The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0310 Thursday, 22 May 2008
From: Cary DiPietro <
Date: Wednesday, 21 May 2008 17:49:53 -0400
Subject: 19.0282 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment: RE: SHK 19.0282 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
[Editor's Note: Cary DiPietro and I have decided to try a new procedure for this
Roundtable discussion. I will post responses to any of the contributions in this
digest as they appear without comment, and then a week later Cary will put
together a digest of all of the previous week's discussions, of any essays that
he has asked various Shakespeare scholars to contribute to the Roundtable, and
of his comments as guest moderator. We are interested in seeing how this
procedure will affect the Roundtable. We want to encourage thoughtful response
rather than off-the-cuff ones, but we would also like to encourage greater
This week's installment of the Roundtable features a double leading
contribution, a longer essay by Duncan Salkeld on "Meaning and Intention," and a
shorter contribution from Terence Hawkes, "Sans Everything." I should explain
why these two contributions appear in this exceptional manner. The first reason
is practical: Hawkes has very graciously allowed me to reproduce a section of an
article that he is currently writing to be produced in another venue; as a
result, the piece below is not self-contained in the way that other leading
contributions have been so far, and Hawkes does not directly or explicitly
address the kinds of questions we've been asking in this discussion. I had asked
if he would be interested in contributing to the topic of meaning and intention
on the basis of his earlier work on meaning. His arguments are epitomized by the
oft-intoned catch-phrase, "meaning by Shakespeare," which is also the title of
his 1992 book. It was, perhaps, inevitable that Hawkes
's writing would enter the discussion, as it did in John Drakakis's leading
contribution in the second digest. As one SHAKSPERean pointed out to me recently
off the list, Hawkes's more recent argument for a critical presentism continues
this repudiation of intentional meaning begun in earlier works; she quotes the
2002 volume, _Shakespeare in the Present_: "We choose the facts. We choose the
texts. We do the inserting. We do the perceiving. Facts and texts, that is to
say, don't simply speak, don't merely mean. We speak, we mean, by them" (3).
Hawkes's shorter contribution here needs to be read in this context, as the
continuation or extension of a now seminal argument in Shakespeare studies.
While I'm inclined to agree with his position, I find the case made by Salkeld
for, as he writes, a "modest" intentionalist position equally compelling, and
this is my second reason for pairing the two contributions this week. He argues
here that, if not all, then some of Shakespeare's intentions can be known, and
this fact "opens up Shakespeare studies in rich and fascinating ways." Salkeld's
is no "common sense" approach. He draws on the case "against theory" made by
Stephen Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels in 1992 to respond to Derrida's view of
intention as yet another example of a "metaphysics of presence."
In the lead up to this argument, Salkeld suggests that the arguments made by
presentists are not dissimilar to those made by reader-response critics that
"only a text's end-uses will count." I would argue, on the one hand, that these
remain very distinct and separate modes of critical inquiry (and, of course,
diverse each within their own fields) because presentism, by and large, does not
give emphasis to the experiential dimension of the written text in the way that
such phenomenological encounters do; all agency is given to the "end-user" who
acts upon and through the text in what sometimes seems like a sinister
conspiracy, when, instead, that end-user might also be seen to act as a
repository for the experiences, both individual and social, the text instigates.
On the other hand, the possibility of crossover between them strikes me as
potentially very rewarding. I think, in particular, of critics such as Wolfgang
Iser, who argues in _The Implied Reader_ (1972) and elsewhe
re that the text is not inert, but provides norms that guide the reader's
response, which is a fulfillment of the conditions structured in the text. This
in-built structure of experience, a reworking of ideas from Husserl, is its
"intentionality." Rethinking intention in this way as determined by the reader
but also guided by the text productively collapses the distance between
intentionalists and presentists. This is a binary that's reproduced by Salkeld
below, and one that might seem antagonistic in the pairing of his and Hawkes's
contributions, even though Salkeld offers a more medial position. But pairing
them in this way compels us to consider, as I think Salkeld does, whether or how
they can be reconciled to one another.
This dialectic echoes in interesting, if not exactly parallel, ways in the
continued dialogue between Gabriel Egan and John Drakakis. Egan, in particular,
argues against the utility of Barthes and Foucault, brought into the discussion
by Drakakis, because, he states, in their respective treatments of authorship,
they are not attuned to social aspects of drama, including instances of
collaboration between authors, and authors with performers. Both Egan and
Drakakis pose questions about editorial practice, once again, in relation to the
dramatic nature of the play text. Drakakis also poses a number of further
questions for Alan Dessen about "implied" stage directions.
