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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: May ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0321  Thursday, 29 May 2008

[1]    From:	David Evett <
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         Date:	Wednesday, 28 May 2008 20:43:43 -0400
         Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0318 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[2]    From:	Alan Horn <
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         Date:	Thursday, 29 May 2008 08:38:41 -0400
         Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[3]    From:	Alan Dessen <
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         Date:	Thursday, 29 May 2008 15:21:33 -0500
         Subj:	Intentions again


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Evett <
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Date:		Wednesday, 28 May 2008 20:43:43 -0400
Subject: 19.0318 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0318 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

Thanks to Martin Mueller for his splendidly clear and provocative statement of 
the Intentional Problem-though it leaves a little understated the imperative 
need we have in both ordinary and extraordinary moments of practical life to 
seek for intention in the utterances and actions of others.

Intentionally?

David Evett

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Alan Horn <
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Date:		Thursday, 29 May 2008 08:38:41 -0400
Subject: 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0310 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

Duncan Salkeld makes what I consider an important point in his Roundtable 
contribution. He argues that just because we may never understand an author's 
intentions with perfect clarity or perfect certainty does not mean we can't or 
shouldn't allow consideration of these intentions to constrain our reading. One 
could make a similar point against the similar all-or-nothing logic of presentism.

However, I was surprised to see Salkeld endorse the view of Knapp and Michaels 
that meaning and intention are one and the same. I can certainly think of ways 
in which meanings with no intentions behind them can arise in literary works.

To take a crude example, some of the famous cruxes in Shakespeare may well be 
the consequence of arbitrary typographical substitutions. Let's say this is the 
case for "Indian"/"Iudean." If so, one of the two alternate meanings of this 
part of Othello's penultimate speech not only does not reflect Shakespeare's 
intentions, but reflects no human intentions at all. Knapp and Michaels, who 
argue in a hypothetical example that a poem inscribed on the shore by the chance 
mechanical action of the surf would necessarily be meaningless, would have to 
say the same thing about one of the two textual possibilities here. Yet the 
meaning of each has been grasped and described by any number of competent readers.

Maybe "meaning" is being specially defined here as "the author's intended 
meaning." In this case, the argument is indeed "irrefutable," as Salkeld 
proposes, but only because it's circular.

Alan Horn

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Alan Dessen <
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Date:		Thursday, 29 May 2008 15:21:33 -0500
Subject:	Intentions again

Martin Mueller's assessment of "a largely probabilistic universe" with respect 
to authorial "intentions" makes excellent sense to me, as does his category of 
the "underspecified situation" (e.g., when considering Regan's response to 
Cornwall's "Give me your arm"). "Doing" theatre history means repeatedly dealing 
with the probable and the possible -- hence my invocation of Cary Mazer's 
"craftsmanship" and "strategy" as opposed to authorial meaning or meanings -- 
and the term "underspecified" fits neatly with a wealth of evidence I have 
collected about so-called "permissive" or "open" stage directions (see our 
dictionary entry for "permissive," as with an entrance that includes "as many as 
may be").

At the risk of muddying the waters, I would like to cite a comparable set of 
distinctions. Along with "intentions," another much debated term (particularly 
when dealing with the script to stage process) is "authenticity." These days few 
scholars have kind things to say about this term (and I studiously avoid using 
it in my own work), but in his essay "In Defense of Authenticity" Michael 
Friedman provides some distinctions that further develop what is specified and 
underspecified in Mueller's terms. Reacting to the "rhetoric of slavery and 
emancipation" that underlies many of the attacks on "authenticity," Friedman 
reexamines "the extent to which a Shakespearean text limits the performative 
options of an authentic production." He posits "the existence of five different 
categories of regulation: the text either _forbids_, _discourages_, _allows_, 
encourages_, or _demands_ any specific performance choice" (pp. 46-7 -- and he 
credits Megan Lloyd for this configuration). He then uses a sequence from _Much 
Ado_, 4.1 to illustrate his categories. Friedman notes that "By far the largest 
percentage of performance choices may be classified as those which the text 
_allows_." For example, "We may presume, for instance, that all of the 
characters on stage wear costumes, and that those costumes often convey 
significant information to an audience, but the text rarely specifies a 
particular character's attire, and when it does, it seldom offers more than one 
detail about it" (48). In his formulation, "a production approaches authenticity 
to the degree that it abides by what the text demands or encourages and avoids 
what the text discourages or forbids" (50).

My summary does not do justice to this section of the essay, so interested 
readers should check it out for themselves.

I also see the point in Mueller's warning not to build upon what lawyers term 
"hard cases," though in such oddities or stretches, I confess, I have found some 
of my most telling examples of the gap between then and now. Again and again my 
playgoing in Ashland, Oregon, in the 1970s (starting with a 1974 _Titus 
Andronicus_) led me to moments that were demanded or encouraged for Elizabethan 
or early Jacobean performance but were resisted by today's theatrical 
professionals. Two of my pet examples are the juxtaposition of Kent in the 
stocks with Edgar in flight; and the onstage presence of Duke Senior's "banquet" 
with Orlando and Adam complaining of starving. For me such anomalies have 
provided revealing windows into the past, though what works for my theatre 
history project certainly does not rule out Mueller's cautionary suggestion.

Alan Dessen

Michael D. Friedman. "In Defense of Authenticity." _Studies in Philology_ 94 
(2002): 33-56.

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