Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: August ::
WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0558  Saturday, 25 August 2007

[1] 	From: 		Cary DiPietro <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 		Thursday, 23 Aug 2007 00:34:11 +0900
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0549 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

[2] 	From: 		John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 		Friday, 24 Aug 2007 15:15:47 +0100
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0549 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

[3] 	From: 		Julia Crockett <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 		Saturday, 25 Aug 2007 12:53:28 +0100
	Subj: 		Roundtable discussion


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Cary DiPietro <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Thursday, 23 Aug 2007 00:34:11 +0900
Subject: 18.0549 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0549 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

Ros King writes:

"I am interested in achieving a criticism which looks at the 
relationship between a playtext (with all its bibliographical problems) 
and a whole set of historical contexts (relating to story, time of 
writing, and of successive revivals), while analysing what might be 
written-in to groups of words in terms of sound, colour, picture and 
gesture, those building blocks of the emotions simulated in characters 
and strangely experienced by readers and audiences."

I've had to work hard to think about if or why this perfectly common 
sense and apparently reasonable formula for critical practice is an 
inadequate answer to what you describe, Ros, as the endless 
merry-go-round of the historicism/presentism debate.

You begin by suggesting the need to attend to the historical location of 
the playtext, 'with all its bibliographic problems'.  The language here 
is perhaps incidental, but to suggest that the playtext is somehow 
'problematized', whether by the vagaries and inconsistencies of early 
modern printing practices or by theatrical/authorial revision, is 
implicitly to presume that the 'text', the sought after historical 
artifact and final arbiter of meaning, is a fixed and singular act of 
intentional meaning, one that is inevitably corrupted over time by its 
production as a material work in history.  I understand that your 
consideration of comparable early printed texts is not in any way to 
attempt to reconstruct 'fair copy', but by the same token, I don't think 
a few hasty qualifications about hagiography will absolve you of the 
problem of intention that accompanies the notion of the early printed 
text as a fixed system of signification, albeit one subject to 
misinterpretation, often willed, as you argue.  The evasion is 
conspicuous in your curious elevation of the early printed text as an 
arbiter of meaning entirely divorced from intention, ie, how F or Q2 of 
Hamlet 'allows us to think'; does this mean we're not to entertain the 
possibility of authorial or theatrical revision in this case?  By the 
same token, are we meant to argue that, for example, random 
compositorial error creates valid meaning possibilities, e.g., the 
'solid' for 'sallied' argument, without any sense of preference of one 
for the other?

Our next task is to consider the relationship between this playtext and 
the myriad of historical contexts, the performances and the acts of 
criticism, that comprise what I think you would probably distinguish as 
the long period of Shakespeare's reception. But to what purpose we are 
meant to undertake this analysis, I'm not exactly sure.  Are these acts 
of critical production merely to be revealed as instances of the 'cherry 
picking' you describe?  To me, they sound like further layers of textual 
corruption that need to be peeled away to arrive at some unmediated 
core.  You mention the case of Kean's production of King John as 
'altering' Shakespeare rather than 'meaning by Shakespeare', which 
strikes me as a misleading distinction:  an act of cultural production 
in the nineteenth century, as a historically determined work in its own 
right, is no more a misprision of the 'text' than an act of cultural 
production in the sixteenth century, however much closer to an authorial 
ideal or intention that earlier production might happen to be; unless, 
of course, you're comparing theatrical production itself to that textual 
ideal, our task to reveal and correct the mistakes of the more recent 
past to 'return to the text'.  Am I misinterpreting you when you write, 
'analysing what interpreters have had to do to a text in order to make 
it mean what they wanted it to mean can be very revealing of the 
structure and possibilities for meaning of the earliest printed texts of 
the plays'?

And where does all of this lead?  To an analysis of 'what might be 
written-in to groups of words in terms of sound, colour, picture and 
gesture, those building blocks of the emotions simulated in characters 
and strangely experienced by readers and audiences'.  By this point, we 
really need to start interrogating what you mean by 'text':  it was 
conceived in a historical moment that determines its original meaning 
and was then ostensibly 'fixed' in the early printed text, though 
subject to textual variation; its been the object of misinterpretation 
and appropriation over the years, potentially to a greater extent in 
performance; but a close-reading analysis of its groups of words reveals 
how and why its meanings continue to speak to us today, posing questions 
about, for example, 'commodity, power and inheritance' that are still 
relevant.

