Shakespeare Studies

My work in Shakespeare Studies is organised through three methodologies:

  • close reading
  • historical materialism
  • presentism

Intertextual research is grounded by close reading of both texts on either side of the textual relationship. Inter-lingual intertextual research allows the researcher a means for a critical approach to the text. By reading Shakespeare in both English and German, and by reading Shakespeare’s lines, imagery and plots where they show up in the texts of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, my research interrogates both the intertextuality and the original Shakespeare. Lines in Shakespeare open up not only to their multiple meanings, but also to their historical potential, a potential that may not have been realisable in the early modern period, but became possible in the early C19 German translations and in Marx’s and Freud’s modern texts. As a result, my research serves as means to uncover new meanings in the original text when read through the eyes of the C19 theorists. Examples of this critical approach can be found in my paper about the meaning of the word “commodity” in the Bastard’s speech in King John as used by Marx in his political writings, which is published in Shakespeare, 4, 2013, and in my paper about Bassanio’s necrophilia in The Merchant of Venice as seen through Freud’s use of the play in an early attempt to describe the death-drive which is published in Shakespeare Seminar Online 2014.

Intertextual close reading leads logically to a historically specific reading. Looking at the influence of texts from one time period to another requires a historical materialist understanding of both time periods and their relationship to each other. I read Shakespeare’s texts in light of the early modern world system, especially as it functioned in Shakespeare’s London. This time period stands in relationship not only to its significant precedent periods such Chaucer’s C14 London, early mercantilist Venice, and Classical Greece and Rome, but also to its succeeding significant historical points of the world system such as nineteenth century Europe and the globalised networks of the twentieth century. Timon’s rant against gold depicts different degrees of the tragedy of a money-based society in its Classical setting, its early modern context and its modern use in Marx’s economics writings. My paper on Marx’s use of Shakespeare in his critique of exchange value, forthcoming in Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, is an example of this historical materialist critique.

As a politically-committed reader in the 21st century, I use Shakespeare to critique the contradictions of the current world system. Shakespeare depicted some of the crises that we currently face when they were in their origins at the start  of modernity. Marx and Freud used Shakespeare’s lines, imagery and plots to critique the world system and the subjectivity it constructed. The system is now in an endgame crisis. A presentist reading of Shakespeare, Marx and Freud allows for my social-historical critique to be bolstered by the strength of close reading and historical materialism.

My research in Shakespeare Studies also includes an investigation of Shakespeare’s role in the development of the modern dialectic. Shakespeare was formally trained in Classical dialectics – a voluntary method of philosophical exploration – at grammar school. He used this dialectic in his writing style. However, since he wrote in early modernity, he necessarily subjected the classical dialectic to a historical sea-change. I suggest that elements of the modern dialectic in its Hegelian form – the force by which meaning expresses itself through history – show up in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. This is part of what allowed Shakespeare to be useful as a conceptual resource for the German theorists. If this is so, then my research contributes to Shakespeare Studies by showing that the modern dialectic has roots in the early modern philosophy evident in Shakespeare’s texts. My paper on the modern dialectic in Shakespeare is currently looking for a home in a journal.

 

Marxism

My intertextual research carries on from S. S. Prawer’s study, Karl Marx and World Literature. Prawer found that Marx was greatly influenced by his reading of Shakespeare and other world literature writers. Other writers in Shakespeare Studies, including Robert White (UWA), Jean E. Howard (Columbia), Crystal Bartolovich (Syracuse) and Hugh Grady (Arcadia), have written about this influence as well.

My research has found that the intertextual evidence combined with biographical evidence suggests that Marx was formatively influenced by Shakespeare. This influence began during his adolescence when he spent time with Ludwig von Westphalen and his daughter Jenny, whom Marx later married. Marx read Shakespeare’s plays repeatedly throughout his life and quoted and alluded to them at least 176 times in his texts and letters. Many of these intertextual instances occur at significant points in his research and writing. Through a close readng of these instances, one can see Marx using Shakespeare to work out some of his theory and political positions. My claim is that Marxism as written by Karl Marx, including his method, dialectical materialism, is, at its roots, Shakespearean. My paper on Marx’s use of Shakespeare in his critique of exchange value, forthcoming in Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, is a study of this influence on Marx’s economic theory.

