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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: May ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0318  Wednesday, 28 May 2008

[1]     From:	Martin Mueller <
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         Date:	Monday, 26 May 2008 20:24:29 -0500
         Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0315 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[2]     From:	Larry Weiss <
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         Date:	Tuesday, 27 May 2008 01:08:01 -0400
         Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0315 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Martin Mueller <
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Date:		Monday, 26 May 2008 20:24:29 -0500
Subject: 19.0315 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0315 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

This is a puzzled and not very well thought-through response to the thread about 
Shakespeare's intentions. One of the problems in that phrase is "Shakespeare's." 
How different is he from "us," whoever we are? And if he was spectacularly good 
at what he did -- which I'm inclined to agree was the case in many cases -- does 
that make any difference to what "he means" or what "we mean by him." My answer 
to that question is that it doesn't, and that we shouldn't talk about 
"Shakespeare's" intentions unless we are prepared to think of it as a particular 
(and not necessarily special) case of what anybody means by anything.

But if we start thinking about what anybody means by anything and whether 
anybody ever understands anything that anybody else says we are in a largely 
probabilistic universe. Good enough uptake happens all the time. 
Misunderstandings happen all the time. Some misunderstandings get transformed 
into good enough uptake after clarification (both of us now think, rightly or 
wrongly that my uptake of what you said corresponds to what you meant to say). 
There are less common, and highly telling, instances of one person understanding 
another person "all too well," which the other person may or may not get.

Another variable is the degree of semantic specification. When Polonius says 
"Take this from this if this be otherwise" (Hamlet, 2.2.156) there is a high 
probability that he means something like "cut off my head" or perhaps "take away 
my staff of office." When Cornwall says: "Regan, I bleed apace, / Untimely comes 
this hurt. Give me your arm" (3.7.97-8), there is an equally high probability 
that Cornwall is asking for Regan's arm (and that the author meant for Cornwall 
to have this intention). It is much harder to judge whether Shakespeare "meant" 
for Regan to lend her arm to Cornwall and whether a modern director would be 
inside or outside the playwright's intention in making Regan conspicuously 
ignore this clearly intended call for help. It might be best to say that we are 
in an underspecified situation.

At some level, we are always in underspecified situation. Good-enough uptake is 
never or almost never the only possible response to an unambiguous signal. But 
perhaps the whole business of intention should not start from difficult cases, 
where people have good reason to argue this way or that way. They should argue 
from obvious cases and figure out why (by and large) we don't say things like

Cordelia is the mother of Lear

Ophelia is actually the daughter of Claudius

In the closet scene, Gertrude and Hamlet shared amicable reminiscences about a 
recent trip to the Hebrides

Instead we argue most of the time about what the lawyers call the "hard cases" 
that make for poor law and we ignore the very large body of agreement that makes 
interesting disagreement possible in the first place. At what point do 
disagreements about the blindingly obvious begin to break down? And when we 
begin to argue, do we argue about the last or first five percent?

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Larry Weiss <
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Date:		Tuesday, 27 May 2008 01:08:01 -0400
Subject: 19.0315 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0315 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

Alan Dessen's observations about the slipperiness of "implied stage directions" 
calls to mind a s.d. interpolated by the Oxford editors (Taylor with Wells) in 
Act III scene i of T&C. In that scene, Pandarus encounters Paris and Helen and 
attempts to deliver a message to Paris from Troilus but is repeatedly 
interrupted by jokingly flirtatious behavior by Helen. At one point, after 
Helen's line "O sir" (addressed to Pandarus), Oxford adds the stage direction: 
"[She tickles him]." The Textual Companion explains the emendation as 
"necessary" to explain the word "fits" in the ensuing line and as being 
"supported" by an earlier (I.ii) account of Helen ticking Troilus, Pandarus's 
use of the word "ticles" in his song later in the scene and Helen's touching him 
later in the scene. The last is another additional s.d. by the Oxford editors 
("[She strokes his fore-head]"). These stage directions may be correct, but it 
strikes me that the choice is better left to directorial than editorial discretion.

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