The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0364  Wednesday, 25 June 2008

From:       Cary DiPietro <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 24 Jun 2008 14:58:44 -0400
Subject:    SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

This week's Roundtable comes without a leading essay. I apologize to 
SHAKSPERians for the long gap between the two digests, but I've been waiting to 
see whether the discussion would develop in the directions I proposed last time, 
and it has not. I interpret the lack of responses generally to be a sign that 
interest in the discussion is waning, and that now is the time to wind down 
towards a conclusion. I was disappointed in particular to see so few responses 
to Cary Mazer's wonderful essay, but this is perhaps evidence of the 
incontrovertible truth of his argument!

The digest below includes nine responses in total, three of which have not been 
published to SHAKSPER yet. The first of these is a short message from Hugh 
Grady. I made the mistake in the last digest of anticipating a leading 
contribution to be written by him without confirming in advance whether he was 
still able to do so, and regrettably, he was not. He gives us here a small taste 
of the essay he might have written, and perhaps will write in the future. The 
second is a longer response from David Schalkwyk to several respondents to his 
leading essay. The final contribution is my own, on the topic I proposed last 
time of intention and pedagogical application. It appears at the end partly 
because it's framed as a response to comments by David Schalkwyk, but largely 
due to the fact that it's hastily written, under-theorized, and doesn't bear 
close scrutiny. I thought the topic would elicit a wider response, and the fact 
that it didn't suggests to me that my questions were leading to my own response, 
so I provide it here, tentatively.

The next digest will be our last in this edition of the Roundtable. Instead of a 
leading essay, I'll provide a brief reflection upon the wide-ranging discussion 
we've seen so far, and I invite members of SHAKSPER to do the same. I also 
invite SHAKSPERians to reflect and comment upon the format of the Roundtable 
itself, what worked and what didn't, perhaps with a view to the third Roundtable 
whose topic and guest-moderator are, I hope, soon to be decided.

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

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

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

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

From:       Duncan Salkeld <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Friday, 13 Jun 2008 12:57:24 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 19.0352 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0352 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

David Schalkwyk's thoughtful and well-informed contribution merits a more 
considered response than I have given so far or (I regret) am able to give here. 
I think there are plenty of areas of agreement between us, and both of us leave 
room for manoeuvre in our approaches. I'm not so ready to follow him down Hilary 
Putnam's road of 'externalism' when we talk about intention but agree that 
intending is a social practice and not solely a personal, private mental affair. 
Each of us, I think, sought distance from naive positions on either side of the 
issue. I accept  that Shakespeare's intentions will always be a matter 
of(belated) inference but suggest there are cases where the 'I-word' just has to 
be invoked whether we like it or not (by everyone). We might disagree about the 
wider purposes or implications of Shakespeare's malapropisms (eg. in speeches by 
Dogberry, Elbow or Mistress Quickly), but we would not even begin to disagree 
unless we shared an understanding of what literary malapropisms were, that is 
authorially determined structures. In such cases, the appeal to intention is not 
just heuristic: it is inescapable. My point is that in working out what 
Shakespeare's intentions might have been, or were, we make implicit causal 
assumptions about his choices, or uncertainties - that of all the options 
available to him he settled on one (or didn't). The 'determining' bit is assumed 
in the inferring. This is why I think it's helpful (sometimes) to identify 
intention as 'a determining and authoritative cause' and similarly to regard 
obscurity as ignorance of such a cause.

No criticism of Hardy implied at all, but when I received my contribution 
together with Terry's, both were indeed somewhat mangled. Our intentions seem to 
have come across pretty well despite it.

From:       Donald Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Friday, 13 Jun 2008 09:33:54 -0500
Subject: 19.0352 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions
Comment:    RE: SHK 19.0352 SHAKSPER Roundtable: Shakespeare's Intentions

With regard to "words," "meanings," "intentions," and other cattle of this color:

In an explanatory note some weeks ago, our long-suffering editor used the title 
"Resent Digests." I immediately took the first word to be an imperative verb, 
and also immediately found myself puzzled. I could see no reason why I should 
resent any of the digests (unless, of course, they had exposed some folly of 
mine for all the world to see, or said something snide, or whatever). And it was 
very unlikely that Hardy would use an imperative form in a title.

