Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Finding New Shakespearean Stuff

In winter of 1794, a young man whose father apparently cared more for this worldly treasures than his family presented his elder with a sealed document he said he found in a trunk. It was a mortgage with Shakespeare’s name on it.

That document became the first of many fraudulent discoveries William-Henry Ireland revealed to London society, to the excitement of his father and many notable scholars. He even produced a long lost play, Vortigern and Rowena, which was performed in a large theater, though many viewers and performers remained skeptical of its authenticity.

Perhaps all of this was for his father. “Frequently,” William-Henry wrote, “my father would declare, that to possess a single vestige of the poet’s hand-writing would be esteemed a gem beyond all price.”

But his estimation of his son was not so high. Doug Stewart writes,

Samuel Ireland, a self-important and socially ambitious writer, engraver and collector, went so far as to hint that William-Henry was not his son. The boy’s mother did not acknowledge her maternity; as Samuel’s mistress, she raised William-Henry and his two sisters by posing as a live-in housekeeper named Mrs. Freeman. Samuel had found the boy an undemanding job as an apprentice to a lawyer friend whose office was a few blocks from the Irelands’ home on Norfolk Street in the Strand, at the edge of London’s theater district. At the lawyer’s chambers, William-Henry passed his days largely unsupervised, surrounded by centuries-old legal documents, which he would occasionally sift through, when asked.

 

Should Shakespeare’s Language Be Updated?

Mark O’Connor suggests Shakespeare fans (and the more casually interested) don’t understand as much as they may think of the great bard’s language. He thinks a modern translation would help.

Here, for instance is Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” berating another character: “Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars.”

A modern English version might run: “May the itch in your blood be your guide through life! Then if the old woman who lays you out thinks you make a pretty corpse, I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.”

O’Connor isn’t advocating a wholesale rewrite of these classics, but a measured translation that attempts to capture all the spirit of the text as well as its meaning. Will you think so?

“I think our fellows are asleep.” (via Prufrock News)

Extinction is relative

Yesterday I ran across some remarks by philosopher of science Michael Hanby that contrast the understanding we discern in Shakespeare with the attitudes common on university campuses today.

Hanby says, “Your final philosophical options come down to two. Either there is a word, or a logos, at the foundation of reality, so that reality is inherently intelligible and meaningful, and therefore there are natures, forms, that persist in spite of the flux of history and time; or, reality is fundamentally meaningless, and meaning is kind of an epiphenomenal construct superimposed upon it.”

To take a familiar example of the second alternative mentioned by Hanby: In today’s colleges of education, constructionism is common. Colleges of education may require that all faculty teach according to constructionism. Constructionism holds that the world is meaningless except insofar as human beings make/devise/construct meaning. Before the appearance of human beings like ourselves, there was no meaning. Today it is obvious, constructionism says, that humans do make meanings. However, the meanings that they make can’t be confirmed by an appeal to objective, perennial truth because there never was such a thing.

The passage above comes from a short article written by the English professor friend I mentioned yesterday. I won’t print his name here because he has to live and work in the academic world, but I quote him with his permission.

I think I might have given an unfair impression in what I wrote about relativists yesterday. I may have suggested that I thought that such people cannot love. That is, of course, unfair. They are our fellow human beings; they have the same passions as the rest of us. They love their lovers and their children and their families. They thrill to great music and literature. They grieve over disappointed hopes, and over the deaths of friends and loved ones.

Their problem (it seems to me) is that they don’t know what to do with those passions. Look at what my friend wrote above. The relativist thinks that his love for people or things is something he himself created, somewhat arbitrarily. He feels that such feelings are right, but he can’t give a reason why they are better than feelings of hate, other than that they have social utility. But who is to say that social utility itself is good? Continue reading Extinction is relative

‘The New Philistines,’ by Sohrab Ahmari

The New Philistines

The marginal is the norm. We are in the final chapters of liberal democracy’s story of ever-greater inclusion. What are the hardline identitarians to do? Posing as permanent outsiders, they are deeply uncomfortable now that they own the culture.

