The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.025  Sunday, 15 January 2017


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

Date:        January 14, 2017 at 2:03:06 PM EST

Subject:    FROM TLS - Ian McEwan’s NUTSHELL


September 7 2016


Ian McEwan


208pp. Vintage. £16.99.

978 1 911214 33 0


Ian McEwan’s high-wire act

Frances Wilson


There is no other place, observed Freud, about which we can say with such certainty that we have “been there before”, so it is surprising how rarely novels return us to the womb. And it is unsurprising, once we are back in there, how familiar a place this seems – at least in the hands of Ian McEwan, a novelist well known for exploring his characters from the inside.


The narrator of Nutshell, unnamed because unborn, is still in his starter home, a “bouncy castle” that is fast closing in on him. Here, woozy on Sancerre (his mother Trudy’s favourite tipple), with one ear pressed hard to the wall, he surveys the scene that awaits him. From the radio, he grasps that there is something rotten in the world; from a podcast of Ulysses he learns what writing can do: he holds on for dear life during Trudy’s shuddering orgasms (which he compares to the wall of death at a fairground), and is party to the pillow talk between his mother and her lover Claude, who are plotting to murder Claude’s brother – that is, Trudy’s husband and our narrator’s father. McEwan’s centre of consciousness is a wise child – philosophical, even. And, denied sight or agency, all this child has to work with are words, words, words.


Trudy, our foetus gathers, needs “space” to think through her marriage (“Space! She should come in here, where I can barely crook a finger”). She therefore throws John out of their home in London’s Hamilton Terrace, installing Claude in his place. Awaiting his own eviction, Trudy’s tenant feels for his father. John is a poet, a noble, handsome Hyperion whose publishing firm has fallen on hard times; Claude is a satyr with a seemingly permanent erection, who speaks only in clichés. “Not everyone knows”, the foetus reflects as Claude lurches into gear, “what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose.”


[ . . . ]




Hamlet’s Age

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.024  Sunday, 15 January 2017


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

Date:        January 14, 2017 at 1:47:14 PM EST

Subject:    From TLS – Hamlet’s Age




August 31 2016


Young Hamlet

Rhodri Lewis


Sooner or later, everyone who thinks about Shakespeare’s Hamlet has to come to a view on how old its eponymous prince is supposed to be. Hamlet is described on several occasions as “young”; he is roughly the same age as Fortinbras, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern; he seems to be a little younger than Horatio and Laertes; he is a student at Wittenberg; he thinks and speaks like one in the midst of a humanistic education. And yet his exchange with the Gravedigger at the beginning of Act Five appears, anomalously but unambiguously, to indicate that he is thirty years old.


In what follows, I argue that the age given in the graveyard scene does not stand up to scrutiny: it emerges from a textual crux and relies on an authority – the Gravedigger – whose arithmetical skills are very much open to question. More broadly, I want to suggest that the exchange between Hamlet and the Gravedigger is intended to mock the urge to quantificatory certainty; that Shakespeare does not tell us how old Hamlet is in calendar years; and that Hamlet does not, somehow or other, age a decade or more in the time between leaving the stage in Act Four and returning to it in Act Five.


After satisfying himself that the Ghost is not purely a figment of Marcellus and Barnardo’s imaginations, Horatio decrees that they should impart what they “have seen tonight / Unto young Hamlet” (I quote from Harold Jenkins’s Arden 2 edition of the play). “Young” here differentiates the son from his father: Hamlet the Younger. But it is also the adjective with which Shakespeare introduces his disaffected prince, and suggests something about his youthful quality of being. Versions of it are reasserted throughout the play. Claudius counsels Hamlet that his enduring display of grief for his father is “unmanly”, a term whose persuasive force depends on Hamlet aspiring to, rather than already having attained, the condition of manliness; Laertes thinks of Hamlet as “A violet in the youth of primy nature”; the Ghost tells Hamlet that if he were to describe the afterlife in detail, the effect would be to “freeze thy young blood”, and addresses him as a “noble youth”; Claudius turns to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern because they are “of so young days brought up with him, / And with so neighbour’d to his youth and haviour”; the fencing match between Hamlet and “young Laertes” is framed with some care as a contest of “youth”. There are many more examples (several of which relate to the comparability of Hamlet and his “delicate and tender” rival, “young Fortinbras”), but the point is incontestable: that Hamlet is “young” should be taken to connote more than his status as the son of a father with the same name.


