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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: October ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0704  Thursday, 18 October 2007


[1] 	From:	Carol Barton <
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	Date:	Wednesday, 17 Oct 2007 11:45:58 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0693 Authorial Intention

[2] 	From:	Sally Drumm <
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	Date:	Wednesday, 17 Oct 2007 18:56:35 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0700 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Carol Barton <
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Date:		Wednesday, 17 Oct 2007 11:45:58 -0400
Subject: 18.0693 Authorial Intention
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0693 Authorial Intention

For Anthony Burton, Larry Weiss, and Donald Bloom: yes.

I wasn't suggesting that Shakespeare's plays meant "no thing" or 
"anything at all," as I'm sure you realized: nor do I think it's 
impossible to discern a plausible meaning from the text, given the 
context and what we know of word usage and character, etc. My point was 
(solely) that, absent confirmation from the author, we can only 
conjecture . . .  make educated guesses . . .  derive that meaning which 
seems to us to be closest to what the author was trying to say.

My mirror to nature invocation was not meant to imply that we can 
construct nature as we desire it to be, either--I meant only that each 
of us construes things according to our nature. Case in point (a good 
example, in this context, of the difference between reader 
interpretation and "authorial intent," since the author himself was 
available for comment). I taught Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" to 
a number of undergraduates, and asked them what it was about. The males 
in the class (almost to a man) said it was a dad's romp with his 
kid--clumsy at points, but good fun for both of them. The females 
(unanimously) said no--it was a poem about drunken child abuse, and that 
though the father may not have intentionally have hurt his son, he was 
too drunk to be "waltzing" with the child, and had in fact injured him. 
I want to stress that *both* interpretations are equally valid, within 
the context of the poem.

Roethke himself had done a reading of it, which was available online. 
His intent was unmistakable from the grave, sad timbre of his tone: this 
was in fact a poem about child abuse. The sole male who agreed with the 
young women in the class had himself had an abusive father. The others 
had fond memories of father-son rough-housing. "Nature" had interpreted 
in each case what was most readily apprehendable from personal 
experience--as reader-response theory might phrase it.

Many feminists read Kate as a sell-out; I see her by the end of the play 
as having tamed two shrews, her husband, and her own wild and 
self-absorbed nature, and believe she adopts a public persona of 
subservience solely as an accommodation to the realities of Petruchio's 
world, external to the marriage. I doubt--very much--that she goes on to 
practice what she preaches in the literal sense at home--though both she 
and her bridegroom have by that point learned a valuable lesson of which 
both of them before that time had been sorely in need, that human 
relationships require compromise. (He is no more her "lord and master" 
than she is his.) That's what the data Shakespeare presents add up to, 
to me. Does that make those who see the opposite wrong? No. I can't 
"prove" my position, any more than they can "prove" theirs. Shylock 
engenders the same polarities . . .  and so do so many other 
Shakespearean characters. (Is Cordelia the wronged innocent, or a 
stubborn reflection of her stubborn old man?) In the absence of 
authorial confirmation one way or the other, we (as someone said 
earlier) "make meaning," too.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Sally Drumm <
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Date:		Wednesday, 17 Oct 2007 18:56:35 -0400
Subject: 18.0700 Authorial Intention
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0700 Authorial Intention

 >so it is very interesting that WS hit on the contrapasso idea
 >for a play that (like the Comedy) gives us a vision of Purgatory.

Shakespeare read human nature; contrapasso is elemental to human 
perception of justice as demonstrated even now - Al Gore, Nobel; George 
Bush, well.....

Shakespeare understood human nature and so human themes appear well 
wrought in his work - naturally. Now here stumbles the heart of our 
inquiry into authorial intention: are themes and meaningfulness 
intentionally authored; or, are themes and meaningfulness natural to the 
living work as human creation/construct - are they sown or grown? This, 
I believe, returns us to the question of the nature of genius.

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