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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: October ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0657  Tuesday, 2 October 2007

[1] 	From: 	Tom Rutter <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Sep 2007 13:31:02 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

[2] 	From:	Will Sharpe <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Sep 2007 16:01:35 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

[3] 	From: 	Sally Drumm <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Sep 2007 12:58:59 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

[4] 	From: 	Anthony Burton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Sep 2007 13:18:53 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

[5] 	From:	Cary DiPietro <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Sep 2007 14:24:12 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

[6] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Sep 2007 12:43:53 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0623 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tom Rutter <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Sep 2007 13:31:02 +0100
Subject: 18.0651 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

With respect to the comments of Larry Weiss and Brian Willis, it's not 
just a question of how a playwright's words are 'rendered on stage' or 
'embodied by the actor', is it? -- Although the input of actors in that 
respect is obviously of great importance.

Actors might add dialogue of their own, as Shakespeare has Hamlet 
complain. Scripts might be cut to make them more manageable in length, 
to make them fit a particular cast size, or for other reasons. Additions 
might be made to an old play, something Henslowe's diary often records, 
and of which _Dr Faustus_ and _The Spanish Tragedy_ are obvious 
examples. Censorship might necessitate rewriting, not necessarily by the 
original author or authors, as seems to have been the case with the 
additions to _Sir Thomas More_. And all this is quite apart from the 
fact that collaboration in play-writing was an extremely common 
phenomenon in which pretty much any dramatist you care to name - 
Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, Marston, et al. - participated.

Given all this, the whole question of authorial intention is even more 
problematic when it comes to early modern drama than with other literary 
forms, although it may be that we need to talk in terms of authors for 
rhetorical convenience. And clearly each extant playtext is the product 
of a different set of circumstances and agents, and perhaps some might 
be closer than others to 'what Shakespeare/Jonson/whoever actually 
wrote' (whatever that formula actually means, which is another question).

(This seems fairly obvious to me, so apologies if it's been said before: 
I haven't read all the postings on this particular topic.)

Tom Rutter
Sheffield Hallam University.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Will Sharpe <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Sep 2007 16:01:35 +0100
Subject: 18.0651 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

I think Alan Dessen's question is entirely valid, but I object to the 
way Larry Weiss uses it as some sort of panacea for this question. 
Larry, you seem to be imagining some sort of divide between flinty, 
obdurate nihilists on the one hand, and people prepared to stand up for 
good old-fashioned common sense on the other, but such hedging doesn't 
vindicate your opinion. Knowing about the material conditions in which a 
text was produced (even a play text) is not the same thing as knowing 
what it 'means' or what the author wanted us to 'understand' across the 
board. If we knew that Shakespeare wanted Burbage to enter stage right 
to deliver 'To be or not to be' can we then confidently describe a) what 
the whole speech 'means', and b) state that that's how Shakespeare 
wanted us to interpret it?

Lukas Erne, in Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, points to several 
examples of scholars reasoning about the different rewards held by 
experiencing a Shakespeare play in the mind i.e. through reading it, and 
on the stage. Would someone reading it be able to infer the processes by 
which early modern plays were put together, or the likely staging of it 
in an early modern theatre? Probably not, but what you seem to be 
proposing is that by knowing this we can get to the meaning of the 
plays. If we just study hard enough, if we know enough about 
Shakespeare's life and times, and about the contexts in which his works 
were produced, we can know exactly what he wanted to say to us. Well, it 
doesn't work that way. If we knew all about Philip Roth's study, or the 
conversations he had with his wife about what he was working on, would 
that get us to the ideal, author-led interpretation of his work?

