Query: Good Recent Essays on the Henry Plays?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.202  Thursday, 2 May 2016


From:        Evelyn Gajowski <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 25, 2016 at 10:16:34 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Query 


I’ve been watching the 2014 and now 2016 Hollow Crown; I’ve now gone twice through the first set (R2, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V) and find them superb. The best rendition of Falstaff that I’ve ever seen. To tell the truth, I’ve watched R2 three times just to watch Suchet and Lindsay Duncan at it. Now I’ve begun 1 Henry VI and I see that (as in other performances I saw on stage years ago at the Shakespeare Festival in NYC) they’ve abridged the 3 plays into 2.


I haven’t read Shakespeare criticism is a long while and find myself wanting to read far more modern pieces than the 1970s essays (good as they are) I read in graduate school.


Can anyone recommend good readable articles on these plays?


For Ellen Moody: 


Hodgdon, Barbara.  “Enclosing Contention: 1, 2, and 3 Henry 6.  The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare’s History.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.  44-99.  


Howard, Jean E., and Phyllis Rackin.  “1, 2, and 3 Henry 6.”  Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories.  London and New York: Routledge, 1997.  43-99.


Jackson, Gabriele Bernhard.  “Topical Ideology: Witches, Amazons, and Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc.”  ELR 18 (1988): 40-65.  


Rackin, Phyllis.  Stages of History: Shakespeare’s English Chronicles.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1990  


Stanton, Kay,  “A Presentist Analysis of Joan, la Pucelle: ‘What’s past and what’s to come she can descry.’”  Presentism, Gender, and Sexuality in Shakespeare.  Ed. Evelyn Gajowski.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.  103-21. 


Williamson, Marilyn L.  “’When Men Are Rul’d by Women’: Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy.”  Shakespeare Studies 19 (1987): 41-59.    


All the best,

Evelyn Gajowski

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA




Vickers One King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.201  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


[1] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 20, 2016 at 8:57:12 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear 


[2] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 13, 2016 at 8:54:05 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear 




From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 20, 2016 at 8:57:12 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear


Sir Brian Vickers (One King Lear) treats problematic text as straightforward: “In the following scene . . . the abridger made a few local cuts, gaining little space in the process” (155):


   Gon. You strike my people,and your disordred rabble,make

servants of their betters.      Enter Duke.

   Lear. We that too late repent’s, O sir, are you come? is it your will that wee prepare any horses,ingratitude! thou marble harted fiend, more hideous when thou shewest thee in a child, then the Sea-monster, detested kite, thou li[e]st . . . (Q1, 1.4.255ff).


F alters the readings:


   Lear. Woe, that too late repents:

Is it your will, speake Sir? Prepare my Horses.


   <Alb. Pray Sir be patient.

   Lear.> Detested Kite, thou lyest.

. . . .

   Duke. [Alb., F] My Lord,I am giltles as I am ignorant.

<Of what hath moued you.> 1.4.275

   Lear. It may be so my Lord,


“Once more, the abridger decides that if a character does not respond to a direct address (‘speak Sir!’), [the address] may be omitted. . . . Albany loses another [although] Lear does reply [‘It may be so . . .’]” (156).


Lines were possibly restored here, as Vickers maintains. However, replies notwithstanding, they may be elucidating revisions. Vickers discusses ‘Woe . . .’ again in his chapter, “The King’s Men Abridge a Tragedy”:


“Presumably Okes [the Q1 printer] cut ‘speak Sir’ since it duplicated ‘O sir’ just before, and then misread ‘my’ as ‘any.’ He probably added the words ‘that wee’ in order to make a coherent sentence, since it would be inconceivable that Lear should defer to Albany . . . . The Folio abridger made a different cut and also restored Lear’s characteristic imperative” (233).


