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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0269  Monday, 3 April 2006

[1] 	From: 	Sophie Masson <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 1 Apr 2006 07:58:29 +1100
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0257 Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)

[2] 	From: 	Jack Heller <
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	Date: 	Friday, 31 Mar 2006 16:16:00 -0500 (EST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0257 Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)

[3] 	From: 	Will Sharpe <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 01 Apr 2006 13:18:04 +0100
	Subj: 	Shakespeare in Time Magazine

[4] 	From: 	Hardy M. Cook <
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	Date: 	Monday, April 03, 2006
	Subj: 	Taylor on Shakespeare in Time (Europe)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sophie Masson <
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Date: 		Saturday, 1 Apr 2006 07:58:29 +1100
Subject: 17.0257 Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0257 Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)

Re the idea of genius coming 'in clusters' as it were--to me it seems 
clear that some times  are much more conducive than others not so much 
at producing geniuses as at encouraging them. Challenge is an important 
aspect of any artist's development and for a genius, to be operating at 
a time when other really good writers have already started producing 
great works, sharpens the skills and intelligence and quickens the 
development.  This is so in any art form, including literature (and 
indeed I'd say in science as well). There are isolated geniuses such as, 
say, John Milton, operating in far less congenial times--but it seems to 
me that in fact the greatest geniuses have come out of remarkably 
intellectually and artistically rich times, times of great excitement, 
when artists constantly have to measure themselves against other really 
good artists around, and are both stimulated and challenged by the 
competition. Shakespeare's was just one such time. As well, those times 
have responsive audiences/readers whatever--everyone is infected by that 
spirit of excitement and possibility.

This in no way diminishes the genius of the individual, which is there 
en herbe to begin with--but its flowering is hugely helped along by the 
prevailing atmosphere. Without it, the genius would still flower, just 
more slowly.

What's interesting too, to me, is just how such an atmosphere is 
created--it's not anything officials do--it seems more like an alchemy 
of people all being in the same place at the same time.
Sometimes a highly gifted individual kicks off a whole chain 
reaction--for instance, right now, to talk about something I know quite 
a bit about (I'm a novelist who writes principally for children) there's 
a 'golden age' in children's literature which can be attributed in very 
large part to JK Rowling and the fact that the success of her books 
amongst the reading public(a success that at first was totally 
grass-roots and not hyped at all)has actually given heart to a lot of 
good writers who have then presented more challenging ms to publishers 
who heartened by the huge success of HP are prepared to take a punt and 
publish things that in the past they might've derided as old fashioned 
or unsaleable. Of course in good modern style the hype machine has now 
gone into overdrive about it all, too much published, which could lead 
to a suffocating of  what was a genuine trend. We need time for things 
to 'shake down' naturally--which is what happened in Elizabethan 
times--but whether that will be allowed in our marketing-mad age, I 
don't know.

Sophie Masson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jack Heller <
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Date: 		Friday, 31 Mar 2006 16:16:00 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 17.0257 Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0257 Shakespeare in Time Magazine (Europe)

I suppose that most of this TIME magazine discussion is in response to 
Gary Taylor's own article in the European edition. We might as well post 
the link again just in case some are not following this thread: 
http://www.time.com/time/europe/html/060327/viewpoint.html

Marcus Dahl has written twice this week:

 >But once again I say - play cards WITH WHAT WE HAVE
 >- and see. Line for line, play for play, Shakespeare wins. Shakespeare
 >has more. Shakespeare encompasses.
 >
 >And Bach invents Mozart. etc. This is the way of the world sorry.

Others have blamed the tendency to re-evaluative Shakespeare's career on 
postmodernism. I would remind them to review Samuel Johnson's complaints 
about how unbearable KING LEAR is.

I enjoy Shakespeare's works, even those plays that some would rank less 
highly. But whose name sells tickets to the co-written plays? Does 
Shakespeare or Middleton sell TIMON OF ATHENS? Shakespeare or Wilkins 
for PERICLES? Shakespeare or Fletcher for HENRY VIII? Would those plays 
get the time of stage if his name were secondary (as his contribution, 
in some cases, was indeed secondary).

I don't think Shakespeare necessarily wins, play for play. I have no 
problem concluding that almost any contemporaneous Jonson play is better 
than Cymbeline. Let me shuffle and deal the cards:

Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 1; Comedy of Errors, All's Well that Ends 
Well, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline

vs

Others: Edward II; Volpone; The Duchess of Malfi; A Chaste Maid in 
Cheapside; The Changeling

If anyone thinks any one of those Shakespeare plays is better than any 
one of the others' plays, please explain why.