Yes, Shakespeare was a playwright, and his plays do have practical 
staging requirements, and what we do know of the practices of early 
modern theatre (thanks to terrific work by people like Tiffany Stern, 
Andrew Gurr, and Alan Dessen to name a few) has helped to reveal what 
these might have been. But we are not talking about an evidence based 
analysis of practical activities that would have originally gone into 
the performance of a playtext. What we are talking about is a question 
of trans-historical reception that involves many cultural assumptions, 
as well as the innate existential problem of being confined to the self. 
We don't know for sure what early moderns thought, whether 'human 
nature' really is unchanging, how our own thinking has been affected by 
previous generations' attempts to describe Shakespeare's greatness or 
his meaning, what Shakespeare thought about any of his work, what he 
really wanted to say, why people have contrary opinions on things etc. 
Every (wo)man's conviction about something is as real as it is, and when 
I hear a Shakespeare speech that seems to say something about my own 
life, I just know that he's talking about me and that that's what he 
wanted me to think, but try telling that to the bloke next to me who 
thinks it's a load of rubbish. Is that what Shakespeare wanted him to 
think? Of course not, he's just not as well educated as I am. In other 
words, it's all about me and my special relationship with the author.

Also, if we're using staging practices as the criteria for getting to 
Shakespeare's meaning, where does that leave us with the sonnets or the 
non-dramatic poems? Texts have meanings, but they always come from 
collaborations between readers/viewers and authors. If that weren't the 
case, how would we explain the phenomenon of a student saying something 
very perceptive about a line/speech and you/me having to concede that 
they've got a point, and we'd never thought about in that way before.

Alan Dessen's proposal can examine a kind of authorial intention i.e. 
how Shakespeare would have wanted, or how group collaboration 
practically dictated, the staging of his plays, and can delimit the 
interpretation of and give specific meaning to certain portions of the 
text e.g. 'Well said, old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast?' can be 
said to refer to an actor moving around quickly to shout 'Swear' from a 
different part of the underside of the Globe stage. But we are left 
pretty well unmoored when it comes to a speech that seems to bear no 
reference to the trappings of stage performance, and expresses ideas and 
opinions (whose? the character's, or Shakespeare's?)

Best,
Will Sharpe

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sally Drumm <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Sep 2007 12:58:59 -0400
Subject: 18.0651 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

 >When a play is produced, (outside the draconian statutes of textual
 >fidelity as dictated by, say, the Beckett estate or Edward Albee's close
 >guarding of the rights to his plays), that text is no longer within the
 >"intentions" of the author even if we can assume that intentions
 >existed.

Yes, authorial intention & production are connected (producers, no 
matter the medium, always consider AI) yet they are two different beasts 
- the beast with two backs, perhaps? Two things put together to create 
something new. Most textologists would agree that a text is a living 
thing - but only if kept alive by scholars, entertainers, the public - 
or any combination of those entities. AI, unless specifically stated by 
the author, dies with the author. However, in the case of classic texts 
(no matter the era, genre, or author from which the classic emerges), AI 
remains a matter for dialog.

Back to Genus and species, I suppose - one is of the other and so they 
must share qualities of concern for scholars.  But we are dealing with 
several different concepts - AI, text, production - all of which should 
be defined in hierarchy as some sort, one related to the study of 
authorial intention as a particular rather than a general critical 
theory. Or not.

I am reminded of Harold Bloom's definition of genius in his text by the 
same name. It goes something like this: genius is recognized by its 
students; only genius can support a centuries' long dialog; a marker of 
genius is that it's imprint is found in the work of its imitators.

The attempt to understand and interpret authorial intention is valid and 
necessary for those who wish to learn to use the genius's tools. 
Intention is one of a writer's tools.

The creation leaves creator behind - a text, once it is published, 
leaves it's author behind. Once a text is published, it has no master 
and an author's intention for it is of no account to the text, although 
intentions will remain a matter of concern for the author and the text's 
audience. One of those Frenchmen mentioned earlier in this wrote 
extensively about this - Foucault.

Perhaps we should be returning to the question of what is it we can 
learn from theorizing authorial intention? What questions can 
interpretation of authorial intention answer about the living text and 
our understanding of it?  Does query into authorial intention answer a 
question about the nature of genius? Maybe we are back to square 1 - why 
does the study of authorial intention matter? Why does the question 
fascinate?