Though agents of corruption surely rule this score of words, Vickers arbitrarily divvies the work. Stone’s analysis is more credible (though I’ve attempted an improvement):


“The questions in Q (O sir, are you come? is it your will that wee prepare any horses?) should surely be given to one of Lear’s gentlemen.” I believe the Duke asks the questions. “Assuming that [Albany] speaks at this point, we have a much more intelligible sequence of events. As Goneril is elaborating her complaint against Lear’s household (‘your disordered rabble makes servants of their betters’), Albany enters, whereupon [he guilelessly] gives her the lie by politely . . . requesting to saddle the King’s horses . . . . The point is not lost on Lear, nor does he mean it to be lost on Goneril. His . . . ‘Ingratitude! . . .’ serves only to introduce . . . ‘Detested kite . . . .’ Without the rearrangement suggested the text is very nearly incoherent, while the revision in F . . . is entirely unconvincing. We are left with the problem of We that too late repent’s (= repent us). I [suppose] these are the last words of Goneril’s speech, interrupted by Albany’s entrance. . . . We must refer to herself and Albany” (Stone, 231, “Ascription of Speeches in Q1 and F”).


When Albany (at that very moment) shows no resentment in offering to prepare horses, Lear is confirmed in thinking his daughter is the trouble-maker. The Duke has no idea what happened; neither do the F revisers, who clearly have no authorized source as guide. They (and Vickers) fail to consider what seems obvious to Stone (and me)—that reporting flubs speech prefixes. Q1’s otherwise accurate dialogue (as performed) is consequently altered.


Speak sir is given to “Lear” because no one seems to reply to him. But O sir, are you come? . . . was Albany’s courteous interruption. Woe, that too late repents woefully revises Goneril’s identification (‘We’) of the ‘betters turned servants.’ Prepare my Horses attempts to make ‘is it your will that wee prepare any horses’ into something Lear might have said. Pray Sir be patient merely gives Albany a line (two of which he already had, unbeknownst to the revisers). Of what hath moued you unnecessarily supplies an object.


Neither stenographer nor Q1 compositor would be likely to alter the wording (e.g., to add that wee, which F omits!) Their job was to record dialogue as it reached them. If it’s fair to assume that Q1 is most nearly right, then F can’t represent a sounder text. F manuscript printer’s copy likely derived from the report and read much like Q1. Whether some of F’s redacted passage restores text omitted by Q1 is impossible to know and wrong to assume.


Gerald E. Downs



From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 13, 2016 at 8:54:05 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Vickers One Lear


While rejecting Sir Brian Vickers’s belief in “foul papers” derivation (The One King Lear), I’m attracted to his hypothesis that F additions restore Q1 omissions. The alternative in most cases is revision. I accepted Stone’s analysis that Q1 copy-text influenced F; reluctantly so because probability frowns on contingent hypotheses. Yet I’ve recently supposed Q1 R3’s memorially transmitted copy could account for some of the Folio text; others suggest purposeful quarto omissions. I hadn’t considered deliberate Lear omissions, though Stone unenthusiastically mentioned the possibility.


In aggregate, motives for F’s additions seem so obscure that even “Two Shakespeare Versions” apologists rely on more extensive (indubitable) omissions of Q1 text from F as the basis of their consequently weak argument. Some lines “omitted” from Q1 appear to be non-authorial; other F-only text reads well as original but seems rather revisionally pointless.


Hypothesizing Q1 from an economical publisher’s standpoint, Vickers suggests text was culled to save space but restored from a playtext (itself abridged). As I accept direct influence of Q1 printer’s copy in F, early printing omissions would be available for restoration. Stone analyzes F’s additions extensively. Since Vickers argues that Lear was preserved independently of Q1, he hasn’t much use for particular questions about F additions. On the other hand, Stone may have overlooked some effects of printing, or even of pre-Q1 revision:


[Lear.] and with Champains rich’d

With plenteous Riuers  (1.1.65–66)


“[T]he text of Q needs no repair at this point. It may . . . represent a genuine recovery of what stood in . . .  copy for Q. Since the following phrase . . . begins with and . . . .” (Stone, App. B2 ‘Omissions and Additions in F,’ 233–248, p.239). Eyeskip is indicated, if not certain; revision serves no dramatic purpose.


