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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: July ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0398  Monday, 14 July 2008

[1] From:   Robin Hamilton <
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     Date:   Sunday, 13 Jul 2008 08:03:38 +0100
     Subt:   Intentionalism

[2] From:   Felix de Villiers <
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     Date:   Sunday, 13 Jul 2008 04:46:23 +0200
     Subt:   SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Robin Hamilton <
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Date:       Sunday, 13 Jul 2008 08:03:38 +0100
Subject:    Intentionalism

This has little to do with Shakespeare but much to do with the utility of the 
concept of "intentionalism" in the editorial process.

I'm concerned at the moment with the "authenticity" (deliberate scare quotes) of 
broadside song texts, printed in a roughly 150 year period between 1700 and 1850.

Many of these texts can clearly be related to documented historical figures -- 
Jack Hall (hanged for robbery at Tyburn in 1707), Jack Sheppard (Tyburn, 1724), 
Thomas Mount (Rhode Island, 1780) and David Haggart (Tollcross, Edinburgh, 1821).

Other than Sinfu' Davey, I seriously doubt that any of these figures scribed 
their own laments.

Of all of them, Jack Hall is in some ways the most intriguing.

He exists in the Old Bailey Records, the Ordinary of Newgate's Accounts, 
Alexander Smith's account of_Highwaymen_, and most later versions of The Newgate 
Calendar.

        Lots of material for an Intentionalist perspective here, you'd think.

{Except the glossary which the editor of the cant section of _Memoirs of the 
Right Villainous John Hall, the Late Famous and Notorious Robber. Penn'd from 
His Own Mouth Sometime Before His Death. London: printed for J. Baker, 1714_ 
lifts the vocabulary straight from an earlier printed text.}

Also, of course, Jack or John or Sam Hall achieves immortality via a 1850s comic 
song, as "Sam Hall, Damn your eyes."

As far as I can make out, the text which most represents the moment when Jack 
Hall was hung in 1707 only exists in a broadside ballad (Pickering, for the Toy 
Theatre) dating from the 1830s at the earliest.

... and when it comes to "To the Hundreds of Drury I write," which seems to 
pretty much dissociate itself from Jack Sheppard from the start, from the moment 
it's printed the day after Sheppard dies, as "Jack Sheppard's Farewell" and 
resurfaces as "The Bowman Prig's Farewell" (independent of Sheppard) in Francis 
Place -- 1800, reporting songs he'd heard in the 1780, and Thomas Mount, topped 
in Rhode Island in the 1780s ...

        Even a time machine wouldn't help.

The point I'm tediously making is that there are serious editorial judgements to 
be made on a whole range of issues at least mildly relevant to Shakespeare, and 
it seems to me that none of them are usefully illuminated by the concept of 
"intentionality".

Possibly the worst is a ghost footnote which reaches as far as (at least) Arden3 
_As You Like It_, to do with "Peddlar's Greek".

        D'oh!

That one at least can be tracked down and put to rest with a stake through the 
heart.

{I blame this on as much as anyone else Thomas Dekker, whose joke at the expense 
of Thomas Harman's slightly lunatic attempt to justify his coinage of the term 
"cursitors" cascades down to the assertion that Cursitors (associated with 
drawlatches and roberdsmen) constituted the Second Order of the Old Canting Crew.}

It's orthoglyphs all the way down, and intention simply doesn't figure when it 
comes to making practical editorial judgements.

Robin Hamilton

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Felix de Villiers <
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Date:       Sunday, 13 Jul 2008 04:46:23 +0200
Subject:    SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

For when the work is finished, it has, as it were, an independent life of it's 
own, and may deliver a message far other than that which was put in its lips to 
say.         Oscar Wilde

The aim of this contribution is to move away from what one might call the poet's 
external intentions and to pursue the direction of those that or more hidden and 
manifest themselves of their own accord. These may be considered under three 
closely related headings:

  1.. The non-conceptual aspect of art, which diverted intentions may lead to.
  2.. Involuntary intentions.
  3.. What we may not know about our own culture and the intentions it has 
produced in us, and those it fosters in us.

As far as what I call the external the intentions are concerned, some of the 
most valuable work that has been done for the Roundtable is summed up in Duncan 
Salkeld's recent posting (8 July): "But when examining particular textual 
details and their relationships, intention becomes not only a question worth 
raising but sometimes essential." In the same letter, referring to Hugh Grady's 
posting, he writes that he is hard pushed to see how "the nature of aesthetic 
knowledge" could be "non-conceptual." Grady's affirmation, while aiming in the 
right direction, is a contradiction in terms, since knowledge is necessarily 
conceptual. Perhaps he should have said that the content of art has a non- 
conceptual aspect and that art has tried to elude the grasp of conceptual 
language, which, throughout history, has been misused for repressive purposes. 
The non-conceptual aspect of art is immediately evident in music and painting; 
poetry relies on conceptual language but tries to transform it by aesthetic 
means: context, word patterns, rhythm rhymes, images, assonance and 
alliteration, and other techniques. But all these arts are created by conceptual 
beings and must necessarily be understood by them, even if a residue of 
enigmatic content will always escape us.