The digest concludes with two shorter contributions from David Evett and Tom
Reedy respectively, both responding to the last digest headed by Dessen. Evett
makes a valuable comparison between manuscript readings in Shakespeare's theatre
and the contemporary rehearsal hall, and, in doing so, he anticipates a later
leading contribution on the theatre. Reedy responds to my, perhaps inaccurate,
summary of Dessen's argument. For the next installment, I have a leading
contributor lined up, but for reasons I'll explain later, I leave you on the
edge of your seats wondering who it might be... the topic for the next
installment will continue in the same vein, "giving intention its due," and I
invite participants to engage with this or any other aspect of Shakespeare's
"Meaning and Intention"
The idea that consideration of authorial intention is neither legitimate nor
even possible has gained wide currency, despite the fact that everyday practice
and common intuition tell us the reverse. Anti-intentionalists are presumably
not against human intention per se, but against the notion that an author's
intention should constrain the ways in which a text can be understood. It is
said, for example, that since the author is "dead," he or she cannot "guarantee"
the meaning of their work. Living authors are no less defunct since (the
argument runs) cognitions are notoriously complex, contingent, and uncertain.
The strict impossibility of inhabiting another's consciousness means that
interpretation cannot be de-limited on so flimsy a basis as intention.
Accordingly, only a text's end-uses will count. This is a view espoused by a
number of reader-response critics and, I believe, akin to that argued by
"presentists." Hence the work of criticism should be, and can only be, a p
olitical project of generating multiple readings, of cultivating diversity and
incorporating as many social voices as possible. But it is an odd multivocality
that shuts out the author's voice.
Few, I hope, would deny the attraction of widening the discussion. Yet what
principle or "theory" could possibly legislate that talk of authorial intention
at all times and in all places is invalid? I do not mean to imply that any of my
fellow contributors adopt such a position but many of us will know of those who
do (in principle or practice). Why prefer this absolutism? We cannot show that
Shakespeare's intentions always were and will forever prove unreliable. Readers'
cognitions are not by definition superior to those of authors. Were an author's
intentions to be partly clear, anti-intentionalists must refuse to admit them.
But why would anyone want to be so dogmatic? Between the two claims either that
we know nothing at all of the author's mind or that we can know it for certain
lies a wide ground worth considering. If it is the pure unknowability of what
Shakespeare thought that rules out what has been unfortunately termed "the
genetic fallacy," then should that unknow
ability once begin to crack, the fallacy crumbles. The anti-intentionalist case
thus rests on the radical inscrutability or absolute indeterminacy of intention.
This is, in my view, a mistake: the conclusion that all claims to authorial
intention are inadmissible does not follow from the premise that some are. That
intentions can be unclear is no argument against the view that there are
authorial intentions that matter. My modest proposal here is that Shakespeare's
intentions can sometimes be known, if hazily, and, rather than being anything to
worry about, this heartening fact opens up Shakespeare studies in rich and
A further, closely-related point is that if the concept of intention comes with
some difficulties, this does not mean it is fatally disabled or should be
entirely disregarded. The difficulties are what make the concept interesting.
The possibility of sharing in Shakespeare's ideas is animating (I imagine this
is why there are Shakespeareans) and the plausibilities in doing so are
intriguing. The fact that literary intentions matter to varying degrees, that
they might be more accessible in some textual features and less so in others,
should hardly surprise us but supplies no warrant for dismissing the concept
outright. If we do not know Shakespeare's intentions with an absolute, God-like
assurance, this does not mean we cannot know them at all, or lack good reason
for claiming to know them. Nor does it mean that Shakespeare did not know his
own intentions, or entertain quite good reason for believing that he did.
Crucial here is the strength we demand of the verb "to know." O
nce we drop the requirement for crystalline, perfect certainty, a compelling
dialogue about evidence can begin. Much of what I've said in this introduction
rests upon a vein of philosophical debate about the topic of intention (Searle,
1994; Davidson 2005). Some readers of this Roundtable may be unfamiliar with, or
perhaps tired of, literary theory and Hardy has asked us not to revisit old
battles. Consequently, I outline only in the briefest possible terms some of the
"theory" behind my argument, and anyone preferring to get straight to
Shakespeare may like to skip my next two paragraphs.
Somewhere behind my position is the view that language and thought are
pre-suppositional: there are some things we just do presuppose. These include
that there are "things-in-the-world," that some of those "things" are people,
and that most of those people are capable of intentions. Words are
"things-in-the-world": Saussure called their material structures "signifiers."
It may sound elliptical but, as Derrida noted, the signified (meaning) of the
signifier "signifier" is itself (Derrida 1976: 7; 1978: 281). Derrida wrote
repeatedly about writing as though it were both a referent and a meaning,
splitting writing down into mini-"things-in-the-world" such as "marks," strokes
of the pen, "graphemes" and so forth (Derrida 1976: 9, 49-50; 1982: 316, 318).
He regretted as "stupidities" readings that took him to mean that "there is
nothing beyond language" or that "we are imprisoned in language" (Kearney 1984:
124; Norris 1987: 144). For him, deconstruction is only possible within o
r by virtue of metaphysics and hence the paradox must work both ways: in order
to assert the restless disseminating or "iterable" play of language one has to
arrest that play: as he once said in an interview, "Deconstruction always
presupposes affirmation" (Kearney 1984: 118). On intention, Derrida wrote in
"Signature, Event, Context," that, "the category of intention will not
disappear; it will have its place but from this place it will no longer govern
the entire scene and system of utterance" because, he claimed, written and
spoken utterances will always be prone to "iterability" or repetition out of
context. Other aspects of everyday language-function equally have their place.
