detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Sunday, May 12, 2002


: . Strangers in the Night:

An article in this week’s New Yorker, entitled ‘Shakespeare in Rewrite,’ (not online so try to get a hold of the magazine) discusses recent attempts by Shakespeare scholars to come up with the ‘definitive’ edition of Hamlet from among the three earliest editions of the play: the 1623 Folio, the 1604 ‘Good Quarto’, and the 1603 ‘Bad Quarto’ each of which, at certain passages, can be strikingly different from the others. The article was written by Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, and an upcoming book ‘about Shakespeare scholars and directors.’ Hamlet editors can be divided into several camps: those who conflate elements from each early edition to reconstruct a ‘lost archetype’ of the play closest to Shakespeare’s ‘original intentions; the ‘Revisers’ who believe that each edition of Hamlet are drafts, the latest of which reveals Shakespeare’s ‘final intentions’; and finally there are those who believe that since it is next to impossible to divine Shakespeare’s intentions, we should read each individual edition of Hamlet as a separate text, each speaking with its own distinct ‘voice.’ One advocate of the more inclusive approach of presenting Hamlet is Bernice W. Kliman, editor of The Enfolded Hamlet. The Enfolded Hamlet is a variorum (‘an edition of a classic work that attempts to record not just all the variations in a play but also the significant scholarly and literary commentary’). Kliman’s new Hamlet variorum ‘enfolds’ or splices together the ‘Good Quarto’ and the Folio editions through the clever use of brackets. For example:
    There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio
    Than are dream’t of in {your} <our> philosphie.

Here are Kliman's instructions: ‘To unfold the Good Quarto, read all the words with no brackets and the words with curly brackets. To unfold the Folio version, read all the words with no brackets and the words with the pointed brackets.’
(The ‘Bad Quarto’ was not enfolded since it is an unauthorized, ‘bootleg’ edition probably written from memory by an audience member from a 17th century performance of the play. Think transcriptions of ‘misheard lyrics.’)

I have always been struck by the first few lines from Act I Scene I of Hamlet. It always reminds me of Private William Grayson’s account of the beginnings of the Filipino American War. This is an unoriginal observation and someone, somewhere has probably written an essay with the title: ‘Strangers in the Night: Hamlet and the First Act of the Filipino-American War.’ It is, of course, productive to read history as literature and literature as history as long as one remembers not to confuse one with the other. While both are ‘texts’ and both are therefore ‘constructed,’ one should also keep in mind this caveat from the Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot: ‘Nowhere is history infinitely susceptible to invention.’ In Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Trouillot writes:
    Constructivism’s dilemma is that while it can point to hundreds of stories that illustrate its general claim that narratives are produced, it cannot give a full account of the production of any single narrative. For either we would all share the same stories of legitimation, or the reasons why a specific story matters to a specific population are themselves historical. To state that a particular narrative legitimates particular policies is to refer implicitly to a ‘true’ account of these policies through time, an account which itself can take the form of another narrative. But to admit the possibility of this second narrative is, in turn, to admit that the historical process has some autonomy vis-à-vis the narrative. It is to admit that as ambiguous and contingent as it is, the boundary between what happened and what is said to have happened is necessary…
    The need for a different kind of credibility sets the historical narrative apart from fiction. This need is both contingent and necessary. It is contingent inasmuch as some narratives go back and forth over the line between fiction and history, while others occupy an undefined position that seems to deny the very existence of a line. It is necessary inasmuch as, at some point, historically specific groups of humans must decide if a particular narrative belongs to history or to fiction. In other words, the epistemological break between history and fiction is always expressed concretely through the historically situated evaluation of specific narratives.

Anyway, compare and contrast the following:

From Act I, Scene I of Hamlet:
    1 <Actus Primus. Scoena Prima>
    2 {Enter Barnardo, and Francisco, two Centinels.
    3-4 {Bar. Whose} <Barnardo. Who's> there?
    5-6 Fran. Nay answere me. Stand and vnfolde your selfe.
    7 Bar. Long liue the King,
    8 Fran. {Barnardo.} <Barnardo?>
    9 Bar. Hee.
    10 Fran. You come most carefully vpon your houre,
    11 Bar. Tis now strooke twelfe, get thee to bed Francisco,
    12 Fran. For this reliefe much thanks, tis bitter cold,
    13 And I am sick at hart.
    14 Bar. Haue you had quiet guard?
    15 Fran. Not a mouse stirring.
    16 Bar. Well, good night:
    16-7 If you doe meete Horatio and Marcellus,
    17 The riualls of my watch, bid them make haste.

From Private William Grayson’s account of the first shots fired during the Filipino-American War:
    I yelled ‘Halt!’…the man moved. I challenged with another ‘Halt.’ Then he immediately shouted ‘Halto’ to me. Well I thought the best thing to do was shoot him. He dropped. Then two Filipinos sprang out of the gateway about 15 feet from us. I called ‘Halt’ and Miller fired and dropped one. I saw that another was left. Well I think I got my second Filipino that time. We retreated to where six other fellows were and I said ‘Line up fellows; the niggers are in here all through these yards.’ We then retreated to the pipe line and got behind the water work main and stayed there all night. It was some minutes after our second shots before Filipinos began firing.

From literary theorist Thomas Keenan’s book Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics:
    The curtain rises, to reveal nothing. Nothing but speaking – in the dark, at a frontier, two sentinels. One stands guard, the other comes to take his place. In the dark, a movement, followed by a question.
    Who’s there?

    Everything begins with a question at the front, it seems, but a question that itself responds to a noise or movement. A question asked of a sentinel, by a sentinel – not the classically interrogative demand for identification or for a password, but the question of the one who approaches the frontier, the one who asks where the frontier is, who’s at the post. In the dark, the one who comes asks who it is who is already there, announces his coming with a question about the identity and place of the other. If he betrays his arrival – he does not (yet) identify himself. Everything begins with a question about the identity of the one who is already there, the one who has, without speaking, provoked the question. In the dark, a question addresses its call to the other who precedes it. And the other, the still mute and still invisible sentry, marks the place of the border, guards without challenging and without even appearing. Is the sentry more or less vigilant in this silence?…

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