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Anthony Burton <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Sep 2007 13:18:53 -0400
Subject: 18.0651 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

It seems to me the discussion of authorial intent is treating two very 
separate issues and ignoring others.  First there is the matter of 
collegial influence, when a performer-author (say, a stand-up comic) is 
supported by a team of writers who all brainstorm for ideas and at a 
specific point in their mutual exchanges say "Good. Go with it." 
Whatever the "it" is, it constitutes the "intention" of the piece.  A 
different example of collegial influence is the revival of Peter 
Shaffer's "Amadeus" in London some years back (starring David Suchet), 
where the cast felt that the ending did not work to their satisfaction. 
  Happily, Shaffer came in, worked with them, and changed it to their 
satisfaction.  Did Shaffer compromise his original vision and "meaning" 
by approving changes for the revival?   As I recall from a group 
conversation with Suchet at the time, the  author was well satisfied 
that the changes were a good thing, that  they did work better within 
the larger intent of the play; perhaps  they created resonances that 
were missing from the first version.  Of course, the subordinate level 
of intent relating only to the revised last scene was surely altered. 
But Shaffer participated consciously, and in agreeing or refusing to 
make any particular change, was presumably governed by what he "meant" 
(and might even have said so at the time).   But other contemporary 
conditions may apply; if a play is shortened by high command (the 
ambassador is going hunting, or early to bed; we need fourteen minutes 
per hour for commercial breaks) so that some important original feature 
is obscured.  At what point is the critic helpless to inquire about some 
sort of original intent?

The second kind of issue is well exampled by many of the exchanges on 
this site, where a contributor often responds to a critical reply to his 
original submission by saying something to the effect "Perhaps I didn't 
make myself clear . . ." and then clarifying a "meaning" that was either 
poorly conveyed in the first instance, or else poorly understood.

In the matter of "authorial intention", don't we all take it as a given 
that the author was entirely competent and successful in expressing his 
or her intended meaning?  That the text does in fact express whatever 
the author (or group of authors) intended, and the burden is on 
ourselves to be competent auditors or readers?

There is also a third kind of intention issue to bear in mind.  If an 
author and several colleagues agree to "go with" a specific revision, it 
is conceivable that each will support it for a different subjective 
reason.   In a collegial production, whose intention shall we say 
counts?  Isn't it always the named author?  And isn't there a fourth: 
when one character is speaking the thoughts of another, what then?  Is 
the "meaning" in the Twelfth Night embassy of wooing, that of Viola or 
Orsino?  What of Cyrano and Christian, or John Alden and Miles Standish? 
  If Shakespeare's "intent" was ever to express another's purpose or 
point of view (say, as sometimes claimed, that of some religious or 
political faction), where do we find the thing we call "intent"? 
Doesn't every play have a "meaning" to the  literary critic that may be 
discovered and considered apart from the  author's possible motive for 
writing it, maybe to make tuition money  for a child's degree in 
literary criticism?

Each one of these questions has an answer in the mind of the person 
addressing the issue of intent.  And there are surely other variations 
which have not occurred to me.   Broad generalizations rarely do justice 
to the challenge of any particular case.  I suppose that the most 
important matter is for the contemporary scholar or critic to be clear 
in his or her own mind and then to state what categories and assumptions 
or being made, and which of the various related issues is being addressed.

I think this is what I believe and mean, but I may be wrong.

Tony Burton

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Cary DiPietro <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Sep 2007 14:24:12 -0400
Subject: 18.0651 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0651 Authorial Intention

Alan Horn writes, "The argument is that the term "implied author" was 
introduced (by Wayne Booth) to distinguish the narrator from the author, 
who may not hold the same views. The traditional example is "A Modest 
Proposal," where Swift's views are conveyed implicitly through a text 
that purports to say something quite different.