If this is so, then a re-reading of Marxism in light of these findings is called for. What is at stake in this question is a critique of the form of theory. Far from being a closed system of thought, Marxism comes alive in its Shakespearean intertextuality set in the modern dialectic. Its theoretical development, contradictions and attempts to resolve those contradictions become apparent when one reads Marxism through its Shakespearean quotations, allusions and paradigma.

Psychoanalysis

S.S. Prawer also completed a study of Sigmund Freud’s use of world literature in the development of psychoanalysis. He found that Freud was influenced by Shakespeare. Most biographical studies of Freud mention the importance of Shakespeare in his life and work. A recent study by David Hillman (Cambridge) describes the centrality of lines, imagery and plots from Shakespeare’s plays in Freud’s psychoanalytic texts.

My research has found that the intertextual evidence combined with biographical evidence suggests that Freud was formatively influenced by Shakespeare. This influence began when he was eight years old and first read Shakespeare. Freud read Shakespeare’s plays repeatedly throughout his life and quoted and alluded to them at least 109 times in his texts and letters. Many of these intertextual instances occur at significant points in his research and writing. Through a close reading of these instances, one can see Freud using Shakespeare to work out some of his theory. In fact, the beginning of psychoanalysis – the discovery of the Oedipus Complex – is an intertextual event. My claim is that psychoanalysis as written by Sigmund Freud is, at its roots, Shakespearean. My talk on Shakespeare’s influence on Freud given at the Freud Museum London on 16 January, 2013 can be found on the museum’s iTunes page: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/freud-museum-london-psychoanalysis/id427403957?mt=2

If this is so, then what is at stake in this question is a critique of the form of theory. Far from being a closed system of thought, psychoanalysis, like Marxism, comes alive in its Shakespearean intertextuality set in the modern dialectic. Its theoretical development, contradictions and attempts to resolve those contradictions become apparent when one reads psychoanalysis through its Shakespearean quotations, allusions and paradigma.

Critical Theory

Frankfurt School Critical Theory is built partly upon a critique of Marxism and psychoanalysis. The Frankfurt School Critical Theorists critiqued the aspects of Marxism and psychoanalysis that they understood to be totalising and undialectical. They also critiqued what they perceived to be a presupposition of the Absolute in Hegel’s texts. Theodor Adorno called for a Critical Theory that always has room for a remainder.

The Frankfurt School does not write much about Shakespeare, and does not appear, on the surface, to be influenced by the plays. However, in my research, I suggest that their Critical Theory has Shakespearean roots. Three central methodological components of Frankfurt Critical Theory are that it is dialectical, that it looks for a remainder in the objects it critiques and that re-includes the other in the discourse. Critical Theory finds this methodology in Marxism and psychoanalysis. Intertextual research of significant places in Marx and Freud where this methodology exists finds the presence of lines, imagery and plots from Shakespeare. It is the Shakespearean aspect of Marxism and psychoanalysis that the Frankfurt School Critical Theorists like and use to develop their method. The goal of my research is to re-read Frankfurt School Critical Theory through a close reading of its Shakespearean roots.

Translation Studies

One crucial methodological question that arose during my intertextual research is about the translation read by the two target theorists. There is evidence that both Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud read Shakespeare in the Schlegel-Tieck transition. Freud had a copy of the 1867 Schlegel-Tieck in his office. It sits in the Freud Museum London today. Archival data about his library also indicates that he read the plays in the Schlegel-Tieck German translation and in English. Karl Marx’s books have been lost. They were stored in his birth house for use in a proposed museum. When the house was captured by the Nazis, all of the contents were burned in the street in front of it. Two pieces of evidence point to the presence of the Schlegel-Tieck translation in his library. One is that Shakespeare quotations present in Marx’s texts, including long ones, are similar to the Schlegel-Tieck translation. The other factor that suggests which text he used is that the Schlegel-Tieck was published in 1833, around the time that Marx first started reading Shakespeare as an adolescent in the house of Ludwig von Westphalen. Von Westphalen was a wealthy Shakespeare enthusiast, who staged the plays at large social gatherings in his house in Trier. It is likely that he would have purchased the newest and most favoured translation at that point in history, a translation edited by two of the key German Romantic poets.