In the same essay, Derrida emphatically refused to conclude that there is no
"relative specificity to the effects of consciousness" any more than there are
no "effects of speech . . . of the performative . . . of ordinary language . .
. of presence and of speech acts." All these make ordinary com
munication possible. He argued only that these effects "presuppose" their
"opposite" (Derrida 1982: 326-7). It might be worth asking to whom or to what
should the deconstructing be attributed? Whether we ascribe the agency for
meaning (or un-meaning) to authors, to language, to Being (Dasein), to ideology
or to readers, the fact that we do not have agent-less verbs ensures that
pronominal subject-positions (i.e. subjectivity) will always be presupposed as
notional starting points. So, for all that has been written on the question, in
all its complexity, no necessity lurks in literary theory to eradicate the
possibility of either the subject or authorial intention.
Somewhere also behind my position is an article published in the journal
_Critical Inquiry_ (Summer 1982) in which Stephen Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels
argued that meaning and intention are synonymous. Entitled "Against Theory,"
their article was re-published as a book in 1985, with responses by Stanley
Fish, Richard Rorty and others (see Mitchell 1985: 11-30 and passim). The
article, and a sequel, generated further critiques and replies published in the
same journal and elsewhere. As Mitchell pointed out in his introduction, Knapp
and Michaels' pragmatist argument that theory merely re-states in abstract terms
what we ordinarily do anyway ironically generated more theory rather than less.
But although their claim that intention and meaning are one-that there are no
intentionless meanings- has met with disagreement from several critics
(including the philosopher John Searle whose writing on intention should be
central to any discussion of the concept; see for example Searl
e 1994), none has demonstrably refuted their argument because, I suspect, it is
irrefutable (though this does not necessarily mean it is correct). So meager a
sketch unfortunately reduces Knapp and Michaels's case and its replies:
resolutions for problems of authorial intention and meaning are far from
straightforward and this is why Knapp and Michaels's attempt at one is
attractive. Theirs, I suggest, is an intriguing "holding position" from which to
start; one which, for all its apparent simplicity, is by no means naive. So in
discussing examples from Shakespeare, and taking my cue from Knapp and Michaels,
I openly make an assumption: that to read is to presuppose authorial intention.
What did Shakespeare mean by "intention"? He used the noun only twice, in _Merry
Wives_ (1.3.) and _The Winter's Tale_ (1.2) and on both occasions in relation to
lust. The OED is helpful in outlining the various uses and meanings of
"intention," from mental effort or application towards understanding to having
an aim, design, purpose, or inclination. Shakespeare used the verb "to intend"
on 89 or so occasions, so often as to positively invite discussion of
character-intentions. Critics fruitfully debate character-intentions all the
time (Lear 1623: . . . "Tis our fast intent / To shake all cares and business
from our age . . . " 1.1.36-7). Many will accept that a character's declared
plans, purposes, aims, and motivations are valid topics for investigation and
analysis. But Shakespeare, it may be said, is not like his characters: he does
not disclose his intentions. Were the Sonnets autobiographical, we perhaps might
locate his intentions more securely, but even there Shak
espeare deploys the term only once and in an unusual way, blending mental
imagery with travel: "For then my thoughts, from far where I abide, / Intend a
zealous pilgrimage to thee" (Sonnet 27, l. 6). Yet the sonnets do (if only in
part) seem to be autobiographical. As has already been noted in this Roundtable,
if Andrew Gurr is correct, sonnet 145 alludes to Anne Hathaway, for "hate away
she threw." How do we know that Shakespeare intended this pun? Gurr makes a case
substantial enough for most editors and commentators to accept that he did.
Getting a joke involves both understanding the language conventions of jokes in
general and seeing something of the teller's intention. Satire, for example, is
an intentional genre. We see Shakespeare's intentions at work in moments of
comedy. In the first scene of Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Gregory laugh about
being "civil with the maids" by cutting off their heads. Just to ensure his
audience gets the point of this rather clumsy gag, Shakespeare explains it:
Gregory: The heads of the maids?
Samson: Ay the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads,
take it in what sense thou wilt. (1.1.22-25)
Having signaled his bawdy intent, Shakespeare makes the jokes even ruder: "Me
they shall feel while I am able to stand . . . Draw thy tool . . . My naked
weapon is out" (1.1.27, 31-2). Getting the jokes involves seeing the intention.
Similarly, in a bitter quip, Hamlet asks Ophelia if she imagines he intended
"country matters," famously stressing the first syllable (3.2.111). We know what
Hamlet meant even if Ophelia seems unsure. At other times, Shakespeare's humor
is more subtle. When Beatrice speaks of Benedick as "civil as an orange, and
something of that jealous complexion" (2.1.256), the likelihood that he intends
a pun on "civil"/"Seville" enriches the line. These examples are (I hope)
uncontroversial: so should be the fact that to understand their implications is
to grasp their intention.