This idea has become commonplace, as Cary DiPietro points out. So why 
not drop the "implied," which was brought in to insist on a distinction 
that no longer needs the emphasis, and speak of the narrator and the 
author tout court? Who or what is this supposed third agent that is 
identical to neither?

The implied author is defined as the idea of the author as conveyed to 
the reader. If this idea is accurate, the term is unnecessary: the 
implied author is the real author (e.g., Swift is a proponent of social 
reform). So it is meaningful to speak of an implied author that is NOT 
identical to the author only if the idea of the author conveyed to the 
reader is inaccurate."

In an earlier post, Alan also chastised me for engaging with an argument 
from Girard Genette's Narrative Discourse Revisited that he both quoted 
and summarized and that I admitted to not having read. In particular, I 
took issue with Genette's use of the term agency, writing "I would like 
to wrangle with Genette's semantics to argue that no narrative theorist 
would claim that an IA is an 'agent' of the text, or has, in any sense, 
agency. Agency lies in the act of interpretation, and in the act of 
ascribing intention to that sensibility that the interpreter perceives 
to be the author. The inferred or implied author is a construction, one 
whose relationship to the real author (an infinitely variable and 
intractably complex historical being) can never be finally determined." 
I will admit, Alan, that my glib comments unfairly misrepresent ongoing 
debates about "agency" in contemporary narrative theory.

In my first post to this thread, I quoted H. Porter Abbott's description 
of the term "implied author" in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 
a text I assign to first-year students (note, not of Shakespeare, but in 
a first-year course on narrative) to help them negotiate the complex 
questions of intention and meaning that accompany any act of 
interpretation. In the passage quoted, Porter Abbott notes that the term 
comes from Wayne Booth (most prominently developed in his 1961 The 
Rhetoric of Fiction), though the definition Porter Abbott goes on to 
provide is clearly drawn and adapted from later narrative theory, from 
theorists who have sought to refine and provide an answer to the 
limitations of Booth's original formulation, particularly in his use of 
the term "agency" (among them, Chatman, Rimmon-Kenan, and Porter Abbott 
himself).

For Booth, there is an ethical urgency in this formulation: all 
narratives, he argues, are a form of rhetorical argument in which the 
author tries to persuade us to some kind of position, usually moral. 
Booth posits the implied author to make the now commonplace distinction 
between author and narrator, and also to distinguish between the real 
author, whose real intentions can never be wholly determined, and the 
sense or idea of the author that we derive from reading the text. The 
implied author, to mean, a set of intentions we infer rather than know, 
thus becomes an agent of the narrative's power. You respond, Alan, via 
Genette, to argue that the "implied author is defined as the idea of the 
author as conveyed to the reader. If this idea is accurate, the term is 
unnecessary: the implied author is the real author... So it is 
meaningful to speak of an implied author that is NOT identical to the 
author only if the idea of the author conveyed to the reader is 
inaccurate." But how do we ever know if and when that idea conveyed to 
the reader is accurate or inaccurate? Such assumption, such certainty of 
knowing, is precisely the kind of "truth claim" I discussed the other 
day, always inevitable to some degree, but no less dangerous for being 
so. Indeed, a case in point, the reductive syllogism that you offer here 
does not answer to the complexity and nuance of Booth's original 
argument, making the implied author sound, as you suggest, unnecessary, 
superfluous and confusing. Moreover, I suspect that your summary of 
Genette's response to Booth does not so much misrepresent as fail to 
capture the complexity and nuance of Genette's own counter-argument, 
though, as you rightly note, I should reserve such judgment until I've 
taken myself off to the library.

