea of the intention by mulling over the characters and
what thematic ideas they develop; but you understand character and theme
by how they relate to the apparent intention.

Obviously, it is easy to deceive yourself in these matters-as several of
our correspondents illustrate. So you check your interpretation against
those of others, both established critics and contemporaries.  You test
it by how well you can defend it. You modify it as needed to accommodate
the reasoned ideas of others.

For example, to borrow from another thread, I find that MOV is primarily
an affirmation of romantic love, friendship and justice. That, I
believe, was Shakespeare's intent in writing it the way he did. Such a
view covers what are the major outcomes-the saving of the faithful
friend, the happy union of the loving couple, the defeat of the evil and
murderous outsider, the escape of the good daughter from her malignant
father.

Now I recognize that many people disagree with this interpretation. I
have taken their arguments seriously, but I find them generally weak and
forced. They do not cohere well, and compel the holders to imagine an
intention in the work quite at odds with what is at all likely in the
author.

(Likelihood is (to me) very important. I have cited this before, but
will repeat it. A prominent theory about Dryden's Killigrew Ode holds
that the author actually wrote it to criticize the foolish pretensions
of young women like Anne Killigrew. To offer such an attack on the dead
daughter to a grieving father is disgusting almost beyond imagining, but
that is what the theory assumes.)

We might notice that Much Ado has much the same interplay of romantic
love and friendship as Merchant, but worked out rather differently. One
of the most dramatic moments in the whole canon is Beatrice's simple
demand, "Kill Claudio." An entire world (now mostly gone) of European
culture is embodied in the implications of those two words, and in
Benedick's horrified response. Did Shakespeare first imagine this scene
-- what if a man should fall in love with a woman, whose best friend
dies as a result of being falsely and publicly shamed by her fianc

 

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