Shakespeare and Psychoanalysis: Shakespeare and the Problem of Literary Character
by W. L. Godshalk
August 25, 2005
Shakespeare's characters, as well as literary characters in general, are merely words on a page, and yet we talk about them as if they were living creatures with volition, agency, and a full complement of human attributes. How do we account for this apparent double-think? A survey of comments about Shakespeare's characters made by Bertram Russell, L. C. Knights, Harry Berger, Maurice Morgann, A. D. Nuttall, Alan Sinfield, Gerald Graff, and James Phelan indicate a range of possible answers to this question. Kendall Walton's theory that interpreting literary characters is a game of make-believe and pretense is both economical and satisfying.
Where exactly is it that language ends, beyond which we may
make sounds and even shape grammatically correct sentences, but are
Words, words, mere words
Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (5.3.126)
"Character is a myth invented by novelists for the sake of adding interest to the narrative."
Literary characters are merely words (or, to be precise, certain marks that some readers interpret as words) in a certain order on a page or, nowadays, on a computer screen. Clearly, literary characters do not have the same ontological status that we do.2 And yet we humans talk about literary characters as if they were living creatures with volition, agency, and a full complement of human attributes.3 Borges can write, and we can understand: "Vanquished by reality, by Spain, Don Quixote died in his native village in the year 1614. He was survived but a short time by Miguel de Cervantes."4 We know that literary characters do not exist as humans exist, and yet we write about them as if they do. How do we account for this apparent double-think?
1. Bertrand Russell: Literary Characters and Ontology
In 1919, using Shakespeare, Hamlet, and Napoleon as his examples, Bertrand Russell states the case against Meinongian theories5 of literary reference: "In such theories, it seems to me, there is a failure of that feeling for reality which ought to be preserved even in the most abstract studies. . . . Logic, I should maintain, must no more admit a unicorn than zoology can; for logic is concerned with the real world just as truly as [is] zoology, though with its more abstract and general features. To say that unicorns have an existence in heraldry, or in literature, or in imagination, is a most pitiful and paltry evasion. What exists in heraldry is not an animal, made of flesh and blood, moving and breathing of its own initiative. What exists is a picture, or a description in words. Similarly, to maintain that Hamlet, for example, exists in his own world, namely, in the world of Shakespeare's imagination, just as truly as (say) Napoleon existed in the ordinary world, is to say something deliberately confusing, or else confused to a degree which is scarcely credible. There is only one world, the 'real' world: Shakespeare's imagination is part of it, and the thoughts that he had in writing Hamlet are real. So are the thoughts that we have in reading the play. But it is of the very essence of fiction that only the thoughts, feelings, etc., in Shakespeare and his readers are real, and that there is not, in addition to them, an objective Hamlet. When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in writers and readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case of Hamlet you have come to the end of him. If no one thought about Hamlet, there would be nothing left of him; if no one had thought about Napoleon, he would have soon seen to it that some one did. The sense of reality is vital in logic, and whoever juggles with it by pretending that Hamlet has another kind of reality is doing a disservice to thought. A robust sense of reality is very necessary in framing a correct analysis of propositions about unicorns, golden mountains, round squares, and other pseudo-objects" (169-70).
The general importance of Russell's position can easily be overestimated. As Amie Thomasson puts it: "If asked whether such fictional characters as Holmes and Hamlet exist, those uncorrupted by philosophy invariably say 'yes,' puzzled by why someone would ask such a silly question" (113). And Umberto Eco, responding to Russell, writes: "It seems a matter of common sense to say that in the fictional world conceived by Shakespeare it is true that Hamlet was a bachelor and it is false that he was married. Philosophers ready to object that fictional sentences lack reference and are thereby false . . . do not take into account the fact that there are persons gambling away their future on the grounds of the recognized falsity or truth of similar statements. Any student asserting that Hamlet was married to Ophelia would fail English [or be praised for his perspicacious ingenuity], and nobody could reasonably criticize his/her teacher for having relied on such a reasonable notion of truth" (Limits 64). Only a relatively few academics and literati seem engaged in this perhaps futile controversy over the ontological status of literary characters, while unfazed writers of fiction, like Nancy Kress, publish books like Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities that Keep Readers Captivated, apparently believing that literary characters have personalities and that these personalities can be created by authors.6
2. L. C. Knights: Character and Text
In 1933, fourteen years after Russell's plea for a robust sense of reality in thinking about literary characters, L. C. Knights published his well-known, oft-cited, and (possibly) influential essay "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?" Fifty years later, A. D. Nuttall describes Knights' argument: "Knights damned Bradleian character-critics for speculating about Hamlet as if he were a real person; 'Hamlet' is not a real man at all, but a string of poetic expressions, a constellation of images. With human beings we may legitimately indulge in inference and supposition. . . but with dramatic characters such inference is manifestly absurd; we cannot guess at Lady Macbeth's previous life for the simple reason that she has no previous life; her being begins and ends with what Shakespeare sets down for her to say." He comments: "It is strange that so coarse a piece of reasoning should have passed for a great stroke of destructive theory" (82). Although I generally like Nuttall's new mimesis,7 I find his description of Knights' position overstated.
What does Knights really say about dramatic characters? Knights complains that "In the mass of Shakespeare criticism [written before 1933, of course] there is not a hint that 'character' . . . begins with the words of which a play is composed" (18), and after tendentiously surveying character criticism from Thomas Rhymer to Gervinus, suggests that "The habit of regarding Shakespeare's persons as 'friends for life,' or, maybe, 'deceased acquaintances,' is responsible for most of the vagaries that serve as Shakespeare criticism. It accounts for the artificial simplifications of the editors . . . [as well as] Dr. Bradley's Notes and . . . the criticism in Ward's History of the English Drama. It is responsible for all the irrelevant moral and realistic canons that have been applied to Shakespeare's plays, for the sentimentalizing of his heroes . . . and his heroines. And the loss is incalculable. Losing sight of the whole dramatic pattern of each play, we inhibit the development of that full complex response that makes our experience of a Shakespeare play so very much more than an appreciation of 'character' . . . . That more complete, more intimate possession can only be obtained by treating Shakespeare primarily as a poet" (30).
Knights continues by prescribing a method (call you them paradigms?) of critical reading: "we have to decide exactly why the lines 'are so and not otherwise.' As we read other factors come into play. The lines have a cumulative effect. 'Plot,' aspects of 'character,' recurrent 'themes' and 'symbols' -- all 'precipitates from the memory' -- help to determine our reaction at a given point" (31).
