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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0241 Monday, 28 April 2008
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Monday, April 28, 2008
Subject: SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions Redux
I received no responses to the first digest in the newest SHAKSPER
Roundtable - Shakespeare's Intentions - guest moderated by Cary
DiPietro. I am sure that there are many reasons for this lack of
response. Nevertheless, I have decided to repost the initial digest
before we proceed with the second one, which will include a paper that
Cary invited a SHAKSPER member to contribute.
Should you have missed it, Cary provided us with a substantial reading
list to stimulate discussion on the topic of Shakespeare's Intentions:
De Grazia, Margreta and Peter Stallybrass. "The materiality of the
Shakespearean text." Shakespeare Quarterly, 44.3 (1993): 255-83.
De Grazia, Margreta and Peter Stallybrass. "Love among the ruins:
response to Pechter." Textual Practice 11.1 (1997): 69-79.
Greenstadt, Amy. "'Read it in me': the author's will in 'Lucrece'".
Shakespeare Quarterly 57.1 (2006): 45-70.
Holderness, Graham, Bryan Loughrey and Andrew Murphy. "Busy doing
nothing: a response to Edward Pechter." Textual Practice 11.1 (1997): 81-7.
Jahn, Manfred. "Narrative Voice and Agency in Drama: Aspects of a
Narratology in Drama." New Literary History 32 (2001): 659-679.
Patterson, Annabel. "Intention." In Critical Terms for Literary Study.
Eds. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: U of Chicago
Press, 1987. 135-146.
Pease, Donald E. "Author." In Critical Terms for Literary Study. Eds.
Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: U of Chicago Press,
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.
Phelan, James. Living to Tell About It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of
Character Narration. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2005: 1-23 (excerpt from
Rabinowitz, Peter. Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the
Politics of Interpretation. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1987: 15-29.
Richardson, Brian. "Voice and Narration in Post-Modern Drama." New
Literary History 32 (2001): 681-694.
Wilson, Luke. Theatres of Intention: Drama and the Law in Early Modern
England. California: Stanford UP, 2000. See esp. Introduction.
I just received my copy of Shakespeare Survey 59 (I purchase it as part
of my membership to the Shakespeare Association of America). This
volume contains yet another essay by the anti-theory curmudgeon Ed
Pechter that I believe belongs in our reading list: "Crisis in Editing?"
_Shakespeare Survey_ 59 (2006): 20-38.
Should anyone have difficulty obtaining any of these essays please send
me an e-mail at
As promised here is the initial digest in the SHAKSPER Roundtable:
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0233 Tuesday, 22 April 2008
From: Cary DiPietro <
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."
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
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
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
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?
Cook, Hardy M. (ed.). "Authorial Intention." Online posting. 5 Mar. 2001
to 2 Apr. 2001. _SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare
Conference_. 21 April 2008.
--- "Authorial Intention." Online posting. 7 Sept. 2007 to 17 Oct. 2007.
_SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference_. 21 April 2008.
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.
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
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