I quickly re-read the title to "Recent Digests," silently emending what I took 
to be a typographical error, and assuming that he was offering a collective 
comment on posts of the past few days.

But I was wrong. What he was talking about were re-sent digests, ones that he 
had to send out over again because of one of those glitches that periodically 
infect the digital world. For some reason the hyphen had dropped out. 
(Alternatively, Hardy may feel that the hyphen is unnecessary.)

In any case, the title was understandable once I clarified what the actual word 
was, a process that I accomplished by reading the rest of the passage and 
discarding the two incorrect readings. By acquiring the intended meaning of the 
whole note, I could figure out the intended meaning of the puzzling word.

I offer this as a parable. Do with it what you will.

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

The discussion on intention in this Roundtable has been a very full one, but I 
have one more topic to add to the mix:  the issue of aesthetic meaning in the 
discussion of the interpretation of Shakespeare's works. I want to emphasize the 
difference between a conventional message, delivered in a concrete social 
context from a known speaker to a known audience -- and the communications 
situation of an artwork -- let us take the drama as an example -- in which 
language is put to fictional, emotive purposes outside of normal social 
contexts, by an author or authors whose words are formed within generic and 
theatrical traditions not invented by the author and mediated by actors, 
directors, and others, to an audience of persons not personally known and 
representing a multitude of personal biases, intellectual frameworks, and 
familiarities with the story, language, and conventions of the drama.

It should be obvious that the kind of communication in each of these two 
disparate instances is quite different.

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

My apologies for taking so long to rejoin the conversation. I have been burdened 
by a hectic schedule of packing and travelling. Between June and September I 
will have visited five different continents and moved my household from Africa 
to the USA!

Duncan Salkeld writes very generously of my original posting that "there are 
plenty of areas of agreement between us, and both of us leave room for manoeuvre 
in our approaches." He goes on to say, "I accept that Shakespeare's intentions 
will always be a matter of  (belated) inference but suggest there are cases 
where the 'I-word' just has to be invoked whether we like it or not (by 
everyone)... the appeal to intention is not just heuristic: it is inescapable." 
To show just how much we agree, here's an extract from my posting on "Authorial 
Intention" on Monday, 17 September 2007: "In my view, much of the trouble with 
the debate lies in the ambiguous use of the word 'intention', which seems to be 
indispensable in any talk about things that are produced by human beings, but 
cannot eradicate the equally unavoidable work of interpretation." 
"Indispensable" or "inescapable": they imply the same thing. In that posting, 
however, I go on to agree with Hugh Grady that the appeal to intention in 
literary interpretation is a red herring. Therein, I think, lies my difference 
from Salkeld. Let me elaborate on this difference, which, for the sake of 
discussion, I am going to draw quite starkly, perhaps to the point of exaggeration.

Salkeld asks whether if, as I stated, intention is not "the determining and 
authoritative cause" of a play's meaning, it could be "a determining and 
authoritative cause." I would claim that one either has to say that it is _the_ 
determining cause (in which case one would be an intentionalist) or that it is 
not a determining _cause_ at all (which would not necessarily make one an 
anti-intentionalist, though it might). My problem lies with the notion of 
intention as a form of causality, which is why I re-cited Derrida's statement 
that intentionality will have its place in the world of interpretation for which 
he is arguing, but it will not be able to govern and control the entire field. 
Just as some philosophers have a "redundancy" theory of truth ("The cow is in 
the field" says the same thing as "It is true that the cow is in the field", so 
the phrase "It is true" is not doing any work) I hold a (weak) redundancy theory 
of intention.

