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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: October ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0662  Wednesday, 3 October 2007

[1]	From: 	R. A. Cantrell <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 2 Oct 2007 11:20:12 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

[2]	From:	Mark Alcamo <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 2 Oct 2007 11:12:47 -0700
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

[3]	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 02 Oct 2007 18:36:46 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

[4]	From: 	Alan Horn <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007 05:24:38 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		R. A. Cantrell <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 2 Oct 2007 11:20:12 -0500
Subject: 18.0657 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

Anthony Burton <
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 >It seems to me the discussion of authorial intent is treating two very
 >separate issues..

Indeed. One issue is the attempt at substantive discussion of 
Shakespeare's intent; the other is an endless, pointless excursion into 
the discussion of "authorial intent," per se. Your Idea of a roundtable 
discussion of the topic is a fine one if it is divided into two 
discussions according to the above distinctions. The discussions should 
be moderated by someone able and willing to separate the threads so that 
those who wish to discuss Shakespeare will not be continually confounded 
by a series of attempts to steer the conversation into the idiots 
delight that is Skepticism. The topic, "authorial intent," is just a 
thinly disguised trot through the Skeptical Tropes.

All the best,
R.A. Cantrell

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Mark Alcamo <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 2 Oct 2007 11:12:47 -0700
Subject: 18.0657 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

I'm new to the Community and I can see this is a rich topic. My question:

Is there an agreed upon definition of 'Authorial Intention' or ... ? 
Some kind of boundaries on the discussion?

I study the plays and have had to migrate to the Applause First Folio 
because I was finding there were too many Editorial judgments being made 
which prejudiced my interpretation of 'Authorial Intent.'

We'll never have video of the way the plays were staged and it's 
interesting to 'imagine' about such things, but I trust Shakespeare and 
Company were professionals and did their best to put on a good show 
while operating within the strictures of their Zeitgeist (bear-baiting 
and public executions being the extreme limits of low brow and high brow 
entertainments, respectively.) It's sad to think Shakespeare's Words 
have to be supported by the machinery of 1600 minds, 'cause he shows me 
more insights into Human Nature than anything I've else experienced in 
English (and my Latin is limited to the Old School Catholic Mass ...).

Consider the possibility it wasn't a 'miracle' we got the First Folio - 
that the Author always had the intent his words would be passed on ... 
I don't mean to introduce the possibility that Heminges and Condell 
'scarce received from him a blot in his papers' ... but I wasn't there 
to know otherwise.

We have words, the First Folio and some Quartos ... and we all know from 
those words it's naive to get wrapped around the axle about a single 
interpretation based on some 'perfect' night at the Opera in Elizabethan 
Theatre, did you hear Burbage hit that High 'C'?  ...  Besides, my 
understanding is, performances vary from night (day) to night (day) ... 
and performances may very well have varied dependent on what Aristocrat 
or snitch was in the audience ... who knows?

Heck, for half the plays we have no idea what (words or actions) were 
actually presented in the theatre since the First Folio is our earliest 
source ...

In any event, if someone could point me to a succinct definition of 
'Authorial Intention' ... maybe I could make some productive comments ....

Thanks,
Mark Alcamo
Bremerton, WA.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 02 Oct 2007 18:36:46 -0400
Subject: 18.0657 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

Will Sharpe objects to my response to Alan Dessen's inquiry. I am a 
little surprised, as I thought that what I said was not controversial. 
Alan asked if contemporaneous theatrical conditions were pertinent in 
deriving a playwright's intentions. I replied by saying that to those 
who believe that it is "futile" to look for the author's intentions the 
conditions of the contemporary stage would be of no more help than other 
data they reject, but that to those who believe that attempting to infer 
what the author expected his audience to take away from a play an 
understanding of the theatrical conventions and conditions he operated 
under would be highly pertinent. Nothing in this says, or even suggests, 
that

Knowing about the material conditions in which a text was produced (even 
a play text) is ... the same thing as knowing what it 'means' or what 
the author wanted us to 'understand' across the board.

Sharpe raises an interesting question about the extent to which the 
inquiry is affected by whether or not we accept Lucas Erne's notion that 
Shakespeare wrote plays to be read as well as to be performed. I agree 
that this makes a difference. But I do not agree that theatrical 
conditions and conventions are irrelevant when we read a play. The 
reader of a play often directs it in his or her head; and even if it is 
not read that way the reader's understanding of performance conventions 
and limitations affects his or her understanding of the play.

Tony Burton also raises an interesting point about the extent to which 
it is legitimate to consider an author's expectations when the play is a 
collaborative effort. Perhaps Tony was influenced in this by Justice 
Scalia's well-known position about the use of legislative history to 
derive "Congressional intent." Scalia believes that there is no such 
thing, as federal statutes are enacted by a Congress having 535 members, 
none of whom were involved in the initial drafting (bills are drafted by 
a professional staff) and many of whom never read the final version, and 
then they are signed by a President who might well have his own agenda 
in mind. But plays are different, even collaborative ones. In most 
cases, the collaboration is a division of responsibility with each 
collaborator writing discrete portions of the text, the play is not a 
committee markup. So we can legitimately ask how the author expected his 
audience to react to the part he wrote. I admit that this might be 
different where the play is revised as a result of rehearsal or 
performance experience, in which the director and actors have influence 
over the text. But in those cases, the revisions are usually to make the 
play work better in a way that enables us to express with reasonable 
confidence what the authors wanted to achieve.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Alan Horn <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007 05:24:38 -0400
Subject: 18.0657 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0657 Authorial Intention

Cary DiPietro and I agree that readers make inferences about an author's 
intentions. I say that such inferences are inferences about the 
intentions of the actual author; the inferred intentions need not be 
attributed, confusingly, to something called the "implied author." I 
don't see how this concept helps us either make such inferences or 
describe the process of making them. If Cary thinks the term is useful, 
let him give us an example of how it might be used in discussing a 
specific work.

The inferences we make about an author's intentions may be right or 
wrong, confident or far-fetched-still no reason to talk of anyone other 
than the author as the one whose intentions we are, with various degrees 
of accuracy and certainty, inferring.

Discussing an author's intentions in any particular case is a tricky 
thing to do. There are philosophical perplexities like those raised in 
this thread. There is also the hard scholarly work of gathering evidence 
and making arguments for one view or another, none of which may ever be 
definitive. But neither the theoretical nor the practical tasks are 
advanced, I think, by the terminological expedient of distinguishing 
between an unknowable real author and a known but indefinite implied author.

Alan Horn

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