[Kent.] But true it is . . .

Offer this office to you. (3.1.30–42: not in F)


“An accidental [F!] omission, immediately following an insertion [Q1 omission?] of eight lines. The . . . first four or five lines of [F’s omission] is essential: without it . . . the interpolation is incomplete in grammar and sense. So that this was . . . no deliberate deletion of the reviser’s. Nor is it . . . likely that the copyist [was in] error” (235). Stone guesses the added F lines caused the F omission; he may be right.


[Kent.] Who haue, as who haue not . . .

. . . these are but furnishings. (3.1.22–29: not in Q)


Knowles, following Blayney, thinks these same added F lines were meant for two places; they may be right. Stone, treating the addition as whole, argues bad revision (70–75). Repositioning may obviate his otherwise worthy objections, to allow that F intended only to restore omissions from Q1: Vickers may be right. Yet the sequence is not straightforward. Paraphrasing van Dam, if the compositors had known what they were doing, they wouldn’t have done it. Foakes (Arden3) reproduces the complicated texts.


Gerald E. Downs




The Tempest and Colonialism

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.200  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


From:        Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 4:58:47 PM EDT

Subject:     SHAKSPER: Colonialism


Charles Weinstein writes:


I would further note that Prospero treats Caliban with kindness until he attempts to rape Miranda.  Caliban does not deny this charge; on the contrary, he revels in it:  “O ho! O ho! Would’t had been done!” etc.  He makes clear that he will repeat the attempt if he ever gets the chance; and indeed, he spends the rest of the play trying to kill Prospero and rape Miranda by proxy, using Stephano as his surrogate.  Quite obviously, Prospero and Miranda are compelled to subjugate Caliban in simple self-defense, the way we imprison recidivist sexual offenders.  These facts, and especially Shakespeare’s depiction of Caliban as a determined and incorrigible rapist, would seem to complicate efforts to regard him as Prospero’s victim.  But then some people will ignore a great deal in order to reach their desired interpretation.


But, Charlie, how do you  ‘interpret’ Prospero’s “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.”? 


Is Caliban Prospero’s bastard? (  SHK 16.1504 )....or his Id? ( SHK 21.0275 ).


As philosopher Stanley Cavell stressed to Carol Neely: “one must think about incest to understand Shakespeare’s romances.”



Ye shameless self-citer,

Joe Egert




Bertram’s Velvet Patch

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.199  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


[1] From:        David Richman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 11, 2016 at 1:01:59 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Velvet Patch 


[2] From:        John Drakakis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 12, 2016 at 6:11:40 AM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Velvet Patch 


[3] From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 11, 2016 at 6:32:55 PM EDT

     Subject:    Bertram’s Velvet Patch 




From:        David Richman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 1:01:59 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Velvet Patch


Such passages as that concerning the velvet patch permit stage directors to be inventive—not that we need permission.  We brought Bertram on with a velvet patch which the king stripped away, revealing the young man’s perfidy.  I didn’t want to cut the lines.  


David Richman



From:        John Drakakis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 12, 2016 at 6:11:40 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Velvet Patch


Alan Dessen’s account of Bwertram’s ‘patch’ is intriguing. He links his explanation with that of Innogen in Much Ado, although apart from he appearance in 2 stage headings she says nothing. A better comparison might be with Lorenzo’s comment to Lancelet at 3.5.34-35 where he says, “I shall answer that better to the commonwealth than you can the getting up of the negro’s belly.”  Either this is some kind of joke that suggests that Lorenzo is better able to justify ‘converting’ Jessica to Christianity than Lancelet can impregnate a negro OR that this refers to an episode that either Shakespeare intended to, but did not write. 


