The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0315 Monday, 26 May 2008
 From: Kenneth Chan <
Date: Sunday, 25 May 2008 10:38:13 +0800
Subj: Re: SHK 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
 From: Alan Dessen <
Date: Monday, 26 May 2008 18:37:58 -0400
Subj: "Intentions" Roundtable
From: Kenneth Chan <
Date: Sunday, 25 May 2008 10:38:13 +0800
Subject: 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
An interesting point is highlighted by Terence Hawkes's contribution "Sans
Everything." Although Shakespeare's actual words constitute the most crucial
aspect of his works, there is nonetheless more to a Shakespearean play than the
language in his text. This probably explains why a Shakespearean play may retain
much of its impact even when the original language is translated. And even if we
remove all the words (as in the "wordless" Macbeth), it is still not "sans
This may be a relevant point in the debate on intention. Let us look again at
the quote from 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,
This quote would be largely true if it refers to the language in the text. A
play, however, is more than just the language in the text. It also has structure
and plot content (by "plot content," I mean the action or "what is actually
happening" in the scenes).
While much of the debate on intention is focused on the author's words, these
other aspects of Shakespeare's plays should perhaps also be considered together
with the words. Clues as to the author's possible intention may also be found in
the structure of the play and in its plot content -- i.e., those aspects of the
play that are not altered by a translation of its language.
Here is an example of how a play's structure and plot content may be relevant to
the debate on intention. In many Shakespearean plays, certain key motifs are
echoed repeatedly throughout the play, from start to finish. Significantly,
these repeating motifs are different for different plays. For instance, no other
Shakespearean play comes even remotely close to Hamlet in the number of
references to death and its inevitability. This would suggest authorial
intention. And a translation of Hamlet into another language would not alter
Thus, with regards to the debate on intention, I believe it is reasonable that
we also consider the structure and the plot content of the play together with
the words in the text. We will, at least, then have the benefit of a more
From: Alan Dessen <
Date: Monday, 26 May 2008 18:37:58 -0400
Subject: "Intentions" Roundtable
I enjoyed David Evett's comment with reference to my speculations about the
practice of playreading to assembled company members: that stage directions are
sometimes read aloud during an initial read-through in today's rehearsal hall. I
have no such rehearsal room experience, but I have seen at least one Mike
Alfreds production (the 2001 London Globe _Cymbeline_), done with six actors and
two percussionists, where for added clarity Alfreds had his cast speak aloud
various stage directions ("Enter Cloten, the Queen's son"; "Enter Imogen dressed
as a boy"; "Enter Caius Lucius, Soothsayer, Roman Captain") or place indicators
(Rome, Cymbeline's court, Imogen's bed chamber, A cave in the Welsh mountains).
In response to Tom Reedy's citation of the Johannes Rhenanus comment -- that in
England actors "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" -- that passage has indeed been invoked for various purposes. For
example, first Alfred Hart (in 1941) and later David Klein (in 1962) in articles
with the same title in _Modern Language Review_ ("Did Shakespeare Produce His
Own Plays?") cited Rhenanus on different sides of the question (Hart argued no,
Klein yes). In her rehearsal book Tiffany Stern observes that "Rhenanus" passage
is often quoted as a description of rehearsals in the Elizabethan public
theatre, but it occurs in the introduction to _Speculum Aestheticum_ (1613), a
translation of Thomas Tomkis' Trinity College, Cambridge, play _Lingua_." Stern
concludes: "Almost certainly Rhenanus is writing about academic productions . .
. and he is probably making a direct reference to the preparation of _Lingua_
itself" (p. 40). For a more recent summary of her argument in behalf of
one-on-one "Instruction" (as opposed to group rehearsals), occasionally by the
playwright but more commonly by senior actors, see _Shakespeare in Parts_
(co-authored with Simon Palfrey), pp. 66-70. As I noted in my original post, a
playwright attached to a given company (as was Shakespeare) may have played a
significant role in the script to stage process, but the fragmentary nature of
the evidence forestalls any firm conclusions. Meanwhile, for me the work of G.
E. Bentley, although not the final word, remains a model of scholarship that I
have learned to trust, hence my reference to "the standard view."