Unlike Russell, Knights does not engage the question of literary reality. For him, literary characters are real as verbal constructs, not people we know or have known; and "character" should take its place in an ideal order of precedence, where "character" follows "plot" and comes before "themes" and "symbols." In other words, Knights does not reject the analysis of literary character as a useful critical tool, but desires that we subordinate that tool to a more complete and complex textual analysis. And, we should notice, Knights does not reject A. C. Bradley's essays, but his Notes, where Bradley explores his tangential and fanciful ideas about character. Knights' agendum is basically esthetic.
I emphasize these points because Knights has become the whipping boy of mimetic criticism. Obviously, Knights emphasizes the text over the context, but no matter how we view that choice, his objections to the sentimentalities of nineteenth century character criticism seem right on target. Shakespeare's characters are not old friends with whom we can share a pipe and talk about the old days. In 1964, to introduce his position on literary character, Norman Holland quotes Edgar Allan Poe: "If Hamlet had really lived, and if the tragedy were an accurate record of his deeds, from this record (with some trouble) we might, it is true, reconcile his inconsistencies and settle to our satisfaction his true character. But the task becomes the purest absurdity when we deal only with a phantom." Holland then comments: "This is the real answer to people who try to find a reason for Hamlet's delay in Hamlet's character. Hamlet is not a living person, but a part of a play. He delays because that is part of the play. And it is not fair to look only at those parts of the play which deal with the quite appealing figure of Hamlet. We have to look at the play as a whole" (159). To my ear, this is a good summation of Knights' theoretical position.
3. Harry Berger: Character as Text
Writing in the 1980s and 1990s, Harry Berger is consciously or perhaps unconsciously reacting to the controversies in which Russell and Knights had signally engaged earlier in this century. Let us look at Berger's statements regarding his theory of literary character. He acknowledges that, at one time, he "assumed . . . that there 'are' characters in plays and they preexist our talking about them." But under pressure of his own "paradigms" and the criticisms of "deconstructive critics and textual materialists," he realigned his "sense of character in accordance with a more skeptical originary premise . . . that there are no characters, persons, or individuals, no subjects with bodies and minds, in the unperformed text; until actors lend their bodies and interpretations, the dramatis personae consist only of speech prefixes that designate the sites of utterance we call speakers and that we, as actors and readers, characterize -- convert to characters -- by our interpretations of the language assigned to them."8 I'm not sure how we should interpret Berger's progression from dramatis personae/speech prefixes, to sites of utterance/speakers, to characters. How are dramatic persons different from speakers, and how are they both different from characters? And if play scripts contain sites of utterance/speakers, why can't they also contain characters? Berger does not tell me how to discriminate among these various textual and extra-textual manifestations. Given his progression, they would seem in Berger's eyes to have different ontological statuses. But isn't a "site of utterance" as much a mental construct as, say, a "dramatis persona" or a "character"? Why are two of these apparently "in the text" and one of them a construct of readers and/or actors? I find these questions unasked and unanswered by Berger.
Berger continues by explaining the "three consequences of [his] premise," only the first of which interests me here: "(1) There are no bodies in the text: speakers only 'have' or temporarily acquire bodies and organic histories if they mention them, and that mention will be discursively motivated, as when they activate the victim's discourse [cf. John of Gaunt] by appealing to illness or old age." Later Berger restates and elaborates this premise and consequence: "speakers are the effects[,] rather than the causes[,] of their language and our interpretation: in the unperformed [and unread?] Shakespeare text there are no characters, no persons, no bodies, no interiorities; there are only dramatist personae, the masks through which the text speaks.9 At most the unperformed text offers [like a good hostess?] material for an interpretation, a portrait, a set of portraits, that readers, actors, directors, and playgoers construct. Speakers don't have bodies, age, insomnia, corpulence, or illness unless and until they mention them, and when they do it is usually in the service of some discourse in which states of the body are signifiers used to mystify moral effects as physical causes. Speakers don't have childhoods unless and until they mention them" (220-221).
Berger's position that, let's say for the sake of illustration, Hamlet does not have feet until his feet are mentioned in the text seems counterintuitive. To begin, let's distinguish among (1) the writer, in this case Shakespeare, who writes with certain intentions, in this case (I assume) to produce a play script suitable for acting, (2) the inert text, basically ink on paper, or, if you will, words in a certain order on paper, and (3) the active reader who reads and interprets those words with certain intentions. In this case, the primary intended readers are actors readying themselves to present a play called Hamlet to auditors who, in turn, will actively interpret what they see and hear.
(1) The writer, Shakespeare, in writing this particular play script, apparently wished all of his actors to have feet. A Hamlet bound to a wheel chair might prove interesting to an audience (especially, say, Lennard Davis), and be an innovative director's choice, but Shakespeare, as far as we can tell from the script, intended all his actors to walk, rather than wheel, from place to place on the stage. Therefore, as a secondary intention, Shakespeare conceptualized Hamlet as "footed."
(2) The inert text is really of little help in determining Hamlet's means of locomotion. In the first act, a speech assigned to "Hamlet" runs:
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge. (Bevington, 1.5.30-32)
According to Berger's prescription, at this point in the text, Hamlet has "wings," which perhaps disappear later in the text when Hamlet does not "sweep" (as would a hawk) to his revenge. Of course, you would accuse me of frivolity were I genuinely arguing that Hamlet sprouts wings (like, possibly, Moses sprouting horns) in 1.5. My point is that the inert text must be interpreted by an active, informed reader who will not be naively misdirected by Berger's axiom. Hamlet's "wings," I surmise, are metaphorical.
On the other hand, Laertes's penis is not mentioned in the text, but there are several suggestions (2.1.27-33, 1.3.45-51) that Laertes is a womanizer who treads the primrose path of dalliance. As far as the inert text is concerned, Laertes is a eunuch, but wouldn't an experienced reader presuppose that a womanizer, or a man who is genuinely (and not in jest) accused of being a womanizer, has a penis? And so with Hamlet's feet, the experienced, informed reader would assume that a character who can walk "four hours together/Here in the lobby" (2.2.160-161) has feet to walk upon, and that he is not walking on his (equally nonexistent) hands.
