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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Characters, Motivations, Themes,
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0359  Thursday, 27 April 2006

From: 		Carol Barton <
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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 
Meanings

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 
faces.

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--

Carol Barton

[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 
husband.]

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