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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Characters, Motivations, Themes,
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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0349  Tuesday, 25 April 2006

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Subject: 	Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE Meanings

Dear SHAKSPEReans:

Many, many issues surrounding my working environment/employment are 
coming to a head this week, and subsequently my thoughts are principally 
engaged with these matters. However, several "Editor's Notes" that I 
have offered in the past few days regard concerns that I find quite 
interesting and important as I continue to re-vision "SHAKSPER 2006" 
(The title here is being employed in the same spirit as, for example, 
"Windows '95" or "Office 2003"). I will give these some slight attention 
now with the promise that I will bring them back up as my other concerns 
dissipate.

This past Friday, I tried to distribute a post from Bill Lloyd with an 
"Editor's Note"; for some reason that post was not delivered, so I sent 
it out again yesterday:

[Editor's Note: As editor of SHAKSPER, I entreat, and beseech, and 
adjure, and implore members NOT to send in posts on Hamlet that simply 
restate interpretations and theories that have previously been vetted 
here. Instead, I am thinking about instituting "The SHAKSPER 
Hermeneutics Competition." I have yet to work out all of the details; 
but as I imagine it, any member (I am still debating with myself if 
those who identify themselves as scholars or academics can participate.) 
who wishes to compete will submit his or her explication of the play or 
poem under consideration (We will, of course, begin with HAMLET). These 
interpretations will not be subject to comment by other members but will 
stand as the submitter's expression of the ultimate truth about the 
meaning of the play or poem under consideration. After the closing date, 
SHAKSPER members will vote on which interpretation is the WINNER. From 
that point forward, no further discussion of the meaning of that play or 
poem will be permitted on SHAKSPER. Anyone submitting a post about that 
play or poem will receive a form letter notifying the submitter that the 
matter of the meaning of that work has been determined and the answer of 
its true meaning can be found in such and such a post in the archives or 
in a special section of the web site (like a FAQ). Another alternative 
would be to set aside space on the SHAKSPER website for a bulletin board 
dedicated to that play or poem; the winner of the competition will 
moderate and any others who desire can argue amongst themselves to their 
heart's content, protected from the cynicism of those so-called scholars 
or academics who are fed up with listening to or participating in 
discussions of characters, motivations, themes, or the meanings of 
particular plays or poems.]

Also, yesterday in response to Jeffrey Jordan's inquiry [I know this 
thread began on the general subject of dumb shows, so before talking any 
more Hamlet I have to ask our editor, Mr. Cook, whether that's permitted 
on this thread.  I'm aware of the desire to keep threads on topic, and I 
know I'm already an offender.], I wrote:

[Editor's Note: That threads evolve, moving from one area of 
concentration to another, is not one of my concerns; however, when I 
announced in February <http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2006/0000.html> 
that to regain the academic focus of the early days of the SHAKSPER I 
intended to post only messages that I believe were of interest to the 
academic community, I was implicitly restricting posts that treated 
fictional characters as if they were REAL (Hamlet's reading knowledge of 
Italian, for example). My point is that for the most part discussions of 
characters and of their motivations, of themes or of the ULTIMATE 
meanings of particular plays or poems are not generally relevant to 
current academic interests in Shakespeare studies and are thus areas of 
discussion that I would like to avoid here.]

My Note about "The SHAKSPER Hermeneutics Competition" was intended as a 
joke: I'm REALLY not interested in establishing a contest or an 
"Ultimate Meaning FAQ" or a series of SHAKSPER message boards.

However, because I keep getting e-mails and snide remarks in messages 
asking what I mean by "of interest to the academic community," a 
statement that presents no hidden agenda or mysterious meaning to me 
because I consider that I am a member of the Shakespearean academic 
community and through my reading of books and essays, attending and 
presenting at academic conferences and the like I am conversant with the 
current state of the field, I feel, nevertheless, compelled to explain 
myself. Let me start with comments I have just received.

Of my first Note, Michael Luskin replied: "Very nice tongue in cheek.  I 
would like to suggest that you instead post to the list the techniques 
of searching the archive.  I think they are on the web site, but a 
restatement here would help a lot of people who don't know how to find 
the meaning of life in the archives. Not fully kidding."

