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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: April ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0233  Tuesday, 22 April 2008

From:		Cary DiPietro <
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Date:		Monday, 21 Apr 2008 22:20:27 -0400
Subject:	SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

Welcome, everyone, to this second SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's 
intentions. I'm delighted by this opportunity to guest-moderate what I 
believe is going to be a productive and lively discussion. Before we 
begin, I would like to outline briefly the way the discussion is going 
to be organized and directed over the next few weeks.

The first Roundtable guest-moderated by Hugh Grady last year was a great 
success. Not only was the quality of the discussion exemplary, the 
issues that were raised there spawned numerous subsequent threads, and 
continue to be referenced on SHAKSPER well after the fact. Combined with 
its afterlife, the Roundtable clearly achieved Hardy's goal of providing 
an electronic forum for enabling productive academic discourse in an 
alternative platform. This is certainly my hope for our discussion here: 
that we'll revisit an old argument about intention and, by way of 
productive dialogue, reignite debate, explore different, even 
unconventional, ideas, and achieve a kind of discourse that more 
traditional professional outlets do not necessarily allow.

Having said that, I know that Hugh would have preferred to have seen 
more contributions during the actual Roundtable itself. In an effort to 
stimulate as much discussion as possible over the next few weeks, I've 
solicited a number of leading contributions from the SHAKSPER community 
to headline the discussion for each installment. These are going to be 
organized topically; with each installment, I'll announce the following 
installment's topic and leading contributor, inviting SHAKSPEReans to 
contribute on the topic, to respond to earlier topics or contributions, 
or to open up new avenues for discussion in other directions. Any given 
week's contributions will be organized into, firstly, those that address 
the topic (grouped with the leading contribution), secondly, those that 
navigate their own course through the broader issue of intention, and, 
finally, those that primarily respond to earlier contributions, 
prioritized from substantive responses to passing reflections and minor 
corrections. What I want to emphasize by way of this explicit hierarchy 
is that there will be a place and space for a wide array of 
contributions and responses within the scope of Hardy's vision of the 
Roundtable as a more formal and reflective form of discussion than 
regular list discussions.

This qualification needs to be made because this particular Roundtable 
must negotiate the terrain between an earlier, popular, and occasionally 
heated, thread on "Authorial Intention" begun last year, and a 
collaboration with the journal _Style_, edited by John V. Knapp. The 
question of how or whether the Roundtable discussion will be reproduced 
in the journal remains to be decided, but, in any case, my goal for the 
moment is to see that we make the most of the Roundtable format as first 
envisioned by Hardy; the tone of contributions should be one of 
professional and informed dialogue, rather than prepared article. 
However, I'm going to introduce the convention that we adhere to MLA 
format in the Roundtable, as per _Style_. Contributors should not feel 
obliged to introduce secondary sources into the discussion, but should 
they choose to do so, then we will follow MLA. Many in the SHAKSPER 
community will not be familiar with MLA conventions, so I'm offering to 
edit contributions accordingly, but please be sure to include as much 
citational information as possible when quoting or referring to 
secondary sources. I'll provide a list of works cited at the end of each 
digest. All general references to Shakespeare's works will be made to 
the Oxford Complete Works, second edition (2005), unless the argument 
warrants quotation of or reference to a different edition, and should 
you happen to have a copy handy, you can help me immensely by making 
your citations there rather than elsewhere. Again, I will edit 
accordingly when necessary.

With the preliminaries out of the way, let's begin. What follows this 
week is my own introductory contribution to the discussion on the topic 
of "Shakespeare's Intentions." I invite participants to respond to the 
questions I pose at the end, to challenge my assumptions and 
definitions, or to offer their own way into the topic. Next week's 
discussion will be led by a contribution from John Drakakis on the topic 
of "Intention and Textual Authority."
______________________________________


"Shakespeare's Intentions"

Writing in 1928, in lectures that would eventually be published in the 
polemical volume _A Room of One's Own_ (1929), Virginia Woolf offered 
her own position on Shakespeare as an intending author: "For though we 
say that we know nothing about Shakespeare's state of mind," she wrote 
at the very midpoint of her essay, an essay that otherwise addresses the 
topic of women and fiction, "even as we say that, we are saying 
something about Shakespeare's state of mind. The reason perhaps why we 
know so little of Shakespeare-compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or 
Milton-is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from 
us. We are not held up by some 'revelation' which reminds us of the 
writer. All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay 
off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance 
was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him 
free and unimpeded" (Chapter 3).

