December

Gay Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.522  Sunday, 28 December 2014

 

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

Date:         December 28, 2014 at 12:16:39 PM EST

Subject:    Gay Bard

 

David Basch admires my clothes and attempts to steal them! He too contends that his argument for the Sonnets applies objective, independent evidence in an appropriate, non-fictional way and that it offers elegant solutions to otherwise unresolved problems of the poems (SHAKSPER, December 23). However, he has not produced any justification for this contention, nor has he responded to Hardy’s challenges early in this thread. Let us look more closely, therefore, at his methodology and compare it to others.

 

Based primarily on his own interpretations of the plays, David concludes that the author has rabbinic knowledge and is using the plays principally to disseminate Judaic wisdom to the public, overtly and covertly. He postulates that by extension the sonnets have the same purpose, which position is justified with his own allegoric interpretation of the poems. He seeks to bolster his argument with the selective citing of malformed equidistant letter sequences (“ELS”) and other clumsy letter combinations, extracted from Shakespeare’s words and portrayed as deliberate carriers of hidden messages. 

 

Based primarily on their own interpretations of the plays, Oxfordians conclude that the author is an aristocrat of rare education, who is using the plays principally to exercise his talents publicly (but anonymously) and to disseminate wisdom, overtly and covertly. Some postulate that by extension the sonnets have the same purpose, which position is justified with their own allegoric interpretation of the poems. They seek to bolster their argument with the selective citing of malformed ELS and other clumsy letter combinations, extracted from Shakespeare’s words and portrayed as deliberate carriers of hidden messages.

 

Based primarily on the unusual extent and quality of correlation of solid historical information with the content of the Sonnets, read straightforwardly, I conclude that the poems were probably a form of private communication from Shakespeare to his patron, Henry Wriothesley. I deduce from the aforementioned independent (but abnormally coherent) sources of information that the prime purpose of the sonnets was to promote patronage via the associated relationship. I seek to bolster my argument by showing that it presents better solutions to real problems associated with the original publication of the poems (see A3 and A4 here).

 

Regarding the plays: they contain so much verbiage (and content substantially sourced from others’ works) that, with enough scrutiny, one might extract almost any associations or motives one wants from somewhere or other in the words. Consequently, they do not constitute a reliable basis for extrapolation to the nature of the Sonnets (or their author). Their scope is, of course, impressive but the core competences required to produce the scripts are reasonably attributable to a resourceful man of Shakespeare’s middle England background, talents, experience and contacts (among whom was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton). With this information, one may reasonably accept (as I do) that the prime purposes of his authorship of the scripts were to further his show-business career, his standing and his income.

 

The Sonnets are different. They provide real difficulty for theoreticians such as Basch and the Authorship Skeptics. The more thoughtful of these believers must regret that these poems ever survived. There are no easy pickings to bolster the material mined so readily from the plays: no definitively Judaic associations; no pointers to an aristocratic author. The faithful are forced into selective allegoric (or otherwise equally fanciful) interpretations, while turning a blind eye to conflicting indicators. David is also forced here into toning down the rabbinic angle of his play interpretations and into restricting his attacks on my argument to illogical appeals to support an author image which he prefers. There is a straightforward explanation for all these difficulties. The evidence suggests that, unlike all his other published works, the Sonnets are (in substance) autobiography by the non-aristocratic, non-rabbinic poet named Will, whose patron was Henry Wriothesley.

 

David has attempted to purloin my belt, braces, boots and storm-jacket for the purposes of presenting his interpretation of the Sonnets. Unfortunately for him, he is not entitled. He must remain in the scanty, ill-fitting garb which he would prefer covered up!  

 

Interpretation versus Reading

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.521  Sunday, 28 December 2014

 

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

     Date:         December 25, 2014 at 12:01:57 PM EST

     Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Allegorical Readings 

 

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

     Date:         Sunday, December 28, 2014

     Subject:    Interpretation versus Reading (Was Allegorical Readings) 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         December 25, 2014 at 12:01:57 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Allegorical Readings

 

                                     12.25.14

Dear Hardy:

 

Can you help me understand your formula?

 

 I read ___X___ as _______ from my perspective as ___Y___ .

 

What is wrong about thinking one knows the meaning the poet 

tries to communicate from what he has written?

 

Sure, I have a certain background to which his communications

dovetail and make me think that I have caught his meaning.

In the end, the issue is whether this rings true when this is 

exposed to the view of others. But doesn't this happen with 

everyone who thinks he has a window on the poet? Catholics

read his works thinking he writes as one of them -- conclusions 

that I think are far from ironclad. 

 

I present what I believe is the allegory that the Sonnets present. 

I do so by reading and interpreting what the poet has written, not 

by reading his mind, which would be far beyond my capabilities,

but from his pointed allusions that are meaningful to me. But I 

realize that the test of this is whether such allusions are so 

pointed that they can be persuasive to others. You don't have

to be Catholic to be persuaded by their arguments if those 

arguments held water.