Let me illustrate this via Steve Urkowitz's contribution. He laments that 
despite his attempts to show that it was Shakespeare's intention to write "what 
we find in Q1 KING LEAR" through the "marshalling of lots of evidence ... my 
basic claims and especially my citation of what I see as authorially introduced 
and intended _patterns_ have been dismissed or ignored." We need to ask what 
work the appeal to intention is doing in Urkowitz's argument. Does it add 
anything to the "marshalling of lots of evidence" and the citation of 
"patterns"? Rhetorically, it adds a great deal -- in fact, Urkowitz's whole 
argument as he summarizes it depends upon the appeal to authorial intention: if 
_Shakespeare_ did not introduce such patterns, then they are not his, and Q1 is 
not his play. But how do we know that Shakespeare did indeed introduce them? 
Well, by indicating patterns that could only have been produced by an intending 
agent. But the rejection of Urkowitz's arguments show that the patterns 
themselves do not prove anything definitive about what Shakespeare intended. So 
the appeal to intention is redundant except in a purely rhetorical or heuristic 
sense. Let me put it this way: no appeal to an author's intention absolves one 
of producing any piece of evidence or argument in support of that intention. So 
one might as well leave out the appeal to intention and stick to the evidence 
that one would have produced anyway.

Cary Mazer's example of Beerbohm Tree's appeal to William Poel's invocation of 
Shakespeare's intentions to bolster the contrary position, I think, underscores 
my point that the appeal to intention is a (very) useful and powerful rhetorical 
or heuristic device, but that it settles nothing. Can all those thousands of 
separate companies who believe that they are bringing out what Shakespeare 
himself intended in _their specific_ production be right? Nonetheless, I agree 
with Cary that there is nothing wrong with using intentionality as a method for 
_shaping_ an interpretation. That's why I'm not an anti-intentionalist. What I 
would object to is the appeal that thereby one has found the _determining cause_ 
of the interpretation.

Larry Weiss's distinction between critical and textual intention is a useful way 
of clarifying many of these issues. It corresponds roughly to what some refer to 
as "categorical" intention: the intention to write something; the intention to 
write a play; the intention to write a tragedy; the intention to write a tragedy 
for the King's Men; the intention to write "Iudean" rather than "Indian." This 
kind of intention is separate from that which may be thought to govern the 
meaning of the play, or a speech in it, and some anti-intentionalists with 
regard to the latter would happily accept the invocation of the author's 
intention with regard to the former. Is this a contradiction? I don't think so. 
Because the argument that an author intended to use this word is compatible with 
the agency of the author without attributing to him or her the capacity to 
control and determine what that word may mean. It's the appeal to intention of 
the latter kind, in which intentionality is invoked to govern the whole field of 
(possible) meaning, which seems to me to be impermissible or redundant, 
precisely because "meanings ain't in the head."

This brings me to a further difference with Salkeld: his distancing himself from 
my Putnamian and Wittgensteinian position that meanings are public affairs. I'd 
like to see a fresh argument that puts them back in the head without falling 
into the position that once they're in there, there is no way for anyone else to 
get at them. _Hamlet_ offers a compelling representation of the appeal to an 
interior self that "passes outward show." Everyone will recall how Hamlet the 
character appeals to an inscrutable inner self that "knows not seems", that is 
not exhausted in "actions that a man might play." There is an interesting 
paradox here, since the _actor_ who plays the part can hardly be said to have 
the concealed but vital interiority that the character claims to have. If we can 
understand what the actor says without such an informing, controlling, 
vitalizing, or intentionalizing interiority in the person who is actually making 
the claim, then it means that language works perfectly adequately without it. 
It's like Wittgenstein's "beetle in the box": it's redundant (_Philosophical 
Investigations_, para. 293). Furthermore, when Hamlet encounters the player, 
whose speech is filled with passion, he reflects on the "monstrosity" of the 
fact that the actor has no inward cause for such emotion. Yet, when Hamlet tries 
to express what HE, who does apparently have such interior cause, should be able 
to say and do, he is disgusted that all he can produce is an example of BAD 
acting: in search of his interior self he turns into the worst kind of ham. I 
repeat Wittgenstein's comment that "the best examples for a sentence with a 
particular meaning is a quotation for a play. And whoever asks a person in a 
play [the actor] what he's experiencing when he's speaking?" (Ludwig 
Wittgenstein, _Last Writings_, Vol 1, ed. G.H. von Wright and Heikki Nyman 
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1990), para. 38).*