Though characteristically mellifluous, Woolf's writing in _A Room_ is 
marked by numerous contradictions, many of them deliberate, and not the 
least of which is her Shakespeare, held up as a model for female 
authorship because he represents, in Coleridgean terms, an androgynous 
ideal. In a subsequent chapter, she invites female writers to "think 
back" through their mothers, the first of whom, by way of sequential 
metaphors revolving around such concepts as anonymity and androgyny, 
turns out to be Shakespeare. Shakespeare was, for Woolf, a model of the 
"incandescent mind," a metaphor she used to describe that imaginative 
essence or core implied by the name "Shakespeare" which she understood 
to be the single, originating source for the "poetry" that bears his 
name, "poetry" here to mean not a conventional genre of writing, but the 
creative product of Shakespeare's imagination.

This is an admittedly complex formulation for the idea of "intention" at 
play in Woolf's writing, but it's made necessary by the fact that _A 
Room_ predates by several years the rise to hegemony of the vocabulary 
of "intention" heralded by Wimsatt and Beardsley's 1946 essay, "The 
Intentional Fallacy." Nevertheless, "intention"-as an elision or, for 
Wimsatt and Beardsley, a "confusion" of a work with its origin-is 
clearly a point of speculation for Woolf. Shakespeare occupies an 
important place in her writing, not only as the brother of the imaginary 
Judith Shakespeare in _A Room_, but, ultimately, as a model of literary 
genius, the writer who transmits emotion without impediment, who "is 
naturally creative, incandescent and undivided" (Chapter 6). The 
relationship between an intending genius and the body of writing that 
has descended to us is one of unproblematic metonymy.

Despite this romanticist investment in such concepts as literary genius, 
however, Shakespeare remains central to her material demands, explicit 
in the title of the volume, that women need a room of their own and five 
hundred pounds a year to write fiction. Thus, she writes: "fiction is 
like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still 
attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely 
perceptible; Shakespeare's plays, for instance, seem to hang there 
complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at 
the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun 
in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human 
beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and 
money and the houses we live in" (Chapter 3).

I've chosen to begin our discussion of intention by, rather than 
pronouncing on the topic, putting forth for our consideration a concrete 
example, in this case, of a well-known writer speculating on the nature 
of Shakespeare's authorship. Woolf's is actually a fascinating, and 
illuminating, case study of intention, and I raise it here at 
considerable length because, I argue, it bears immediately upon what we 
do when we discuss Shakespeare now.

On the one hand, her version of Shakespeare seems quaintly antiquated. 
There are, to begin, fallacious assumptions about Shakespeare's 
authorship and biography that descend, unchallenged, from familiar 
nineteenth-century lore: in a synoptic biography in Chapter 3, 
Shakespeare rises from deer poacher and immodest youth to horse 
attendant and, later, dramatic genius who "never blotted a line." There 
is also an uneasy equivalence of genre in Woolf's writing, as if the 
writing of plays, poems and fiction all required the same imaginative 
investment, despite the differing material circumstances that enabled 
their production. While she praises Shakespeare for, in some sense, 
"concealing" himself in his plays, she fails to account for rather 
obvious differences between dramatic and non-dramatic writing; not 
without reason, debate about authorial intention has tended to revolve 
around third-person narration and, to a lesser extent, first-person 
speakers in poetry, where the temptation to "hear" the voice of the 
writer speaking through the text is inevitably greater.