The consensus is that the copy for The Merchant Q1 was foul papers, since there are other textual instabilities that indicate particular ideas not followed through, an untidiness that despite a large number of perfunctory alterations in Q2 (1619), remain in the Folio text.


These examples are different from the Innogen case in Much Ado where the assumption is that if the dramatis persona is silent, then she must have been absent. We should, perhaps recall that in Q1 Much Ado it is Leonato (Innogen’s husband) to whom the line “Peace, I will stop your mouth” is attributed at the end of the play. Even if, as in the Folio this line is re-allotted to Benedick, the effect is the same.



John D  



From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 6:32:55 PM EDT

Subject:    Bertram’s Velvet Patch


Alan Dessen asked for reactions to his attempts to decode the following puzzling passage in 4.5 of the Folio /All’s Well /(I put it in modern English):


CLOWN//Oh, madam, yonder's my lord your son with a patch of velvet on's face. Whether there be a scar under it or no the velvet knows; but 'tis a goodly patch of velvet. His left cheek is a cheek of two pile and a half, but his right cheek is worn bare.


LAFEU scar nobly got, or a noble scar, is a good livery of honour; so, belike, is that.


CLOWN But it is your carbonadoed face.


LAFEU Let us go see your son, I pray you. I long to talk with the young noble soldier.


Alan, I think I’ve got a pretty good answer, let’s see what you think.


First, I sensed that the Clown’s reference to “a patch of velvet” was metaphorical and was not about an actual velvet patch. A quick search of Shakespeare’s usage of “velvet” in the rest of the canon confirmed my hunch – in several cases, “velvet” refers, in varied ways, to the sparse, soft, immature, growth of hair or similar epidermal growth on a young human, animal, or plant.


Far and away the best evidence for ascribing this metaphorical meaning to “velvet” in the Clown’s cryptic speech can be found in /A Lover’s Complaint /, as the tearful young maiden describes (to the kindly old passerby) the looks of the young man who broke her heart:


For on his visage was in little drawn

What largeness thinks in Paradise was sawn.


'Small show of man was yet upon his chin;

His phoenix down began but to appear

Like unshorn VELVET on that termless skin

Whose bare out-bragg'd the web it seem'd to wear:

Yet show'd his visage by that cost more dear;

And nice affections wavering stood in doubt

If best were as it was, or best without.


In that passage, the metaphor is constructed out of a dense cluster of words, and it is not cryptic at all. It makes it clear to me, that a similar meaning was intended by Shakespeare in the Clown’s speech. However, there’s even more support hidden in that passage. Thematically, I also heard a great deal of /All’s Well/’s Helena in the voice of the young maiden who yearns after a young man who cruelly spurns her, and yet still wants him. Another Google search quickly led me to the following, which shows that I am not alone in that view:




“In language, character, situation, and theme,…/A Lover’s Complaint /is closer to /All’s Well…./The opening of the poem and the first scene of /All’s Well /are virtually identical. In the play, Helena laments the departure of Bertram, who she loves, tough she has not yielded to him. Her audience, Parolles, is not silent, but Helena and he use the same kind of military metaphors as the lady in the poem to discuss virginity and its loss. Despite the harsh treatment Helena and the lady of the poem suffer, the former pursues and marries Bertram, and the lady would yield to her lover again….”


Such example in /A Lover’s Complaint /is so probative, that I’ll just present the other relevant usages with only brief explanation, and otherwise reiterate that in each case “velvet” comfortably fits with that same metaphorical meaning of immature epidermal growth on a human, animal or plant:


/As You Like It /2.1




…'Poor deer,' quoth [Jaques], 'thou makest a testament

As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more

To that which had too much:' then, being there alone,

Left and abandon'd of HIS VELVET FRIENDS,[i.e., young deer]


/Henry V/1.2:




…Others like soldiers armèd in their stings


Make boot upon THE SUMMER’S VELVET BUDS,[i.e., new buds]


/Love’s Labours Lost /3.1




A wightly wanton with A VELVET BROW,[here is an additional sexual innuendo as well]


With two pitch-balls stuck in her face for eyes;




/Measure for Measure /1.2


LUCIO Ay, why not? Grace is grace, despite of all controversy: as, for example, thou thyself art a

wicked villain, despite of all grace.