Shakespeare's intentions matter also because they were sometimes unclear to him.
In his landmark Oxford edition of _Henry V_, Gary Taylor noted that the first
imprint (the 1600 quarto) switches the Duke of Bourbon in place of the Dauphin
in scenes that correspond to the 1623 Folio's 3.7, 4.2 and 4.5 respectively. In
3.5.64-6, the French king clearly instructs the Dauphin to stay at Rouen. The
Dauphin obeys in the 1600 text, but not in the 1623 text. This alteration is so
structural to the play that it is probably authorial. As Taylor puts it, "The
simplest explanation . . . is that Shakespeare who, in his own draft wavered
about whether to include the Dauphin at Agincourt, eventually decided not to,
reverted to his original intention (as spelled out in 3.5.64-6), put the Duke of
Bourbon in the Dauphin's place and altered 2.4 and 3.5 to accommodate this
change" (Taylor 1982: 25). We should perhaps note that the later text of 1623
was written (but not printed) earlier than the
first imprint of 1600.
Shakespeare repeatedly left his second thoughts visible. The two versions of
_King Lear_ offer salient examples, so also perhaps those of _Othello_, but we
see them across a number of variant texts of his plays. The two earliest
imprints of _Romeo and Juliet_ contain a multitude of varying words and lines
that do little to alter the sense but seem to represent Shakespeare's tinkerings
or revisions: for example, Romeo's line "This but begins the woe others must
end" becomes "This but begins what other days must end" (3.1.120), a change that
preserves the metre and only slightly varies the sense. It is difficult to
identify the precise agencies behind such alterations but, given their number,
some at least are likely to be authorial. Often, groups of lines are re-worked.
Once Romeo has descended from Juliet's balcony, for example, Juliet declares in
the 1599 imprint (Q2, composed earlier than that printed in 1597),
Art thou gone so, love, lord, ay husband, friend?
I must hear from thee every day in the hour,
For in a minute there are many days. O, by this count I shall be much
Ere I again behold my Romeo. (3.5.43-47)
Juliet's slightly longer equivalent complaint in the 1597 text (Q1) makes a
little more of her anxiety about time:
Art thou gone so, my lord, my love, my friend
I must hear from thee every day in the hour,
For in an hour there are many minutes;
Minutes are days, so will I number them.
O, by this count I shall be much in years
Ere I see thee again.
Both versions are, on the whole, metrically even, both express the same attitude
or feeling, and both follow with an appropriate logic. Differences become
clearer from the third and subsequent lines. The 1599 text (Q2) introduces a
metaphor of many days in a minute, while the 1597 version is more literal ("For
in an hour there are many minutes"), following directly with a metrical line
that aims at the sense achieved in Q2 ("Minutes are days, so will I number
them"). One explanation of the variants here is that Q1 constitutes an actor's
attempt at remembering the lines of Q2. Another is that the differences indicate
authorial hesitation. Shakespeare drew on Arthur Brooke's poem _Romeus and
Juliet_ (1562) for much of his story. In Brooke, we find the phrases, "Eche
minute seemed an howre, and every howre a day" (l. 747) and "For my part, I do
gesse eche howre seems twenty yere" (l. 823). It is not unreasonable to think
that Shakespeare may have paused over how to phrase Brook
e's protractions, re-cast the lines to see if he could improve them, and hence
two variant "intentions" are preserved in the early imprints.
A less ambiguous instance of such hesitation occurs in the 1599 imprint where,
at the end of 2.1, Romeo speaks two couplets that Friar Laurence utters at the
start of 2.2. Editors concur that Shakespeare was unsure as to whom he should
give these lines and that having duplicated them, he failed to mark one set for
deletion, and hence they were printed twice (in Q2). We can know that
Shakespeare intended to try the words first with Romeo and then with Friar
Laurence but not which version he preferred. Shakespeare also remained
indecisive about some names. He variously labeled Juliet's mother, "Lady of the
house", "Old Lady," "Lady," "Wife" or "Mother"; he momentarily named the Prince
"Eskales" or Escalus, introduced a mute character named Petruccio at 3.1
(earlier mentioned in 1.4) for whom he found no further use, and brought in Will
Kemp as Peter at 4.4.128. We find uncertainties in composition elsewhere, for
example in Romeo's final speech where the lines "I will believe" and "O true
Apothecary, Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die" feature twice. Editors
plausibly regard these repetitions as first and second attempts. Shakespeare,
perhaps writing in some haste, did not take time to clear up indecisions left
behind in what were relatively unfinished sheets. In her recent book, Grace
Ioppolo has commented on the fact that when he began _Romeo and Juliet_,
Shakespeare remained open-minded about certain aspects of characterization and
plotting. So Act 1 Scene 4 begins with a rather vague stage direction: "Enter
Romeo, Mercutio, Benuolio, with fiue or sixe other Maskers, torchbearers." An
author in the process of composing is likely, Ioppolo reasonably suggests, to
wish "to be imprecise about the number of minor characters coming on stage"
(Ioppolo 2006: 176). Shakespeare evidently intended to leave his options open as
he drafted his plays, options that might eventually be closed off in a fair copy
for the censor or in company rehearsals, b
ut were not closed in the foul papers that found their way into print. What
Ioppolo's detailed, substantial and painstaking work indicates is that early
modern dramatists, "often changed their minds about character and plot by the
end of Act I, or even as far along as the beginning of Act 5 . . . some authors
went back and fixed their inconsistencies, though more often than not they, like
Fletcher, did not correct their foul papers but made changes to later
transcripts" (Ioppolo 2006: 74).