(3) An actor, say Burbage, reading the play script of Hamlet in preparation for his role as the prince, would not, I think, have asked Shakespeare if Hamlet had feet. Since Hamlet is not described by others in the script, nor does he describe himself in the script, as footless, Burbage would have assumed that pedal amputation was not a prerequisite for his role as Hamlet. On the other hand, were Burbage readying himself for the role of Richard III, the case would be (at least partially) altered:
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,
Deformed, unfinished, set before my time
Into this breathing would scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them -- (1.1.18-23)
I am not suggesting that Burbage would have felt duty bound to contract a case of polio to play this role, but, as a sensible actor reading the script for information about his role, he would get the idea that, while Hamlet moves fluidly on his (textually nonexistent) feet, Richard limps on his textually nonexistent feet. Perhaps we should take it as a general principle that Shakespeare's dramatic characters have the basic bodily parts and in good working order -- unless active, informed readers find evidence to the contrary in the play script.10
But, when I exhaust my animadversions, I have to admit that Berger is correct in asserting that literary characters do not have real bodies or interiorities. But I would go Berger one better. Even when bodies are mentioned in a text, literary characters do not have bodies as you and I have bodies. They do not have independent volition and agency. They do not move from place to place at will. They cannot talk to us, nor can we interrogate them. They do not abide our question. They may "die" in one part of the text, but, at the same time, they are "alive" in other parts of the text. They do not, in a real sense, occupy our existential space.
3.1. Maurice Morgann: Character and Context: The Theory of Latency
In his now well-known footnote (quoted by both Knights and Nuttall, one to damn him, the other to praise), Maurice Morgann writes: "If the characters of Shakespeare are thus whole, and as it were original, . . . it may be fit to consider them rather as Historic than Dramatic beings; and, when occasion requires, to account for their conduct from the whole of character, from general principles, from latent motives, and from policies not avowed" (Morgann 62). Morgann's concept of "latency" is praised and elaborated by Nuttall (173-177). But latent can have two closely related meanings: hidden, concealed; and present or existing, but not manifest, exhibited, or developed (OED sv latent). If Morgann uses latent in the first sense, he merely means that Shakespeare's characters can have hidden motives, but, if in the second, he emphasizes the existence of motives that are not fully manifested and/or developed in the script. The distinction is subtle, but I think worth considering. Does Morgann emphasize concealment, or does he emphasize unmanifested existence? The legal term latent ambiguity -- a doubt as to the meaning of a document, not intrinsically apparent from the document itself, but raised by the evidence of some extrinsic and collateral matter -- although defined in 1848, seems to indicate Morgann's own procedure. Morgann is a contextualist, who builds his description of Falstaff from an historically constructed context: Falstaff's relationship to John of Gaunt, his possible role as head of his family, his military service, and so on. For Morgann, Shakespeare's dramatic characters are to be understood by contextualizing them, by treating them as if they are historic figures with complete personalities and psyches who can be understood by reference to the general principles of human behavior,11 whose motives are unmanifested, and whose policies are unavowed. I might add that, in this theory, they also must have bodies.
Morgann suggests, in Nuttall's exposition, "that the meaning of Shakespeare's plays cannot be confined to that which is explicitly and formally stated in them. . . [He] knew that if he could induce his reader to acknowledge a latent area, the business of exploring that area (by surmise and inference) would naturally involve some reliance on the known character of the real world . . . . Morgan is in fact proposing that where literature proposes probable human beings12 it is wholly natural and proper to apply one's sense of what is likely in real life, in making sense of an evidently incomplete (deliberately incomplete) presentation" (174-175). So far, I find Nuttall right on target, but, he adds, "[i]f a play is viewed as formally closed, as giving the kind of meaning which is coextensive with the forms employed [by the writer], it is easy to shelve genuine mimesis, to restrict oneself to the analysis of a wholly autonomous system of conventions" (174). In this final shot, probably at Knights' idea that "the only profitable approach to Shakespeare is a consideration of his plays as dramatic poems, of his use of language to obtain a total complex emotional response" (20)13, Nuttall undercuts his case. In fact it is not "easy," but impossible to restrict oneself to the analysis of a wholly autonomous system of conventions, because, as far as we humans know, systems of conventions are never autonomous, but always dependent.
3.2. Historical and Transtextual Literary Characters: Character and Dependence
Harry Berger weighs in on a topic that I find quite vexing: literary characters who are genuinely historical figures, like John of Gaunt and Napoleon. Berger writes: "Speakers don't have childhoods unless and until they mention them. If, for example, John of Gaunt never mentions his youth, then he has and had no youth, no childhood whose critical events the analytical dialogue may recuperate and revise by the light of the future anterior." Gaunt, of course, is a special case in that he is an historical figure, who we may infer did have a childhood. Berger seems not to take this fact into account. Berger continues: "Speakers in Shakespeare texts, as in others, don't necessarily die. Some do. But others just stop; they leave the text or the stage and don't come back. Why, then, do some of them die? Not because they died, say, in Holinshed, but because their death is the object of their desire, their response to the conflict of discourses." I find this comment utterly puzzling. What can it mean? If characters don't exist in texts, how then can they have desires and respond to conflicts? "When John of Gaunt flaunts his age and dies," Berger asserts, "it is to ensconce himself in the complex discursive scenario I have elsewhere called the ars moriendi discourse. He is conspicuously old not because he is no longer young, or because he was old in Holinshed, but because he is moved [moved by Shakespeare? self-activated?] to activate the weakling's plea, senility, and to use Tillyard's traditional world-picture [quite an historical leap to have Gaunt using Tillyard's book!] as an excuse for his refusal to challenge Richard or support his son's cause. The aging body emerges in language as a signifier and trope -- a metonymy of displacement -- enabling the speaker [as opposed to the character?] to fend off awareness of his active complicity" (221).
I wonder if the Harry Berger who is the "Harry" of Making Trifles of Terrors (250) can be said to have had a youth. After all, in Berger's case, we are dealing with a literary character, a narrator, who is not a fictional character. The inscribed Harry Berger is, in certain ways, analogous to Shakespeare's John of Gaunt: an historical figure, reduced to words on paper. Russell, of course, would have none of this nonsense: "When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in writers and readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case of Hamlet you have come to the end of him. If no one thought about Hamlet, there would be nothing left of him; if no one had thought about Napoleon, he would have soon seen to it that some one did." But Russell is giving us the rhetorical razzle-dazzle here. Napoleon is dead, and he can no longer make sure that someone thinks of him. The only way we can learn about Napoleon is through texts, because Napoleon is no longer an "actual man." For us, Napoleon and Hamlet are equally mental constructs derived from textual sources.14 Were all the texts and memories of Napoleon deleted (perhaps in a Y3K catastrophe), "there would be nothing left of him," and he would be as thin as Hammett's "thin man" -- thinner in fact, since Hammett's thin man is at least paper thin. But if only all textual references to Napoleon's youth were lost, we would still impute a childhood to him, just as we may impute a childhood to John of Gaunt or Harry Berger without fear of being labeled completely naive.