Finally, Cary offers the following challenge: "can you define or describe a 
methodological approach to literary criticism (and some definition of or 
elaboration upon that term seems necessary) that has practical  pedagogical 
applications and does not have some recourse, on some level, to authorial 
intention?" This is in fact a challenge to start the whole discussion again. If 
we hold the circular Knapp and Michaels definition that all meaning is 
necessarily intentional, then the answer must be "no." But if the challenge 
includes a pedagogical procedure that attends to all that we normally look at in 
our teaching of Shakespeare: editorial processes, genre, close reading of 
passages, performance history, the performative force of speech, historical 
context and so on, then for the past thirty years I have never invoked what 
Shakespeare intended, except when a student has objected in the middle of a 
discussion of a passage, "But surely Shakespeare could never have intended all 
that!  Aren't we just reading it all into the words?" No student has ever been 
satisfied when a fellow has suggested that Shakespeare did and must have 
intended it all. I have asked, if Shakespeare couldn't have intended "all that", 
what exactly we would retract, to leave us with a sufficiently limited 
interpretation that would satisfy our intuition of what Shakespeare could have 
meant. There is never an adequate answer to this question. And then, when I have 
suggested that what was going on in Shakespeare's head while he was writing is 
beside the point -- that all we have are some extraordinary words, produced by a 
man called Shakespeare, but that their meaning is a matter of publicly 
accessible rules and possibilities, the objectors have generally been satisfied. 
Note that I consistently appeal to Shakespeare's biography in this process. I am 
skeptical about certain kinds of appeal to intentionality, but I think biography 
as a genuine source of evidence has had a particularly hard time over the past 
fifty years, not least because it has been CONFUSED with an appeal to the 
author's controlling intentions.

So, in one corner we have William Shakespeare, the genius who must have poured 
everything that his texts could mean into them from his vast store of intentions 
which ultimately "passes show." And on the other, his theatre, the "actions that 
a man might play," in which meaning is a matter of performance and 
re-performance in ever-changing contexts. My money is on the theatre.

*For a full elaboration of this argument about interiority in _Hamlet_, see 
chapter 3 of my _Speech and Performance in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Plays_ 
(CUP, 2002).

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

I recently challenged participants in the Roundtable to define or describe a 
pedagogical approach to literary criticism that does not in some way rely upon 
or return to the problem of intention, to which David Schalkwyk has responded: 
"This is in fact a challenge to start the whole discussion again." Though my 
goal is not to return us to the point where we began, I can understand why he 
would respond this way, and why, from his perspective, his response to the 
challenge would require merely a restatement of his position; David demonstrates 
in his following hypothetical anecdote that his theory and pedagogical practice 
are entirely consistent with one another. I wish I could say the same. I wish I 
could persuade my students just as easily to the idea "that all we have are some 
extraordinary words, produced by a man called Shakespeare, but that their 
meaning is a matter of publicly accessible rules and possibilities." My students 
are disinclined to abandon the romanticist fantasy of literary genius the study 
of Shakespeare promises. That Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English 
language, a writer of unparalleled insight into the human condition, that his 
plays contain deep spiritual meanings, that he invented the human, no less--this 
is the mythology they are fed through the high school curriculum, the marketing 
media and, perhaps most conspicuously, the global cultural apparatus that holds 
Shakespeare up as an archetypal model of English-language genius. Many of my 
students, coming from post-colonial diaspora, are equally wary or critical of 
Shakespeare's ascendancy in the global cultural sphere. But make no mistake, his 
presence is keenly felt:  Shakespeare presides, he hovers, bearing down with the 
weight of four hundred-year-old intentions on my classroom.