I have argued that to read Shakespeare is to infer (successfully or otherwise)
his aims, purposes, inclinations, choices, expectations, and intentions, all
those overlapping cognitive processes alive in composition. They may not always
be as clear as we would like but to imagine that those processes just do not
count leads to incoherence. I have argued, too, that Shakespeare's vacillations
over what he intended can enable historical understanding of their inscription.
Ignoring intention is not a realistic option. As previous contributors have
already hinted, editorial attempts at dispensing with intention are likely to
run into their own difficulties. With all due respect to a prolific and widely
admired Shakespearean, I take as an example the "Shakespeare Originals" edition
of the first imprint of _King Lear_, the 1608 "Pied Bull" quarto (Q1) published
by Prentice Hall in 1995. Until the 1980s, this play-text was widely thought to
have been a "bad" quarto, a script reconstr
ucted from memory (or maybe stenography) for a bootleg actors' version. From the
late 1970s onwards, a series of critical scholars, including Michael Warren,
Peter Blayney, Steven Urkowitz, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells changed the
consensus by establishing a strong case for the quarto as a legitimate early
version later revised by Shakespeare into the text of the 1623 Folio. The two
King Lears, formerly one "bad" and the other "good", were now two "good" texts,
each bearing their own "integrity", the second encapsulating Shakespeare's
revisions or second thoughts.
The Prentice Hall editor of Q1 regards the revisionist case as mistakenly rooted
in a strong notion of authorial intention. "Shakespeare," he demurs, "becomes
something very like a determining principle - a guarantor of authority and
meaning, the fixed and stable point through which a clear relationship among
multiple texts can be drawn" (18). He regards the case for revision as in thrall
to "the determining framework of an authorial construction" or to "an authorial
cultural apparatus" which inhibits the exciting "radical theoretical
possibilities" otherwise ahead. These new possibilities include "deconstruction
of the mainstream editorial tradition," an "archaeological excavation of the
'real foundations' of that cultural edifice," and "liberation of texts from
canonical colonization and authorial sovereignty" (19). Without authorial
constraints, the "modern post-structuralist reader" can join in a "celebration
of textual multiplicity" and "freely manipulate the textual el
ements of the various texts to form any number of differential versions" in a
"free play of assemblage and disassemblage" (22-23). I am quoting selectively
here, though not I think unfairly. I do so to indicate that no "celebration" or
"play" is as innocent or free as this author implies, and this is precisely what
his own notes to the edition bear out.
The textual notes seek to explain the difficulties, obscurities, and
incoherencies of the 1608 printing, offering where possible to make some kind of
sense of them. We are informed repeatedly that a particular word or phrase in
the 1608 text "is acceptable," "is appropriate," is "in accordance," "is
presumably an allusion" or "is certainly appropriate." In so doing, the editor
tacitly acknowledges that a text cannot mean anything at all, that words and
meanings have their historical remit, and that there cannot be "any number of
differential versions" or such free manipulation as he had imagined. When
remarking on Edgar's words "poor Turlygod," the editor writes that "a number of
possible explanations for 'Turlygod', a word not otherwise known, have been
proposed" (160) -- but crucially, not any number of explanations since not any
number is, as he puts it, "possible." Furthermore, when Lear's outburst,
"Vassall recreant" is noted, we are told that "its use in the first inst
ance is clearly consistent with the intended meaning" (156). Anyone, of course,
can be inconsistent, but when the editor picks out the word "questrits" as "a
Shakespearean coinage," we know (if we had not already surmised) that authorial
intention has been assumed all along despite the disclaimers. What else can a
"Shakespearean coinage" be if not an instance of authorial agency and intention?
In seeking to expand the ways in which Shakespeare's text may be understood, the
editor has needlessly committed himself to a philosophical position he simply
cannot sustain -- not because he lacks intelligence, but because the position
itself does not make sense.
