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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: March ::
American and English Eyes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0184  Friday, 28 March 2008

[1] 	From:	Hannibal Hamlin <
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	Date:	Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 12:41:17 -0400
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[2] 	From:	Janet Costa <
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	Date:	Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 11:29:17 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[3] 	From:	Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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	Date:	Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 15:35:52 -0500
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[4] 	From:	Gabriel Egan <
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	Date:	Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 22:00:59 -0000
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[5] 	From:	Kathy Dent <
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	Date:	Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 23:16:19 +0000
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[6] 	From:	Patrick Dolan Jr. <
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	Date:	Friday, 14 Mar 2008 08:00:44 -0500
	Subj:	American and English Eyes

[7] 	From:	Carol Morley <
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	Date:	Saturday, 15 Mar 2008 15:36:49 +0000
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[8] 	From:	Joseph Egert <
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	Date:	Saturday, 15 Mar 2008 12:52:34 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

[9] 	From:	Jason Rhode <
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	Date:	Monday, 17 Mar 2008 10:28:57 -0600
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Hannibal Hamlin <
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Date:		Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 12:41:17 -0400
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

This post raises intriguing but very complex issues. I've been struck 
for years by how crazy Americans are for kings, queens, princes, and 
princesses. Look at how Diana was adulated in the U.S. Look at how 
eagerly the U.S. press (or TV) picks up stories about William and Harry. 
But America wants its own royal family too. Wasn't Caroline Kennedy's 
endorsement of Obama akin to bestowing the royal approval? I have 
nothing against Caroline Kennedy, but as far as I can tell the only 
reason her political position was newsworthy was that she is of the 
blood of JFK (of whom, for some, Obama is the avatar-new Camelot, once 
and future king). John-John got even more adulation when he was alive. 
He seemed nice and was very attractive, but he hardly earned attention 
by his own accomplishments. For another possible royal family, I suppose 
we might look to the Bushes. In a democracy, there is no logical reason 
for the son of a president to follow in his father's footsteps, or for 
this to be perceived as natural by the people, yet here we have Bush I 
and Bush II, and Jeb thrown in for good measure. The Bushes are also 
rich enough to be kings, and we seem to like this too-another element of 
royalty. (By the way, it was recently pointed out to me by a Brit that 
in political terms, America is more absolutist than Britain, since 
Britain has nothing resembling the Presidential veto.)

Shifting gears somewhat, but again complicating the notion of the US as 
a country that values the working man, why is it that the roots of 
anti-Stratfordianism are so strong in America (Delia Bacon et al.)? It 
seems to be actually Americans who are most troubled by the idea of 
Shakespeare as a commoner, and how want him to be revealed to be a 
closet aristo. NOTE: I RAISE THIS ONLY IN TERMS OF THE QUESTION OF 
ATTITUDES TO CLASS, NOT FOR THE AUTHORSHIP Q. PER SE.

Yet another question: note the current state of labor unions in the US, 
compared to Britain, or look at how rapidly terrified Americans are of 
anything that smacks of socialism or communism. We can't even get 
anywhere with healthcare because plans for universal healthcare seem to 
take us toward Stalinism and the Gulags.

At any rate, I would challenge the idea that America any longer (if it 
ever did) values the working class over the aristocracy or monarchy.

An interesting question though!

Hannibal Hamlin
The Ohio State University

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Janet Costa <
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Date:		Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 11:29:17 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

Sam Small wrote:

 >As an Englishman who thinks of himself as culturally 100%
 >American, I have tried to fathom the difference in social sensibilities
 >between the two countries when considering the great plays
 >of Shakespeare . . . Given the surprising differences between the two
 >histories are there distinctive American or English views of the plays?
 >Is Othello, Richard III, Henry V or Macbeth viewed more sympathetically
 >on one side of the pond or the other? Or any differences?