FIRST GENTLEMANWell, there went but a pair of shears between us.


LUCIO I grant; as there may between the lists and the VELVET. Thou art the list.


FIRST GENTLEMAN And thou the VELVET: thou art good VELVET; thou'rt a three-piled piece, I warrant thee: I had as lief be a list of an English kersey as be piled, as thou art piled, for a French VELVET…


In Lucio’s and the First Gentleman’s railliery, we again see, as in the Clown’s speech, the description of “velvet” as hair that is “piled”.




/Winters Tale /1.1




Looking on the lines

Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil

Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd,

In MY GREEN VELVET COAT, my dagger muzzled,

Lest it should bite its master,


I read Leontes “green velvet coat” as referring to his young adult “peach fuzz” and his “dagger muzzled” as distinctly sexual.


So, to get back to Allan’s question, the significance of the Clown’s reference to Bertram’s “velvet patch” is the idea of Bertram’s immaturity, which of course, he is.


As for the Clown’s reference to Bertram’s “carbonadoed face” [at first, I misread the Clown as referring to Lafeu’s face], that is the Clown throwing out yet another satirical barb in Bertram’s direction, which in part seems to be a suggestion that Bertram has undergone treatment for syphilis due to his reckless sexual promiscuity, and also suggests that under his peach fuzz his sweet face is turning into a slab of scored and grilled meat! And that also fits with the conceit the Clown concocted during his raillery with Lafeu a little earlier in 4.5, when he calls Lafeu the Devil in five different ways—the Devil’s face does sorta have that barbecued look, from constant exposure to the great fire of Hell!:


CLOWN Why, sir, if I cannot serve you, I can serve as great a prince as you are.


LAFEU Who's that? a Frenchman?


CLOWN Faith, sir, a' has an English name; but HIS FISNOMY IS MORE HOTTER in France than there.


LAFEU What prince is that?


CLOWN The black prince, sir; alias, the PRINCE OF DARKNESS; alias, the DEVIL.


LAFEU Hold thee, there's my purse: I give thee not this to suggest thee from thy master thou talkest of;

serve him still.


CLOWN I am a woodland fellow, sir, that always loved a GREAT FIRE; and the master I speak of ever keeps a good fire. But, sure, he is the prince of the world; let his nobility remain in's court. I am for

the house with the narrow gate, which I take to be too little for pomp to enter: some that humble

themselves may; but the many will be too chill and tender, and they'll be for the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire.


So, all of this fits with the Clown generating a running joke about Bertram’s callous womanizing—which, as you recall, is the very trait he shares with the seducer of /A Lover’s Complaint/. I think it’s all meant ironically – the idea of Bertram as a wolf in sheep’s clothing – his predatory nature belied by his youthfully innocuous appearance.


Which brings me to the Clown’s reference to a scar on the left side of Bertram’s face. That strikes me as a metaphor as well, in exactly the same vein – and guess what, it /was /set up by a speech by Helena in 3.2, as she reflects sadly on Bertram’s avoiding her, and decides to leave town so that he will come home:




'Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.'

Nothing in France, until he has no wife!

Thou shalt have none, Rousillon, none in France;

Then hast thou all again. Poor lord! is't I

That chase thee from thy country and expose

Those tender limbs of thine to the event

Of the none-sparing war? and is it I

That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou

Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark

Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers,

That ride upon the violent speed of fire,

Fly with false aim; move the still-peering air,

That sings with piercing; do not touch my lord.

