Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana (1863-1952)
What luck for the rulers that men do not think.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
If we ignore the first quote, we will get the second. History may be defined as what a culture considers worthy of recollection. Of course the operative word is WORTHY!! How do we define what is worthy?
Traditionally, what is worthy may be viewed from at least four perspectives:
1--THEOCENTRIC--Hamlet tells us "There is a Divinity that shapes our ends..."
We may not always know the plan, but it does exist.
2--HUMANISTIC--Protagoras noted that "Man is the measure of all things." We chart our own destiny.
3--NATURALISTIC--Rousseau said in the Emile that a natural education, that is one shaped by the proper environment, will produce moral individuals.
4--ECONOMIC--We may argue with Marx that the great revolutions of history are products of class struggle in which the 'have-nots' struggle to dispossess the 'haves' who naturally will fight to keep what they own.
Which is correct? All? None? Some synthesis? Who determines? In the words of Martha Nussbaum,
The central task of education...is to confront the passivity
of the pupil, challenging the mind to take charge of its own
thought. All too often, people's choices and statements are
not their own...Words come out of their mouths, and actions
are performed by their bodies, but what those words and
actions express may be the voice of tradition or convention
the voice of the parent, of friend, of fashion. This is so
because these people have never stopped to ask themselves
what they really stand for, what they are willing to defend as
themselves and their own...They are like instruments on which
fashion and habit play their tunes, or like stage masks through
which an actor's voice speaks.
from: Martha Nussbaum. Cultivating Humanity. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. pp. 28-29.
We will begin this course by examining ideas most fundamental to the study of literature--why do it? (See Abrams, M.A. The Mirror and the Lamp. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971 for more details.) Harold Bloom's thesis in Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.) maintains that the Bard invented personality, and that we are just "catching up" to him today. Remarkably, Shakespeare's genius dramatized the consciousness of his age while simultaneously transcending it. Thus:
- Hamlet (for Bloom Shakespeare's favorite along with Falstaff) is his own ironist. We find he is both capable of deductive (Medieval) syllogistic reasoning and inductive (Renaissance / Enlightenment etc.) insights as his punning on Galileo's cosmology sustain.
- Macbeth, Bloom believes, most reminds us of ourselves. His lust for power may resonate inside the Washington, D.C. beltway, but more significantly the power of his imagination to actualize what he envisions frightens us today: how many victims of road rage and aggressive driving have been victimized by a Macbeth-like frenzy turned real?
- Obviously most can testify to being victimized by a trusted friend. I had a student once who after studying Othello's tragedy at Iago's hand, say, "This is so real; just like today."
- Shakespeare understood The Poetics and the dynamics of Wordsworth's famous paradox in My Heart Leaps Up; why else would audiences weep at the most intense catharsis in literature: Lear's final moments with his daughter? Any parent then or now would or should.
We now turn to...
I. THE CLASSICAL BASE / THE MIMETIC THEORY:
A. All literature stems from the mimetic theory developed during the "Golden Age" of Greece by Plato and Aristotle. From that base comes the Pragmatic and Expressive Theory,.
- What is the mimetic theory? See: Plato's REPUBLIC, Books III and X and Aristotle's POETICS. Click here to find the texts on line. (You may obtain a print copy instead.) Note that Aristotle's modification of Plato makes literary criticism possible. We know that "Mimetic" means to imitate, but to imitate what?
- Poets and novelists well knew that "All subsists by elemental strife, / And passions are the elements of life." (Pope's, Essay on Man). Ironically, the hallmark of the neoclassical age is often dramatized as the suppression of passion by reason. Pope and his mentor knew better. A Modest Proposal and Gulliver could never have been written otherwise. Look at Plato's view of the soul (microcosm) and state (macrocosm):
- Why does Plato have his persona Socrates use verbs of passion to express the most sublimely cognitive thoughts?. See: (Republic 490b.). Note that the classical concept of harmony and balance must work for all three elements; not just the top one. The macrocosmic correspondence likewise applies.
B. ASSIGNMENT: construct a definition of human nature from the classical perspective that has a gothic potential. Sources:
II. THE RENAISSANCE / THE PRAGMATIC THEORY became popular in England in the literary criticism of the Renaissance. Read the following excerpts from Sidney's Defense of Poetry and note the debt to, and modification of Aristotle: Click here.
Shakespeare of course wrote during this period, and although he did not compose a formal treatise on what literature ought to do, his plays are replete with characters who know. What three plays seem to articulate his poetics...
One involves a ghost and advice to the players (III,ii):
Hamlet: Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounc'd it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as live the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the cars of the groundlings, who (for the most part) are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise. I would have such a fellow whipp'd for o'erdoing Termagant. It out-herods Herod. Pray you avoid it.
Player: I warrant your honour.
Hamlet: Be not too tame neither; but let your own discretion be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show Virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.
The second has a duke who talks of the imagination in Act V:
Theseus: More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,
Are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold;
That is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination
That, if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush suppos'd a bear?
The Third involves another duke on an island (IV,i):
Prospero: You do look, my son, in a mov'd sort,
As if you were dismay'd; be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled;
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity.