I'm just finishing up a Shakespeare on Film course in which I included 
Laura Bohannon's essay, "Shakespeare in the Bush," (discussed in this 
forum in September 2002) which, coincidentally, mentions the difference 
between Americans and Brits toward Hamlet. I think it's a very funny 
piece, because it dares to inject a point of view that is neither 
American or British. My students and I always find the last paragraph 
especially amusing.

Members may find the essay at:

   http://www.cc.gatech.edu/home/idris/Essays/Shakes_in_Bush.htm

Janet

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:		Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 15:35:52 -0500
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

Sam Small asks: "Given the surprising differences between the two 
histories are there
distinctive American or English views of the plays?"

I was pondering this very question in regard to Falstaff the other day. 
I wondered if English people would be much more forgiving of Hal for 
rejecting Falstaff than Americans would. I think a lot of Americans 
consider friend-loyalty to be very serious, even if (and sometimes 
especially if) that friend is somewhat of a misfit. Granted, Falstaff is 
a thief, a drunk, and a womanizer of sorts, but he does really love Hal. 
And the audience loves Falstaff. But would a British audience react to 
Hal's rejection of Falstaff by rejecting Hal?

That's how my (American) students reacted last semester when I taught 1 
& 2 Henry IV AND Henry V. By the time we got to "O for a Muse of fire" 
my students were ready to crucify Henry V, although in the evaluations, 
they all said they would recommend teaching all three of the plays 
again. Falstaff's rejection caused quite a stirring reaction from them 
-- as if THEY, not Falstaff, had been betrayed. And it was a great 
teaching moment for me, because they really got interested in the 
history plays!

So this is not an answer to Sam Small's question, really, but an 
invitation for more information for those of us in America who are 
Shakespeare lovers, but who are at a bit of a cultural disadvantage. (Or 
at least, occasionally think they are...)

Best,
Marcia Eppich-Harris

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Gabriel Egan <
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Date:		Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 22:00:59 -0000
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

SAM SMALL's summary of English history is wanting in subtlety:

 >The Norman invasion, the foundation of the modern
 >English state, murdered and exiled the rightful English
 >ruling class. The English working classes were losers
 >and were deeply ashamed of their rout.

There are several problematic anachronisms here, but instead of picking 
at them I wonder if I might simply invite SAM SMALL to consider the 
possibility that for the slaves of Anglo-Saxon England the events of the 
late 11th century were not entirely disastrous.

 From a modern perspective, it's awfully hard to maintain that 
slave-owning Anglo-Saxon England was a lost golden age.

Gabriel Egan

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Kathy Dent <
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Date:		Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 23:16:19 +0000
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

Sam Small writes:

 >In England it is the exact opposite. The Norman invasion, the foundation
 >of the modern English state, murdered and exiled the rightful English
 >ruling class. The English working classes were losers and were deeply
 >ashamed of their rout. They have never recovered. In time the French
 >aristocracy became the British gentry creating the industrial revolution
 >and social disaster. To this day there is fond deference to any
 >aristocratic origin when expressed by most working or middle classes
 >from the UK.

As an English person who considers herself 100% culturally British, I 
can confirm that this is the most tosh I have read for a long time.  If 
the rightful English ruling classes were murdered and exiled and the 
French aristocracy became the English gentry, to whom are the rabble now 
tugging their forelocks? In the words of Al Murray 'If we had no rules, 
where would we be? France. If we had too many rules, where would we be? 
Germany.' That's about as fondly deferential as the British working 
classes get to ANYBODY.

Kathy Dent

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Patrick Dolan Jr. <
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Date:		Friday, 14 Mar 2008 08:00:44 -0500
Subject:	American and English Eyes

While I'm sure that many will correct/augment/argue with/supplement  Sam 
Small's history, both of the U.S. and the U.K., one thing that  springs 
immediately to mind is the playing of Caliban.