On the other hand, Woolf is highly conscious of her own narratorial 
voice. She writes the essay as a narrative structure of plot and 
character, and she explicitly calls attention to the constructed nature 
of the identity who "speaks" (the essay derives from a series of 
lectures Woolf delivered to the women's colleges at Cambridge in 1928): 
"'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being" 
(Chapter 1), she states, before going on to assume the names Mary Beton, 
Mary Seton and Mary Carmichael at different points later in the essay. 
Part of the reason for this self-conscious play on narrative identity is 
the genre in which she writes, the familiar essay, a form popular in the 
nineteenth century, but often traced back to Montaigne in the sixteenth 
century, who is commonly said to have invented the "I." For Woolf, this 
"I" represents a male strategy of writing, a gendered textual position 
from which patriarchal writers, historically, have pronounced on women. 
Her attempt to evade the "I" in her own writing is, therefore, 
demonstrative of her desire to transcend the gendered history of 
writing; the impersonal "One" of _A Room of One's Own_ is, indeed, a 
carefully chosen pronoun, neither "my" nor "her." But Woolf's evasion 
also explains her elevation of Shakespeare as a relatively "anonymous" 
and androgynous ideal.

Shakespeare thus becomes a paradoxical figure in _A Room_ because he 
represents an archetypal genius in a way that seems consistent with what 
George Bernard Shaw, heaping derision on the nineteenth-century familiar 
essayist, called "bardolatry," while, at the same time, he's also held 
up as a prescriptive model for a radical rethinking and de-gendering of 
authorship. The paradox, and this is my point, should be familiar to us 
because Shakespeare continues to occupy such apparently inconsistent, 
perhaps even dialectically opposite, places in Shakespeare criticism: on 
the one hand, as a canonical writer whose centrality and importance in 
professionalized literary studies has continued unabated since their 
inception in the late nineteenth century, even while, on the other hand, 
as a focal point for debate about early modern authorship, subjectivity, 
and gendered identity in more radicalized modes of criticism, especially 
those associated with post-1960s continental theory.

A clarification of terms is perhaps necessary at this point: I use the 
term "intention" to mean a principle of formal unity in a literary work 
of art; that is, the work of literature conceived, in a formalist sense, 
as a unified structure of meaning, but one whose completeness and 
wholeness presumes, whether acknowledged or not, an intentional 
consciousness seen to have produced the work. This is necessarily an 
inadequate definition, and one that I hope invites debate, even though 
many of the questions this definition raises are well-rehearsed: how is 
it that writers intend? Are they always conscious of their intentions? 
How capable are they of realizing their own intentions in any given 
medium? Are these intentions always fixed in a static text, or can they 
be seen to be changing from one moment to the next in the process of 
writing? Can such intentions ever be known? These are questions 
unaddressed by Woolf. Shakespeare is, rather than an "intentional 
consciousness," a "genius," to mean both an artist with extraordinary 
capacity for imaginative creation and invention, but, also, by way of an 
older etymology, an attendant spirit residing still in the work.

Nevertheless, we can readily situate _A Room_ within and against a 
genealogy of intention in professional literary criticism. Woolf's 
emphasis on genius evidences a romanticist inheritance that would be 
adopted into aspects of modernism, both the literary high modernism of 
her contemporaries such as James Joyce and T. S. Eliot, but also the 
modernist criticism of professional scholars writing in the same 
generation, from Caroline Spurgeon (whose _Shakespeare's Imagery_ begins 
with an epigraph from Woolf's _Orlando_) to G. Wilson Knight, _Scrutiny_ 
critics such as L. C. Knights and Muriel Bradbrook, and the American New 
Critics. The problem of intention, surfacing as it did in the 1940s, was 
arguably inevitable: modernist criticism is generally formalist in the 
sense that it gives emphasis to the formal or structural construction of 
the literary work, and, therefore, it proceeds from the assumption of 
the wholeness of intention behind the work; but as literary critics 
increasingly sought to professionalize their activities by developing 
sophisticated schools of critical analysis, from hermeneutics to 
historical formalism, they turned, ever more, from esoteric questions in 
aesthetics-genius, beauty, the sublime-to more empirical forms of 
structural analysis, eventually denouncing any romanticist attachment to 
the idea of the author.

