from Coming of Age in Shakespeare (1981)

Coming of Age in ShakespeareIn one of those curious coincidences that seem to illumine our lives, I found myself on the morning of 15 November 1978, having completed at last a draft of this book, listening to a radio report of the death of Margaret Mead. I was not only saddened but profoundly disturbed. For as long as I have had this project in mind -- which is almost as long as I have been talking to students about Shakespeare -- I have intended to give it the title it bears, a title frankly borrowed, in great admiration, from Mead's first major anthropological work.


Few [students] recognized that the study of Elizabethan culture and language was at all relevant to our own. But it is nonetheless in the spirit of Mead's inquiry into the cultures of other peoples, and in particular the process of maturation, that this book was written -- and will, I hope, be read. I should like therefore to quote the final paragraph of her introduction to Coming of Age in Samoa as a brief preface to my own argument -- substituting only the name of the civilization I propose to explore for that which she has so vividly documented, and noting that similarities, as well as contrasts, are frequently to be found between the practices and beliefs of the two societies.

Because of the particular problem which we set out to answer, this tale of another way of life is mainly concerned with education, with the process by which the baby, arrived cultureless upon the human scene, becomes a full-fledged adult member of his or her society. The strongest light will fall upon the ways in which [Shakespearean] education, in its broadest sense, differs from our own. And from this contrast we may be able to turn, made newly and vividly self-conscious and self-critical, to judge anew and perhaps fashion differently the education we give our children.
(Coming of Age in Shakespeare vi-vii)

At this point it may be well to state that despite this brief attempt to explain what I take to be the relationship of maturation, social integration and self-knowledge, I am aware that "maturity" remains a troublesome word, and I have tried to use it with care. It is not my purpose to judge Shakespeare's characters, except to the extent that the plays encourage us to judge them. Just as an anthropologist visits an alien people and observes its customs, deducing from them the values of that society, so the critic of Shakespeare's plays may visit his dramatic world and deduce its values from what can be observed there.

Manifestly, each play has a world all its own, which may be compared to, but cannot be identified with, that of others of indeed with the world of the reader. Yet there are analogies to be drawn among many of the plays and many of their characters, signalled by similarities of situation or of language. When Romeo doffs his name, declaring in the balcony scene "Henceforth I never will be Romeo," he transforms himself. This doffing of the name is a rite of passage, which symbolizes his transition from the clan of the Montagues and the bands of joking youths to the role of Juliet's lover, soon to be her husband. And when the reader, or audience, hears a similar pronouncement at the end of Macbeth, it is reasonable to imagine that a similar rite is taking place, despite the very different dramatic circumstances. "My thanes and kinsmen," says Malcom, "Henceforth be earls, the first ever in Scotland/ In such an honor named" (v. viii. 62-4). The thanes are to doff their former titles, and take new ones; again a rite of passage is ordained -- one which will signal a separation from the old Scotland, and a movement toward to unified country under James I's reign. The rhetorical similarity of the two phrases -- "Henceforth I never will be..." "Henceforth be..." underscores their functional similarity. An act of transformation -- literally of "translation" from one name to another -- is taking place.

The chapters that follow will suggest the presence of a number of such rites of passage in the plays. Patterns of initiation and criteria of personal maturity will, inevitably, vary from group to group, or from culture to culture. Some of those described in these pages correspond directly to rites practiced by tribes or sects that have received extensive scrutiny by social scientists, while others may seem less broadly based, more specific to their Shakespearean context. But whether concerned with sexuality and marriage, with naming, with language, or with self-comparison and self-judgment, each rite conforms to the basic sequence of separation, transition and incorporation as documented by van Gennep. The Shakespearean novice, like his or her counterpart in society, must be separated from a former self before he or she can be integrated into a new social role. At the core of the arguments to be advanced here is my conviction, strengthened during the course of this study, that by observing recurrent modes of behavior and speech in the plays, and extrapolating from the certain unspoken but consistent rules of conduct, we can achieve an understanding of "maturity" as it applies to Shakespeare's dramatic characters. Through their repetitions of motif, incident and phrase, the plays offer us a cumulative portrait of what it means to be a successful adult in a Shakespearean world -- and, just possibly, in our own. (Coming of Age in Shakespeare 25-26)

from Shakespeare's Ghost Writers (1987)

Shakespeare's Ghost WritersAnother book on Shakespeare? That is, indeed, one of the questions this book is about. In the essays collected here I will explore the ways in which Shakespeare has come to haunt our culture, the ways in which the plays are central not only to English Studies but also to recent, more subversive, theoretical approaches to literature -- new historicism, deconstruction, feminism, and psychoanalysis.

