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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: June ::
SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0352  Thursday, 12 June 2008

[1] From:   Gabriel Egan <
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     Date:   Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 13:08:19 +0100
     Subt:   Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[2] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 14:34:59 -0400
     Subt:   Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[3] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 16:03:38 -0400
     Subt:   Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

[4] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 18:45:12 -0400
     Subt:   Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Gabriel Egan <
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Date:       Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 13:08:19 +0100
Subject: 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

Cary DiPietro writes:

 >The first assumption of Egan's writing is that there is a correct or
 >un-"mangled" authorial arrangement or formulation of "words"
 >that can be known . . .

Indeed, it is, but they are words not "words": there's nothing particularly 
tricksy about the concept of a word and no need to mark off this concept as 
though it were something we must handle cautiously, like intellectual gelignite.

Let's at least agree that the devil is in the meanings, not the words.  (I 
wonder if anybody else is, at this point, remembering Michael Palin's cod 
literary theorist asking himself "What do I mean by the word 'mean', what do I 
mean by the word 'word'?")

An example of the assumption that DiPietro objects to: I insist that there's a 
correct and unmangled authorial arrangement or formulation of words that gives a 
title to this debate, and it's "Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions." An 
incorrect and mangled arrangement of the words would be "Roundhead: 
Shakespeares' Intentions".

(I mangled the accidentals there too, deliberately. Some people think you can 
tell who typed or typeset something by whether or not there's a space before 
each colon. D. F. McKenzie's essay "Stretching a point: Or, the case of the 
spaced-out comps" (Studies in Bibliography 37 (1984): 106-21) would make one 
sceptical about this claim. But 10 minutes searching the British Library 
catalogue records for the use of spaces around colons confirms that in some 
datasets these habits are indeed regular and that one really can distinguish 
typing done by professional cataloguers from typing done by non-cataloguers.)

Those who don't accept the above assertion about the relatively unproblematic 
nature of the concept of words, those for whom the devil is even in the "words" 
(needing DiPietro's 'scare' quotes), will find themselves unable to hold a 
meaningful conversation with those who accept the above and think that the 
problems of meaning and intention lie elsewhere.

DiPietro says that I'm

 >clearly collapsing the distinction between the arrangement
 >or appearance of words in a text and the *critical* meanings
 >they bear . . .

Quite the contrary, I'm insisting on that distinction: words aren't the problem, 
meanings are.

 >As professional scholars -- "critical ganders" to the
 >"authorial goose" as Egan calls us (something should
 >be said here about the troublingly gendered nature
 >of this metaphor) -- and as teachers, our task is to
 >pronounce critically on the work of our peers and
 >our students.

The metaphor is gendered*, but what's the trouble? The mere fact that it's 
gendered, or the particular assignment of genders (author = female, critic = 
male)? How about if we reverse the assignment, as in the familiar metaphor of 
criticism as 'handmaiden' to the text? If that second one is not troubling and 
the first is, DiPietro needs to explain why. If both are troubling because they 
are gendered metaphors-if gendered metaphors are the problem -- then we are left 
with almost no language in which the hold the discussion. Language is almost all 
metaphorical and our metaphors appear to inhabit our thoughts and to arise from 
our gendered bodies.  On this point, Derrideans and cognitive scientists find 
one of their most potentially productive points of contact. Trouble is, they 
seldom talk. All this nonsense about "words" puts sensible scientists off.

Gabriel Egan

* Derridean SHAKSPERians will have noticed that the metaphorical expression 
"what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" invokes a metaphor of 
gender difference precisely in order to erase that difference. That's why I 
selected it for the point about authors and critics: a coherent theory of 
intentions must address the fact that we maintain this distinction right up 
until the moment we start typing. Once we write our theories we become authors, 
and readers have every right to apply our theories to our own writings. It's 
quite a good test of a textual theory to see if it can be applied 
self-reflexively to a written expression of itself. Hence my proposal for random 
corruption of postings: those for whom all editorial correction of error in 
Shakespeare's writings is positivist hubris will have a tough time complaining 
about what happens to their writing.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 14:34:59 -0400
Subject: 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

Our moderator has invited me to comment on Gabriel Egan's post:

 >An observation for Weiss: Egan suggests a random *textual* corruption,
 >but he's clearly collapsing the distinction between the arrangement or
 >appearance of words in a text and the *critical* meanings they bear
 >(unless, of course, he's drawing an *analogy* between textual corruption
 >and critical misunderstanding or misprision, which still collapses the
 >difference, in any case).