Hamlet’s status as a student further avows his youthfulness. As Lawrence Stone’s statistical labours make plain, early modern Englishmen went to university far earlier than their twenty-first-century successors. For example, the median age of matriculation at Oxford for the years 1600–02 was 17.1. Among the aristocracy and gentry it was substantially lower, at 15.9 years. Moreover, it was common for the well-educated sons of socially elevated families to enter university as young as eleven or twelve. A good example is Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton and the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. Wriothesley went up to St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1585 at the age of twelve; he graduated before he turned sixteen in 1589, at which point he had already been admitted to Gray’s Inn. In brief, Hamlet’s desire to return to his studies at Wittenberg tells us that he is a teenager. To an audience of theatregoers or readers in late Elizabethan or early Jacobean London, it would have been starkly irregular for an aristocrat, let alone a member of the royalty, to have remained at university beyond the age of about twenty.


Now to the encounter between Hamlet and the Gravedigger. Hamlet asks the Gravedigger when he began his career . . . 


[ . . . ]




MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.022  Sunday, 15 January 2017


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

Date:        January 14, 2017 at 12:25:30 PM EST

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: MV


To Harry Berger Jr


I quote your concise response to my January 5 post in its entirety: “Omigod!”


Brevity may be the sole of wit, but you overdo it by precluding any dialog. It’s hardly even a log.


I interpret your response to express disagreement with my observations, as well as exasperation that anyone would have the nerve to present such silly notions to a group of serious scholars.


I can understand the disagreement. Your perspective is that of a professional person of Literature. I have acknowledged my ignorance as a student of Literature, and have stated that I am content to let those such as yourself do that sort of work with MV — except for the Trial Scene, concerning which I possess the better training and experience to analyze.


For purposes of this Dialog, I view MV from the perspective of something more like a cultural artifact than a work of Literature (although it certainly is that). The Elizabethans themselves did not consider their contemporary plays to be Literature. Thomas Bodley prohibited his librarian from including any such plays in the Bodleian. I believe that Shakespeare wrote this play for his contemporary English countrymen, concerning important contemporary English issues — chief among them the successive persecutions of the Protestants by the Catholics and vice versa. I do not deny its value as Literature; I’m only describing my own perspective.


You impliedly cast doubt on my identification of Lorenzo as representing Shakespeare, and of Shakespeare writing himself into the play as such and acting the part. One item of textual evidence that I did not include in my post is the following (from the First Folio):



So please my Lord the Duke, and all the Court

To quit the fine for one halfe of his goods,

I am content: so he will let me have

The other halfe in use, to render it

Upon his death, unto the Gentleman

That lately stole his daughter.



Note that Shakespeare capitalized the word "Gentleman." That Gentleman was Lorenzo. Shakespeare was writing MV in 1596, at the same time when he was successful in obtaining for his father (and himself) the coat of arms and the distinction of being a Gentleman (the exact date being October 20, 1596). I grant that this is not what one might call definitive proof, but it is at least some proof. Reliable evidence concerning Shakespeare's life has come mostly in drips and drabs. This drabby evidence was written by Shakespeare himself, and is thus worthy of some consideration. 


I am disappointed at what I perceive to be your exasperation. Serious scholars ought to be able to consider new ideas seriously. How else can Shakespeare Studies advance?