To conclude, the fact that we cannot be certain beyond the faintest scintilla of
a doubt that the few examples cited here are indeed instances of authorial
intention is insufficient reason to hold that they are not, or to regard them as
immaterial. I could add several further examples but prefer to finish on a
different point. The fact that locating Shakespeare's intentions is no precise
art is educationally motivating. Taylor and Ioppolo are just two of many editors
and critics who have given us glimpses of how Shakespeare thought, worked, and
saw his lines coming to life in the plays. There are others I would have liked
to acknowledge, including E. A. J. Honigmann and John Jones, but too many to
recognize adequately here. To dismiss such work as speculative is simply not to
engage with it. Reading Shakespeare inevitably requires us to negotiate, grasp,
and misconstrue his intentions. Where we are unsure about what was intended we
have no warrant to assume that Shakespeare
was equally unsure or that we will always be so uncertain. Reading the poems and
plays, we constantly encounter Shakespeare's intentions: the wit in Petruccio's
rejoinder to Kate, "What, with my tongue in your tail?" (2.1.213) is not so hard
to comprehend. Shakespeare knew how to seed, cultivate and bring to bloom a
good jest (recall Twelfth Night's Feste outwitting Olivia: "Take away the fool,
gentlemen" 1.5.62). Yet we need not make recovering intent the grail of
analysis. Shakespeare says, "take it in what sense thou wilt," trusting that the
audience will remain attentive to the impress of words not their own. So what
benefit does recognizing the place of Shakespeare's intentions afford? It
allows us to be more articulate about what we read in his plays and can generate
the excitement and pleasure of understanding. Lastly, think of Mistress Quickly,
Dogberry, and Elbow: they don't intend what they say: or, putting it positively,
they intend what they don't say. The cond
itions that make for communicative success are probably more interesting
philosophically than those that make for failure, but the impact of that success
throughout the plays makes the malapropisms all the more brilliant, sharp and,
let's face it, joyful. In sum, the value of intention should be on every
In the last year or so, a Russian company has produced an edited and translated
version of _Twelfth Night_ which the actors speak in Russian. In America, this
was received with wild enthusiasm. Recently the Russian text of the play was
displayed to the audience in Buenos Aires in Spanish, though elsewhere it might
be displayed in Turkish, or Finish or Japanese. Nevertheless, the audience
universally has thought it was "marvelous" and applauded wildly. Meanwhile,
newspapers are alive with reports of Shakespeare performed in Northern Canada in
Inuit. Worse, the pressures of war have even brought talk of a stellar
performance in Kabul. A production of _Love's Labour's Lost_, set in Afghanistan
and translated into the Dari language, played to packed audiences there in 2005.
The plot was recast to feature Afghan characters. As to the local provisions of
Muslim patterns of behavior, not usually allowed beyond the playhouse, these
scarcely applied. The feminine actors didn't use veils or the burqua, and were
able to flirt roundly with their colleagues. The performances, lasting an
astonishing five nights, were sponsored by the British Council.
That encouraged co-adaptor Steven Landrigan summarily to banish dismay. With the
sort of mistaken confidence that the Council unerringly backs, he averred that
"Shakespeare is so adaptable because he writes universal truths of human
experience." In fact, says, one viewer, the play's commitment is not, perish the
thought, to language at all. It is to "Theater."
The climax to this cozy flight from discourse has recently been a newly unveiled
performance by a group called the American Synetic Theatre. It was called, quite
literally, a "wordless" Macbeth. It had been operating in Washington DC:
needless to say to ecstatic reviews.
The mind may boggle, but works originally written in English seem to have
acquired a strange capacity. They need not be reduced to anyone's puny
linguistics to renew their potency. In these terms, access from Shakespeare's
intense height seems to make all culture's kin. A "wordless" Macbeth? May the
Lord preserve us from it. The "universal truths of human experience"? Let Angels
and Ministers of Grace defend us. But at the moment, if you've learnt "theater,"
it seems that you can wing it all to the last hurrah.
From: Gabriel Egan <
Date: Saturday, 10 May 2008 21:00:45 +0100
Subject: 19.0276 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0276 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
John Drakakis insists that when reading W.W. Greg's "The rationale of copy
text," which Drakakis thinks is "now largely superseded," we need to stick to
the main ideological matters and avoid being dragged into the question of
"whether or not Greg departed radically from McKerrow, since such matters are
not strictly relevant."
It's impossible to respond to an analysis of Greg's essay that attends to its
"odd slippages between 'author' and 'writer'" while disregarding as irrelevant
the whole point of the essay, which is to disagree with the view of copy-text
given in McKerrow's Prolegomena.
> From Drakakis's perspective these slippages matter because our notions of
authorship and intention have been thoroughly revised by Barthes's "The death of
the author" and Foucault's "What is an author?" One could take the point much
further back and argue that since Freud we have had to be more circumspect about
intentions, since most of us accept that we are none of us fully in charge of
our minds, let alone our mouths and fingers.
We can all agree (I hope) that Barthes's and Foucault's essays were important
improvements in the theorizing of writers' intentions, but their usefulness in
relation to early-modern drama is distinctly limited. This is because they are
not addressed to the social aspects of drama even though their shared rejections
of the lone autonomous author would seem suited to it. Barthes wrote that "To
give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a
final signified, to close the writing" and it was in precisely these terms that
Foucault answered Barthes the following year when he argued that authors are not
so much intrinsic originators of texts but rather extrinsic products of the
consumption of texts, and that the emergence of the concern for the author as
the primary determinant in meaning could be dated historically to around 1800.
