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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0143 Tuesday, 30 March 2010
From: Brian Bixley <
Two recent submissions that make efforts to raise substantial issues appear to have been dismissed (Mr. Blanton's) or simply ignored (mine). Quite possibly that was the treatment they merited. At the risk of boring everyone (and perhaps in the hope of softening the damage to my amour propre), may I return to them briefly. Mr. Blanton suggests that Shylock's trial is a mockery of a real trial of the period, and that should perhaps lead us to ask to what dramatic and literary purposes that falsification lends itself. It is surely not enough to say that the play is about 'the quality of obsession AND mercy' (is it? only that?) or to mock that Mr. Blanton wants the play 'to read like an appellate record'. A play whose 'place' was Paris but where everything sounded like Prague, or a 'time' of the Second World War where the combatants fought with longbows, would unsettle us. A criticism that says, as some of the replies to Mr. Blanton said, that we should ignore these historical or geographical inconsistencies, might well seem to the outside observer to be not very, um, scholarly.
My own submission had more modest goals. It merely claims that for almost precisely 399 years editors, annotators, scribes, actors, directors, translators, publishers and the combined strengths of English Departments, Institutes for Shakespeare Studies, Centres for Renaissance Reevaluations plus, possibly, audiences and readers, have failed to notice that, in the course of their debate about Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale, Perdita and Polixenes had allowed their metaphors to balance precariously on botanical nonsense.
I embedded my argument in the usual kind of academic insulation (Egan wrote, Orgel argued, Pafford described); perhaps that was too confusing, too pretentious, my arguments are perhaps themselves nonsensical, though no one has had the unkindness to say that. So let me restate my argument in simpler but more polemical terms:
1. Perdita is opposed to genetic change. In taking this anti-evolutionary position, she reveals herself to be 'against' rather than 'for' Nature, with which she is traditionally identified, and implicitly aligns herself with principles of racial purity and anti-immigration policies. The only way to minimize genetic change is through 'art', i.e., vegetative propagation;
2. Hybrids - 'bastards' - whether accidental or intentional, embody genetic change and are about as 'natural' as you can get, though Perdita rejects them;
3. Polixenes approves of the 'right kind' of genetic change (itself a morally dubious position), but his proposal for achieving it will be, except in rare cases, unsuccessful, because he confuses 'grafting' with 'hybridizing'.
[Editor's Note: I appear not to be expressing myself as clearly as I should be in some of my recent Editor's Notes.
Regarding my "ignoring": I receive between 500 and 1,000 messages in my Editor's Inbox a day. I did not ignore Bixley's message; I "overlooked" it. As I clear the SPAMs and other extraneous messages from my Inbox, I occasionally inadvertently delete genuine submissions to the list. I apologize for this. Perhaps, after my cataract surgery, I will not overlook as many posts as I have been lately. Until then, members will have to bear with me.
Regarding my "dismissing" Blanton's post, I acknowledged that Mr. Blanton had some interesting and useful observations about legal matters in his article. That his conclusion was that Shylock's treatment, therefore, means something other than what is being said on the surface, I confess that I find nothing new in this observation. When I figure out or am told the "So what?" (the comment I often wrote on student papers when I graded them) about the significance of Mr. Blanton's observations, then I will apologize publicly for having not recognized the importance of this paper.
-Hardy M. Cook, Editor of SHAKSPER]
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