AS IF ESSAYS IN AS YOU LIKE IT

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as if Before you start to read this book, take this moment to think about making a donation to punctum books, an independent non-profit press, @…
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as if Before you start to read this book, take this moment to think about making a donation to punctum books, an independent non-profit press, @ https://punctumbooks.com/support/ If you’re reading the e-book, you can click on the image below to go directly to our donations site. Any amount, no matter the size, is appreciated and will help us to keep our ship of fools afloat. Contri- butions from dedicated readers will also help us to keep our commons open and to cultivate new work that can’t find a welcoming port elsewhere. Our ad- venture is not possible without your support. Vive la open-access. Fig. 1. Hieronymus Bosch, Ship of Fools (1490–1500) AS IF ESSAYS IN AS YOU LIKE IT William N. West Dead Letter Office BABEL Working Group as if: essays in as you like it. Copyright © 2016 William N. West. This work carries a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 4.0 International license, which means that you are free to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, and you may also remix, transform, and build upon the material, as long as you clearly attribute the work to the authors and editors (but not in a way that sug- gests the authors or punctum books endorses you and your work), you do not use this work for commercial gain in any form whatsoever, and that for any re- mixing and transformation, you distribute your rebuild under the same license. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/ First published in 2016 by Dead Letter Office, BABEL Working Group A division of punctum books Earth, Milky Way www.punctumbooks.com The BABEL Working Group is a collective and desiring-assemblage of scholar- gypsies with no leaders or followers, no top and no bottom, and only a middle. BABEL roams and stalks the ruins of the posthistorical university as a multiplic- ity, a pack, looking for other roaming packs with which to cohabit and build temporary shelters for intellectual vagabonds. We also take in strays. isbn-13: 978-0615988177 isbn-10: 0615988172 Library of Congress Cataloging Data is available from the Library of Congress Book design: Kristen McCants & Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei Cover image: William Blake, Jaques and the Wounded Stag (1806) Contents Foreword ◆ Trying ix Introduction ◆ As You Like It 15 1 ◆ What happens in As You Like It? 19 2 ◆ What is the play about? 25 3 ◆ What’s in a name? 33 4 ◆ What happens when Rosalind dresses as a boy? 39 5 ◆ Where is Arden? 45 6 ◆ Why do we hear about what Jaques said to a deer? 53 7 ◆ What does Jaques telling us about Touchstone telling time tell us about them? 59 8 ◆ What is pastoral? 63 9 ◆ What does Jaques mean when he says, “All the world’s a stage”? 69 10 ◆ Why does Touchstone say the truest poetry is the most faining? Or is it “feigning”? 77 11 ◆ What happens when Ganymede dresses as a girl? 83 12 ◆ What is love? 89 13 ◆ What is the virtue in “if ”? 97 14 ◆ What happens in the epilogue? 101 15 ◆ The end? 107 Notes to the Text 111 Works Cited 121 foreword Trying Not long ago I was invited to write a vade mecum into Arden, in the form of a guide to Shakespeare’s As You Like It. It was to be part of a series of short introductions to some of Shakespeare’s plays and other widely-read works of literature, aimed at readers, playgoers, actors, students, and aficionados rather than at academics. What appealed to me most about the invitation was the opportunity to write towards a different kind of reader than I usually do and in a different way than I usually do. I liked the idea of trying to say something about a play like As You Like It as a whole, in a single gesture, to introduce and conclude in one movement. It would be like, I thought, a lecture, in which you can launch a ninety-minute sortie into a play or a handful of poems, urging a sense of the forest by examining some of its trees. Like a lecture, I thought, the task of writing a guide to As You Like It would let me move fast and wander wide; as in a lecture, what I might claim would need to stand for the most part on its own. My arguments and observations would rest on their own persuasiveness, less on citations or the bubble reputation or other kinds of authority. The format of the series called for me to ask a set of broad questions and then to open some answers, a little like leading a seminar, but for one voice. I would get to try to make readers entertain the notions I raised as if they were theirs, even if just for a moment. The book would ix As If make pictures of the whole play in single takes, aiming neither for narrow conclusivity nor comprehensiveness, but maybe instead for something like representivity or even suggestiveness. It might not be solidly buttressed with sources like a journal article, but it might be able to go further out on limbs. I took up the project as a