Cary is surely correct that it is unscientific to offer to test the hypothesis 
that we cannot discern what (if anything) an author intended by the words he 
used with an experiment that alters the words he used.
If I understand Egan's position correctly, it is that the extreme 
anti-intentionalist argument is absurd, even paradoxical. The refutation of the 
extreme position lies not in an experiment corrupting an author's text but, 
rather, in the more-or-less self-evident proposition that if that text had no 
intended meaning we would be composing gibberish, and if its intended meaning 
could not reliably be discerned by the reader, exchanges of views such as this 
one would be impossible. If I have correctly interpreted Gabriel's argument, his 
confirmation of that will, I suppose, constitute a refutation of the extreme 
anti-intentionalist argument. This might be somewhat akin to kicking a rock to 
refute the metaphysical (and quantum physics) notion that matter lacks solidity.

Of course, Egan's use of sarcasm might obscure some of his meaning. Shame on all 
those who use sarcasm to make a point!

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 16:03:38 -0400
Subject: 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

The moderator's request for posts about pedagogical techniques that illustrate 
either the importance or irrelevance of authorial intention, even posts with 
anecdotal evidence, puts me in mind of an incident that occurred in a college 
class I took so many years ago I would rather not date it (I think A.C. Bradley 
was a classmate).

The class was a senior year "crap course" on reading Shakespearean language, 
which was offered by the Speech and Drama Department. The professor regularly 
conducted exercises in which he asked every student in turn to read the same 
lines, noting the variety of possible interpretations that can be placed on the 
same speech by just altering stresses, beats, inflections and accompanying 
gestures. I suspect that this exercise is conducted hundreds of times a day in 
acting schools all over the world.

One incident especially comes to mind. The text was Portia's line in M/V,IV.i 
"Tarry Jew, the law hath yet another hold on you." Student after student read 
the line in basically the same way, mostly stressing "another"; and all were 
pronounced wrong by the professor. His position was that the stress had to be 
placed on "you"; and he had a purely legalistic reason for this: In his view, up 
until this line the law had not had any "hold" on Shylock, as it served only as 
a defense to his claim -- as lawyers might put it, the law was a shield not a 
sword -- and now was the first time a "hold" was to be imposed on Shylock. (This 
reading, of course, ignores the fact that Portia had shown that the law had no 
"hold" on Antonio either, so "another" is wrong; but that is a little beside the 
point.) Finally, in exasperation, one student put a beat after "another" and 
read the next three words as "-- Hold on you!" as if Shylock were continuing to 
leave the assembly and Portia used this colloquialism to stop him. Risible as 
this is, it seems to me that the reading would work in performance.

I suppose that this anecdote can provide fodder for both opposed schools. The 
traditionalists can argue that it is patent that Shakespeare intended no such 
thing, pointing to the modernity of the colloquialism and the enormous 
improbability that the words would have been used in that way in 1596. The 
anti-intentionalists could argue, "So, what; it's a play not a dictionary."

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Thursday, 12 Jun 2008 18:45:12 -0400
Subject: 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0344 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

I wonder if there is a moral to be drawn when a reader, director, or author 
comes to a conclusion about the author's intentions from a completely incorrect, 
even opposite, understanding of the words:

 >In a footnote, Weingust reports on his interview with the actor who
 >played Salisbury in _King John_ who, at the first performance, was
 >surprised to discover that the King addresses him with the familiar
 >"you" and not the formal "thou." The actor took this as a sign of
 >disrespect, and found that it fueled his anger at the King.

Of course, this actor got the pronouns reversed -- "thou" is familiar and "you" 
is polite. Perhaps this supports Cary Mazur's conclusion better than an accurate 
understanding by the actor and consequent loss of his character's pique:

 >What it finally comes down to, then, is less a matter of what we mean
 >by Shakespeare, but what theatrical practitioners mean when they
 >claim that they identified something as "Shakespeare's intentions."
 >Rather than pointing out the fallacy of their claims and mocking them
 >for it, let us instead politely thank them for showing us their cards, even
 >as they blithely continue to play the game.

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