This book moves me a little out of my comfort zone. The New Philistines is written by Sohrab Ahmari, who proudly lets us know that he fully supports many progressive social initiatives, such as homosexual marriage (though I was surprised to learn, when he happened to appear on Dennis Prager’s talk show just today, that he has recently converted to Roman Catholicism). In spite of his social views, however, author Ahmari is appalled by the fruit contemporary political movements have produced in the world of the arts. Truth, beauty, all the traditional pursuits of art have been swept from the stage. Only political identity (what he calls “identitarianism”) matters in the art world today.

He starts with a visit to the new Globe Theatre in London. Built some years ago to reproduce the kind of structure in which Shakespeare’s plays would have been originally produced, the theater attempted, in its initial phase, to do Shakespeare “straight,” to give the audience an idea of what a performance would have been like in the 17th Century. It sounds like a project both entertaining and enlightening.

But recently a new director has taken over. She is a doctrinaire feminist, whose goal is not to make Shakespeare accessible, but to deconstruct him, and with him all our “imperialist, oppressive” western civilization. The author describes a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which all roles are distributed equally between males and females (hasn’t she heard there are more than 50 genders?), the love-inducing magic flower becomes a date rape drug, and one of the two chief romantic pairs is male/male.

The author doesn’t argue with the social goals of the kinds of “artist” who produce this kind of ugliness. He merely complains that what they are creating is crude polemic, not art. Instead of truth and beauty (which he is old-fashioned enough to still seek in art), modern art has become a frenzied exercise of ever-decreasing effectiveness, desperate to find new ways to shock an increasingly unshockable – and disinterested – public.

The New Philistines is a well-written, very short book. I found it stimulating and convincing. Cautions for disturbing subject matter, and some foul language.

Arguing Over Hamlet

When was Hamlet written, and did it refer directly to any particular historical person, family, or event? One man says it was written in 1603, two years later than popularly believed, “after the death of the Bard’s own father and after James I took the throne,” meaning it points directly to the King of England who succeeded Elizabeth I in March 1603.

But Jonathan Bate says that solves nothing and would have raised the ire of the queen, Anne of Denmark. Was Shakespeare trying to poke her in the eye by suggesting there was something rotten about her home country? (via Prufrock News)

Shakespeare’s Illustration of the Eucharist

In Act 3, Scene 3 of The Tempest, several ‘strange shapes’ bring in a banquet, on which Alonso proposes to feed. But Ariel, by means of a ‘quaint device,’ causes it to vanish and confronts them with their own sin: ‘But remember/(For that’s my business to you) that you three/From Milan did supplant good Prospero’ (3.3.68–70). The prospective feast becomes an act of remembrance, restoring a memory of themselves that disbars participation until that memory has restored them to repentance.

Peter J. Leithart spells out some of the details, drawing on David Aers and Sarah Beckwith essay on Holy Communion in Cultural Reformations.

Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers

Paris (II) '09

Last Friday night during the attacks on Paris, twenty or more people nestled down at Shakespeare & Co. as safe-harbor against the violence. Shelf Awareness noted, “the store embodied its own prominent sign, a verse from the Bible: ‘Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.'”

Canadian writer Harriet Alida Lye was there. At the time, she told reporters what they were saying inside the bookstore. “We’re saying it feels like this must be part of something bigger, like we are being senselessly attacked. It feels really close to home, because Paris is just so small and the attacks are all over the city.”

Alone with Classics

Author Sarah Perry was “raised by Strict Baptists” in Essex and not allowed to watch movies or read contemporary books. The result? “I turned my back on modernity and lost myself to Hardy and Dickens, Brontë and Austen, Shakespeare, Eliot and Bunyan. I memorised Tennyson, and read Homer in prose and Dante in verse; I shed half my childhood tears at The Mill on the Floss. I slept with Sherlock Holmes beside my pillow, and lay behind the sofa reading Roget. It was as though publication a century before made a book suitable – never was I told I ought not to read this or that until I was older. To my teacher’s horror my father gave me Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was still at primary school, and I was simply left to wander from Thornfield to Agincourt to the tent of sulking Achilles, making my own way.”

And she soaked in the King James Bible. Her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, is reviewed here. (via Prufrock)