challenge. It was a challenge. It was hard not to fall back on all the inertia of scholarly habit, hard to resist the security of offloading references onto other writers who had treated things more fully or masterfully. It was hard to put ideas up for grabs and to try for the flexible back-and-forth of conversation, hard to keep that feel of shared testing of possibilities and the startling responsiveness of interlocutors. Drafts, messages, and phone calls passed back and forth between the commissioning editor and me: one part was too theoretical, another too lodged in historical contexts, another too single-minded in advancing its own claims or too blinkered about how other readers and writers had framed something before. And in the end, despite our attempts to find shared ground, the commissioning editor finally didn’t think what I had written fit into the series, and I didn’t want to try to make it fit in better than it did. I liked where the project had pushed me and I liked what I had done with it. I liked what I had said, even though what I had written was recognizably not an academic monograph or scholarly article. That it wasn’t, and that I couldn’t imagine it becoming one, was part of what I liked about it. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I knew I didn’t want to bury it. And so I sent it to the Dead Letter Office at punctum books. What I had ended up writing as I tried to emulate talking, I now think, was an example of what Roland Barthes called “the ambiguous genre where the writing vies with the analysis,” an essay. I don’t mean this, obviously, in the sense that as teachers we regularly assign what we call essays to our students and regularly write them. An essay, as assigners almost ritualistically remind other readers and writers, is both an attempt and a testing, a trial of invention and judgment that follows through on a line of thought. Stripped of the security of footnotes and x foreword: Trying pressed to write concisely to the point, I ended up stumbling onto these demands seriously and in all their distinct rigor. As a particular form of writing, the essay takes its name from Montaigne’s famous attempts, although he traced its attentive, meandering shape back to writings by Seneca and Plutarch, as well as the drift of his own musings and conversations. But the impulse to essay may be said to take its cue from a question Montaigne asks, Que sçay-je?, “what do I know?” The phrase appears only once in the text of his Essais, when he notes that he bears it, with the image of a balance, as his device. Montaigne may have had a medal made of this emblem during the years he was writing his earliest essays, so perhaps he means literally that he carried his question with him. It isn’t hard to imagine him handling it as he wrote in his library, as a kind of all-but- unuttered subtext to his writing. In the essay as printed in 1588, Montaigne follows Que sçay-je? with Voylà!, as if holding the medal up and asking the reader to take a look. Later, annotating his own copy of the printed book, he strikes Voylà! through, and the imagined medal recedes into language. Montaigne’s leading question was his version of the skeptical assertions of doubt that were among the aphorisms written in Greek and Latin on the rafters of his library. It might also respond to Aristotle’s statement in Metaphysics that philosophy begins in wonder and unknowing. But where Aristotle’s man who wonders and does not know something works to bring himself from ignorance to knowledge, Montaigne refuses even to be sure of his ignorance and insists on asking. Not knowing is better grasped, Montaigne says, by asking than by asserting. Que sçay-je? The question presents a picture in which knowing and not-knowing are less neatly separated, certainly less likely to be opposite. Anyone who asks it is pushed to explore the edges and depths of his or her ignorance, and also to account for what he or she does know. The essay in this tradition is a detailing of one’s ignorance, and one’s knowledge, in their shadowy and shifting irregularity. It does not look for a one-way flight from unknowing; it tries to sound out the messy contours of beliefs, assumptions, curiosities, and blind spots. Theodor xi As If Adorno observes that “in the emphatic essay thought divests itself of the traditional idea of truth.” By a traditional idea of truth Adorno seems to mean something like being objectively right. But neither does the essay, Adorno insists, merely express an idiosyncratic perspective, however carefully. It adumbrates things which only become visible from particular perspectives, in parts and fleetingly. Without becoming fictional or fantastic, an essay tries to follow the limits of traditional ideas of truth and to illuminate other ways of being truthful. An essay in this trying tradition lays out lines of thought that are not exhaustive. It extends its feeling of wonder not to everything and not systematically, but adventitiously to anything and as fully as it can according to whatever traces it discovers as it goes. An essay, as Adorno