A question arises about what influence the word choices of translators may have had on its readers. The Schlegel-Tieck was translated by five people: August W. Schlegel, Caroline Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck, Dorothea Tieck and Wolf Graf von Baudissin. Only August Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck were credited for the translation when it was first published. Von Baudissin and Dorothea Tieck were credited many years later. Caroline Schlegel has not yet received credit. Evidence for her working partnership with August Schlegel on the Shakespeare is given by Roger Paulin.

In my research, I have found that Dorothea Tieck’s translation choices change some of Shakespeare’s lines in the direction of the interpretation that Marx, Freud and also Bertolt Brecht read Timon von Athens, Macbeth and Coriolanus, respectively. This suggests that Tieck’s translation needs to be taken into account when studying the intertextual transmission of influence. My paper about Dorothea Tieck’s role this influence is forthcoming from Borrowers and Lenders.

World Literature

Following the Warwick Research Collective (WReC), I set my research in the historical materialist framework of a world capitalist system that is combined and unevenly developed. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud play a significant role  – arguably the most significant role – in the critique of this world system. Shakespeare wrote his texts during a particularly transformative period of the long sixteenth century, at the outset of the capitalist world system. My research, which looks at the influence of the most significant writer during the roots of the capitalist world system on the most significant critics of this world system is well-placed to serve as a critique of this world system.

Upon the occasion of the twin quartercentenary of Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’ death, I began to look at the significance of the presence of Miguel Cervantes’ texts in the Tieck’s translation docket. Ludwig Tieck translated Don Quixote and Dorothea translated Persiles y Sigismunda, Cervantes’ last novel. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud also quoted from and alluded to Miguel cervantes’ texs many times in thei writings. In some cases, Shakespearean and Cervantian allusions co-intensify each other in the modern theorists’ texts. My research led me to claim the existence of a world literary nexus in the translations of Shakespeare and Cervantes by the Tieck’s. They sit in between the two early modern writers – Shakespeare and Cervantes – and their intertextual presence in the two modern theorists  – Marx and Freud. The significance of this is that Shakespeare wrote in the country that rose to a position of dominance during the C16 partly by defeating the empire that Cervantes wrote for, which had been one of the core empires at the beginning of the long sixteenth century. Taken together, as the Tiecks did, the texts of these two early modern writers – English and Spanish – depict a near symmetrical chiasmatic pattern of ascent and descent in world dominance. As such, studying them together, especially in light of their significance in an intertextual relationship with Marx and Freud, can yield a lot of critical information about the world capitalist system, its history and contradictions. My paper on the world literary nexus in Tieck’s translations of Shakespeare and Cervantes can be heard here (PM session): https://lecturecapture.warwick.ac.uk/ess/portal/section/2e269cbb-5fbd-4d04-80c4-b947c63a2448

The intertextual presence of many other literary authors in Marx’s and Freud’s texts, suggests that Marxism and psychoanalysis are world literary influenced theories. Both Marx and Freud quote and allude to Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Flaubert and Dickens among others in their texts.

My intertextual, inter-lingual, transnational research in these world literary texts has helped me construct a methodology for use in critique of modern world literature. Starting from WReC’s notion that world literary texts depict, in their form and content, the shock of the new and the contradictions of the combined and uneven world capitalist system, I use my intertextual findings – the dialectic, the remainder, the re-inclusion of the other – to read Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Bertolt Brecht, Pio Baroja, John Steinbeck and Thomas Pynchon. Goethe and Heine are significant inclusions in the Marx and Freud influence research. Brecht is significant for the Critical Theory. Baroja depicts a post-Cervantian Spain pushed to the semi-periphery. Steinbeck and Pynchon depict, in the form and content of their novels, the contradictions of the American core of the world capitalist system.