If you be pleas'd, retire into my cell
And there repose; a turn or two I'll walk
To still my beating mind.
Along with the inductive/deductive analogies in Ulysses' order and degree speech in Troilus (cited on this page), these passages synthesize what Shakespeare thought of his craft: art is mimetic, it requires imaginative insight to teach and delight, and has the substance of dreams. Ironically the last bestows permanence as Sonnet XVIII suggests in the couplet:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
III. THE ROMANTIC PERIOD / THE EXPRESSIVE THEORY:
- The expressive theory defines the Romantic temperament. Rooted in paradox and the simultaneous rejection and acceptance of dialectical opposites., the romantics defined themselves by accepting no definitions at all. Confusing as that sounds, one must approach the romantic and gothic spirit by accepting all contradictions.
- In THE PASSION OF THE WESTERN MIND, Richard Tarnas offers several very astute observations that suggest a gothic perspective:
1. Speaking of the rise of modern psychological theories of human cognition, Tarnas speaks of psychoanalysis as revealing, "...the mechanisms of resistance, repression, and projection, and bring [ing] forth a host of other insights laying open the mind's character and internal dynamics. Freud thereby represented a brilliant culmination of the Enlightenment project, bringing even the human unconscious under the light of rational investigation." ("The Changing Image of the Human from Copernicus through Freud, p. 328)
2, In the Chapter entitled, "Romanticism and its Fate," (p. 368) Tarnas continues: "...the Romantics' interest in human consciousness was fueled by a newly intense sense of self-awareness and a focus on the complex nature of the human self, and was comparatively unconstrained by the limits of the scientific perspective. Emotion and imagination, rather than reason and perception, were of prime importance. New concern arose not only with the exalted and noble but with the contraries and darkness in the human soul, with evil, death, the demonic, and the irrational. Generally ignored in the optimistic, clarified light of rational science, these themes now inspired the works of Blake and Novalis, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, Hawthorne and Melville, Poe and Baudelaire, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. With Romanticism, the modern eye was turned ever more inward to discern the shadows of existence. To explore the mysteries of interiority, of moods and motives, love and desire, fear and angst, inner conflicts and contradictions, memories and dreams, to experience extreme and incommunicable states of consciousness, to be inwardly grasped in epiphanic ecstasy, to plumb the depths of the human soul, to bring the unconscious into consciousness, to know the infinite--such were the imperatives of Romantic introspection.
The various Romantic writers have thus expressed paradoxes:
- Rousseau: "Man is born free, but exists everywhere in chains, "(The Social Contract), but: "Put the child in his place and keep him there." (The Emile). One might also recall what Rousseau did with his own (illegitimate) children (see The Confessions)
- Keats: "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." (Ode on A Grecian Urn.)
- Byron: "I have prayed / For madness as a blessing--'tis denied me." (from Manfred
- Certainly Shakespeare may be said to have invented what it means to be romantic. A good secondary source would be to read the introductory essays in Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy.( New York: Fawcett Press, n.d) .What is romantic drama?
ON LINE ASSIGNMENT:
SOURCE: RETURN TO THE SHAKESPEARE PAGE INDEX AND SELECT A PLAY / CHARACTER FROM EACH PHASE OF SHAKESPEARE'S CAREER . DETERMINE WHAT MAKES IT MIMETIC:
- HOW DOES THE PLAY YOU SELECTED IMITATE LIFE?
- FROM WHENCE COMES ITS ENTERTAINMENT VALUE?
- WHY AND HOW IS DIDACTICISM ACCOMPLISHED?
- WHAT MAKES THE WORK CREATIVE AND IMAGINATIVE?
FROM A PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVE, YOU MIGHT NOTE THAT FOR QUESTION ONE, "LIFE" IS NOT THE BEST CHOICE. TRY SUBSTITUTING "REALITY." WHEN THAT HAPPENS, WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
- REALITY OF COURSE IS DIFFICULT: CLICK HERE FOR HELP.
- WHEN WE STUDY CLASSICAL AND MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY, THE TERM WILL BECOME QUITE COMPLEX--METAPHYSICAL TERMS INCLUDING "REALISM" AND "NOMINALISM" WILL RENDER MIMETIC JUDGMENTS MORE COMPLEX.
FOR ADDITIONAL SOURCES, CONSULT:
Abrams, M.A. The Mirror and the Lamp. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971
Bowra, C. M. The Romantic Imagination. London: Oxford University, 1969.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Fawcett Press, n.d.
Doherty, F. Byron. N.Y.: Arco, 1969.
Lowes, J. The Road to Xanadu. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
Marchand, L. Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals. Cambridge: Harvard U. , 1982.
Tarnas, R. The Passion of the Western Mind. N.Y.: Ballantine, 1993.
Thorslev, P. The Byronic Hero. University of Minnesota Press, 1962.
West, P. (ed.) Byron: A Collection of Critical Essays: Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice -Hall, 1963.
CLICK HERE TO FIND ON LINE SHAKESPEARE RESOURCES.