Readers will note the recurrence in these pages of many familiar ghosts of poststructuralism -- Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Marx, De Man, and Nietzsche -- alongside Thomas More, Samuel Johnson, A. C. Bradley, and Superman comic books. Why the emphasis upon the canonical figures of postmodernism and poststructuralism? Because, once again, what interests me is the uncanny extent to which these writers are themselves haunted by Shakespeare, the way in which Shakespearean texts -- and especially the most canonical texts of Shakespearean tragedy -- have mined themselves into the theoretical speculations that have dominated our present discourses, whether in literature, history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, or politics.

The ghostly traces I have followed have led me on the kind of journey that Freud describes in his essay on "The Uncanny" (1919), when, in trying to hasten away from the red light district of a small provincial town in Italy, he found himself, again and again, "back in the same street, where my presence was now beginning to excite attention. I hurried away once more, but only to arrive yet a third time by devious paths in the same place." This sense of the uncanny, which Freud himself says "recalls that sense of helplessness sometimes experienced in dreams," is very much part of the aura that surrounds the Shakespearean ghost, a figure that is always already somewhere else, always already gone, and yet, as the same time, always just around the corner. "Maeterlinck says: If Socrates leave his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. If Judas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves."

The essay on "The Uncanny" plays a major part in my approaches to these plays, and it is an uncanny fact that the Shakespeare plays Freud singles out -- precisely to demonstrate that their ghosts are not uncanny -- are the plays that appear in my text: Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar. The other specters to appear in these pages include Richard III, King Lear, Shylock (present to mind because unmentioned in another essay by Freud), a host of silenced women from Cordelia to Sycorax, and Shakespeare himself.

There is, however, yet another way in which Freud inflects my argument, and that is through the concept -- and the mechanism -- of transference. The transferential relationship Freud describes as existing between the analyst and the patient is, I will argue, precisely the kind of relation that exists between "Shakespeare" and western culture. The overdetermined presence of Shakespeare -- as text, as authority, as moral arbiter and theoretical template -- in the critical discourse of our own and earlier times is testimony to (or, to use Freud's term for the acknowledgement of transference, confession of) that fact. "Shakespeare" is the transferential love-object of literary studies.

Freud says of the transference-love between patient and analyst that once it is acknowledged and brought out into the open it cannot be suppressed or denied. To do so "would be the same thing as to conjure up a spirit from the underworld by means of a crafty spell and then to dispatch him back without a question." The "spirit from the underworld" that has to be interrogated is that overdetermined transference-relation, whether we call it bardolatry, canonicity, or post-structuralist discourse. And the "question" -- the question raised in the course of the analysis, the question it would be folly to repress and not to ask the conjured spirit -- that question is the question with which this book begins: Another book on Shakespeare -- why? and why now?

These essays are about ghosts, and about writing. One of the things those topics have in common is that they stand in the place of something that -- perhaps -- was once present, and is now gone. Or do they? Was there a Caesar or an old Hamlet, before their ghosts appeared? Yes -- but are the ghosts ghosts of those persons, those names -- or are they new originals? Are they, in fact, not originals at all, but signs of the lostness and unrecoverability of origins, figures instead, loosed to power and authority because of their belatedness? Again and again in Shakespeare's plays ghosts and writing occur together, are twisted together in the same skein: the letter read by Lady Macbeth, or the "letter G" that Richard makes stand for both George and Gloucester; Hamlet's "tables" and his "new commission" commanding the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; the letters thrown in at Brutus's casement, urging the assassination of Caesar. Who writes -- or what writes, these fateful messages?

