The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0451 Thursday, 31 July 2008
From: Duncan Salkeld <
Date: Saturday, 26 Jul 2008 12:20:56 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 19.0433 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0433 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
David Schalkwyk identifies very clearly why I have urged the appeal to intention
as an occasional necessity: 'to determine the factual details of a text
independently of a favorite interpretation of that text' [and] 'to prevent a
settled signified derived independently of what the author wanted as a signifier
from determining the signifier that he could well have wanted'. But I do so not
to freeze the text into a timeless rigid structure determined solely by its
genius-author but simply as a way of acknowledging evident signs of its
historical moment. To this end, may I cite a few brief examples of topical
allusion as an indication of authorial intent?
Were now the general of our gracious empress,
As in good time he may, from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit,
To welcome him! (Henry V, 5.0.29-34)
If this is an allusion to the Earl of Essex (as most editors and critics
concur), then it dates the play to between January and June 1599. On 27 March,
Essex had left England for his Ireland expedition. By summer of that year, it
was already clear that the venture would fail (see Oxford ed., 1982, 5). So in
this instance, the intentionality clearly matters for our knowledge of the play..
... there is, sir, an aery of children, little eyases,
that cry out on the top of question, and are most
tyrannically clapped for't: (Hamlet, 2.2.339-42)
If this is an allusion to the boys who played at Blackfriars from Michaelmas
1600, as most editions accept, then at least part of its historical
interest/significance lies in the fact that it dates the play to around this
time (see Arden 2 ed., 1982, 1-2).
3. 'Go get thee to Yaughan. Fetch me a stoup of liquor' (Hamlet, 5.1.60-1, Folio
Here the intention is unclear. Oxford and Norton editors emend 'Yaughan' to
'Johan', following Brinsley Nicholson's suggestion in 1871 that this 'Johan'
might be a foreign alehouse keeper. Nicholson suggested 'Johan' might be a Dutch
version of a name Jonson uses in The Alchemist, 'Deaf John'. Given that 'Johan'
is a very common Elizabethan spelling of 'Joan', an argument for emending
'Yaughan' to 'Johan' is an argument for rendering 'Johan' as 'Joan' for modern
readers and audiences. In as much as we don't know what 'Yaughan' means or
refers to, the obscurity arrests what we can make of it: intention thus matters
even when unclear.
4. When Jonson refers to 'Deaf John' in The Alchemist (1.1.85), he alludes
(deliberately) to an historical figure, a man who was 'comon about the house' in
the Bridewell Hospital (31 January 1600). A note recorded on Saturday 22
December 1604 states,'It is ordered yt deffe John a poore man in this house
shall have a canvass dublett & a paire of hose'. His food allowance each day was
eight ounces of bread, a fifth of a pound of beef, a mess of porridge and a
quart of beer for dinner, with a little extra beef for supper. By 7 May 1606, he
was dead: 'Murrey the officer to have the Romes wch deaf John hadd the said John
beinge dead And he must pay iiiis a yeare to the Trer [Treasurer] by xiid a
5. Jonson makes reference to another historical figure in Bartholomew Fair. Wasp
snipes at Mistress Overdo. 'Good Lord! How sharp you are, with being at Bedlam
yesterday! Whetstone has set an edge upon you, has he?' (1.5.22-23). Here
Jonson alludes to William Whetstone, a disturbed young man notorious for
outbursts in public places and kept at Bethlem Hospital. A census of inmates on
28 June 1624 records that, 'William Whetston hath been here about 18 yeares & is
fitt to be kepte'. He died the following year. It makes sense to infer that
Jonson intended his some of his audience to 'get the joke'.
Details of (4) and (5) are available in _The Review of English Studies_ 2005 56
(225): 379-385. One can claim either that these 'signs of historical moment' are
intended topical allusions or (less plausibly) unintended slips of the pen but
it makes no sense to argue that they are 'non-intended', as if to imagine they
bear no relation of any kind to authorial intention. 'Nor does it make sense to
hold that adducing such material perpetuates 'fantasies' of authorial intention
(see the CFP). David might perhaps allow that here intention is 'inescapable',
though he may also think it redundant. If so, I can agree with him on the first
part but not (at least not very much) on the second.
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