Jack Heller

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Will Sharpe <
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Date: 		Saturday, 01 Apr 2006 13:18:04 +0100
Subject: 	Shakespeare in Time Magazine

Jonathan Bate, quite rightly, I think, points out that this argument is 
'strictly circular':

"why is Shakespeare a site of greater cultural authority than Ben 
Jonson? Because people have made a greater investment in making meaning 
out of him. Why have people made a greater investment in making meaning 
out of him? Because he is a site of greater cultural authority. Etc."
(The Genius of Shakespeare p. 322)

But I suppose what Gary Taylor is saying in the article takes us back 
further than this i.e. how is there anything to turn into a site of 
cultural authority in the first place? Because two men called Heminges 
and Condell walked to William Jaggard's printing shop carrying a pile of 
manuscripts which were given to a group of compositors who set the 
corresponding letters into type (not always accurately, to be sure), 
bound the type-pieces in formes, inked them, and printed them off, 
making the works of Shakespeare (if we assume the print run was around 
750) 750 times more likely to survive. This is cultural selection in 
truly Darwinian terms i.e. the survival of any species is contingent on 
its ability to reproduce. It is also an irrefutable argument. However, 
it also precludes what John Jowett calls the "more frail and subjective 
considerations such as literary judgement and common sense", which, as 
we all know, can't really be used as criteria for explaining the 
cultural status of certain works of literature, even though we all know 
that the two things exist. If one thing can be stated empirically, while 
another can only be expressed subjectively, then, obviously, the former 
will always win out. Why can't I say that I know Shakespeare to be great 
because when I read or see his works I just feel it in my gut, so we 
should just stop all the pointless academic naysaying? Because it's the 
same thing as saying 'when I read the Bible or hear a sermon I just know 
that God made the world, so we should stop all this scientific 
naysaying'. The sentiment regarding Shakespeare's greatness described 
above is deeply felt on my part; in fact, I'd go so far as to call it my 
own 'knowledge', just as religious ideas are deeply felt and taken as 
'knowledge' by others. Any attempt to argue these points, however, will 
only be frustrating to both parties as they hinge upon a leap of faith. 
On the other hand, I am also aware that I know Shakespeare is great 
because my teacher told me so, making me, as my teacher was before me, 
the inheritor of a cultural idea that can be traced back to the 
eighteenth century, a time when it was decided that a great British poet 
was needed to act as as the emblem of the Great British Empire and 
Shakespeare's name was snatched out of the air. Not something I happen 
to wholly agree with, but I cannot hope to offer resistance with my 
straw lancets of literary judgement and common sense.

Gary Taylor has a very interesting article, '1623 Making Meaning 
Marketing Shakespeare', in the latest Routlege collection edited by 
Holland and Orgel called (I think) From Performance to Print, in which 
he discusses this first attempt at cultural selection regarding 
Shakespeare (if we take the criteria for cultural selection outlined in 
his book of the same name as being attempts made by the living to ensure 
the survival of the memory of the dead). He argues, among other things, 
that the commendatory poems are there to 'rescue Shakespeare from his 
fans', to assert that Shakespeare beat his lines out on the Muses' anvil 
and therefore disassociate the works contained within the Folio (plays) 
from ballads, both linked in this case through the common medium of 
print and of being both designed for ephemeral outdoor performance. The 
connection is interesting, especially when we consider that Thomas 
Percy, 142 years later, ensured the survival and repopularisation of a 
number of antique ballads, partly by publishing them, and partly (if we 
believe the story) by wresting them out of the hands of his maid, who 
had been using them to light fires.

Best,
Will Sharpe

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Monday, April 03, 2006
Subject: 	Taylor on Shakespeare in Time (Europe)

http://www.time.com/time/europe/html/060327/viewpoint.html

March 27, 2006 / Vol. 167, No. 13
True Is It That We Have Seen Better Plays

Shakespeare was a great writer - but it's wrong to assume he was the 
greatest
BY GARY TAYLOR

Where is it written "I am the bard thy god, thou shalt have no other 
bards before me"? Shakespeare is one of England's, Europe's, the world's 
greatest writers. If you asked me to name the best play of 1596, I would 
say, without hesitation, A Midsummer Night's Dream; the best of 1597 
would be Henry IV, Part One; the best of 1600, Hamlet. But these 
confessions would not satisfy the jealous guardians of the cult of 
Shakespeare. Lovers of classical music can prefer Mozart, or fancy 
Beethoven; a predilection for Handel is not necessarily perverse. But in 
the world of English literature, everyone's supposed to swear undying 
allegiance to the One True Bard.