 

Am I missing something? Please explain if you have a moment. 

 

With best wishes,

David 

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         Sunday, December 28, 2014

Subject:    Interpretation versus Reading (Was Allegorical Readings)

 

On Wednesday, December 24, 2014, I wrote,

 

>I would be much more sympathetic to allegorical readings if 

>they were presented in such a formula:

>

>I read ___X___ as _______ from my perspective as ___Y___ .

>Reading in such a manner does not imply that the reader is claiming

>to know the author’s mind at the time of composition but is looking at

>the work from a certain point of view and offering a Presentist 

>reading from that point of view.

 

In response, David Basch wrote,

 

>Can you help me understand your formula?

>

>I read ___X___ as _______ from my perspective as ___Y___ .

>

>What is wrong about thinking one knows the meaning the poet 

>tries to communicate from what he has written?

>

>Sure, I have a certain background to which his communications

>dovetail and make me think that I have caught his meaning.

>In the end, the issue is whether this rings true when this is 

>exposed to the view of others. But doesn't this happen with 

>everyone who thinks he has a window on the poet? Catholics

>read his works thinking he writes as one of them -- conclusions 

>that I think are far from ironclad. 

>

>I present what I believe is the allegory that the Sonnets present. 

>I do so by reading and interpreting what the poet has written, not 

>by reading his mind, which would be far beyond my capabilities,

>but from his pointed allusions that are meaningful to me. But I 

>realize that the test of this is whether such allusions are so 

>pointed that they can be persuasive to others. You don't have

>to be Catholic to be persuaded by their arguments if those 

>arguments held water.

>

>Am I missing something? Please explain if you have a moment. 

 

[My emphasis.]

 

In response to your first question (What is wrong about thinking one knows the meaning the poet tries to communicate from what he has written?): Is it wrong? My answer is yes and no. Once again it depends on one’s perspective. 

 

An overview of the evolution of Literary Criticism and how it transforms from an emphasis on interpretation to one on reading might be in order.

 

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, I would describe those who “explained” literary texts as dilettantes, principally interested in issues of characters, universality, and genius (as the Genius of the Bard). Their work was impressionistic and subjective with the underlying assumption being that literature is to be enjoyed.

 

Until the late 19th Century, academic literary studies did not exist—students studied at “The Classical College,” whose subjects were Greek, Latin, mathematics, history, logic, theology, natural science, and moral philosophy. 

 

The Early Professional Era began in late 19th Century with the formation of departments of languages and literature, which took two directions: the professionals and the humanists. The professionals were primarily European, particularly German, scholars of philology. They were investigators, scholars, philologists who were dedicated to the “field” but not to the classroom instead emphasizing the graduate seminar. The humanists were generalists, whose foundation was in the humanism of Arnold, Ruskin, and Victorian apostles of culture. Thus, their emphasis was on morality and the study of general culture, working under the proposition that the study of literature was a moral instrument for the reform of society – reading and studying “great” literature helps to make one a better person.

 

The first half of the 20th Century witnessed a gradual move from philology (language) to literature as a subject of study with a subsequent division between scholars and critics. Scholars fell into two fields: linguists and literary historians (including those who studied comparative literature and the history of ideas). Those interested in literary history studied the historical background of the author, the author’s milieu, the author’s canon, the author’s literary achievements in relation to the author’s influence on writings of others and their emphasis on the author’s writing. The work of the “Old Historicists” was genetic in nature, i.e., they were interested in causes. Thus, literary interpretation from this prospective was grounded in determining the original intentions of the author, which were deemed to be recoverable and deemed to be the only basis upon which to determine the meaning of a literary work. They pursued research to understand period and author in order to better understand and author’s intentions.

 

Criticism was seen as an alternative to the research model. There were aesthetic formalists who viewed art as unique acts of self-expression and new humanists who viewed literature as the moral instrument for the reform of society. But the group that dominated, starting in the 1930s, was the New Critics, whose emphasis was on explicating texts through close readings of those texts in a vacuum. To them, form and content were inseparable: it is not possible to separate what is being said, content, from how it is being said or expressed, form. Claiming to be ahistorical, they, nonetheless, privileged the literary over the historical or for that matter any of field of study: to them all other fields of study are secondary to and used in the service of the interpretation literature. They looked for unity, irony, paradox, complexity, and ambiguity. But they often defined themselves by what they opposed: 

  1. The technological tendencies of modern culture, 
  2. Political and Ideological approaches as well as moralistic ones (The Didactic Heresy), 
  3. Historical and biographical research (The Intentional Fallacy), 
  4. Rhetorical and Reader Response approaches (The Affective Fallacy), and 
  5. Any approach that they viewed as separating form from content (The Heresy of Paraphrase).