Importantly, Barthes and Foucault were broadening the notion of sole-authorship,
but had nothing to say about collaboratio
ns of authors with authors and of authors with performers, which are crucial to
When "intention" includes the projection of the obligation to complete the work
onto other people, the stakes are considerably higher than the (I insist,
trivial) matters of speech prefix variation and the use of actors' names in
place of characters' names. Indeed, to focus on the author's inconsistencies
("Lady", "Lady Capulet", "Mother" to take the famous case) as though they
revealed the heart of the problem is to miss the more tricky complexities of
intention that arise when one expects another, or others, to complete one's work.
I should make the distinction, however, that where variant speech prefixes seem
to emerge because of incompletion, then the matter does become terribly
interesting in relation to intention. Thus the 1598 quarto of _Love's Labour's
Lost_ seems to be printed from a manuscript in an unpolished state in which it
was not yet settled which of the two women, Rosaline and Katharine, is wooed by
Berowne and which by Dumaine. (Or, rather, to put it another way, which lady has
which name wasn't settled.) Here I think Drakakis and I can at least talk to one
another rather than past one another, for the silent Innogen (wife to Leonato)
in the 1600 quarto of _Much Ado About Nothing_ is surely such another case in
point: in the processes that were bound to follow from use of this manuscript to
launch a performance, Innogen would doubtless have been removed. That
Shakespeare at one point, in the heat of composition, thought he might use this
character doesn't make the part worth saving. Ind
eed, there's a kind of editorial hubris in saving her, since it amounts to
helping Shakespeare write what the editor thinks he ought to have written (and
what suits our modern concerns), but probably didn't write: a silent bystanding
And yet, to make the obvious Marxist manouevre at this point, one could argue
that for all that performance disperses authority, and that authors are not
really the originating centres of their own creations, the early-modern state
was having none of this post-structuralist nonsense. When plays gave offence,
their writers (not the players, usually) went to jail. For all that the script
was circulated in fragments, as Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern's new book
argues, it also had to come together as a singularity to be authorized by the
state censor. The forces of authority acted centripetally against these
centrifugal tendencies, rendering the dispersed, fragmentary, unstable, and
plural text into something fairly singular. Thus an editor who follows the
emerging fashion for not regularizing speech prefixes* on the grounds that
irregularity inheres in the early-modern dramatic textual condition has simply
mistaken the medium for the message.
Gabriel Egan (Who vows to say nothing more for the moment, feeling guilty at
treating a Roundtable like a duologue.)
* An interesting defence of doing something similar was mounted in the recent
Arden3 edition of _3 Henry 6_ by the editors John D. Cox and Eric Rasmussen, who
retained the prefix "Widow" for Lady Grey in 3.2 on the grounds that "she's
known to the audience only as a widow at this point" (175). This might be true
of inattentive audience members reading their editions in the theatre during the
performance, but those attending to the actors surely notice that King Edward
begins the scene by saying that "at Saint Alban's field | This lady's husband,
Sir Richard Grey, was slain" and thus know who she is. And if what is coming in
the sequent play is of any concern at all now, then audiences and readers need
to know that she's not just any old widow but Lady Grey.
From: John Drakakis <
Date: Wednesday, 21 May 2008 16:45:52 +0100
Subject: 19.0282 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment: RE: SHK 19.0282 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Can I raise two issues here that are not strictly speaking connected with each
1. On the "best text" approach, this implies a qualitative distinction that I
don't think that Greg makes, since the text that is hypothetically closest to
the writer is not necessarily the "best" text.
Also on the flinging round by Egan of the epithet "vulgar," anybody who has
tried any early modern editing will know the difference between a "positivist
determinism" of a rather narrow kind, and the constant shuttling backwards and
forwards between "theory" and "practice" that the activity requires. The
overdetermined practices of compositors are subject to regular review (and they
need to be in relation to any ONE project, since each case might well throw up
something that hasn't been encountered before. The activity has to be
"positivist" in the sense that we start from the inked marks on the page. Things
get a lot more speculative when we start asking questions about what they may
"mean" and how those speculations might relate to what we are calling authorial
2. We must be grateful for Alan Dessen's clear overview, and for the candor with
which he illuminates issues about which our knowledge is uncertain. In passing
it might be worth reminding ourselves that we need one (or possibly TWO) set(s)
of protocols when we are dealing with a printed text, and a third when dealing
with the issue of "intention" as regards performance. My question to Alan is
this: How might what I want to call "implied" stage directions factor into the
issue of "intention" and if they do, then whose "intentions" might they reflect?
I have in mind moments when one dramatic character refers to a gesture of
another, or, even more problematically, when a gesture is "assumed" and where we
might be able to infer it by the speech that follows. I suppose this connects,
in part, with the example that I offered from _Much Ado_ where the actor's name,
his role, and his stage persona ALL appear at one point in the 1600Q. Is this
the actor "writing" the writer and in su
ch a way that it invalidates the notion of the writer as "creator" or
legitimizing origin of the text? Or are we here into a realm of intertextuality,
which, along with issues such as explicit and implied stage directions, refer to
a field of discourse in which the writer occupies a "function" rather than
simply being a "creative" origin?