Why? Shakespeare's widely proclaimed Global Aesthetic Supremacy (gas) 
disappears if you actually try pinning it to anything specific. 
Shakespeare was undoubtedly London's dominant playwright from 1594 to 
1600. But he did not write the best play in any of the years before 
Christopher Marlowe was murdered. There's nothing in Shakespeare's early 
work that competes with Marlowe's Tamburlaine or Doctor Faustus. And if 
you asked me to name the best play of 1610, I'd have to concede that Ben 
Jonson's The Alchemist out-classes Shakespeare's Cymbeline or The 
Winter's Tale. For 1613, Thomas Middleton's A Chaste Maid in Cheapside 
would certainly beat The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Suppose that you extend this game to include works outside the theater. 
 From 1603, as your representative sample of the best that our 
civilization can produce, would you choose Othello - or the first 
English translation of Montaigne's Essays? Most scholars and critics 
would agree that King Lear is the greatest play of 1605 - but is it 
better than Don Quixote, published the same year? If you could save only 
one of them from the fires of oblivion, which would it be? Notice that 
these choices are not about "political correctness." All these writers 
are (like me) white males, raised as good Christians. None of these 
texts advocates gay marriage or women's rights. I'm looking at these 
texts simply as exemplary works of art, and asking you to make the 
"aesthetically correct" choice.

Worshippers of Shakespeare usually wriggle out of specific comparisons 
like this by appealing to the totality of Shakespeare's achievement, his 
Absolutely Incomparable Range (air). True, Shakespeare wrote 
masterpieces of comedy, history, tragedy and lyric poetry. Only an 
exceptionally capacious talent could have composed Romeo and Juliet 
within 12 months of A Midsummer Night's Dream. But was Shakespeare the 
world's only literary switch-hitter? You don't have to have read the 425 
surviving plays of Lope de Vega to question such claims. Shakespeare 
isn't even unique in modern English.

Most specialists in Renaissance drama now agree that Thomas Middleton 
wrote masterpieces of comedy (The Roaring Girl, A Chaste Maid in 
Cheapside) and tragedy (The Revenger's Tragedy, The Changeling, Women 
Beware Women). His history play, A Game at Chess, was the greatest 
box-office hit of the period. Middleton also wrote successful masques 
and indoor entertainments, and the most ambitious dramatic pageant of 
the period (The Triumphs of Truth). He wrote political and theological 
nonfiction. He wrote experimental literary works that we call 
"pamphlets," because they mix prose and verse, and don't fit our 
conventional generic labels at all - works like The Black Book (where an 
exuberant Satan comes up to London to help out a starving writer) and 
The Owl's Almanac (where a learned female owl makes satirical 
predictions about the coming year). There's at least as much variety in 
Middleton as in Shakespeare.

So why do comparisons like this irritate or infuriate Shakespearian 
fundamentalists? Arguing with the Shakespeare industry is like trying to 
reason with the Inquisition. They know you're wrong before you open your 
mouth. It's easy to see why Shakespeare attracts so many intolerant fans 
(who believe that the world is too small to support more than one great 
artist). Shakespeare is the poet laureate of zero-sum games. His 
romantic plays dramatize the winning (or losing) of one true love; his 
political plays dramatize the struggle to become the one true king. He 
revels in superlative hyperboles ("the most unkindest cut of all") and 
in stark binary choices ("To be or not to be"). One of his most 
idiosyncratic tricks of style is to declare that something can be 
compared only with itself ("Then should the warlike Harry, like himself 
..."). He loves proper names so much that his protagonists often speak 
of themselves in the third person. His favorite word is the singular 
definite article "the," as in The Tempest - as though there were only 
ever one tempest. Middleton's favorite word, by contrast, is the 
indefinite article ("a" or "an").

Zero-sum games are an unavoidable slice of life. Shakespeare is right: 
sometimes "one fire drives out one fire; one nail, one nail." But 
zero-sum games are not all that life has to offer. Nails, after all, can 
bind, rather than drive apart. Go to church, if you're looking for 
monotheism. In the temples of literature, there has always been more 
than one god, and the only true faith is polybardolatry.

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