This is the larger challenge from which this particular Roundtable challenge 
emerges, the application of theoretically sophisticated and nuanced positions to 
the practice of teaching, and what, at least in my own teaching, sometimes feels 
like a kind of double standard or hypocrisy. Indeed, I find that I've become 
since the start of this Roundtable acutely aware of the numerous ways I invoke 
or appeal to Shakespeare's authorship as a determining cause for the meaning of 
the plays, and how that appeal often, though usually inadvertently, turns upon 
my use of the word "intention" or its derivatives. For example, a student wrote 
to me recently to get feedback on questions she had prepared for an oral 
presentation on _The Merchant of Venice_. The student was proposing to isolate 
two separate passages from Act 4 in which Shylock invokes scripture in his 
rhetorical justification for exacting the bond, the question for the class: 
"What does Shakespeare want us to take away from these two passages?" My 
response: "Shakespeare didn't intend for us to read these passages in isolation 
to derive an isolated meaning from them. You might rephrase the question to 
something like:  'How does Shylock's use of biblical precedents or doctrinal 
positions persuade or fail to persuade his audience in the courtroom? How does 
it affect the theatre audience's perception of him, whether in a positive or 
negative way?'."

The questions I offer in lieu of her own imply the corrections that need to be 
made of my first fallacious sentence, that Shakespeare was a theatre artist, 
that the plays were constructed to produce certain responses in the context of 
performance, and that these responses occur irregardless of their intentional 
construction. Not only was Shakespeare apparently unconcerned with the effect 
his plays would have upon reading communities, it was likely inconceivable that 
quarto publication in his lifetime would lead to the long-term preservation of 
versions of his manuscripts, and that the literary meaning of these manuscripts, 
a concept equally alien for Shakespeare (at least in a hermeneutic sense), would 
be debated by generations of scholars and readers. Shakespeare's writerly 
intentions, whatever they may happen to have been, are entirely incommensurate 
with the appropriative cultural practices--the ways that we read, interpret, 
even perform the plays--that have evolved since. So why invoke intention? Is 
this merely a heuristic device, or a rhetorical sleight of hand? No, clearly 
not:  I'm appealing to intention as a determining cause in order to refine the 
scope and direction of the student's prepared questions, and in doing so, I'm 
legitimating my role as a teacher of Shakespeare. But let me propose a few 
reasons why this appeal to intention might, in some cases, be pedagogically 
desirable, and perhaps even inevitable within the current boundaries of English 
literature as a professional discipline.

I should begin by noting that understanding or decoding "what Shakespeare wrote" 
is not a course objective. As with most early modern courses offered in the 
post-secondary curriculum in North America, the emphasis is predominantly 
historical. The two key learning outcomes are to acquire a detailed knowledge of 
certain plays and to develop a critical understanding of the role of the drama 
in shaping, in the case of this particular course, early modern English 
attitudes to and perceptions of race, gender and religion. There are clearly 
certain "new critical" assumptions that lie behind my student's approach to her 
task; that plays can be read "spatially" (that is, scenes or episodes taken out 
of context or order) to uncover, typically, themes and motifs, an authorial 
message connoted in the subtext. This is what I would consider an intentional 
reading practice because it presumes both the wholeness of the work, as well as, 
whether acknowledged or not, the wholeness of intention behind the work. And as 
an instructor of the course, my task is to train her to think more 
symptomatically about the historically specific conditions that give rise to the 
text. Rather than assuming the wholeness of the work, such symptomatic reading 
seeks to identify gaps or fissures (Alan Sinfield calls them "faultlines") that 
evidence wider meanings and that are potentially inconsistent with the unifying 
vision of restricted textual meanings.

One could argue that, by appealing to intention, I'm speaking to my student in a 
language she can understand, even as I model for her a critical perspective 
informed by the comparatively recent interventions of historicism, critical race 
theory, gender studies, and so on. But I'm also speaking to her within and 
against the grain of an institutional framework that, in the first instance, 
privileges single creative authorship as the determining cause of literary 
meaning. It is, of course, possible to speak of authorship and reading as 
historically determined social and cultural phenomena without emphasizing such 
values as genius and imagination, but the institutional priority given to such 
canonical figures reinforces for students wider cultural assumptions about 
literary genius that students inevitably bring with them to a course devoted to 
Shakespeare. As a teacher of Shakespeare working within a conventional 
departmental curriculum, is it my task merely to disabuse students of such 
value-laden assumptions?