In the 1970s, postmodern approaches began with the study of Structuralism. When the grand-design promises of Structuralism began to fade, Post-Structuralism took over. Post-Structuralism was influenced by the method of reading known as Deconstruction. Deconstruction views all texts are allegories of their own unreadability and indeterminacy. A fetish of disunity, aporias, and texts that differ from themselves had replaced the New Critics’ fetish of unity. And the age of theory superseded the age of criticism. 

 

Deconstruction became an umbrella for a variety of postmodern approaches (Marxist, materialist, certain psychological, New Historical, feminist, and so on), all of which shared a common set of assumptions. These approaches all employed close reading as the New Critics had, but the close reading was no longer in the service of determining the one interpretation of the meaning of the text. Instead, close reading became the means of providing readings of a text. Texts were no longer unified, singular edifices but became sites for the multiple interplay of meanings.

 

I hope that this overview will provide a context for what I will say next.

 

David also asked: “Am I missing something? Please explain if you have a moment.”

 

The theoretical approach to which I currently subscribe is Presentism. Presentism posits that it is impossible to separate one’s place and knowledge of the present from one’s understanding of the past. In other words, it acknowledges upfront the perspective from which one reads the past: thus, my formula. For example, 

 

I read Shakespeare’s Sonnets as an allegory for getting clear from my perspective as a Scientologist.

 

In this example, a Scientologist announces the perspective from which he/she will be reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets to obtain ONE reading of them as an allegory for getting clear. 

 

In your post, David, you admit that you cannot read the mind of someone dead for four hundred years. By doing so, you are tacitly declaring the impossibility of determining the author’s intentions. 

 

All that I am trying to propose is that we be honest about what we are doing by reading texts, and that is to offer a reading of that text from an acknowledged perspective that influences the way that we see texts from the past, or present, for that matter. 

 

Allegorical Readings

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.520  Wednesday, 24 December 2014

 

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

Date:         Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Subject:    Allegorical Readings

 

I would be much more sympathetic to allegorical readings if they were presented in such a formula:

 

I read ___X___ as _______ from my perspective as ___Y___ .

 

Reading in such a manner does not imply that the reader is claiming to know the author’s mind at the time of composition but is looking at the work from a certain point of view and offering a Presentist reading from that point of view.

 

Hardy Cook

 

Gay Bard

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.519  Wednesday, 24 December 2014

 

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

Date:         December 23, 2014 at 5:05:42 PM EST

Subject:    Re: Gay Bard

 

I think Ian Steere has me right when he writes that the essence of my view of Shakespeare’s Sonnets is to deem it to be, in Ian’s words, a work “of high moral character and custom, [the author having] created the Sonnets as a means of spiritual guidance.” I would leave out Ian’s description of the poet as a “rabbi” since not only rabbis have such objectives, which can be found in the work of thinkers of all faiths.

 

Ian goes on to tell us how we may judge the validity of his own interpretation by “appl[ying] objective, independent evidence in an appropriate, non-fictional way,” seeing whether it “offers elegant solutions to otherwise unresolved problems of the poems.” Good advice and it would apply to my interpretation too !

 

What makes doing so difficult is the fact that many commentators have failed to take account of Shakespeare’s religiosity that made him take a high moral stance in his work and to recognize the opposing inner forces at work in human nature that enabled him to model his characters as full human beings, irrespective of from where they hail.

 

This it seems to me explains how he is able to get at the essence of his characters no matter how alien their imputed origins. We recognize the humanity of his characters whatever the state of their moral condition, which is why, I think, his work transcends his time.

 

In recognizing the Sonnets as essentially odes to his competing inner friends—spirits, angels—we are helped to avoid what John Drakakis describes as “some of the more crude referential models that collapse the Sonnets into fictional autobiographies."

 

Given the controversies of the Sonnets and their varied interpretations, why have we limited this as being only spontaneous expressions responding to events of the moment involving actual, living consorts? I have opened up another avenue of consideration, seeing these consorts as part of an allegorical composition. This takes us out of the view of the great poet as a man with some kind of disturbed psyche, which the broadness of his view shows he is not.

 

My view on this is not totally original with me. What I have come up with awaits more subtle minds to shape it, add to its edifice or even to modify it, so that it may more fully and credibly integrate the 154 poems we are confronted with. These are poems which Helen Vendler, a reigning expert on poetry, tells are marvelously composed.

 

David Basch

 

Looking for Terry Gray and His Website

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.518  Wednesday, 24 December 2014

 

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

Date:         December 23, 2014 at 3:05:08 PM EST

Subject:    Looking for Terry Gray and His Website

 

Hi,

 

Terry Gray’s website “Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet” was a great resource and it’s a shame it’s disappeared. Does anyone know if it has moved somewhere else or how to contact Mr. Gray to resurrect it? I’d like to host it on PlayShakespeare.com.

 

Thanks!

 

Ron Severdia

 

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