Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 153. Wednesday, 5 Jun 1991.
Date: 		Mon, 3 Jun 91 09:22:18 PDT
From: 		Kay Stockholder <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:	[*TC*, Genre, Satire]
Dear Steve,
    First, is, and if so, in what sense is, T&C satire?  As a rough and
ready description, the word is ok, but it doesn't really capture the play.
I suppose that if we knew that Troilus was a take-off of a specific person,
then the play would be closer to ordinary satire.  But, as you say quite
correctly, for this or any other work the specific historical reference may
be interesting, but cannot what gives a work its lasting bite.  That has to
be in relation to a powerful generalization about human behavior, affair,
etc., that the work in its own time instantiated in the specific reference,
and that is capable of being instantiated in other specifics in other times.
Because T&C may not, and may never have, referred to specific persons, it
is no less referential for referring to general rather than specific issues.
In fact, I do think that all literature refers, and I agree with you that to
speak of satire or parody highlights the issue of authorial intention
(without such intention, there can be no reference).  Now if in
poststructuralist terms, as you suggest, all works (how boring) reveal the
truth that there is no reference (would that not also be a reference to
that "truth") then something that presented itself as satire or parody would
indeed deliberately pretending to refer to something, perhaps in order to
trick us into believing in reference, and then to trip us up?  But isn't it
a bit weird to attribute intention to the work, which "seems to be
contradictory on purpose," while refusing to attribute to an author, even
when it stares us in the face, just because we can never be absolutely
certain that our readings of those intentions are correct. Of course we can't
have absolute certainty about that, but neither can we about each other's
intentions, and certainly not about those of "the work" whatever that might
    About T&C as satirical.  As I see it the central ironic bitterness of the
play comes from the fact that it shows ideals of love and honour being debased
by those who violate them by mouth in the service of their own petty lusts
and vanities.  Because there are not "good" characters to sustain in that
world a sense that ideals of fidelity or honour are viable, what we witness
is a world in the process of being drained of meaning.  So it doesn't seem
right to say that the play satirizes courtly love, or a version thereof;
rather it shows us Troilus debasing the ideal embedded in the figure he
impersonates.  And it doesn't seem right to say that the play satirizes the
conception of martial honour when we laugh at, rather than with, the many
characters whose behavior constitutes a mockery of the ideals they claim
to espouse.  And similarly with Ullyses and the hierarchical ideal he
violates in the process of announcing.  I don't think that this satirizes
behavior in the same way that Gulliver's Travels satirizes political and
social abuses; it rather renders as distasteful (an appropriate word) certain
state of life.  It's difficult to stage because none of the characters is
sympathetic, and therefore it is difficult to care about what happens to
them.  I agree with George Mosley's description of what he calls the cartoon
pattern of action, and agree that one can stage it that way.  But to do so
presents a much more upbeat and sympathetic play than the one I believe
that Shakespeare wrote.  I think that Shakespeare wrote a black comedy
rather than a satire, but because he didn't know that he was writing the
first one, he didn't realize that he had to substitute a kind of perverse
pleasure in the grotesque for other forms of dramatic interest.

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