To find out first what Shakespeare really wrote sounds eminently sensible. But it is not as objective an inquiry as it seems. Even in determining the text, love is as necessary as learning, for only he who recognizes Shakespeare’s voice and has penetrated into his spirit is fitted to make the delicate choice among possible readings or to catch the “inspired” emendation. And so it turns out that we must know Shakespeare before we know what he wrote precisely in order to be capable of finding out more nearly what he did write.
to read some of the historical critics you would think that only a learned student of Elizabethan society and the Elizabethan stage can pretend to understand Shakespeare.
“The Lord at Delphi,” says Heraclitus, “neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign.” Dreams have the same Delphic characteristic. So does poetry. To our age anything Delphic is anathema. We want the definite. As certainly as ours is a time of the expert and the technician, we are living under a dynasty of the intellect, and the aim of the intellect is not to wonder and love and grow wise about life, but to control it.
We want the facts for the practical use we can make of them. We want the tree for its lumber, not, as Thoreau did, to make an appointment with it as with a friend.
Neither [Cadwal nor Belarius] is a mere passive receptacle for the narrative. Each participates in, contributes to it. But how differently! The elder acts it out, spirit and body combining to be the story and its hero. The younger re-creates it imaginatively, striking life into it by revealing his individual reaction to it...But translation is rarely creation, and there is a step beyond it. There is nothing that makes a story come to life like linking it with the experience of the moment.
But if it came to a choice, who can doubt where Shakespeare’s deeper sympathy would lie? And so I hear him adding: “But there is another way of taking my stories that I like even better. I like to have you strike life into my speech by lighting it up with your own experience, as Cadwal did the speech of Belarius. Yes, I love to have my stories taken as dramas, but I love still more to have them taken as poetry.” That at any rate is the way Shakespeare treated the stories of others.
“‘Never be afraid of an author,’ he said, ‘an actor is a free artist. You ought to create an image different from the author’s. When the two images-the author’s and the actor’s-fuse into one-then a true artistic work is created.’
How many masters of how many arts have expressed delight when they have found some Cadwal to strike life into their own creations: “I write to you,” says Chopin in one of his letters, “without knowing what my pen is scribbling, for Liszt is at this moment playing my Etudes and he transports me out of my proper senses. I should like to steal from him his way of playing my pieces.”
You and I and the next man are not entitled to read anything we take a fancy to into a symphony or a play. It is only in so far as each of us is an artist that his freedom to interpret a work of art will not degenerate into license. Fortunately, however deeply buried, there is an artist in every man.
only the imagination can apprehend the imagination.
The criticism of the first period (often called neoclassic), instead of striking life into Shakespeare’s works, sought to subject them to a set of rules and a conception of dramatic art inherited from the past, something that was not at all its “own conceiving.”
The critics of this age admitted that Shakespeare was a kind of rough genius but contended that he lacked art-which he did, in their sense. They served a purpose in pointing out some of Shakespeare’s excesses. But they showed how powerless reason is to grasp imagination.
The romantic period, which followed, was poetic rather than intellectual, and produced, at its best, as good criticism of Shakespeare as has ever been written. But it had the defects of its qualities; and in its lesser writers, in its greatest ones at their worst, and in their later imitators, Shakespearean criticism degenerated into extravagance and fancy-for alongside the man who finds his own soul, and so the soul of everyone, in a work of art, is the man who reads into it his own prejudices and opinions, makes it a point of departure for some sheer invention, or uses it to grind his own axe—all of them fatally different things. As Cicero remarks in Julius Caesar, men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
“Let us get rid of all this subjective business,” cry all these critics in unison, “and get back to Shakespeare himself.” Shakespeare himself! As if Shakespeare himself were acquainted with any such person, had his own neat theory of Hamlet, or held the same conception of his characters a decade later as on the day they were created. “I must observe that I have often been mistaken,” says Chekhov in one of his letters, “and have not always thought what I think now.” All free minds say that.
Shakespeare’s lifelong pity for “the fools of time” suggests what he might have thought of this way of approaching his works. A thoroughgoing historical critic is a man attempting to explain the flower by an exhaustive examination of the soil. It cannot be done. “If anything is humanly certain,” says William James, “it is that the great man’s society, properly so called, does not make him before he can remake it. Physiological forces, with which the social, political, geographical, and to a great extent anthropological conditions have just as much and just as little to do as the condition of the crater of Vesuvius has to do with the flickering of this gas by which I write, are what make him.”
the objective business that is the object of their search is neither a whit better nor a whit worse than the subjective business that is the subject of their scorn. The two are extremes that meet. Suppose that in a drop of water an oxygen sect were to appear clamoring for the extinction of all this hydrogen business—or vice versa. It would be a parable of the factual critics. For what thev leave out is one of the two constituents of life itself. What they forget is the dual character of the imagination. Imagination is neither the language of nature nor the language of man, but both at once, the medium of communion between the two...
The reader with a poem before him is like a youth with life before him. In spite of all that the guides and drivers say, he must be faithful to the text and to himself: two lions at the gate of his adventure to keep him from wandering off into the desert of custom or the jungle of fancy. This is the answer to those who hold that opening the doors on individual interpretation is opening them on anarchy. If it is, we are to blame. It need not be. We read a poem as we live—at our risk.
November 01, 2011
Excerpts from Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare"
How well the first two paragraphs seem to correlate to Biblical criticism and not just Shakespearian:
Posted by TS at 1:20 PM