How do we discuss or think about real historical people who appear in fictional works? Do we read sentences about real individuals in works of fiction (e.g., John of Gaunt) in the same way as we read parallel sentences about fictional characters (e.g., Falstaff)? (See Thomasson 104). Henry Ford, for example, is a popular figure in twentieth century fiction from Aldous Huxley to E. L. Doctorow and Richard Powers. I assume that these writers intend their readers to recognize Ford as an historical figure with certain historically verifiable attributes (e.g., with a childhood), and yet in the context of their novels Ford is a fictional character. In considering this problem, I feel distinctly like Troilus: This is and is not Ford. On the one hand, the authors appear to desire their readers to know enough about Ford to make certain assumptions, and, on the other, to accept willingly or unwillingly a fictional account of parts of his life. Powers' account of Walt Disney's life in Prisoner's Dilemma, for example, is totally fictionalized: Walt's mom is Japanese, his dad an American sailor. I suppose we have to ask ourselves how completely an historical figure can be transformed into a cultural artifact, and once an historical figure is so transformed, does she become a "character," no longer dependent on a lived life, but instead dependent on authors, texts, and readers?
For me a similar problem is the transtextual fictional character. Falstaff appears in three of Shakespeare's plays, as well as novels and short stories. Is Falstaff the same character in each of these works? The answer that he is the same if he has the same characteristics does not satisfy me. First, whether or not he has the same characteristics is arguable, and unanimity rather than consensus is needed if we are all going to consider Falstaff the same character in all the works in which he appears. Second, if Falstaff does appear to have different characteristics in the first and second parts of Henry IV, this difference may have more to do with context than with character.15 The same may be said about Falstaff's appearance in Merry Wives, i.e., that Shakespeare modifies his character to conform to the implied culture of the play.
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character that (who?) seems in some ways to have transcended his original text, and to have become a cultural artifact who still gets a sizable number of letters yearly. Is Sir Arthur's English Sherlock Holmes the same literary character as Jo Soares's Brazilian Sherlock Holmes? Certainly, A Samba for Sherlock seems to be dependent on Conan Doyle's Sherlock, and Soares's jokes would hardly make sense to someone unfamiliar with Conan Doyle's fiction.
And perhaps this is the way to think about historical and transtextual literary characters: they are dependent in a way different from other literary characters in that they depend on a prior appearance either in history or in literature, and their full literary effect further depends on the reader or auditor knowing about these prior appearances and having some preconceptions about these historical figures and/or literary characters. Readers who do not recognize Holmes as a transtexual literary character or Gaunt as an historical figure will not be troubled by their problematic status in literature.
4. Alan Sinfield: Non-Essential Character
. . . while to all fiction is allowed some play of invention, yet, fiction
based on fact should never be contradictory of it; and is it not a fact, that,
in real life, a consistent character is a rara avis?
Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man
Jeremy Hawthorn selects Alan Sinfield's essay "When is a Character Not a Character? Dedemona, Olivia, Lady Macbeth, and Subjectivity" in Faultlines (1992) as a signal that the critical or perhaps theoretical uses of character are "less than fully played out" (40). In this essay, Sinfield attacks what he describes as Bradley's concept of character. He quotes Bradley's "The centre of tragedy, therefore, may be said with equal truth to lie in action issuing from character, or in character issuing in action," claiming that Bradley intended this "not just as a description of a certain kind of drama but a truth about life." That "truth" -- which Sinfield calls into question -- is -- according to Sinfield -- that the self is "autonomous, self-constituting, and self-sufficient,"16 and, further, Bradley's statement "effaces the mechanisms of cultural production and their implications in the power structures" (62).
Were Bradley alive to defend himself, I imagine that he would point out that the adjectives autonomous, self-constituting, and self-sufficient may be relevant when used to describe a hypothetical deity, but not when used for a finite, contingent human or a literary character. To be all these things, one would have to be one's own parent. Bradley might suggest that Sinfield consider the impossibility of the causa sui project, and suggest some readings in Spinoza and Strawson. Bradley might then go on to point out that his statement about character is not about autonomy, but agency, and not necessarily free agency. And finally it is not totally transparent why a due regard to human agency should efface or would efface the ontological status of dependent cultural abstractions (e.g., mechanisms of cultural production and power structures). I suppose a case could be made that, to emphasize human agency, is, by contrast, to italicize that dependent cultural abstractions do not have independent agency -- a truism, I gather, that Sinfield would like to keep mystified, since he seems to believe in some type of cultural animism.
Given Sinfield's indictment of Bradley, I would expect him to assiduously avoid the traditional rhetoric of character criticism.17 But this is not what I find. In Sinfield's description, "Macbeth does not easily free himself from Duncan's story and the construction of selfhood it is supplying [for Macbeth considered as a real person]. In the soliloquy at the start of act 1 scene 7, he cannot find it in himself ["in himself" -- the phrase is telling] to discard the religious, natural, and social sanctions that legitimate Duncan's authority. His sense of himself is bound up with recognition of his place in the current order" (63). Bradley might disagree with Sinfield's terminology, but Macbeth as described by Sinfield seems to be a fairly traditional literary character struggling for a measure of autonomy, wishing to "free himself" from a dominant ideology, and not finding "it in himself" (at this point in the script) to discard the cultural sanctions that legitimate Duncan's rule. Sinfield introduces this struggle by claiming that the "character of Macbeth . . . is situated at the intersection of discourses and historical forces that are competing, we might say, to fill up his subjectivity," or if you will, consciousness18 -- no mean task (63). It is completely ungenerous of me to wonder how "historical forces" can compete to fill up the "subjectivity" of a literary character that has no interiority (as Berger accurately insists), and further how "discourses," which I take to be inscribed in the play script (where else?), can intersect with (extra-textual?) "historical forces." In any case, when Sinfield describes Macbeth, he describes him, not as a site of ideological conflict, but as a free agent who can look into himself (always difficult without the proper surgery) and make apparently free choices. My contention is that Sinfield does not adequately discriminate between the real world and the fictive world.