T.W.Adorno, in his Aesthetic Philosophy writes: "The more art as an object is 
subjectively remoulded and freed from its mere intentions, the more articulately 
it serves as the model of a non-conceptual language that eludes signification." 
Here Adorno has his eye on modern art, but his observation is closely related to 
his view of aesthetics in general, in which art eludes the grasp of 'mere 
intentions.' One of his favourite expressions is that the work must go "where it 
wants to go of it's own accord." This phrase comes in Klangfiguren, which also 
deals with the contemporary music of his time, but the idea arises in all his 
considerations of traditional art, which distances itself from normalised 
conceptuality as in the transformation of the latter in a lyrical poem. (see 
Noten zur Literatur).

Adorno's remark about art eluding 'mere intentions' leads us to a consideration 
of a more intelligible but nevertheless still enigmatic evasions of normal 
conceptuality. In creating art there is always and intense struggle between our 
rational selves and the material we work on, which has a natural tendency to go 
its own way, following the dictates of an alter ego which consumes our external 
intentions. Charlotte Bronte, reviewing "Wuthering Heights", wondered whether it 
was right to create beings like Heathcliff and she answers, saying, "I scarcely 
think it is." But then she goes onto to declare that there are moments when all 
our intentions are thrown aside and "be the work grim or glorious, dread or 
divine, you have little choice left but quiescent adoption." Who would not think 
of Shakespeare in those words?

He leads us through a devious labyrinth of intentions gone astray. In the foul 
depths to which Macbeth and his Lady sink, there are glimmers of a lost humanity 
which the other characters don't posses. A strangled humanity mutters Macbeth's 
words:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out. Out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player.
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

What extraordinary inspiration put these words into the mouth of Macbeth, beyond 
all conceivable intention, in this monster of a man, and yet so aesthetically 
just? The three repetitions of 'to-morrow,' are in themselves nothing, but 
express, in their context, an ineffable poignancy, hard to explain. Here the 
other self, the lyrical psyche, has come out trumps. And continues to do so line 
by line.

And then there are cultural and historical intentions nurtured in us of which we 
are not aware. I doubt whether Shakespeare knew that he was a Mannerist. I agree 
entirely with Arnold Hauser, who classifies him as a renascence man, a realist, 
yes, but for the most part a Mannerist. He breaks all domestic boundaries. One 
might at first think, in his plays, yes, but not so much in his Sonnets. But 
they are exemplary of his Mannerism. This is evident in the lyrical 'I' that 
abases itself to the point of madness, suicide, death. That was surely one of 
his unintentional intentions, which leads us again down stray paths and hidden 
intentions in the Sonnets. Shakespeare demolishes the conceptual I as a 
dominating instance, in poetry, if not in life, in which we have to survive 
somehow with our more or less hardened egos. There are still people who try to 
extract -from the spuriously normal world - the would-be happy family man out of 
the Sonnets, a man who is nowhere to be found in them. The one Sonnet that 
refers to such a family is mythologized immediately by its concord with music. 
If the young man had gone straight ahead and produced the duplicate son, the 
Sonnets would have lost their reason for being, the aesthetic veil would have 
been torn. As it is the imaginary son becomes a mythical figure in the Sonnets, 
in one of them he is addressed as "your golden time." And yet, and yet, I do 
believe that Shakespeare would like to have torn the aesthetic veil. There are 
examples in Beethoven and Mahler of desperate attempts to do so. So much in 
Shakespeare rebels against the magic of the aesthetic mirror. Prospero gives up 
magic hoping for the best. Macbeth, in the speech quoted above, seems to face a 
black impenetrable wall and, in their negativity, his words belong to one of the 
most passionate appeals for humanity that I have read. It is here perhaps that 
one finds Shakespeare's innermost intention. But he cannot break the spell as 
long as he remains in the realm of fiction.

A note: I have nothing against happy families and only wish there were more of 
them. Art moves on a different plane.

Works cited:

T.W. Adorno, Noten zur Literatur 1, Suhrkamp 1973

T.W. Adorno, Klangfiguren, Suhrkamp 1963

T.W. Adorno, Aesthetische Theorie,  Suhrkamp, 1974

Arnold Hauser, Storia sociale dell'arte, Einaudi, 1987, second volume.

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, Dent, 1963, the Introduction

Oscar Wilde in The Critic as Artist.

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