also noted, is uninterested in reaching after universals, origins, or absolutes. It engages contingencies. It may be erudite, or not, but not encyclopedic. It begins wherever it is, taking up whatever text or context it finds itself engaged with, and any truths it coins depend on those accidents and happenstances; it “cunningly anchors itself in texts as though they were simply there and had authority.” Released from the demand to secure its starting points, taking other bearings, it is freed to seek other headings than other kinds of writing. It follows its texts and contexts where they lead. It responds to each eventuality it addresses wholeheartedly, as if whatever question it asked were all there were to answer, but unlike a conventional scholars’ treatment of a problem, it makes no pledge of completeness, either of its treatment or of its topic. Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action or Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, both of which are subtitled essays, perhaps really do try to explain everything on the basis of the questions they ask, as if each offered readers a kind of literary Theory of Everything. The vivid, inset images of Jacob Burckhardt’s flickeringly evocative Culture of the Renaissance in Italy, which also calls itself an essay, read as more designedly fragmented, and essays like Montaigne’s or Barthes’s are more obviously fugitive still. In each of these essays or collections of essays (the difficulty in telling the difference is itself telling), xii foreword: Trying conclusions are offered only through what is provisional and opportunistic. Essaying in this vein doesn’t require setting limits between questions, but loosening them. Essaying, it is hard to predict how thought will need to turn as it follows its own course, what unanticipated questions will be raised in the following out of others, what will be included as it proceeds, because it does not work within a field determined ahead of time. Problem and response alike flash up in moments of uncertainty. One realization I came to in my essaying is that Shakespeare’s As You Like It may itself be approached as a collection of essays enacted by its characters, a group of experiments that test how the world might be other than it is. The play — and could “play” itself translate “essay”? — is in a way its own guide to the essay and its applications. My essay on As You Like It, if that is what it is, touches on much that is basic, much that is familiar or commonplace, in part because of the circumstances in which it was written, but in part, too, because some of those familiar questions seem to me the ones I most wanted to answer about this play and the kind of problem that eluded the writing I undertake more often. I was able to ask them because I tried to write as if As You Like It were simply there and had authority. My essay does not try to say everything about As You Like It, but rather to take up the questions it does engage as if each in turn was what most demanded to be answered. It does not make a claim to comprehensiveness or conclusiveness, as a commentary or a monograph could, maybe even should. It is a guide to As You Like It, but like any reader I acknowledge that there are other ways in. Summers 2013, 2014, 2015 — W. N.W. Weekapaug xiii introduction As You Like It If we were obliged to answer the question which of Shakespeare’s plays contains, not indeed the fullest picture of his mind, but the truest expression of his nature and habitual temper, unaffected by special causes of exhilaration or gloom, I should be disposed to choose As You Like It. — A.C. Bradley, Oxford Lectures on Poetry (1909) As You Like It is and long has been one of Shakespeare’s best- loved plays. Critics in the nineteenth century in particular were captivated by what they saw as its artful blend of wistful nostalgia, buoyant optimism, and a dash of worldly wisdom in what the great Romantic essayist William Hazlitt declared “the most ideal of any of this author’s plays.” Love for the play was tied up in an equally ardent Victorian love for the character of Rosalind, which even Shakespeare’s most famous baiter George Bernard Shaw recognized with some exasperation: “Who ever failed, or could fail, as Rosalind?” The play continues to be well-loved by audiences and readers. Less so by the last generation of scholars. Playing on the play’s title, the scholar of performance Bruce Smith observes that “[c]uriously, many academic critics since the 1970s … don’t like it.” Important engagements with Rosalind’s multiple transvestite disguises, looking at female agency and gender identity, have 15 As If enriched existing views of Rosalind’s intelligence, creativity, and appeal, confirming her in new ways as “the philosopher of the play” and not just its protagonist. But the play was largely bypassed by New Historicists and other avowedly politically and socially engaged trends in scholarship that rose to prominence in the latter half of the twentieth century. These tended to seek out the darker, more obviously fraught