From: David Evett <
Date: Tuesday, 13 May 2008 20:44:35 -0400
Subject: 19.0282 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0282 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Would a playreader such as Jonson or Shakespeare have responded to questions or
provided a running commentary? What tantalizes me (and perhaps no one else) is:
would such a reading of a manuscript include a reading aloud of the stage
directions? If so, would some of those signals -- e.g., the "fictional" ones
that appear to tell the story or slip into a narrative mode -- be linked to the
playwright's thinking ahead not only to the eventual performance but also to
this reading-audition-trial run? More generally, if such a to-be-expected extra
step between completed manuscript and preparation for performance was
anticipated, would some manuscript features be conditioned by an author or
authors taking into account that intermediate phase? Would such an
author-centered event have conveyed a sense of his "intentions" to the players
Alan Dessen's questions reverberate in the contemporary rehearsal hall, where
the virtually obligatory (I recognize the companies out there that start with
actors on their feet, sides in hands) practice at the first readthrough of plays
ancient or modern includes reading (usually by the stage manager) of all stage
directions that have survived the preliminary editing process. At first
rehearsals of contemporary plays, the author sometimes takes the chair.
From: Tom Reedy <
Date: Thursday, 15 May 2008 22:40:24 -0500
Subject: Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 9 May 2008 to 13 May 2008 (#2008-48)
Cary DiPietro <
>We begin this week with Alan Dessen writing in answer to >the question of
whether we can determine or what we can >determine about Shakespeare's
intentions in the theatre >based on the scant material evidence that has
descended >to us about rehearsal and staging practices; specifically, >whether
playwrights such as Shakespeare relinquished all >control over their dramatic
manuscripts when they turned >them over to theatre companies, which is more or
less the >received view, or, as Grace Ioppolo argues in her recent book
>(discussed here at length), whether dramatists retained more >significant
control in the realization of their manuscripts to >performance, and whether
such "intentions" -- playwright >as dramaturge -- might have been inscribed in
the copy used >for printing the different quarto and Folio versions of some
>plays, possibly at different points in time.
I am enjoying reading this discussion, but I am surprised that the idea that
playwrights "relinquished all control over their dramatic manuscripts when they
turned them over to theatre companies" is considered to be "more or less the
received view," especially with such external evidence as the testimony of
Johannes Rheanus, who visited England in 1611 and translated a play by Thomas
Tomkis into German in 1613.
Martin White quotes Rheanus' preface in his _Renaissance Drama in Action_
(Routledge, 1998), "So far as actors are concerned they, as I noticed in
England, are daily instructed, as it were in a school, so that even the most
eminent actors have to allow themselves to be taught their places by the
Dramatists, which arrangement gives life and ornament to a well-written play, so
that it is no wonder that the English players (I speak of skilled ones) surpass
and have the advantage of others (34)."
Davidson, Donald Davidson. _Truth, Language, and History_. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005.
Derrida, Jacques. _Of Grammatology_. Translation and preface by Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.
---. _Writing and Difference_. Translation and introduction with notes by Alan
Bass. London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
---. _Margins of Philosophy_. Translation with notes by Alan Bass. New York and
London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1982.
Ioppolo, Grace. _Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare,
Jonson, Middleton and Heywood: Authorship, authority and the playhouse_. London
and New York: Routledge, 2006.
Hawkes, Terence. _Shakespeare in the Present_. London: Routledge, 1992.
Iser, Wolfgang. _The Implied Reader: patterns in communication of prose fiction
from Bunyan to Beckett_. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974.
Kearney, Richard (ed.) Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers
(Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1984).
Knapp, Steven and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4
(Summer, 1982): 723-742.
---. "Against Theory 2: Hermeneutics and Deconstruction." Critical Inquiry 14.1
Mitchell, W. J. T. (ed.). _Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New
Pragmatism_. Chicago and London: The Chicago University Press, 1985). Knapp and
Michaels's article "Against Theory" together with replies by E. D. Hirsch,
Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty and others originally appeared in the following
issues of Critical Inquiry: Summer 1982, Vol. 8 No. 4; June 1983, Vol. 9, No. 4;
and March 1985, Vol. 11. No. 3.
Norris, Christopher. _Derrida_. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University
Searle, John R. "Literary Theory and Its Discontents." _New Literary History_
25.3 (25th Anniversary Issue, Part 1) (Summer, 1994): 637-667.
Shakespeare, William. _Henry V_. Ed. Gary Taylor. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982.
Shakespeare, William. _M. William Shak-speare: His True Chronicle History of the
life and death of king LEAR and his three Daughters_. Ed. Graham Holderness.
London and New York: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995.
White, Martin. _Renaissance Drama in Action_. London: Routledge, 1998.
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