I will submit my final post within the next two weeks. I would be very interested in what you — or anyone else — would have to say about the odd interchange between Portia and Bassanio involving the rack, treason, confessions, and the chopping off of various body parts.







Four HAMLET Studies

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.023  Sunday, 15 January 2017


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

Date:        January 14, 2017 at 1:45:26 PM EST

Subject:   From TLS – Four HAMLET Studies




August 31 2016


Gabriel Josipovici


Fold on fold

296pp. Yale University Press. £20 (US $35).


András Kiséry


Drama and political knowledge

352pp. Oxford University Press. £60.


Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor, editors


A Critical Reader

264pp. Bloomsbury. Paperback, £17.99.


William Shakespeare


The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series
Revised edition
Edited by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor
688pp. Bloomsbury. Paperback, £8.99.



Too much changed

Bart Van Es


As both Gabriel Josipovici and András Kiséry observe in their otherwise very different studies, Hamlet is a play about change. Shakespeare’s masterpiece is divided between a feudal order (in which kingdoms are contested through single combat) and a modern world of realpolitik, dominated by ambassadorial letters and secret deals. It has a ghost who suffers in medieval Catholic purgatory while his son returns from Wittenberg, the home of Luther and his new Protestant ideas. The English actors who come to visit Elsinore perform an antiquated play, The Murder of Gonzago, but Hamlet instructs them on the latest theatrical fashion (“suit the action to the word, the word to the action”) so as to “reform” their acting style. To quote one of the play’s numerous maxims, “the time is out of joint”.


Hamlet’s engagement with change is one of the things that has kept the play relevant. As Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor remind us in their Critical Reader, Romantic, Marxist and psychoanalytical thinkers all seized on Hamlet as the work, above all others, that encapsulated the transition from the ancient to the modern. At the same time, the hero has altered with each new actor, from David Garrick’s active and energetic prince in the eighteenth century to Mark Rylance’s hysterical victim of mental ­illness in the year 2000. The look of Hamlet on the page has likewise shifted across the ages. Thompson and Taylor’s Arden 3 edition, now published in a tenth anniversary revision, is quite different from its predecessor, which came out in 1982. This is because, above all else, our critical understanding of the play has transformed from one generation to another. Although they are published at the same moment, a chasm divides the veteran Josipovici from the newcomer Kiséry.


Of the four books under review here, it is only Josipovici’s Hamlet: Fold on fold that bears the stamp of antique Roman. His fascination with the play, he tells us, stems from a time many decades ago when he was writing plays for the students of the University of Sussex. Starting with the declaration that he will use “the best-known and most used modern edition of the play, that in the Arden Shakespeare, Second Series, ed. Harold Jenkins, 1982”, he makes few concessions to subsequent trends. He has, he says, read some recent scholarship, “but not in any thorough or systematic fashion”, and thus fully expects “criticism or condescension . . . from scholars who have made Shakespeare or even just Hamlet their life-study”.


[ . . . ]





The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 28.021  Sunday, 15 January 2017


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

Date:         January 14, 2017 at 4:50:32 AM EST

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Co-Author




I don’t know where John Briggs works, but it sounds great:


> Scholars ... are responsible for their own press

> releases! There is absolutely no excuse for

> caveats not being present in press releases ...

> Anyone who denies this doesn't know how to write

> press releases.


The press release in question was written by the Media Relations office of the University of Pennsylvania, where the three co-authors on my Shakespeare Quarterly paper work. I work at De Montfort University, whose Media Relations office had no input to the press release. My experience is that with the best will in the world the highly talented people writing press releases at universities are unable to get them noticed if they include all the caveats that the scholars want to include.


The important thing is not that the caveats are in the press release, but that the press release is essentially true to the claim that the scholars are making. The press release in question was accurate: our article does assert that Marlowe had a hand in all three Henry 6 plays, on the evidence of our wholly new test confirming previous tests by other investigators.


Gabriel Egan




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