Finally, as to John Drakakis' query, I'm not sure I understand the distinctions
he is invoking, but I do have major problems with so-called "implied" stage
directions as evidence. Again, for me here there be dragons. As he rightly notes
many onstage actions can be inferred from dialogue (e.g., kisses, embraces,
kneelings), but such inferences are subject to a range of transhistorical
assumptions and reflexes (what I term "theatrical essentialism") that can lead
to questionable conclusions. For the sake of brevity, I will limit myself to
First is the question of timing. My pet example is the final bit of the
penultimate scene in _Taming of the Shrew_ where Petruchio gets Kate, after some
initial resistance, to kiss him in public. The Wells-Taylor Oxford edition
provides "They kiss" at 5.1.139 (and that inserted signal is not placed within
square brackets). Does indeed the kiss come here (so she kisses him, he reacts
"Is not this well?") or does he say "Is not this well?" (to the playgoer? in
response to her verbal acquiescence?) and then kisses her. In a production, this
kiss can be a major and memorable moment, but that moment can be defined or
understood differently depending upon its timing and how a playgoer understands
"is not this well?" Yes, a kiss is implied and does takes place; yes, an editor
is entitled to choose a placement (that's what editors do); but the placement of
the action is not self-evident.
A second example is provided by one of the many lessons I have learned from the
choices of actors and directors. After the blinding of Gloucester, Cornwall
says: "Regan, I bleed apace, / Untimely comes this hurt. Give me your arm"
(3.7.97-8), and the Riverside is typical in providing: "Exit [led by Regan]." I
have lost count of the number of _King Lear_ productions I have seen (by now
close to fifty), but more than a few have produced a very strong effect by
having Regan ignore her husband's outstretched arm and stride offstage. What
kind of evidence is provided by "Give me your arm"?
Finally, consider the tricky question of what should and should not be
designated an "aside." As noted in our dictionary entry, many asides are
specified in the original manuscripts and early printed texts (e.g., twenty-five
in _The Jew of Malta_), but more often such signals are provided by today's
editor. E. A. J. Honigmann notes that by inserting "aside" an editor "often
implies that the speaker would not have dared to utter the same words openly,"
but "if the situation includes an impudent speaker or an inattentive listener
the case for an aside is weakened." For Honigmann, Hamlet's "A little more than
kin, and less than kind" (1.2.65 - designated [Aside.] in the Riverside)
"expresses the riddling impudence that is characteristic of all of his exchanges
with Claudius before Act V"; why then "assume that he would not have dared to
speak out loud, and that the only alternative is an aside?" Another alternative
is "that Hamlet, the arch-soliloquiser, not infrequently mutters to himself and
cares not a rap whether or not others catch his words," but "Such opportunities
are lost if the editor prints 'Aside'" (176-78).
My own pet example is found at the end of the caldron scene where Macbeth,
although onstage with Lennox, devotes 12 lines (4.1.144-55 - also labeled
[Aside.] in the Riverside) to his plans against the Macduffs and his innermost
thoughts. Most editors treat this passage as an aside and have Macbeth address
Lennox again only in the final line and a half of the scene, a choice that can
work effectively in today's productions. But, like Honigmann's Hamlet, Macbeth
by this point may not care who knows what he is thinking or planning or, as an
alternative, may be so rapt in his little world of man (as in 1.3) that he is
momentarily unaware of Lennox's presence. As with Honigmann's examples, to mark
this speech as an aside is to enforce upon the unsuspecting reader one choice at
the expense of other equally interesting options. For example, in his 1987
Oregon Shakespeare Festival production director Jim Edmondson provided a
rationale for the appearance of the "messenger" who, after the departure of
Rosse, appears with a warning for Lady Macduff (4.2.65-73) by having that figure
overhear Macbeth's "The castle of Macduff I will surprise" comment (4.1.150-53).
In these comments on "implied" s.d.s I have drifted away from John's query and
the focus on intentions but I remain faithful (or so I think) to my paradigm of
a conversation started by the playwright that resulted in a production now lost
to us, the eavesdroppers.
Hart, Alfred. "Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?" _ Modern Language Review_
36 (1941): 173-83.
Honigmann, E. A. J. _Myriad-minded Shakespeare_. Second Edition. New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1998.
Klein, David. "Did Shakespeare Produce His Own Plays?" _Modern Language Review_
57 (1962): 556-60.
Palfrey, Simon and Tiffany Stern. _Shakespeare in Parts_ Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.
Stern, Tiffany. _Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan_. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
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