Friday, March 05, 2010

Hugh H. Grady, Instituting Shakespeare: Hegemony and Tillyard's Historical Criticism

Hugh H. Grady, Instituting Shakespeare: Hegemony and Tillyard’s Historical Criticism, in Assays; Critical Approaches to Medieval and Renaissance Texts, Peggy A. Knapp, Ed., University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1989.

But there is also a sufficiently large body of criticism based on Tillyardian themes and methods to document a very considerable influence beyond his contribution to various attempted syntheses in the fifties and sixties. / And then—let 1970 be the approximate date when the tide began to change—Tillyard was not only challenged; he was pilloried. As Pechter put it in 1980, ‘it appears that contemporary critical opinion has turned against Tillyard with something approaching unanimity’ (p.212) (38)

Such a discussion is now underway through the work of a number of recent critics, both American and British: Francis Mulhern, Jonathan Dollimore, Alan Sinfield, Graham Holderness, Stephen Greenblatt, Jonathan Goldberg, and James Kavanagh, for example. The discussion of Tillyard, however, has been essentially a British affair, with the result that Tillyard’s considerable influence in America has been largely ignored and, what is perhaps more important, some theoretical implications of that influence unexamined. (38)

I argue that while Tillyard’s criticism certainly contributed to the structure of domination of British wartime and postwar society, it also, like any other cultural document, present multivalent possibilities and functions which come into view particularly when the Gramscian notion of cultural “hegemony” is employed in the analysis. In this connection I underline the important links of Tillyard’s works with certain currents in Anglo-American modernism, currents which ‘seeped through,’ as they inevitably must, Tillyard’s surface historicism. There are even examples of Tillyard’s work being used for antiestablishment purposes, although the much more important development, which I discuss by way of a conclusion, is the attempted development of an anti-Tillyard ‘counterhegemony,’ beginning about 1970, an effort with much promise but unresolved problems of its own. (39)

…the idea of hegemony developed after World War I by the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci is crucial, I believe, to an understanding of events such as the ups and downs of Tillyard’s influence. Like so many of Marx’s twentieth-century interpreters, Gramsci wanted to reconceptualize Marxism with none of the Engels-inspired economic determinism with which Marx was—and of course still is in many instances—associated. (39-40)

In the West, class domination was conceived by Gramsci as accomplished not primarily by coercive state power, but instead through complexly mediated class alliances of political parties and by the shaping of consciousness at an individual level through structures of domination which, however, could be overcome through praxis. The resulting political and cultural patterns constitutive of the apparently consensual domination of modern society Gramsci called ‘hegemony,’ in contrast to the more direct ‘rule’—based much more on coercion—of, say, czarist Russia. Hegemony, as Raymond Williams has argued, is thus a very powerful concept which overcomes many of the weaknesses of ‘classical’ Marxism’s base-superstructure model of culture by posting a dynamic system of changing relations of lived experience which impose social structure and domination on individuals, but which can be challenged and changed through the struggles of everyday life. ‘Hegemony’ allows us to conceptualize cultural practices like literary criticism as both related to larger social practice but with their own autonomous, internal dynamics and rules. Within a smaller sphere of culture like Shakespeare criticism, we can also use the term to get at the shifting influences and interrelations of the various critical methods at a given historical conjuncture, and in that sense speak, as I have above, of a period of ‘hegemony’ of Tillyard’s criticism within Shakespeare studies. More importantly, however, we can describe the phase of the rise of Tillyard’s influence in terms of its contributions to the construction of a new hegemony in the properly Gramscian sense, the precipitous decline as a series of challenges to that hegemony—what Gramsci sometimes called the attempt to construct counterhegemony. (40)

Before getting into the specifics of this double process, however, a word of warning is no doubt in order. Built into the Gramscian categories is a kind of political morality play, in which hegemony is the enemy, counterhegemony the desired outcome of the politically virtuous [40] … That Tillyard’s writing figured in a broader structure of social dominations in Great Britian (and to a lesser extent in the United States) has, at this point, I believe, been well established (see below). That this function exhausts the meaning or impact of Tillyard’s writing or that challenges to it are automatically preferable are both assertions to be denied. Instead of writing a new morality play, my attempt instead is to study Tillyard’s influence as a case through which to see the complex workings of the social processes of contemporary literary criticism within the larger society. (41)

…Graham Holderness’s recent Shakespeare’s History… Holderness elaborates and further defines these insights, rightly situating Tillyard’s theory of the Tudor Myth from Shakespeare’s History Plays in the culture of wartime Britian alongside of two other notable instances of similar inspiration—G. Wilson Knight’s explicitly patriotic The Olive and the Sword and Olivier’s production of Henry V. (41)

Robert Ornstein’s 1972 broad attack of the historical critcism epitomized by Tillyard. Ornstein noted in particular a thinly disguised celebration of the idea and tradition of the British monarchy, of the supreme importance of national unity, and of the need for order against the rabble. (41)

Nevertheless, Tillyard’s reading of the Henry IV plays as enacting the triumph of the value of order over the social chaos represented by Falstaff is in retrospect clearly a product of the overriding need for national unity of the war years. Tillyard himself seemed to recognize the connection in an aside that is otherwise undeveloped: (41)