Keats' poem "This Living Hand," with its closing trompe-l'oeil gesture across the boundaries of life and death, writing and reading, makes a move very similar to that figured by Shakespeare's ghosts:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm'd -- see here it is --
I hold it towards you.

The act of writing is a sleight of hand through which the dead hand of the past reaches over to our side of the border. "See -- here it is -- I hold it toward you." "Dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, feet which dance by themselves -- all these have something peculiarly uncanny about them," writes Freud, "especially when... they prove able to move of themselves." What is uncanny is not that the moving finger writes but that the writing finger moves. What this book attempts to explore, then, is the uncanny connection between Shakespeare's propensity to write ghosts and his continuing capacity to write us. (Shakespeare's Ghost Writers xiii-xv)

...[O]ther English Renaissance authors (e.g., Spenser, Ralegh, and Webster) left similarly scanty paper trails. Yet no on quarrels about Spenser's authorship, or Ralegh's, or Webster's, or Milton's.

This, of course, is precisely the point. Why is it different for Shakespeare? Why is so much apparently invested in finding the "real" ghost writer, or in resisting and marginalizing all attempts to prove any authorship other than that of "the poacher from Stratford" (to cite the title of a recent book on the Shakespeare authorship)? "Without possibility of question," maintains the Folger ghost-buster, "the actor at the Globe and the gentleman from Stratford were the same man." Then why does the question persist? That is the question, or at least it is the question that I would like to address. I would like, in other words, to take the authorship controversy seriously, not, as is usually done, in order to round up and choose among the usual suspects, but rather in order to explore the significance of the debate itself, to consider the ongoing existence of the polemic between pro-Stratford-lifers and pro-choice advocates as an exemplary literary event in its own right.

One of the difficulties involved in taking the authorship question seriously has been that proponents of rival claims seem to have an uncanny propensity to appear a bit loony -- literally. One of the most articulate defenders of the Earl of Oxford authorship is one John Thomas Looney. (An "unfortunate name," commented Life magazine in an article on the authorship question -- but, his defenders say, "an honorable one on the Isle of Man, where it is pronounced "Loney." It was Looney, appropriately enough, who won Freud to the Oxford camp.) Nor is it Mr. Looney the only contender for unfortunateness of name: a zealous Shakespearean cryptographer, who proves by numerological analysis that the real author could be either Bacon or Daniel Defoe, is George M. Battey ("no more fortunately named than Mr. Looney," comments an orthodox chronicler of the controversy, and, "quite properly, no more deterred by it"). Batty or loony, the ghost seekers' name is legion, and they have left an impressive legacy of monuments to human interpretative ingenuity. (Shakespeare's Ghost Writers 2-3)

Shakespeare now and then

Those who inveigh against mixing high art with popular culture would do well to remember that Shakespeare himself began as popular culture, not as the icon of high art he has become today. Plays in the late 16th century were not "works" to be published in folio form. Most of Shakespeare's plays were printed in quartos, the instant books of their day; Sir Thomas Bodley, the founder of Oxford's Bodlein Library, refused to have such "playbooks" in his collection because they would discredit the value of the whole. It was only in the 18th century that the myth of "Shakespeare," and of the Shakespeare text, began to be invented. (Symptoms of Culture 9)

Why is it that parents who would be appalled to find their college-age children studying the same chemistry textbooks, or economic theorems, that they themselves were taught 20 years ago, fully expect that those children will learn the same things about Shakespeare that they learned when they themselves were in college? What is it about the humanities in general, and Shakespeare in particular, that calls up this nostalgia for the certainties of truth and beauty -- a nostalgia which, like [...] all nostalgias, is really a nostalgia for something that never was? Here I mean something as trivial as imagery and thematics ("What about the animal images in King Lear?" one alumnus asked me after a public talk. By not mentioning them I had, inadvertently to be sure, taken away something of his treasured childhood, or rather, his treasured memories of that childhood), or as loaded as politics: Caliban as the hero of The Tempest? cried one academic traditionalist. "Then I wouldn't know what the play would mean." By definition, the fetish and the circumstances of its narrative or enactment must always be the same. (Symptoms of Culture 167-168)

(c) 1981-87 Marjorie Garber. Used with permission


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