What Not to Do: Assume the Author Agreed with Popular Opinion

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From Paul Yachnin’s “Shakespeare and the Idea of Obedience: Gonzalo in The Tempest”:

“To suggest this, of course, is not to preclude the possibility of subversive interpretations of the play in Shakespeare’s time; however, it does mean that the normative meaning of The Tempest for Shakespeare’s audience would have been conservative” (44).

So, the average playgoer would interpret The Tempest in a conservative manner, what does that prove?  It certainly does not prove that Shakespeare’s intention was that the audience interpret it that way.  And even if he did want them to think that during the play, who’s to say that’s what he really meant?  He wouldn’t want to be too flagrant in encouraging the people not to obey, for then he could bring the wrath of the monarch down upon himself.  Isn’t the point in this essay to focus on the author’s intention, and not on how the audience understood it?  If we were analyzing The Tempest through the school of reader response criticism how would knowing the audience’s reading of the play in 1611 matter?  Wouldn’t the most important thing be what the play did to the modern reader?  I didn’t find Yachnin’s essay to be very believable.  Honestly, I felt it was more an example of how not to use historical facts to prove something than a good example of how author intention can strengthen one’s argument.  Saying that popular opinion would have been on one side, does not mean that Shakespeare agreed with this side. 

Check out some other’s views on Yachnin’s article. 

2 Comments

I, too, agree with you. And yes, I was trying to quote Langston Hughes. Anyway, I agree with you. I think that all Yachnin succeeded in doing is confusing and boring the reader. I am not sure whether or not we should use historical facts in our own papers because it seems difficult, not to mention futile. Just as you said, just because it is popular opinion,doesn't mean that Shakespeare held that opinion. There are just too many assumptions that take place in this kind of criticism.

Erica Gearhart said:

Alhtough I agree with both of you that Yachnin's essay was not very helpful, I do think that we need to keep in mind that using author's intent criticism is supposed to be imperfect because it never can be completely known if the argument correct. We are not the writer, we had nowhere near the same experiences as the writer, and if we did (obviously this doesn't apply in Shakespeare's case)we still don't know what went through their minds as they lived and wrote. Also, keep in mind that no matter how objective historians attempt to be, they can never be entirely objective, so even by using historical "facts" we can never be exactly certain if our information is 100% valid. I guess what I'm trying to say is that truth and correctness are very abstract and flexible concepts. As long as the argument is supported and plausible, it is correct. Although this makes the act of completing the assignments more difficult, it allows many more possibly successful interpretations.

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