"My contention is," writes Sinfield, "that some [not all] Shakespearean dramatis personae are written so as to suggest [to whom? to Sinfield? to all and sundry?], not just an intermittent, gestural, and problematic subjectivity, but a continuous or developing interiority or consciousness; and that we should seek a way of talking about this [dramatic effect?] that does not slide back into character criticism or essentialist19 humanism" (62).20 Sinfield asserts that his definition of character does not presuppose that continuous consciousness is "self-constituted and independent of the discursive practices of the culture [which one? the implied culture of the play? Shakespeare's culture?]; or that it manifests an essential unity" (62), though I gather that an inessential continuity is required. Key to Sinfield's definition of character is "an impression of subjectivity, interiority, or consciousness, and a sense that these maintain a sufficient continuity or development through the scenes" (62). Although Sinfield designates no agent, I assume by what follows that the "impression" and the "sense" are generated by the brain of reader or spectator. Sinfield refers us to William Nigel Dodd's model of dramatic performance that describes how actors convey information to audiences. But, when characters, i.e., words on paper, are embodied by actors, i.e., real people, my impressions radically change. I find it difficult not to assume that each character has a "continuous or developing consciousness" simply because I assume that all real people are (at least semi) conscious. We are no longer dealing with a text, but with real people acting as if they are real people.
Sinfield himself seems to realize the difference, and hastens to give a textual explanation: "when critics believe they find a continuous consciousness in Desdemona and Lady Macbeth, they are responding to cues planted in the text for the initial audiences" (63). Unfortunately, these critics are wrong because "those cues do not work out" and Desdemona and Lady Macbeth only "seem for a while to have continuous consciousnesses" and then, alas, poor dears, "collapse back into stereotypical notions of woman." In these cases, a character is not a character, as Sinfield is fond of asserting. But this "does not mean that the [textual and discursive] cues are not there or that the codes for reading them are wrong." No, what critical difference indicates is that "continuous interiority in a dramatis persona can only be an effect of culture and its multiple discourses, and those can never be held to a determinate meaning." How "culture" can cause "continous interiority" in a dependent cultural abstraction, Sinfield does not explain. "There is no stability in textuality," he admits. So the cues imbedded by Shakespeare, and the codes and protocols for reading those cues don't seem to do us a great deal of good in the interpretation bag. But Sinfield assures us that "this does not mean that there is some kind of [discursive and textual] free play" (63), although this assurance seems dubious since it is not followed with an explanation, but only with the further assurance that there is no "reason for dispensing altogether with character" as defined by Sinfield. In fact, "For in our cultures, character is a major category through which we conceptualize" (63). Again, Sinfield seems not to distinguish between the real world (where humans have created cultures) and the fictive world (created by an author or authors) that imitates or mirrors that real world in some way.
Sinfield's theory of textually imbedded "cues" is not revolutionary. But in Sinfield's total theory of character, cues are problematic. First, Sinfield admits that "character as it has been envisaged in our cultures [cultures which include Shakespeare's, I assume] involves essentialist humanism." So, if Shakespeare is a product of an essentialist humanistic culture, then we may expect his embedded textual cues to suggest "essentialist" characters, that is, characters that are autonomous, self-constituting, and self-sufficient. I myself do not believe that any dramatist (including the ancient Greek dramatists who regularly bring gods on stage) could or can suggest these characteristics in a dramatic character, but Sinfield apparently believes in the possibility. And yet he forecloses on recognizing these cues in Shakespeare's plays, and will admit no autonomous, self-constituting, and self-sufficient dramatic persons in them. Although I think Sinfield's anti-essentialist rhetoric is a storm in a tea cup, it does indicate something about Sinfield's practice: artificially limiting the field of play, or, at least, attempting to do so. As he says, there is no "free play of discourse or textuality" (63).
Sinfield's central claim is at issue here: "My contention is that some [not all] Shakespearean dramatis personae are written so as to suggest . . . a continuous or developing interiority or consciousness" (62), and it is these dramatic figures whom Sinfield calls "characters." At the same time, he wants to exclude the idea that this continuous or developing interiority "manifests an essential unity" (62). His initial illustration of a non-character is Desdemona who "is a disjointed sequence of positions that women are conventionally supposed to occupy" (53).21
One problem, as I see it, is how to distinguish Sinfield's description of a "character [who] is not a character" (54) from Montaigne's empirical description of human behavior. Montaigne in "Of the inconsistency of our actions" (II.1) writes: "I give my soul now one face, now another, according to which direction I turn it. If I speak of myself in different ways, that is because I look at myself in different ways. All contradictions may be found in me by some twist and in some fashion. Bashful, insolent; chaste, lascivious; talkative, taciturn; tough delicate; clever, stupid; surly, affable; lying, truthful; learned, ignorant; liberal, miserly, and prodigal: all this I see in myself to some extent according to how I turn; and whoever studies himself really attentively finds in himself, yes, even in his judgment, this gyration and discord. I have nothing to say about myself absolutely, simply, and solidly, without confusion and without mixture, on in one word. Distinguo is the most universal member of my logic" (Frame, 242). Montaigne insists: "Our actions are nothing but a patchwork" (243); "We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game" (244). Surely, what Montaigne describes here is "a disjointed sequence of positions" and that is exactly what Sinfield finds in Shakespeare's construction of Desdemona, a construction that he appears to fault as inadequate.
I am not, of course, claiming that Montaigne provides a paradigm for the construction of early modern dramatic character, but he does provide one early modern vision of human behavior. Had Shakespeare adopted and adapted this model for use in his dramatic practice -- and I am not suggesting that he did -- Shakespeare would have constructed a "character who is not a character" in Sinfield's terms. A character so various that she might be, not one, but, all humankind's epitome, would not, I think, fit Sinfield's requirement that she give the "impression" of a continuous or developing subjectivity. And yet in creating such a character Shakespeare would be imitating life as Montaigne describes it. My conclusion is that Sinfield's definition of "character" needs to be expanded, and he needs to accept in his definition those literary characters whose "actions are nothing but a patchwork," or, at least, seem that way to an auditor.