Whoever shoots at him, I set him there;

Whoever charges on his forward breast,

I am the caitiff that do hold him to't;

And, though I kill him not, I am the cause

His death was so effected: better 'twere

I met the ravin lion when he roar'd

With sharp constraint of hunger; better 'twere

That all the miseries which nature owes

Were mine at once. No, come thou home, Rousillon,

Whence honour but of danger wins a SCAR,

As oft it loses all: I will be gone;

My being here it is that holds thee hence:

Shall I stay here to do't? no, no, although

The air of paradise did fan the house

And angels officed all: I will be gone,

That pitiful rumour may report my flight,

To consolate thine ear. Come, night; end, day!

For with the dark, poor thief, I'll steal away.


That metaphorical usage of “scar” fits perfectly with what that HudsonShakespeare.org analysis pointed out: “…Helena and [Parolles] use the same kind of military metaphors as the lady in the poem to discuss virginity and its loss.”


I also searched “scar” in Shakespeare’s other works, and I found the following highly resonant passage at the end of 2.1 and beginning of 2.2 of /Romeo & Juliet/, right before the famous balcony scene:




Come, he hath hid himself among these trees,

To be consorted with the humorous night:

Blind is his love and best befits the dark.




If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.

Now will he sit under a medlar tree,

And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit

As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.

Romeo, that she were, O, that she were

An open et caetera, thou a poperin pear!

Romeo, good night: I'll to my truckle-bed;

This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep:

Come, shall we go?




Go, then; for 'tis in vain

To seek him here that means not to be found.




/Capulet's orchard./


/Enter ROMEO/


ROMEO He jests at scars that never felt a wound.


It seems that Romeo has overheard Mercutio and Benvolio as they jest at his lovesickness, and he soothes his own feeling of injury from their raillery, by dismissing it as the jealous trash talk of men who’ve never loved. And so the “scar” and the “wound” Romeo refers to is of course the wound he has suffered after Cupid’s arrow has found its mark….in his heart! Which all make that brief passage the perfect prelude to the balcony scene, and an analog of the Clown’s speech in /All’s Well./


And last but not least, it makes particular sense that Lavatch’s speech would be heavy in metaphor, pun, and innuendo, rather than literally, because that is how Shakespeare’s clowns all speak.


So, in summary, I think that there is nothing literal in the raillery between Lavatch and Lafeu. The “patch of velvet” and the “scar” have nothing to do with an actual velvet patch, or an actual scar, and everything to do with the play’s military metaphors depicting Bertram as an extremely unheroic hero of this problem play.







Mis-Appropriating Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.198  Wednesday, 25 May 2016


[1] From:        Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 11, 2016 at 4:26:35 PM EDT

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Mis-Appropriating 


[2] From:        Nemma Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 13, 2016 at 9:16:52 AM EDT

     Subject:    Shakespeare commenting on “stuff”




From:        Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 11, 2016 at 4:26:35 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Mis-Appropriating


Shakespeare did not comment on cognitive science or colonialism, if the words ‘comment’ and ‘cognitive science’ and ‘colonialism’ are being used meaningfully; that is, in the way that university-trained scientists and historians would recognize. The disagreements that have developed on colonialism and cognitive science in recent posts are at an impasse because each side doesn’t agree on what it means to comment. And it seems to me that the more specious camp is one that uses ‘comment’ metaphorically, art personified as the thing doing the commenting, and in which case it’s not Shakespeare who's doing the commenting in the ordinary sense.


So, if Shakespeare is not doing the commenting, who is? Jason Rhodes suggested that what authors had in mind doesn’t really matter, writing, “Regardless of authorial intent, culture places certain values on symbols” in a previous post. Fine, but who’s placing those values in Shakespeare’s mouth or behind his name? Shakespeare “can comment on stuff that wasn’t around in his time,” Rhodes writes. But how does that work? Especially if Shakespeare’s intent doesn’t matter? How do you comment on “stuff” that you have no idea about? Seems like careless, confused language. Is Shakespeare also commenting on newly discovered methods for detecting gravitational waves? Genome sequencing? Biolinguistics? Or is it just cognitive science?


