On Shakespeare

Every professor of literature must eventually write a post on Shakespeare, so this is mine. A friend left teaching because he was tired of explaining things to people. I do not at all mind explaining things to students, but I am definitely tired of explaining things to faculty.

One of the things I routinely explain – I am tired of explaining it – is that García Márquez is far from the only modern Spanish American novelist, and that he did not learn everything he knows from Faulkner. No, he has read many other books, some of them in Spanish, and a serious graduate student would recognize that many of these books are in fact intertexts of García Márquez’ work. They might actually want to be aware of this, I intone, before venturing into the broad world as a García Márquez scholar.

There are those who believe me on this issue, but they are a minority. Now I have confused everyone by, Marxist anti-colonial feminist that I am, defending Shakespeare to the postmodernists, theorists, Cultural Studies experts, folklorists, and devotees of paraliterary genres by claiming that Shakespeare was theoretically agile, varied like a postmodern corpus (after all, it is unclear whether he was actually the author of his texts), and heavily engaged with the folk, popular and mass cultures of his time.

I further suggested that modern Shakespearean scholars are unlikely to feel threatened by “canon revision” and may in fact be quite interested in it. I also implied that Shakespeareans were not necessarily conservatives, although I would not have a problem with hiring one who was.

I disoriented everyone by not appearing to be in a camp on this issue, and especially, I think, by saying I would be open to hiring a conservative. I think I clearly am in a camp – the camp which believes in preserving a modicum of historical accuracy. Thus I am not postmodern, or at least, I am not a vulgar postmodern (now, had I said that, I would have actually made them mad).

I am behind the times, over thirty and not to be trusted, but I have a strong suspicion I am right on the nature of Shakespeare and Shakespeareans, although I barely read either of them, I am sorry to say. What do you think? Am I becoming a terrible pedant?


15 thoughts on “On Shakespeare

  1. Maybe injecting a little historical sense (or respect for something at least in principle objective) can do immeasurable good. The solipsistic approach (“If I feel it is true, then it must be so”) and the political pragmatist’s approach (“I’m in this group because it is the one for my race/gender/demographic”) are both monstrous, especially when combined.

  2. One learns over the years that many people find it tremendously easy to bash things with which they are not familiar, and Shakespeare (sadly) is one of those things. But what really bothers me about these culturewaresque conversation is the assumption that learning is either/or instead of both/and.

  3. Yes. And my mean comment is that I think the reason to be studying modern cinema, or other “non canonical” things, is that you are studying them, not that you can’t comprehend something else.

  4. The Shakespeareans that I know are all super-cool, super-queer, super postmodern & all that. I think you’re right on. They’ve really pioneered a lot of great cultural studies stuff–perhaps they have implicit permission to do transgressive stuff with Wille the Shakes because he’s so uber-canonical?

    However, you stand for “a modicum of historical accuracy?” What are you smoking? What country do you live in? That’s hopelessly behind the times, Prof. Z. History–we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.

  5. Becoming a pedant? I’m afraid we got started in this biz because we ARE pedants, aka nerds. Nerds with standards! We were baby pedants, then junior pedants, and now we are pedants with a license to get all pedantic on people’s ass.

  6. This may be muddle, actually I’m quite sure it will be, and I have said it before, and I thought it again this morning, incidentally I just finished reading “As You Like It”, which I did not find as funny as the introduction prepared me to find it, nevertheless, the point is, in our haste and quest and desire for deconstruction, I fear that we have moved too far away from the original construction that started the need for the deconstructing, thus, the deconstructing has become the construction, hence the rants about the originals are no longer coherent because many are no longer familiar with the original constructions because it has been replaced with a deconstruction-construction that is in need of deconstructing, thus ranting about a deconstructing-deconstruction is bringing us to needing to read the origin of the original construction. In other words, dead white men’s literature does have a place in the canon.

    I love run-ons!

  7. Yeah – this is one of my main complaints, particularly this: “many are no longer familiar with the original constructions because they have been replaced with a deconstruction-construction that is in need of deconstructing” … !!! You read all this good literature, it is quite inspiring, I read too much secondary stuff and junk. I will read a real book right now!!!

  8. I think part of the problem with deconstruction is the idea that by wearing the hair shirt one actually purifies one’s political position. One doesn’t — or rather, by the time one has purified oneself of some colonial tendency, or some sexist refrain, or something, whole new ones have been generated in the global sphere. The spot of 19th century colonialism may start to lose its gory aura after a while, with much cleaning. However, consider it, people, how you are molesting and arresting Iraq.

  9. “…by the time one has purified oneself of some colonial tendency, or some sexist refrain, or something, whole new ones have been generated in the global sphere…”

    Yes, and also new formulations of the old ones…

  10. By the way, I was visiting Sam V’s site again last night, where I saw a page in which he seems to be making a case for traditional subsistence farming over commercial farming — although he doesn’t quite state it that way.

    What got me thinking about it was the notion of justice as being represented by a proportional or mathematical ratio of propery ownership, in relation to skin colour.

    I’m interested, especially, in the rhetorical value of a statement like this: “A negligible white minority owns vast swathes of forcibly obtained prime arable land in a predominantly black country.”

    The statement as it is seems to have self evident moral-rhetorical value.

    However, what about a statement like this:

    “In a predominantly white country –which is the United States — black people have been given very little.”

    We have the same kind of structure of sentence, along with the same kind of rhetorical implication that the predominance of a certain colour in the nation should determine property ownership. Only now, what is being implied doesn’t seem quite right.

    I’m very wary of formalistic approaches to justice, which don’t take into account who people are on a deeper level, and how they actually relate to their environments. Needless to say — such approaches lack empathy.

  11. On land reform and its discontents there is of course a lot to say. But both statements you quote seem to describe white supremacy and/or its legacy – oder nicht?

  12. Yes. The latter statement implies that the white supremacy has its place because whites are the majority. I have heard statements like this from fascist outsources.

    I think it is undignified to make statements on the basis of race. One should look rather to matters of economic status and how to improve the situation for all, rather than reproportioning according to colours and numbers. That is far too abstract an approach and lacks a deeper economic and humanistic sense to it.

    My other point is that the real reason why Zimbabwe is suffering is its weak urban infrastructure. Resorting to peasant economics with the population the size it is now will not feed the hungry. The key is to grow the urban infrastructure, which relies upon having products to export. Whether an extra white or an extra black elite member runs the commercial farm/s seems to be of little relevant in terms of the actual issues I have outlined. What doesn’t work is the uneconomic approach of subsistence farming (where almost everybody owns a patch of land).

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