5. Rorschach Test: Character and Intention
We are told by Sinfield and others that our reading is limited by codes, cues, and protocols that a writer imbeds in his or her writing. And since character "is one of the major discursive formations active in . . . [Shakespeare's] texts, . . . it needs to be addressed if we are to explore how subjectivities are constituted" (63).22 Sinfield does not explain how precisely codes, cues, and protocols limit -- or how we can limit -- the polysemous nature of texts. Once Sinfield admits multiplicity and polysemy, how does he propose to utilize these polysemous texts in order "explore how subjectivities are constituted"? The answer is that he treats the texts as if they are stable, univocal, and monosemous. From the evidence of his practice, he must feel that he can read, with some degree of certainty, Shakespeare's intentions, i.e., understand his cues, with regard to his characters. Olivia speaks to Alan.
Gerald Graff and James Phelan recently ask, once again: "Can we know what Shakespeare meant?" They admit that few "theorists deny the difficulty of determining an author's intention with an certainty and some categorically deny that we can have any knowledge of such an intention" (97), but they are less skeptical: "while it may be true that we never know anyone's intentions with certainty, we can and do make inferences about each other's intentions all the time and could hardly communicate if we did not" (97-98). This seems fair enough, with the proviso that our guesses as to intention are often wrong, except perhaps for relatively simple uses of language, for example, declarative sentences, e.g., "Diner's ready," and deictic exclamations, e.g., "Look there!" In these cases, we may guess that dinner is indeed ready, and that we are being invited to look in a certain direction. Of course, even here, a listener may intuit secondary and tertiary intentions.
Graff and Phelan suggest that "our ability to identify verbal mistakes" is an effect of precisely identifying intention. They give as an example Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run where a bank teller misreads a holdup note. "Allen relies on his audience to recognize that, in a real-life bank robbery, the teller would readily infer that a man in a mask who handed him such a note must intend 'gub' to mean 'gun.' The intention, in short, counts more than what is literally written" (98). Yes, we probably agree that context does count, and that, in certain contexts, intention may be intuited with a fair degree of certainty. But Graff and Phelan are not grappling with the more difficult issues of interpreting texts in the pursuit of intention.
Even respected scholars, learned in their fields, have proven unable to identify verbal mistakes. A famous example is F. O. Matthiessen's discussion of "soiled fish" in Melville's White-Jacket. Matthiessen took "soiled fish" to be a discordia concors, and explicated the image of dirty fish at some length. In 1949, John Nichol pointed out that "soiled" was a printer's misreading of "coiled." Of course, Matthiessen's reading of Melville's intention is quite intelligent and creative, and I use him only to prove that complex verbal mistakes are not easily identified, nor are authorial intentions.
In fact, is the question of authorial intention fundamental to interpretation? I don't think it is, and I would like to use the famous wave poem (a thought game) as my example. I am walking down the beach, and I notice that the waves are writing a poem in the sand. (In most versions of the game it's a poem by Wordsworth.) Since I am not on Solaris, I assume that the sea is not sentient, and that the poem being written in the sand is not the product of conscious intention, but of pure chance. The emphasis is on lack of intention, and the question is: how do I read this poem? My answer is that I read this unintentional, unintended poem in the same way that I read any poem. The context here is a bit unusual, but since I can make sense of the words and lines, I interpret them in my usual way, though, of course, marveling that the poem is being written by the insentient sea. You may react differently to this found-poem, and find that you can not make sense of a poem that is constructed by chance. But I would impose meaning on these unintentional words. Meaning, says Norman Holland, "is something people actively create with their minds from a text, just as they actively perceive colors . . . or read symbols" (The I 310). Five readers reading equal five different readings.
Interpreting, or, if you will, reading, character is made more difficult because in our culture we tend to believe that real people and fictional characters are not easily understood. Peter Kramer writes: "It is a commonplace of our culture that appearances are deceiving. Unexpected aspects of self fascinate us. . . . The epiphany in our literature is often the moment when the hero learns that he has utterly mistaken someone he loves." For example, Gabriel Conroy in Joyce's "The Dead" has misread his wife. "Or it may be we, the readers, who find ourselves deceived. Think of Richard Cory, the subject of the Edwin Arlington Robinson poem that taught the lesson of impenetrable perspective to generations of schoolchildren--Richard Cory who glittered when he walked and one calm night went home and put a bullet through his head. This is a theme of our culture: Selves are individual and clandestine."23 It is interesting that Kramer, a practicing psychotherapist, utilizes fictional characters to make a point about real persons. And I utilize Kramer to make the point that, culturally, we seem to believe that a fictional character is or can be as many faceted and complex as an individual of the species homo sapiens. And so as readers who "actively create with minds from a text," we tend to create literary characters that are much like real people, and as we disagree about the motives of real people, so we disagree about the motives of literary characters.
6. Kendall Walton: Fictional Character as Make-Believe
Kendall Walton notes our perplexing double-think about literary characters: "We all know that there is no King Lear, that Shakespeare's play is a mere fiction. We learn at our mothers' knees that 'Peter and the Wolf' is 'just a story' and that Peter and the Wolf never were. But if we are asked whether there are such characters as Lear and Peter, the answer first on our lips is that indeed there are" (385).24 Alan Sinfield is, of course, is my recurring example of this double-think. Sinfield knows full well that Olivia is a "simulated person" (72), and yet he asserts that "we need to know what she feels, how she registers it [i.e., her marriage to Sebastian] in her consciousness" (72). We know, and we assume that Sinfield knows, that simulated persons feel nothing and have no consciousness -- and here's the rub, we and Sinfield talk as if they do. How do we account for this strange habit of ours?
Walton suggests that we make believe, that we pretend that fictional characters are real people. "Even when it is perfectly obvious that a speaker is making serious claims about a fictional world, we need not deny that he is engaging in pretense, that he is participating verbally in a game of make-believe" (394). And Walton links this mimetic make-believe to childhood games in which the children decide, say, to pretend that all stumps are bears. The stumps are "props," and props may be defined as "generators of fictional truths, things which, by virtue of their nature or existence, make propositions fictional" (37).25 In this game, if I see a stump, I may assert, "There's a bear." If there is a stump, my assertion is true (i.e., fictional) within the boundaries of the game. "Representational works of art are props also" (38). It is, for example, only because of the words constituting Macbeth that fictionally Macbeth asks, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood/Clean from my hand?" (2.2.57-58). As to performance, Walton suggests, "in the case of Macbeth peculiarities of a particular performance -- costumes, gestures, inflections -- enjoin imaginings in addition to those prescribed by the work, so the performance is a prop also" (51, n. 32). "Props generate fictional truths independently of what anyone does or does not imagine" (38).