comedies, Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in their investigations of the cultural poetics of Elizabethan England. Despite the play’s clear interest in many of the positions that also interested these critics, like the instability of norms of gender and desire, or the machinations and blind spots of power, As You Like It seemed too chipper, too sanguine, too conservative in its conclusion. Smith shares the ideological convictions of such critics (as do I), but suggests that they “have refused to be taken in by the sights and sounds of As You Like It” — by all, in fact, that is most likable in the play, rather than intelligible or arguable. As You Like It is indeed astoundingly rich in humor, vigor, and an attractive physicality both displayed and described. I would add that misliking critics, by focusing on an outcome rather than on how the play reaches it, also miss some of the force of the play’s lyrical and clever use of language, imaginative flights, and evocative setting to carry an audience or a reader away, as it seems to have done to Hazlitt and even the reluctant Shaw. Yet even at its zenith, praise for As You Like It can feel temperate, partly because the play itself seems to be about finding the proper temper for passion and reflection, ecstasies and contemplation. Bradley, for instance, especially admires how precisely As You Like It reins in the extremes of Shakespeare’s imagination. “[E]xhilaration or gloom” we might find in Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or King Lear; As You Like It can feel much more safely domesticated. These disparate reactions can be traced to what seems to me a misunderstanding of As You Like It as a carefully measured, even reticent, play. In some ways it certainly is, as Smith’s disgruntled scholars noticed. It questions deeply-held convictions about property, or knowledge, or desire, or freedom, and imagines 16 introduction: As You Like It compelling alternatives to the world as it is, but then often seems in the end to fall back into conventional positions: Rosalind- Ganymede is really a girl, suitable for Orlando to desire and to marry, but not for Phoebe — or for Celia; Oliver and Celia can happily settle on Corin’s homestead because they have the money to do it; the exiled Duke can command his followers to pretend to be his equals in Arden, until of course it is time to return to court. Smith rightly notes that the pleasure in the course of the play need not impeach our sense that its conclusions may not be ours. But its very modesty allows As You Like It to experiment with a kind of radical foundation-shaking that is rarely found in Shakespeare or elsewhere. The optimism of As You Like It, beginning, middle, and end, comes from its relentless attention to how what may be need not be mired in what is. The play drives forward, even in the last lines of its epilogue, towards future ways of life that are not merely different but can be made different, and made better, than present ones. The temperate solutions with which the play concludes are not offered as final, but as clearly open to ongoing changes. The play’s very reserve and moderation, its resistance to extremity and desperation and finality, is what allows for its relentless confidence that things can be changed. In this, it is perhaps more literally progressive (that is, stepping ahead) and more literally radical (that is, from the root) than any settled position on the instabilities of gender, or the elusiveness of equality, or the variety of desire, could be. As Jaques reports Touchstone observing, “Thus we may see,” quoth he, “how the world wags: ’Tis but an hour ago since it was nine, And after one hour more ’twill be eleven, And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, And then from hour to hour we rot and rot, And thereby hangs a tale.” (2.7.23–28) “Rot” sounds much more final, and much more like Jaques than like Touchstone; “ripe” sounds closer to the comic arc of the 17 As If play. But across the two claims together, there is another, larger claim: everything changes, all the time, and those changes can always be potentially consequential. Thereby hangs the world’s tale, always spinning out. It is also true, as the great director Peter Brook said of a 1953 production designed by Salvador Dalí, that “As You Like It seems written purely to please.” In our pleasures, the play leads us to wag along with the rest of the world, according to the rhythms we can at least in part discern and choose to follow or reject. There is no last step. 18 1 What happens in As You Like It? Actually, a lot: a younger brother, badly raised by his older brother after their father’s death, rebels; so does another younger brother, who usurps the duchy of his older brother, who in turn flees with his followers to a nearby forest; four pairs of characters meet and part and couple and marry; and besides that, there are combats, ambushes, changes of heart, narrow escapes, and secret plans. But as August Schlegel, a contemporary of Goethe and one of Shakespe
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