Similar assumptions about literary value lie discretely behind David Schalkwyk's 
carefully qualified description of the plays as "some extraordinary words, 
produced by a man called Shakespeare, [whose] meaning is a matter of publicly 
accessible rules and possibilities." If we borrow, as he does, a position from 
Wittgenstein that meanings are public affairs, then we would also have to allow 
that such descriptors as "extraordinary" are also publicly determined, that 
there is nothing innately extraordinary about these words that have descended to 
us beyond the value we assign to certain conventions employed by Shakespeare in 
his writing, and that the cult of his genius is therefore based on *nothing 
more* than the surreptitious desire of institutional bodies (education, theatre, 
publishing, archiving) to consolidate their authority by constructing, 
perpetuating and privileging various kinds of literary "knowledge." Such 
absolutism makes me uncomfortable, and not least because I make my living by 
disseminating such forms of knowledge.

As Duncan Salkeld observes, something has to be privileged in any given case, 
and by privileging Shakespeare's authorship as a determining cause of certain 
kinds of literary meaning, even in strictly qualified ways, I risk teaching my 
students to attend to and appreciate the imaginative and psychological force of 
distinctly literary forms of writing, even as we historicize and deconstruct 
them. It may be true to argue that meanings "just ain't in the head," but that's 
where they begin, and I find I'm increasingly drawn to the idea of a possible 
continuity in this experience of literature, a continuity between literary 
authorship as a psychological and social phenomenon, and what we do in the here 
and now when we read or perform or invest ourselves in these texts. This is what 
I mean when I speak of a phenomenology of the text (though "phenomenology" as a 
term leads us to the impasse between Husserl and Derrida and their subsequent 
advocates); that is, an investigation of the structures of experience that are 
written in to the text, structures determined by a range of phenomena including 
but not limited to creative authorship, and that partially determine how we 
experience the text now in any given cultural sphere.

Some of the most exciting work of this nature is being done in the field of 
trauma studies, much of it centred upon Holocaust narratives (see, for example, 
Caruth 1995, 1996; and La Capra). The often controversial power of trauma 
narratives speaks directly to the role that such psychological phenomena as 
memory and subjectivity play in the process of storytelling. As victims of 
trauma tell their stories, and as their experiences are told by others, 
recreated or re-imagined, experience is translated into narrative; and even if 
such narratives are demonstrably constructed, shown to depend upon the 
unreliable processes of memory, the subjectivity of individual experience, and 
the fictionalizing of narrative, these narratives are no less powerful as 
contemporary social experiences. Trauma narratives demonstrate acutely the 
praxis between the psychology of individual experience and the social experience 
of storytelling, and they raise questions about what such storytelling does for 
narrative communities, whether it serves as a repository for collective, social 
memory, or whether it has some greater therapeutic or psycho-social value.

I'm not prepared to attempt an answer to these questions here, but I raise this 
example briefly to make the point that there may yet be some scope for 
addressing questions about the psychology of the author as a determining cause 
of, if not a hermetic meaning, then an aesthetic experience situated both within 
and across time. Moreover, this aestheticist or phenomenological appeal to the 
experience of literature might not only answer the presentist call to arms, but 
might be a way reconciling the professional crisis in the teaching of English 
brought on by, among other things, a Derridean deconstruction of intention.

Works Cited

Caruth, Cathy (ed.). _Trauma:  Explorations in Memory_. Baltimore, Maryland: 
Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.

Caruth, Cathy. _Unclaimed Experience:  Trauma, Narrative, History_.  Baltimore, 
Maryland: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.

La Capra, Dominick. _Writing History, Writing Trauma_. Baltimore, Maryland: 
Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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