And, further, it is "the function of a representation to be used as a prop in certain sorts of games. Function in this case might be thought of as a matter of there being rules or conventions about how the work is to be used. Appreciators are supposed to play certain sorts of games with the work [and not others]. And these are games whose players are subject to prescriptions, deriving from rules of the games and the nature of the work, to imagine certain propositions -- those that are fictional in the work. So we can say that what is fictional in the work is what appreciators of it . . . are to imagine" (60-61). In the case of representations, "there are meta-rules, constituting the works' functions, which prescribe the playing of certain sorts of games, and these games have their own prescriptions based on conditional rules conjoined with the works serving as props" (61).
Walton further attempts to distinguish between "games authorized for works of fiction" (406) and "unofficial games" (408). Authorized games are "games of the sort it is the function of a representation to serve in . . . . Whether or not a game is authorized is a matter of what principles of make-believe are operative in it" (397). Although Walton does not broach the idea of authorial intention, the word "authorized" suggests that authorized games are those endorsed by the author. But Walton seems to locate intention within the mimetic representation, suggesting that games are authorized by principles of make-believe operating in the work itself. And, of course, we sophisticated appreciators wonder how this can be. Unofficial games, in contrast, are those not sanctioned by a representational work: "Comparisons between characters in different works can be thought of as contributions to unofficial games . . . " (407). Walton finds nothing intrinsically wrong with unofficial games, though they may be silly (406).26
I like very much Walton's theory that mimetic representations are props for games of make-believe, and that we readers are active participants in the pretense. As the children pretend that the stump is a bear, so we pretend that Hamlet is a prince of Denmark (and has feet). But the children, of course, make up the rules of their game; they communicate those rules to each other by word of mouth, and then fight about all the infractions. Unfortunately, authors do not generally begin their works with lists and explanations of meta-rules, rules, conditional rules, conventions, and prescriptions, for the specific games that we "appreciators" are supposed to play with their works. Walton does not take into account that rules, conventions, and prescriptions are sites of conflict, not of universal agreement. Your convention is my bone of contention. Walton does not adequately address the problem of plural response.
Walton's assertion that "Props generate fictional truths independently of what anyone does or does not imagine" (38, my emphasis) seems to be an overt assertion that texts can "generate" truths in the absence of a reader.27 Further, for Walton, the principles seem to be capable of operating within the game even when there is no player. And, perhaps, this is the bottom line: Walton's mimetic games play themselves, and he does not take into account the real world of less than perfect players who have a less than perfect grasp of any rules and conventions, and who substitute ad hoc decisions for authorized prescriptions -- if indeed there are fully articulated rules and conventions as well as authorized prescriptions.
Nevertheless, I would like to retain Walton's basic idea, that interpreting literary character is a game of make-believe and pretense. In this game, we pretend that literary characters -- words on a page, or actors on a stage -- are real people. We make believe that they have all the attributes that we ascribe to humans, including agency, interiority, psychological density, and (often) a full complement of human attributes and failings.
However, instead of having rules and prescriptions dictated to us by author or text, we "appreciators" unofficially (in Walton's term) appropriate them from others and/or substitute our own. As evidence, I quote Harry Berger: "in the case of a fictional speaker, a dramatist persona, I submit that even with a strong reading like that of Barber and Wheeler [The Whole Journey], reliance on the Freudian perspective and the epigenetic model elicits forms of explanation that are [in Berger's judgment] inappropriate, untestable, arbitrary, and, above all, antipolitical in the sense indicated by Lisa Lowe [Kenyon Review 8, no. 4 (1981)] when she argues that they divert attention from present (as opposed to past) sources of conflict, anxiety, and fantasy inscribed 'within the language of the play' and circulating through its community" (220). Berger seems to have a political ax to grind, and he finds Lacan's "paradigm" (243) a better whetstone that Freud's. Berger may use Shakespeare's scripts as props for his "game," but the rules and prescriptions he takes from other sources. And, I submit, this is the common practice of literary critics and theorists.
I am not at all suggesting that game playing is a trivial pursuit, but I am arguing that when we interpret literary character from words on a page or screen we are playing a kind of game, a cultural game, if you will. Of course, critics have challenged this position, pointing out perceived differences between reading a text and playing a game. Narrative is linear, and there is a strong supposition that readers will start at the beginning and read linearly through a text. It is sometimes argued that play is structured less schematically than a text, and that the reader has less freedom than the ordinary game player. But readers as players are only partially constrained by their playing field, the book. Once readers have read the book linearly, they can consider the book synoptically or globally, and move freely over the field of interpretive play.
In his seminal study Huizinga emphasizes the play elements in human culture, and points out the importance of play in our lives. But the question still remains: Why do we and other mammals feel the urge to play, to make-believe, to pretend, to double-think? We pretend that literary characters have the full panoply of human emotions and possibilities, and yet we know full well that they don't, that characters are merely words on a page. What needs, what drives does play satisfy in the lives of mammals? I think of Montaigne playing with his cat, and wondering who is playing with whom.
1 Sarah Caudwell, The Sibyl in her Grave (New York: Delacorte, 2000): 236.
2 Thomasson discusses this issue at length. See esp. Chapters 8-10.
3 Norman Holland issues the following challenges: 1) For those who think a text imposes on its readers a response (such as an author's concept of a character), please describe a psychological process, preferably a neuropsychological process, by which this takes place. 2) For those of you who think a text has characters or other "content" (especially, a content in which there can be "gaps"), please state where this content is physically located. (PSYART Sun, 6 Feb 2000 17:21:58 -0500)
4 Walton 409, quoting "Parable of Cervantes and the Quixote." Borges 315.
5 See Monk 166-167 for a brief account of Russell's disagreement with Meinong.
6 Russell, Thomasson (105), and Eco understand that an easy answer to the ontological status of literary characters is context. I.e., in the context of Shakespeare's play script Hamlet, readers of the play script accept Hamlet as the prince of Denmark. In the context of Danish history, informed historians do not accept Hamlet as a sixteenth century Danish prince. Russell and others refuse to accept this answer. Norman Holland writes: "I once got an interesting answer to the question of literary characters as real from someone in the Chomsky group--Morris Halle, perhaps. Anyway, the suggestion was that literary characters are the same as real people except that they do not allow where-phrases. That is, the question, Where is Bill Clinton these days?, makes sense. The question, Where is Hamlet these days?, does not (unless one is referring not to the character but to performances of the play)." (PSYART@LISTS.UFL.EDU Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 15:12:09 -0500).
