The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0192 Friday, 28 March 2008
 From: Steve Roth <
Date: Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 21:48:49 -0700
Subj: Re: SHK 19.0162 Solid Flesh Once More
 From: David Bishop <
Date: Friday, 14 Mar 2008 02:41:02 -0400
Subj: Re: SHK 19.0175 Solid Flesh Once More
From: Steve Roth <
Date: Thursday, 13 Mar 2008 21:48:49 -0700
Subject: 19.0162 Solid Flesh Once More
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0162 Solid Flesh Once More
David Bishop <
>The thought which doesn't compute with anyone on this list,
>apparently, is that "too too solid flesh" refers to Hamlet's youth.
I *love* this thought. I had never thought of it, and it adds yet more
valences of meaning to the line. (David, you have read my screed on
Hamlet's youth, right? http://princehamlet.com/chapter_1.html) Just
because nobody has responded to the subject doesn't mean it doesn't compute.
Likewise William Godshalk's bit on a hilarious sexual reading. ("a dew"
= emission, "solid flesh" = a youthfully erect member, "melt, thaw" =
what happens to said solid flesh following said emission.) It's well
down the scale of "yeah that's gotta be right," but it's damned funny
and I'm adding it to my locker.
Do either of these prove that "solid" is the "correct" reading? No. But
they both add valid-to-at-least-amusingly-enjoyable additional
meanings, contributing to the density and layers of meaning that have
been steadily accreting to this line for centuries.
On that note, I should point out that hamletworks' Commentary Note for
this line runs to 10,000 words, approximately 28 pages.. (Which I have
>I wouldn't even seriously suggest that I was the first to
>see the reference to youth. In the vast corpus of criticism
>I'm sure someone has noticed that, here or there. But
>where? That is the question.
Not that it matters a great deal to me (I'm just happy to relish and
render my own somewhat-educated judgment on what you've provided), but I
would be curious to know about any of your predecessors on this point.
>I see no reason to think that "a dew" should be amended
>to "adieu", which though consonant, in a way, with the
>meaning of the sentence, itself does not really make sense.
I wouldn't dream of making that choice as a text editor. (Actors need
not choose in this case, unless they choose to "explain" the word[s] via
some action.) But I love having the variant meaning/reading as part of
the complex for the line that exists in my mind.
>Steve Roth takes the politically and deconstructionally
>correct position that words can mean anything and everything,
Oh please. Come on, David. My position is merely that words and strings
of words can have multiple meanings. Hardly controversial. I'm betting
that I have at least as little truck with the greater body of postmodern
"theory" as you do.
>to say that in a particular case a word means one thing and
>not another is mean-spirited, narrow-minded, bigoted, etc.
Oh please again. Not at all. The "one thing and not another" decision is
an often unfortunate necessity that an editor (and to a lesser extent a
actor or director) faces. One has no choice but to remove some of the
readings and their associated meanings, in choosing one. Just a fact, no
>If when I hear "solid" I also hear an echo of "salad",
Ha! I love that. Trying to work up a joke based on it...
>that doesn't mean Shakespeare intended that echo,
In a huge number of cases we have no way of knowing with any degree of
certainty what Shakespeare intended. (On what level of consciousness did
he "intend" any of the more allusive readings/meanings?) Based on the
multiple texts and variants, and the many plausible meanings arising
from same, it seems to me that he intended many things--complementary,
contradictory, and downright mischievous.
It actually amuses me greatly to think that Shakespeare "intended" to
leave behind the multiple, conflicting texts, and the innumerable
un-"fix"able cruxes that result.
We can of course conclude that he could not possibly have intended a
given variant or meaning, based on any number of arguments--notably
nonesensicalness (See: "salad"), lack of of evidence, or a great many
types of contradictory evidence.
>nor that it adds to my understanding of the play,
Ah now *there's* the ticket. That's what I care about.
>or to the greatness of the play.
It's greatness arises, in my mind, from the very density (complex
coherence or coherent complexity) that is generated by multiple,
interrelated, tightly interwoven readings and meanings: the tapestry,
which only can only be perceived in all its majesty in the mind. And the
more you know about it--the more readings and reasoned interpretations
you've internalized--the denser, more beautiful, and "greater" the
>The more weight is given to this amorphous nimbus
>of suggestibility the more trouble the work will have
>moving forward, to tell a story,
It's true that all that complexity can/does/often will get in the way of
a successful stage production (or first reading, for that matter), which
relies more on story and action. But for me that just speaks to
Shakespeare's genius-his ability to write for both the stage and the
page. (And the mind.)
>I would certainly agree that Shakespeare packs in
>suggestions that may be inaudible on the stage.
That's good to know. "Packs" is right. Seems obvious, though.
>To follow the program would seem to dissolve the
>possibility of meaning anything in particular.
This is like arguing that a country with strong social support systems
is the same as the Soviet Union. (An argument you hear distressingly
often on this side of the pond, along with altogether too many other
black-and-white arguments [literal and figurative]...) Have I said "Oh
>echoes which are intentional, meaningful and significant,
>in different ways, and those that are not, which requires
>critical insight, and argument.
My point is only that the argument should often be about *degree* of
belief (in Ulysses' sense?), as opposed to either/or belief. When I'm
holding this complex in my head, how much weight do I give to "solid"
(lots) and how much to "salad"? (Just enough for a quick grin-but it's
there now, and I'm keeping it!)
>The idea that it's meaningless, and mean, in general, to
>argue about what's correct and what isn't--though in particular
>cases that may be true--is often used, I think, to evade the
>point of particular arguments, as for example that Hamlet
>would not use "sullied" at this stage in the play.
Your "youth" argument for "solid" simply doesn't convince me to deny all
validity to "sullied." "I know not seems" does not, to me, (even begin
to) prove Hamlet's unalloyed belief in his own purity. I might opt for
your choice when editing (depending on many factors), but since I'm not
editing, there's no need to shred and discard a whole section of the
Oh, and in my previous post, I had meant to laud and praise this
previous of yours:
>In editing Shakespeare, my rule of thumb is to produce
>the best Shakespeare possible, which I tend to believe
>coincides with the real Shakespeare. Removing all appeal
>to meaning and quality in the interest of "objectivity" will
>accelerate the decline of the humanities,
If "best" means the Shakespeare which best puts across its density,
complexity, and coherence (and humor!), we agree. I also believe that
constitutes the most "authentic" Shakespeare--the Shakespeare that
Shakespeare, IMHO, most "intended."
Claiming "objectivity" on the sallied/solid question, and using it to
discard part of that intention's complex result, will undoubtedly
accelerate not only the decline of the humanities, but in fact the
disintegration of all civilized life on earth.
Oh and thanks to Hardy for his arduous if pleasant labors. Enjoyable
From: David Bishop <
Date: Friday, 14 Mar 2008 02:41:02 -0400
Subject: 19.0175 Solid Flesh Once More
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0175 Solid Flesh Once More
I appreciate Carol Barton's agreement on the limits of polysemy.
However, I think what Hamlet's old stock relishes implies some sense of
being sullied, as does the dram of eale (evil?) and perhaps the
suspicion of cowardice and/or bestiality.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
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.