You could argue that my definition of implied author, as above and as 
distinct from Booth's, is inflected with a presentist perspective, but 
it's clearly in keeping with revisions to the term provided by later 
theorists, Porter Abbott among them. The relationship between intention 
and textual meaning is still fairly linear from Booth's position; again, 
the implied author, although a construct perceived by us, acts as an 
"agent" of the narrative's rhetorical power acting directly upon us. 
I've suggested locating the text's agency in the act of interpretation 
itself, though perhaps "agency" is not quite the right word (please 
don't mistake these tentative musings for doctrine-this is the luxury of 
Shaksper): we both act upon and are acted upon by the text's power to 
make meaning, but in the process of our own interpretation, we always 
return, as John Drakakis notes, to a relationship with the text situated 
in the present. I'm not even satisfied with that formulation, "the 
text's power to make meaning", because it implies a latent 
Foucaultianism, and what I'm trying to suggest, here and elsewhere, is 
that our transaction with the text is determined by a historical 
sedimentation of interpretive practices (reading, performance, book 
illustration, editing, etc.) that always culminates in a present 
meaning, an understanding of our world that sometimes reveals and 
sometimes conceals real-world material relations. This is the text's 
rhetoric. I'd like to be able to draw Alan Dessen's recent comments into 
the equation, but I think my brain might explode. Suffice to say that 
the difference between, for example, writing a novel versus the 
collaborative process of theatrical performance speaks to the complexity 
and plurality of this relationship between intention and meaning. An 
interpretation that is limited to statements about, for example, 
Shakespeare's intentions or expectations, is blind to the wonderful 
complexity of meaning process. There you have it, a statement of the 
obvious.

I'm not in any way trying to suggest that the author's original 
intentions don't come into the equation, and this is where my own 
interests in psychoanalysis come into play.  In suggesting that a 
narrative's power lies precisely in the connection between individual 
and collective or social unconscious, Freud has given us what, to my 
mind, is one of the most compelling theories of narrative, or at least a 
starting point for one, not unlike Booth's. Of course, for Freud, 
psychoanalysis is a bottomless enquiry, and, thankfully, so is 
interpretation.

Cary DiPietro

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Sep 2007 12:43:53 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 18.0623 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0623 Authorial Intention

Hugh Grady gives the game away in allowing for "intelligent guesses," 
when his theory denies any enduring standard for guesstimating such 
intelligence. The "red herring" for scholarship is not intentionality 
per se but this strange notion of interpretation divorced from any goal 
to recover intended meanings as well as extracted meanings in successive 
stages of the life of a text.

I'm in complete accord with David Bishop's motto: by examples ye shall 
know them---which is why I mean to further explore whether the line 
"This Lodovico is a proper man." belongs to Desdemona or to Emilia. John 
Drakakais has now voted, "The line DOES belong to Desdemona". In his 
"Afterword" Dr D sees the editor as trapped between "two distinct but 
connected discursive fields", i.e., between the 
aesthetic/literary/linguistic/cultural field and the 
scientific/bibliographical/material field or code. His examples from 
Ridley (Arden 2) and Honigmann (Arden 3), however, emphasize their close 
connection rather than their sharp separation. Dr D quotes Ridley: "What 
did Shakespeare intend by this sudden transition to Lodovico? Is 
Desdemona for a moment 'matching Othello with her country forms'? One is 
tempted to wonder whether there has not been a misattribution of 
speeches, so that this line as well as the next should be Emilia's." Yet 
Ridley defers to editorial tradition in following the Folio assignment 
despite his misgivings.

Honigmann defies such tradition by assigning the line to Emilia: "I 
follow Ridley's conjecture in moving the SP [speech prefix]. For 
Desdemona to praise Lodovico at this point seems out of character." 
Honigmann continues, however, (which Dr D fails to quote): "Shakespeare 
sometimes omitted SPs or added them later (cf. his pages in STM[SIR 
THOMAS MORE]), so misplaced SPs are understandable". Honigmann, in his 
own mind, is not revising but restoring the author's original intent, as 
in a sense all capable editors, JD included, strive to do with their 
"educated guesses."  What else are they guessing at? The notional ideal 
is not Platonic but objective: namely, the author's or authors' true 
intent as reflected in a proofread fair copy, subject to later revision, 
adaptation, reception, and corruption by all agencies involved.

Round and round we go,
Joe Egert

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