"A Certain Text": Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton

"A Certain Text": Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton

"A Certain Text": Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton

"A Certain Text": Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton

Synopsis

This collection in honor of Thomas Clayton takes its title from Romeo and Juliet (4.1.21). Meeting Paris in Friar Lawrence's cell, Juliet muses, "What must be shall be, " and the Friar completes her line with, "That's a certain text." Where "text" means a received truth, both Friar Lawrence and Clayton are interested skeptics. The essays gathered here reflect this attitude, questioning received ideas about the activities to which Clayton has devoted his professional life -- literary editing and the close reading of literary works. Essays on literary editing include Richard Proudfoot's on the early printing history of Mucedorus, David Haley's on "the most famous crux in Shakespeare, " and Janis Lull's on the "End of Editing Shakespeare, " Linda Anderson, Stephen Booth, Jay Halio, and Joyce Sutphen offer close readings of the Merry Wives of Windsor, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, and The Sonnets, respectively. Achsah Guibbory writes about Robert Herrick and the Hebrew Bible, and Daniel Hooley treats Ben Jonson's classicism. Anatoly Liberman reexamines Germanic myths to solve a longstanding problem in etymology.

Excerpt

A few years ago, when he became the first humanities PROFESsor to receive the University of Minnesota's highest award for contributions to postgraduate education, Tom Clayton was asked if he had a recipe for good teaching. “English Language and Literature is a subject-matter discipline, if there is such a thing,” he observed. “It may be shameless to admit—but I do—that I entered the profession not primarily because I wanted to teach, but because I wanted to read and learn more about literary works.” Those who know Tom will find this ironical disclaimer in character. “Discipline,” in his secular use of the word, means handing on a tradition to disciples. At a time when our literary technologies collapse the distinction between traditional literature and other kinds of writing and urge readers to invent their own subject matter, Tom keeps his students busy exploring actual poems.

The hunger to “read and learn more about literary works” isn't satisfied by a diet of indiscriminate novelty. the more that the dismissal of tradition threatens to become an academic orthodoxy, the more likely it is that independently minded students will be motivated to discover the roots of their cultural and linguistic heritage. At least among these young scholars, historical philology, from which English studies arose a century ago, continues to thrive. No doubt Tom Clayton would deprecate most ad hoc attempts to define our perennial discipline. University administrators, slow to grasp the dynamics of cultural change, call for “interdisciplinary” innovation. Where literary tradition is constantly renewing itself, however, the demand is misplaced. the changeable perspective of history—which the philologically challenged confuse with a facile relativity—is precisely what makes the past continuous with the present. Tom put this succinctly to a colleague who suggested that the real core of our curriculum remains pretty much what it has always been: “If our core curriculum hasn't changed for a century, it should be taken out forthwith and dynamited, no shriving time allowed.”

The oxymoron of an unalterable text is just as unhistorical as . . .

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