No, I don't think this is an entirely adequate response to answer to the 
perceived limitations of the historicism/presentism debate, but if 
anything, is a step backwards.  What you appear to be advocating is a 
fairly traditional historical scholarship, one that presumes 'meaning' 
is a linear relationship between past and present, text and 
interpretation, signifier and signified; and, no, quoting the OED is not 
going to give us the theoretical depth we have come to expect in our use 
of the terms 'text' and 'meaning'.  Moreover, this historical approach 
belies, I think, a romanticist investment in the text that is only 
thinly concealed by an incomplete materialism.  There is an underlying 
historical allegory here that needs to be interrogated, this notion of a 
continuous trajectory that connects us directly to Shakespeare; sound 
historical scholarship will allow us direct access to an originary 
meaning that has been, to greater and lesser extents, often willingly 
misconstrued by performance and criticism of the past two or three 
hundred years.

The irony is that I don't at all disagree with the critical project you 
outline, and I would argue that presentism seeks to answer all of the 
questions about critical practice you implicitly and explicitly raise: 
what is it about these plays that creates the illusion of both 
permanence and presence?  How do they connect us to a past that, as 
Freud argues, is shaped by our indestructible wish to imagine the future 
in the present?  Why is how we mean just as important as, and often more 
revealing than, what we mean by Shakespeare?

Cary DiPietro

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Friday, 24 Aug 2007 15:15:47 +0100
Subject: 18.0549 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0549 WashPost: Ourselves in Shakespeare

I think Ros, that you are expressing a disappointment that David Lindley 
and I felt earlier about the 'Round Table' discussion on 'Presentism'. 
What nobody seems keen to discuss is the question of 'history' and how e 
deal with it that Presentism rises.

So, yes, let's try another way. I think you are right that 18th  (and 
probably 19th century) performances and what directors and actors did 
with texts influenced the public perception of plays, and King John is a 
case in point. It is the dialoguing with a 'text' that is not what we 
would think of as something that has editorial 'authority'that's 
interesting in this connection.  Michael Dobson has done quite a bit of 
work on this in his The Making of The National Poet, where he goes 
through prompt books of late 18th and early 19th century productions.

Once we get beyond the obvious point that 'texts' such as Shakespeares 
limit the parameters of meanings that we can generate - although Terry, 
you may feel that even that is too constricting a formulation - then we 
can speculate (a) about the meanings generated by these texts when they 
first appeared (though that presents some insurmountable epistemological 
problems and (b) about the meanings that subsequent epochs generate. I 
have in mind here Terry's inventive gloss on the name 'Fortinbras' in 
That Shakespeherian Rag; the question here is why? Or indeed, why not? 
What is it that prevents us from launching off from the text?  I ask 
because there is some attempt to claim that some of the recent (less 
inventive, and far more predictable) academic 'rewriting' of Shakespeare 
is itself a radical and progressive gesture.

...And this leads to the much larger question: where do we go from the 
rather large advances generated by the explosion of Theory in the 
1980s?..not backwards, I hope!

Cheers,
John D

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Julia Crockett <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Saturday, 25 Aug 2007 12:53:28 +0100
Subject: 	Roundtable discussion

I think the historicism/presentism dialectic is the debate. Maybe we 
could reconvene on the subject. I don't think we gave Hugh Grady credit. 
I should like to discuss his article in Shakespeare Vol. 1. The 
inspiration for Shakespeare the (RSC?) the periodical is to relate the 
disciplines of theory and practice. To engage performance with theory is 
its purpose. Is it possible to incorporate the performative dimension 
(which is a corollary to presentism anyway); which could be read as a 
pedagogic imperative, to apply theory to performance to practice?

In the words of the infamous, 'onwards and backwards.'  I would add 
'forwards'.

Cheers,
Julia

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.