Meanwhile, Neema Parvini writes that he’s “argued elsewhere that cognitive science does give us some interesting and convincing explanations for the social phenomena described by the Marxist and post-Marxist theory.” I suspect he’s argued the same for phenomena described by Shakespeare. Then he writes, “I do think certain answers lie there, even if cognitive scientists haven’t always pushed their conclusions in those directions.” Well, there’s good reason for that: the science community will hold them accountable to evidence and verification trials and will be refuted and be quickly left behind for maintaining invalid claims. This is basically happened to the saints of New Historicism Althusser and Foucault (whom Parvini mentioned); their carelessness with historical facts and scientific terms, combined with their penchant for confused language, could not be taken seriously by practicing scientists or historians in their time. Indeed, today they’re not canon texts in science nor history courses and should not be taken as authorities in any of those fields. And since Parvini is eager to alert us of his forthcoming book on “Shakespeare and New Historicist Theory,” I hope he is just as eager to defend his methods, should they in any way resemble those of Althusser and Foucault.        


Last, were Shakespeare alive today being asked by NPR what he thought about cognitive science or colonialism or whatever, his most probable comment would be, “No comment, man.” Anyone who has truly appreciated Shakespeare—the great self-effacer and biography-eluder who never seems to take any sides, positions, and doctrines—would generally agree. I think. “Speak less than thou knoweth,” he might say.



Hardy, I don’t disagree with “Gnos Chimski”—in fact, he is right on—but I think you’re publishing someone under a pen name: “Gnos” meaning knowledge; “Chimski” being the humanities blog chimski.com.  


I wouldn’t be surprised if Gnos himself is the main Chimski at the blog, having written in the last few weeks “Fables: Did Socrates write anything?,” “Sonnet: On True Love compared with False Love,” “Good Mourning: A sonnet addressed to Shakespeare on the 400th year since his death in 1616,” and “Hard Evidence: How the case of Will Kemp proves Shakespeare’s authorship.” 



Al Magary



From:        Nemma Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 13, 2016 at 9:16:52 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare commenting on “stuff”


It would be appreciated if Gnos Chimski could actually read things before commenting on them. If you’d read the article you’d know that I am mostly on board with the idea of the “two-eyed playwright” who seldom takes sides easily. And, of course, I’d agree that Shakespeare had no idea about cognitive science. I’ve argued that he has things to say about human thinking, especially as regards intuition and reasoning. Were these things “not around in his time”? The basic logic of this argument is that the facets of human thinking have been broadly similar since the start of recorded history, so it stands to reason to find Aristotle, Shakespeare and modern cognitive scientists describing the same phenomena in different words. In short, Shakespeare has a good deal to say about human thinking, and nothing at all to say about cognitive science.


Chimski might also want to check what I’ve said before in print about the so-called saints Althusser and Foucault. My point is that whatever their failings—and I’d be among the first to point them out—they do answer some broad questions fairly convincingly. For example, why don’t the masses rise up and overthrow their capitalist masters? Why do people willingly accept conditions in which they are being exploited? They are more compelling when answering these sorts of questions than when trying to account for personal liberty and agency or historical change. My point was only that cognitive science provides empirical data for some of the phenomena they described. And heuristics especially can explain some of the effects (of power and ideology) that they talk about, which must in the last instance, rely on the capacity of human thought to be manipulated. In any case: do you need a scientist to tell you that totalitarian states have been a real thing, or that it has generally been the case that workers have not overthrown their masters? Do you need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows?


I suspect, however, that Gnos Chimski is not very interested in discussing or engaging with any of these ideas, but seeks instead to close them down. It’s easier to say: 1. Shakespeare wasn’t aware of cognitive science, therefore he had nothing to say about the human mind, 2. Althusser and Foucault got some things wrong, therefore we should not take anything they say at all seriously, and 3. Shakespeare was generally non-committal, therefore we should not say that he commented on “stuff”. Okay, great, what shall we do now?




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