The most recent Tempest I've seen here in Iowa represented the storm 
with a shower or corn--showy, effective, funny, and totally off the 
wall. Caliban and the other spirits were African American, and I mused 
that while they may have represented the kidnapped Africans that 
provided the labour that build the southern part of the U.S. under the 
watchful eyes (and weapons) of the literate, landed Scots and English, 
they also erased (yet again) the indigenous, dispossessed owners of said 
land.

This struck me as a characteristic American move. But I don't know if 
it's unique to the U.S. (Australians? Canadians? South Africans? Indians?)

Cheers,
Pat

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Carol Morley <
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Date:		Saturday, 15 Mar 2008 15:36:49 +0000
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

Hi Sam,

Perhaps you could clear up the definition of 'Archers syndrome' for list 
members on either side of the Pond?

Do you refer to the brand of gin (very English tipple), the disgraced 
Tory peer and execrable novelist, the bow-and-arrow stalwarts of 
Agincourt and similar successful thwacking of the Normans' descendants, 
or the indestructible BBC radio series? Oddly, they'd all work in context.

Best wishes,
Carol

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Joseph Egert <
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Date:		Saturday, 15 Mar 2008 12:52:34 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

Sam Small writes: "America was founded on the sweat, blood and tears of 
the unlettered working classes of Europe."

Only Europe?

Sam continues: "The Norman invasion, the foundation of the modern 
English state, murdered and exiled the rightful English ruling class."

Rightful to whom?

Finally, "in most of Shakespeare's plays" "[t]he working classes are 
often dim, chase sex, are shorter, often very cunning and given to much 
wise cracking."

Yet isn't the peasant who rises against Cornwall at the cost of his life 
Shakespeare's moral standard?

Joe Egert

[9]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Jason Rhode <
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Date:		Monday, 17 Mar 2008 10:28:57 -0600
Subject: 19.0169 American and English Eyes
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0169 American and English Eyes

I'm an American. Here are my thoughts, and the thoughts held by many of 
my fellow countrymen who read the plays. Obviously, I can only speak for 
myself and the people known to me, but I'd be very surprised if this 
wasn't universal across the country.

To me and my countrymen, the entire idea of kings is quaint, sort of 
like DaVinci's flying machines. With no disrespect to Her Highness, most 
Americans probably look on any still-existing constitutional monarchies 
around the world as a half-measure-"Shame they didn't toss the entire 
thing when they had a chance." Why not kick in the whole rotten 
structure for all and be done with it? We got rid of Farmer George and 
his stamps and his crooked Parliament. Others could've done the same.

Henry V and Richard III are models of good and bad leadership, but in 
the way that Hercules is a byword of strength, or the Ugly Duckling is a 
symbol for comeuppance; these are ancient, mythic curiosities. Useful 
for metaphor, of course. For most of us, Good King Hal and Bad King Dick 
are on the same level as Robin Hood, King John, and the Sherriff of 
Nottingham: figures from some bygone old past, when crowns mattered. Any 
nostalgia felt for them is in the same vein as people who long for 
Tolkien's elves.

The squabbling over Henry's lineage in the beginning of his play 
confuses us; why does it matter? Why does the king feel the need to 
dismiss Falstaff, the greatest man in England? The nobles of Athens have 
no grounds for criticizing Bottom and his mechanicals, who are of a 
higher sort than Hippolyta and Theseus anyway. What has the Duke ever 
done with himself, eh?  He's nobility, which makes him suspect, probably 
a snob. We don't like snobs. Snobs of various kinds-some in the church, 
some on thrones-are what pushed all of us across the ocean.

And while we're on it, Old Prospero had a piece of prime real estate on 
his island. Why give that up to run some crummy city?

Coriolanus is a scoundrel; Lear just proves how stupid monarchs can be.

Americans, I imagine, find all of this fussing over succession pretty 
pointless: it's like squabbling over lunar real estate or time-shares if 
Cuckoo-Cloud-Land. Why spend so much time arguing over something which 
is illegitimate anyway?

