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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: October ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0664  Thursday, 4 October 2007

[1]	From: 	Michael B. Luskin <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007 10:39:46 EDT
	Subj: 	Authorial Intention

[2]	From: 	Carol Barton <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007 11:24:27 -0400 (EDT)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 18.0662 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Michael B. Luskin <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007 10:39:46 EDT
Subject: 	Authorial Intention

I am NOT a scholar, just a lover of the plays, so I am not particularly 
interested in complex conversation. Here is what I MEAN by authorial 
intention: What did Shakespeare mean? Simple as that.

Here are some examples of question in this vein:

How do we separate the Catholic and Protestant threads in Hamlet, 
Wittenburg, Purgatory, Is the lay to be read from one point of view or 
the other? Why are they so intertwined, and to my mind, so inseparable? 
Why did Shakespeare do that? What does Shakespeare want us to think 
about Gertrude? Maybe I should ask, what does Shakespeare think about 
Gertrude? I am always fascinated that King Hamlet tells us that he is 
doomed for a certain term to walk the night until the foul crimes done 
in days of nature are burnt and purged away, YET Hamlet talks about the 
undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.

Why is Lear, who must have been pretty shrewd all along, to keep his 
head on his shoulders, to say nothing of his crown on his head for so 
long, suddenly so dumb?

Is Macbeth a good guy who turns is set upon by evil fate, or is he 
initially complicit in his own evil? How is the extra murderer, and why 
is he there?  Did Lady Macbeth have children or not? Why does MacDuff 
abandon his family, in spite of all he knows?

I suppose some of the answers, particularly to the last question, could 
simply be, "So what, it advances the play as easily as possible. 
Fuggedaboudit, as we say in Brooklyn.

Are all these ambiguities by intent? I have often read The Jew of Malta 
and marveled at how energetic it is, while also being so mechanical.

I am not so interested in theory as in discussion of what is going on.

Michael B. Luskin

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 3 Oct 2007 11:24:27 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 18.0662 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0662 Authorial Intention

Alan Horn invites Cary Di Pietro to explain how the concept of an 
implied author "helps us either make . . . inferences [about authorial 
intention] or describe the process of making them," saying, "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."

It seems to me that the comment is a valid one, in the context of this 
discussion. Since a play, especially a staged one, is the product of so 
many "midwives" (from the playwright to the compositor to the typesetter 
to the director, actors, and audience), it is difficult to apply the 
concept of authorial "persona" (in the sense that Jauss or I.A. Richards 
might have used that term) to the genre. It makes more sense in terms of 
the sonnets (where the speaker of the poem is not necessarily the 
writer--think, for example, of Browning's "My Last Duchess"--and does 
not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the author), but it is most 
aptly applied to nonfictional prose. (Twain's Huck Finn or Swift's Hack 
or Henry James' governess in "Turn of the Screw" speak in the first 
person, but their voices are not the voice of the author.) On the other 
hand, John Milton in any of his polemics is presumably the speaker of 
his works, since he is not "in character" per se: yet the distinction 
between ethos (what the author actually knows or believes) and dianoia 
(the posture he adopts for the purposes of his performance) is often 
discernible in his writing. For example, he (the real author) pretends 
to believe (in the persona of the implied author) that Alexander More 
wrote "The Cry of the Royal Blood," when external correspondence 
confirms that he was aware that it was someone else by the time he 
composed his response. Does the "real author"--in "persona 
propria"--intend the audience to believe that the implied author thinks 
he's addressing More? Certainly: the speaker addresses his putative 
target by name, both actual and metaphorical. Is the contemporary reader 
aware of any reason to distinguish between the first person voice of the 
tract, and John Milton? No. Such is the case with Milton's responses to 
the Modest Confuter (whom he pretends not to know is Bishop Hall), and 
the authors who pretend to be Charles I in the _Eikon Basilike_ (though 
he makes it clear in the body of the tract that it is to them and not 
the dead king that his comments are directed). In the latter case, to 
complicate things even further, the work was commissioned by Parliament: 
how much of it reflects the viewpoint of John Milton, individual, and 
how much the "party line" he was expected to defend?

And so on.

I don't think we can talk about an implied author in the same sense in 
relation to Shakespeare's plays--or anyone else's plays, for that 
matter--since the author of a play is not in the same sense a "persona" 
of the work. But some modern playwrights--Arthur Miller, for 
example--have given us specific statements of intent that might not be 
immediately discernible from their plays (see his essay "Tragedy and the 
Common Man," on _Death of a Salesman_, for one instance). Miller has 
said that his "Crucible" was intended to be a commentary on the 
McCarthy-era "witch hunts," which certainly makes sense when you know 
his biography, even though it isn't immediately deducible within the 
confines of the play. That is the sort of inference that we can only 
draw as a hypothetical, in relation to Shakespeare, since he can neither 
confirm nor deny such speculations on our part.

To understand why that is so, one need only relate an anecdote 
concerning Frost's response to a student disquisition on one of his 
poems after an on-campus reading. He looked at the young man 
thoughtfully over his glasses for a moment, then quipped, "Gee-I had no 
idea it had meant all that!"

Best to all,
Carol Barton

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