The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0359 Thursday, 27 April 2006
From: Carol Barton <
Date: Tuesday, 25 Apr 2006 12:41:59 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 17.0349 Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE
Comment: Re: SHK 17.0349 Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE
It is a sad thing, indeed, when someone who tries as much as Hardy does
to be fair-minded and even-handed in his approach to list moderation has
to explain, apologize for, or defend himself to the extent that he has
in this message for stating (and restating) the obvious.
Perhaps the uppercase ULTIMATE will give some of you a clue.
The objection is not to *discussion* of character, motivation, &c. but
to declarations that any offeror's theory is Truth and the only "truth."
NONE of us knows what Shakespeare meant for certain--about anything--any
almost every line he wrote (in all genres) is susceptible of a
multiplicity of interpretations. So let me commit the intentional
fallacy myself, in Hardy's defense: if Shakespeare intended ANYTHING, it
was that what he wrote could be read on many levels, and with different
meanings to different audiences, depending upon their own "horizon of
expectation" (there's some more Fish for you, Hardy).
What Hardy teaches--and what we all, I hope, teach--is how meaning is
made, and how to make at least working sense of an often bewildering
universe oneself. There is no ONE approach, univocal answer, to
ANYTHING--no matter how convinced any one individual may be that he or
she has all of the answers. All any of us have is the answers that work
for us. I don't see Hamlet-pere as Colonel Sanders, or Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern as a Hell's Angel and his biker chick--so that doesn't work
for me (but it did for the director who staged it). By the same token, I
see Shylock as a man more sinned against than sinning--that doesn't work
for many of you, but the play justifies such a position as clearly as it
justifies the apprehension of a straightforward caricature of the
"villainous Jew." We have the duty to make one another aware of other
avenues of approach, other kinds of meaning--and to explain how we
arrived at the conclusions we've come to, so that others may test the
same strategies for themselves. But we don't have the right to proclaim
Truth from the summit, or to denigrate, ridicule, or otherwise belittle
or dismiss the opinions and approaches of others--unless they are
expressed so cavalierly or are so lunatic as to be discardable on their
NOBODY KNOWS WHAT HAMLET READ except for words, words, words. We are not
treated to a list of the titles in his library by the author. To try to
guess is not scholarship, but speculation--and is as silly a waste of
time and braincells as my asserting some time ago that Shakespeare was
really Elizabeth I, because he uses her Latin motto, Englished, in a sonnet.
Real scholars know that "facts," to be presented as such, require
substantiation. What Hardy is asking for--imploring us to give him, and
one another--is true, stimulating scholarly debate, based on logic and
reasoned argument . . . not pipe-dreams and tit-for-tat name-calling.
I think it's high time we complied.
With ill Will toward none--
[Editor's Note: Thank you, Carol. The sentiments expressed here are
exactly what I was trying to articulate. Of course in my classes, I
discuss characters' back stories and motivations, and themes and meaning
of plays; but I do so in the CONTEXT of performance realizations.
Particular performances interpret scripts in particular ways. Olivier's
Hamlet portrays a "man who could not make up his mind"; another actor's
or director's Hamlet might not be so troubled. The point is not which of
the TWO performance realizations is the ULTIMATE, the ONE, the ONLY, the
TRUE Hamlet, but how well each finds textual justifications for its
choices in performance. At the Shakespeare Theatre, for example, I saw
the same actor (Fran Dorn) in one production of OTHELLO portray a sassy,
independent, unapologetic Emilia and in another Emilia as the victim of
spousal abuse. Each choice was appropriate its particular production. In
a memorable discussion in 1996 of characters as not being REAL people, I
tried to distinguish between, what I called, textual and performative
characters - characters in texts and characters in performances
<http://www.shaksper.net/archives/1996/0100.html>. A textual characters
has no back stories, no history, no past; a performative character, on
the other hand, may be acting as though she suffered abuse from her
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.