And for that matter, why get rid of Jack Cade? In America, we didn't get 
the Tory memo about the French Revolution. Every popular or republican 
rabblerouser in the plays, whatever their faults, seem to us not 
Robspierres-in-embryo-perhaps, in a better world, they would have been 
Sons of Liberty. "For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with 
the spirit of putting down kings and princes." Always a good idea, that.

If he was put in our history books, Cade might seem to the majority of 
Americans like a fellow of imprudent temper but understandable 
grievances.  It puzzles us that Shakespeare, who was so smart, would 
have earnestly defended monarchy. Surely, we think, deep down, he would 
have been of a democratic temperament, had he not been compelled to 
vive-le-roi by his chaotic time.

Othello, for obvious reasons, is deeply pertinent to us.

And Macbeth? Well, it was his bad fortune not to be born in the era of 
the leveraged buy-out.

However, to respond more eloquently to Mr. Small's question, I'm going 
to quote one of the finest works of the American language (maybe *the* 
greatest), "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." It's from Chapter 23. 
The Duke and the King have just scammed some green off a couple of 
gullible hicks. Huck is narrating, of course:

Them rapscallions took in four hundred and sixty-five dollars in that 
three nights. I never see money hauled in by the wagon-load like that 
before. By and by, when they was asleep and snoring, Jim says:

"Don't it s'prise you de way dem kings carries on, Huck?"

"No," I says, "it don't."

"Why don't it, Huck?"

"Well, it don't, because it's in the breed. I reckon they're all alike,"

"But, Huck, dese kings o' ourn is reglar rapscallions; dat's jist what 
dey is; dey's reglar rapscallions."

"Well, that's what I'm a-saying; all kings is mostly rapscallions, as 
fur as I can make out."

"Is dat so?"

"You read about them once-you'll see. Look at Henry the Eight; this 'n 
's a Sunday-school Superintendent to HIM. And look at Charles Second, 
and Louis Fourteen, and Louis Fifteen, and James Second, and Edward 
Second, and Richard Third, and forty more; besides all them Saxon 
heptarchies that used to rip around so in old times and raise Cain. My, 
you ought to seen old Henry the Eight when he was in bloom. He WAS a 
blossom. He used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head 
next morning. And he would do it just as indifferent as if he was 
ordering up eggs. 'Fetch up Nell Gwynn,' he says. They fetch her up. 
Next morning, 'Chop off her head!' And they chop it off. 'Fetch up Jane 
Shore,' he says; and up she comes, Next morning, 'Chop off her head'-and 
they chop it off. 'Ring up Fair Rosamun.' Fair Rosamun answers the bell. 
Next morning, 'Chop off her head.' And he made every one of them tell 
him a tale every night; and he kept that up till he had hogged a 
thousand and one tales that way, and then he put them all in a book, and 
called it Doomsday Book-which was a good name and stated the case. You 
don't know kings, Jim, but I know them; and this old rip of ourn is one 
of the cleanest I've struck in history. Well, Henry he takes a notion he 
wants to get up some trouble with this country. How does he go at it- 
give notice?-give the country a show? No. All of a sudden he heaves all 
the tea in Boston Harbor overboard, and whacks out a declaration of 
independence, and dares them to come on. That was HIS style-he never 
give anybody a chance. He had suspicions of his father, the Duke of 
Wellington. Well, what did he do? Ask him to show up? No-drownded him in 
a butt of mamsey, like a cat. S'pose people left money laying around 
where he was-what did he do? He collared it. S'pose he contracted to do 
a thing, and you paid him, and didn't set down there and see that he 
done it-what did he do? He always done the other thing. S'pose he opened 
his mouth-what then? If he didn't shut it up powerful quick he'd lose a 
lie every time. That's the kind of a bug Henry was; and if we'd a had 
him along 'stead of our kings he'd a fooled that town a heap worse than 
ourn done. I don't say that ourn is lambs, because they ain't, when you 
come right down to the cold facts; but they ain't nothing to THAT old 
ram, anyway. All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make 
allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the 
way they're raised."

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