Saturday, May 29, 2010

Edward III - Authorship

Derek writes:

Okay, having not posted a thing on Twelfth Night, I'm going to take a break from the ridiculous amount of reading, grading, writing, indexing, and teaching I'm doing over the summer and respond IMMEDIATELY to question 5.

Who wrote the play? It really does not matter, especially now. Arguments between the Oxfordians and the Baconians, or whatever, are all predicated upon the belief that the plays' authorship does something important for the meaning of the work, as though 400 years of theatrical tradition, summer Shakespeare festivals, and literally billions of student-hours have not entirely effaced whatever traces of authorial intention (if that's even a reasonable thing to point to anymore) once obtained in these works.

I've been reading Stephen Greenblatt this summer -- not the recent money-making Will in the World, but the original work of New Historicism, Shakespearean Negotiations. I expected to hate it, because I detest New Historicism generally, and particularly as it is applied to Shakespeare. Another scholar in this tradition, a guy named Kastan, who pretentiously titles his work Shakespeare After Theory (as though New Historicism does not have metaphysical commitments of its own), describes The Tempest like so: it is not a commentary on colonialism brought about by the recent discovery of the New World. No, it is rather best understood as pertaining to -- I'm not kidding -- protestant/catholic strife in southern Italy.

I'm not an expert on Early Modern Europe by any means, and I never have been, but I've enjoyed The Tempest when I've seen it. I have felt it speaking to me. While it would be easier to hear colonial undertones there, I certainly heard not the slightest suggestion of religious unrest, and yet the play filled my ears.

Whatever Shakespeare means, however we as a culture have come to value these plays, I am certain that searching back through 400 years of history, either to the genius of the Author himself or to the "energeia" out of which the plays emerged, will not help us answer these questions for ourselves. If what we hear now are but echoes of some original thing, the echoes remain what we hear, and they are enough. The original would not speak in a language we can understand anyway, the world in which it resounded having died away long ago. We should call off that particular search.

It does not matter who wrote the plays. The plays exist, and as much as we may hate on Joe Dowling for botching them, part of the reason it bothers us is because we recognize that every performance has, to some degree, a lasting impression on the content of the play. And because we paid money for our seats, of course.

That's enough of a rant for the time being. In the fall, I am off to the Eucor universities of the Rhein valley in order to start a second PhD at the universities where Heidegger and Nietzsche taught -- Shakespeare, obviously, will be the subject of the dissertation, but the broader project will be attempting to account for the way the plays interact with or have their being in our culture without resorting to either a claim to "universality," authorial intention, or historical context (that looks back to the originary period for meaning). I think in order to understand Shakespeare, we have to look at the way those plays exist now. I'm off now to downtown Iowa City, in fact, to read Julian Young's Heidegger's Philosophy of Art.

Ciao, as they for some reason say in Basel,

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