7 See David Willbern's assessment (12).
8 Contrast Joel Fineman: "the poet of the 'perjur'd eye' is now inhabited, because he speaks his novel speech of representation, by the presence of his absence. . . ; he is continually haunted, as he experiences and responds to the literary belatedness that he himself creates, by the ghost or shade of his ideal vision of himself" (298). Fineman's "person of the poet" is, I assume, not Shakespeare, but words in a text. Fineman's "account of a subjectivity precipitated by the paradoxical relationship of language to vision" (44) is interesting as textual analysis, but questionable as history.
9 Although there are "no persons," there are dramatic persons, as well as masks and a speaking text. Berger has either not carefully considered his metaphors, or he is suggesting that texts are not entirely inert, that in some sense a text is animate and can be said to "speak." My colleague Marty Wechselbatt suggests that the "speaking text" is a metaphor that derives from the recording industry. Books-on-Tape allow us to imagine that books actively read themselves.
10 Berel Lang argues that "we find a pattern of causality in dramatic or fictional emplotment that closely resembles causal pattern in . . . everyday life" (168). Lang suggests that readers take this similarity as an axiom of literary texts, and, thus, we assume that Hamlet has two grandmothers, etc. tually, Knights partially misquotes the passage: "it may to be fit to consider."
11 I realize, of course, that the concept of general rules of human behavior is, at the present, generally denied by those who think correctly. It is now a general rule that human behavior is culture specific. A more general question is: are there general rules that may be derived from the careful (not to say scientific, of course) observation of other animal species? See Brown passim for human universals.
12 The concept of literary characters as "probable human beings" is contested because fictional worlds are not complete, and therefore not probable. Needless to say, this is an oversimplification.
13 Knights, of course, did not see Shakespeare's scripts as formally closed and/or wholly autonomous. He asserts: "A consideration of Shakespeare's use of language demands a consideration of the reading and listening habits of his audience"(20).
14 William Ray Haynes points out (privately) that material consequences of Napoleon's life are still extant, and, in this way, Napoleon is different from the textual Hamlet.
15 Regarding his use of fictional character in The Name of the Rose, Eco writes: "when I put Jorge in the library I did not yet know he was the murderer. He acted on his own, so to speak. And it must not be thought that this is an 'idealistic' position, as if I were saying that the characters have an autonomous life and the author, in a kind of trance, makes them behave as they themselves direct him. That kind of nonsense belongs in term papers. The fact is that the characters are obligated to act according to the laws of the world in which they live. In other words, the narrator is the prisoner of his own premises" (Postscript 28).
16 Alternately, Bradley's statement might be read as deterministic, indicating that literary characters lack free will, which, of course, they do since they are controlled by a writer.
17 Sinfield writes: "Olivia does not think of herself as experiencing lesbian attraction--she believes she is in love with the young man Cesario. . . . I shall try to take seriously what Olivia says -- which is that she wants neither a lesbian relationship nor marriage to a man like Orsino. . . . Olivia wants a man who is not too masculine" (67-68). Did Olivia really confide to Alan that she doesn't want a lesbian relationship, but wants a man just like you-know-who? L. C. Knights might opine that "regarding Shakespeare's persons as 'friends for life' . . . is responsible for most of the vagaries that serve as Shakespeare criticism."
18 In his essay, Sinfield freely uses "subjectivity," "interiority," and "consciousness" as synonyms.
19 I assume that Sinfield uses "essentialism" to indicate a doctrine that rejects relativism, contingency, and contextuality. An essentialist would or might argue that certain universal truths or human rights are self-evident -- in the Jeffersonian or Enlightenment manner. Nevertheless, within a specific context, some specific things appear to be essentially true, e.g., homo sapiens are genetically related to the anthropoid apes, but have a hard time accepting their apehood. Anti-essentialists seem, on the one hand, to minimize the physical demands of the genetic code, and, on the other, to reject the cultural or perhaps metaphysical claims of gender. A person's conscious or subconscious belief in human exceptionalism may be as pernicious to her or his clear thinking as essentialism.
20 Sinfield goes on to say: "This way of talking would not suppose that performances attempted an unbroken illusionistic frame" (62), an unqualified comment that genuinely puzzles me. Certainly, nineteenth century performances attempted this kind of complete illusionist frame, but perhaps Sinfield is speculating about early modern acting practices, or possibly about what ought to be attempted in the performance of Shakespeare's plays. If Shakespeare's script were written to suggest "a continuous or developing interiority" in certain characters, why would a broken "illusionistic frame" be preferred? Possibly Sinfield is hinting that Shakespeare used or ought to have used an early version of Brecht's alienation effect, that the fictional world of the play should be overtly penetrated by the real world.
21 Sinfield does not address the problem of distinguishing between a character who lacks "an essential unity" and a character who is "a disjointed sequence of positions."
22 Since literary characters do not have subjectivies, how can this 'major discursive formation' tell us anything about the constitution of subjectivity? Nichol 338-39, and Altick 55.
23 Maus writes: "Elizabethan and Jacobean models of personal inwardness . . . are not simply identical to currently available paradigms, but they are not wholly alien either" (213). Renaissance models emphasize "the disparity between what a person is and what he or she seems to be to other people" (210).
24 Vickers 140-144 offers a brief synopsis of Walton's position.
25 "To call a proposition fictional amounts to saying only that it is 'true in some fictional world or other'" (Walton 35, my italics).
26 Contrast Huizinga who calls play "a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious,' but as the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means" (13). Caillois offers a brilliant critique and elaboration of Huizinga's work. See esp. 3-79, et passim.
27 I confronted Walton about his textual animism when he was at the University of Cincinnati in 1993, and he refused to take my point. Or, rather, he took my point, but couldn't see that it is relevant to his arguments. Possibly he sees textual animism as an authorized literary game that doesn't need to be defended. But in this case, his argument would be circular since his evidence would be implicated in what he wishes to prove, i.e., the game theory of mimetic art.
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Received: January 1, 2005, Published: August 25, 2005. Copyright © 2005 W. L. Godshalk