A discussion of how members SEARCH the SHAKSPER archives is an 
appropriate one. I would suggest that members begin with familiarizing 
themselves with these sections: Current Postings, Browse SHAKSPER, and 
Search SHAKSPER. Members can find the daily digests in Current Postings 
should for any reason they cannot get to their e-mail and would like to 
read the digests on the web. Browse SHAKSPER is organized by year and 
volume (Volume 1: 1990 to Volume 17: 2007) with entries capable of being 
organized by date, thread, and subject. Search using the Web Site engine 
can be "restricted by" volume/year and what is searched for can be by 
"all words," "any words," or "boolean" operators (AND, OR, NOT). I 
welcome others to suggest alternatives and refinements.

Also, regarding the first Note, Larry Weiss observed the following: "The 
fault, dear Hardy, lies not in the enthusiasts but in the academics that 
you are so exasperated.  If the so-called scholars would give up their 
memberships in the A.C. Bradley Society and stop teaching 'characters, 
motivations, themes, or the meanings of particular plays or poems' the 
rest of us wouldn't think of discussing those subjects.  SHAKSPER could 
then happily confine itself to such things as how many children 
Compositor B had."

Privately, I responded to Larry: "This is not what or how I teach. I am 
not interested in teaching the ultimate meaning of a play or poem. 
Instead, I try to empower my students with the skills to READ 
plays/poems from acknowledged perspectives and in the process I explore 
how these texts enable a variety of readings that can be and are 
realized in PERFORMANCE. Thus, there is not Hamlet; instead there are 
Hamlets." I welcome discussion of how other members approach the 
teaching of Shakespeare.

By the way, to demonstrate that I too can make universalizing and 
totalizing claims, the answer to "how many children Compositor B had" is 
42.

Privately I responded to this inquiry by Donald Bloom:

 >Hardy writes:
 >
 >"Another alternative would be to set aside space on the SHAKSPER website
 >for a bulletin board dedicated to that play or poem; the winner of the
 >competition will moderate and any others who desire can argue amongst
 >themselves to their heart's content, protected from the cynicism of
 >those so-called scholars or academics who are fed up with listening to
 >or participating in discussions of characters, motivations, themes, or
 >the meanings of particular plays or poems."
 >
 >While I applaud his efforts keep order on the list, this part of the
 >post leaves me puzzled (especially "the cynicism of those so-called
 >scholars or academics who are fed up with listening to or participating
 >in discussions of characters . . ."). There seems to be more irony here
 >than I can readily keep track of.

My response prompted Don to write

 >Hardy :
 >
 >You say, "My point is that for the most part discussions of characters,
 >motivations, themes, or the meanings of particular plays or poems are
 >not generally relevant to current academic interests in Shakespeare
 >studies."
 >
 >I was afraid that was what you meant.
 >
 >Could you clarify for me what are the "current academic interests"?

Don and others this is what I am trying to do here and will continue as 
I am able.

David Bishop asks, "The idea that no criticism of Hamlet can at this 
late date be interesting is an uninteresting idea about Hamlet. A great 
deal has been written about the play, and also a great many love songs 
have been written, most of them not very good. Should we therefore stop?"

And continues, "Though I sympathize with part of Hardy's motivation, 
when a professor of Shakespeare can write of being "fed up with 
listening to or participating in discussions of characters, motivations, 
themes, or the meanings of particular plays or poems" I hear the dying 
gasps of a sterile and bankrupt theory. I wonder if Hardy made clear at 
the SAA that he wanted a Shakespeare discussion group that avoided these 
topics. Can this be how Shakespeare is now being taught? On another 
thread we hear of Shakespeare being eased out of the curriculum. I would 
suggest that these developments are related."

Now, this is a subject that deserves more attention than I can give it 
now. But what I had in mind was expressed in my second Note quoted in 
full above with special emphasis on the following: "I was implicitly 
restricting posts that treated fictional characters as if they were REAL 
(Hamlet's reading knowledge of Italian, for example). My point is that 
for the most part discussions of characters and of their motivations, of 
themes or of the ULTIMATE meanings of particular plays or poems are not 
generally relevant to current academic interests in Shakespeare studies 
and are thus areas of discussion that I would like to avoid here."

So long for now and thanks for all the fish,
Hardy
 

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