In 1929, women, however, did not hold English or literature appointments 
in universities; indeed, the University of Cambridge, where Woolf 
delivered her lectures in 1928, did not even grant full degrees to 
female graduates (Spurgeon and Bradbrook were later among them). Woolf 
was herself not university educated, but she moved in elite 
Cambridge-educated circles in Bloomsbury, and she wrote literary and 
social criticism in published volumes which she styled "Common Readers." 
If her Shakespeare seems old-fashioned, quaintly nineteenth-century in 
1928, this may have been her deliberate strategy, flouting what were to 
her male-gendered modes of professional discourse in favor of a more 
familiar, more colloquial "common" style. In any case, Woolf's is very 
evidently a politicized reading of authorship. She provides a genealogy 
of literary authorship that gives emphasis to the material conditions 
that enable writers to write and that determine the way that they write, 
with a particular emphasis, obviously enough, on historical gender bias. 
In this manner, and despite seemingly antiquated platitudes about genius 
and art, _A Room_ anticipates more contemporary materialist and feminist 
criticisms.

I've already referred SHAKSPEReans to the 1997 _Textual Practice_ debate 
about the materiality of the Shakespeare text. The debate followed the 
publication of an article by Margreta De Grazia and Peter Stallybrass in 
_Shakespeare Quarterly_ in 1993, in which they made the argument that 
the idea of dramatic authorship is, more or less, the result of material 
printing house practices: "Our post-Enlightenment critical tradition," 
they argue, "has imagined the author standing above or beyond the 
categories thus far considered, generating words, constructing 
characters, and creating texts that form his collected works. But all 
the above illustrations lend support to the simple but profound insight 
that 'whatever they may do, authors do not write books'" (273). In his 
response to the article, "Making love to our employment; or, the 
immateriality of arguments about the materiality of the Shakespearean 
text," Edward Pechter begins with two epigraphs, one from Northrop Frye, 
and another from the semiotic critic, Jonathan D. Culler, both of which 
are worth quoting here:

"Understanding a poem.. begins in a complete surrender... to the impact 
of the work as a whole, and proceeds through the effort to unite the 
symbols toward a simultaneous perception of the unity of the structure. 
(This is a *logical* sequence... I have no idea what the psychological 
sequence is, or whether there is a sequence). [Northrop Frye]

the interpretation of individual works is only tangentially related to 
the understanding of literature. To engage in the study of literature is 
not to produce yet another interpretation of King Lear but to advance 
one's understanding of the conventions and operations of an institution, 
a mode of discourse... one thing we do not need is more interpretations 
of literary works." [Jonathan Culler] (in Pechter 51)

Note the way that Pechter positions his response implicitly within a 
debate about authorial intention by way of the two epigraphs (Frye 
simply dismisses a question he's not prepared to answer, Culler 
dismisses "literary interpretation" altogether), and in a way that 
suggests a tension between a more traditional or formalist kind of 
criticism (Frye) and a more recent poststructuralist criticism (Culler). 
More importantly, Pechter emphasizes the fact that this tension is not 
just an issue of critical perspective, but a disciplinary issue about 
what we do, our employment, as literary critics: "For us, surrendering 
completely to the impact of [a Shakespeare play]," he argues, "and at 
the same time exerting ourselves strenuously to take possession of what 
possesses us-this is something we have to do. We do make love to our 
employment" (65).

I'm not exactly sure what Pechter is advocating here, whether it's a 
return to some aspect of modernist formalism, or merely the hint of a 
romanticist fetishism. There is, it must be said, a subtle and 
subversive irony in Pechter's writing that his critics miss, and this is 
surely an irony in itself-perhaps this is his intention-because irony is 
precisely the kind of literary structure (the what-isn't-written) an 
exclusive materialism (the 
only-what-is-there-in-the-material-of-the-text) is incapable of reading. 
  This is the question: can a textual practice that has no interest in 
analyzing formal literary structures and techniques be classed as a kind 
of literary interpretation, and, if not, what does it do for, or what is 
it doing to, the study of literature? And while Pechter seems to follow 
the path of Frye in his evasion of the intention question, we could 
rightly ask as well: can such literary structures and techniques, irony 
among them, be understood or conceived without some recourse to the idea 
of a writer who intended them? In this manner, Pechter's critique of 
contemporary materialism raises the point that questions of authorial 
intention remain at the very core of a disciplinary practice, or perhaps 
that they should, or, in a more qualified manner, that they should form 
part of our metacritical awareness and positioning, our textual 
practice, as literary critics.

We can certainly see on SHAKSPER how running discussions about authorial 
intention inevitably culminate in debates about critical methodology; 
witness not only the more recent "Authorial Intention" thread (2007), 
but, more pointedly, the 2001 "Authorial Intention" thread, which 
quickly descended into a debate about the merit of "theory." This 
splitting into polar critical camps happens all too commonly on 
SHAKSPER; a clear dividing line separates "traditionalists", holding up 
the canon as a body of self-evident and timeless "truths" about the 
human condition, from "theorists", evidently determined to demystify 
such truth claims. This is a gross simplification, one that fails to do 
justice to the diversity of critical methodologies in professional 
criticism that inevitably inform debate on SHAKSPER, but it does echo 
the kind of antipathy commonly expressed on the list.

This is what I find truly remarkable about Woolf's writing, the way that 
she's able to mobilize a version of Shakespeare to serve her political 
ends, even while she remains invested in literature as a unique mode of 
writing, a product of genius that, when it works well, appears to 
transcend the material conditions of circumstance. The immaterial and 
material aspects of literary writing are not mutually exclusive 
interests, but codependent preconditions for the production of great 
literature-and, one assumes by extension, the understanding or 
appreciation of it. Of course, such positioning produces contradictions 
for Woolf, but she embraces these contradictions as part of her 
non-doctrinal critical philistinism.

I'm not at all advocating a "return" to a modernist or any other kind of 
critical perspective, but I do want to use the example of Woolf to raise 
questions for our discussion here: have we abandoned the idea that 
literary expression requires a special kind of talent or insight, call 
it genius if you wish, that is finally reducible to a single originating 
source in the author? Is there more fluidity between genres of writing 
than we generally allow, and is it, therefore, possible to speak, in 
some qualified way, of dramatists as authors of fictions with 
intentions? Is it imperative for us as literary scholars and students, 
if not to speculate on the nature of Shakespeare's intentions as Woolf 
does in _A Room_, then, perhaps, to question the value or necessity, as 
Pechter does, of aesthetic pleasure or some equivalent principle of 
literary art as a precondition for the study of literary texts? Is it 
possible or desirable to recuperate such value-laden and inescapably 
political assumptions about genius and literary expression upon which 
the professional criticism of literature was founded, and which remain 
(some would say insidiously) embedded in contemporary critical paradigms?


Works Cited

Cook, Hardy M. (ed.). "Authorial Intention." Online posting. 5 Mar. 2001 
to 2 Apr. 2001. _SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare 
Conference_. 21 April 2008. 
<http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2001/0525.html>

--- "Authorial Intention." Online posting. 7 Sept. 2007 to 17 Oct. 2007. 
_SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference_. 21 April 2008. 
  <http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2007/0576.html>

De Grazia, Margreta and Peter Stallybrass. "The materiality of the 
Shakespearean text." _Shakespeare Quarterly_ 44.3 (1993):  255-83.

Pechter, Edward. "Making love to our employment; or, the immateriality 
of arguments about the materiality of the Shakespearean text." _Textual 
Practice_ 11.1 (1997):  51-67.

Wimsatt, William K. and Monroe C. Beardsley. "The Intentional Fallacy." 
_Sewanee Review_ 54 (1946): 468-488. Revised and republished in _The 
Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry_. U of Kentucky P, 1954. 3-18.

Woolf, Virginia. _A Room of One's Own, a Project Gutenburg of Australia 
eBook_. Oct. 2002. Project Gutenburg Australia. 21 April 2008. 
<http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200791.txt>

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