…as H. A. Kelly has demonstrated, Tillyard’s use of Hall’s Chronicles of the Union of the Two Noble and Illustr Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1540) as the key to understanding the (as they seem to us) multiple Shakespearean perspectives and unresolved clashes of vision and rhetoric in the overthrow of Richard II and the rise of Henry IV amounted to an unjustifiably selective use of available evidence from Elizabethan historical writings that did scant justice to the complexities either of Tudor historiography or of Shakespeare’s texts. (42)

Anyone who has read in the literature of eighteenth-century Shakespeare criticism with an open eye can scarcely be surprised at a connection between the praise of Shakespeare and the nationalistic celebration of his native land, for the apotheosis of Shakespeare as the great national poet that took place in that period was a decidedly nationalistic and anti-French affair. (43)

However, Tillyard was influential not only in his homeland but conspicuously and decidedly in the burgeoning postwar Shakespeare industry of the United States. This successful transplanting of influence to a different soil, where the specifically patriotic overtones of Shakespeare’s works have never been so important, suggests other dimension to Tillyard’s influence not captured in Holderness’s and others’ analyses. By shifting attention to Tillyard’s influence in North America in the postwar era, we will find it necessary to expand the analysis beyond the directly political and nationalistic factors rightly stressed by Holderness for wartime Britain. (43)

In Tillyard’s account, the enemies of the unformed discipline at postwar Cambridge were two apparent opposites: philology, well established at Cambridge by the turn of the century and a force in the newly established Cambridge English program, and the journalistic practices—what Tillyard called the method of ‘praise and gossip’—practiced by his ally in the fight against philology, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. For Tillyard, however, both approaches trivialized what he considered at the heart of the educational content. The problem was that, at the point at which English was becoming a major part of the modern university curriculum, literary culture had already been institutionalized in these two separate forms: academia and journalism, neither of which proved able to form the basis of a viable curriculum. … To anticipate my argument for a moment, on reason for Tillyard’s enormous influence was that his works embodied in a kind of Elizabethan Compromise between these two contending forces… Well before the Newbolt Report, the first attempts to modernize literary studies attempted to follow the model of the natural sciences through such endeavors as philology and, in America, approaches like E. E. Stoll’s dramatic history of several now forgotten attempts to analyze Shakespeare’s plot structures systematically and rigorously.
In this context, then, the peculiar line of development which Holderness, following Mulhern, saw leading up to Tillyard (Arnold to the Newbolt Report to Leavis) must be seen as, in the terms of Raymond Williams, the attempt of culture to answer society, and not, as it threatens to become in Holderness, a ruling-class ruse to pacify the masses. (46)

Tillyard’s criticism, then, should be seen as representing a peculiar balancing point, a kind of via media between the opposing trends of professionalism and the older cultural tradition. To pursue the analogy with the Tudor reformation for a moment longer, we might consider Leavis’s Scrutiny to represent a kind of insurgent Puritan Protestantism within the forces of culture, while the older philological and technical approaches represented he old creed, which Tillyard, for all his latitudinarianism, could no longer countenance. In the historical method which he borrowed from American developers, Tillyard saw the possibilities of a cultural Elizabethan Compromise that, indeed, formed the basis for a new hegemony for a generation, as had its historical original. His historical method satisfied the need for disciplinary content by providing a body of knowledge other than skill in explication of texts, but it avoided the ‘aridity’ of, say, Stoll’s theatrical history or of classical philology, by virtue of an aesthetic dimension that derived from Tillyard’s affiliation with the cultural tradition. It was this latter quality in particular, I believe, that gave The Elizabethan World Picture its enormous influence, even beyond the obvious appeals of its professionalism and its pedagogical utility, particularly in America, where, as I have noted, the specifically nationalistic quality of Tillyard’s works on the histories was not influential. (48-49)

This aesthetic dimension, in a paradoxical way—given the overt historicist and even antiquarian veneer of Tillyard’s writing—is, I believe, essentially modernist. Tillyard’s concepts of the Elizabethan world picture and of Tudor Myth would never have been so influential without the antiromantic revolution in taste and aesthetic criteria associated with the modernism of T. S. Eliot. (49)

To be sure, Eliot’s Tradition is not the same thing as Tillyard’s Elizabethan world picture. Eliot seems to have in mind a cultural continuum defined by a kind of pantheon from Homer to the present. But Eliot prepares his readers for a Tillyardian reading of Shakespeare by decisively shifting attention away from the idea of the poet as an individual genius to the idea of an impersonal poet whose mid is a ‘medium’ (p. 53) for ‘something which is more valuable’ (pp. 52-53) than the poet’s merely subjective personality. (49)

While Tillyard has not given over the idea of Shakespeare originality, he has qualified that originality heavily and made of his author a spokesman for Tudor orthodoxy, a move that is made much easier after Eliot’s writing. (50)

Of course, I would not wish to deny that Tillyard’s notion of the world picture articulates with some adequacy a prevailing part of the hegemonic culture of Elizabethan England. Tillard’s model has some historical adequacy, although it is surely one-sided and fails to take note of counterhegemonic tendencies as they are manifest both in historical documents and in Shakespeare’s plays. To put it bluntly, in a formulation a number of critics have anticipated, Tillyard mistook a ruling-class ideology—Tudor propaganda, if you will—which sought to impose on a tradition-minded and resistant island kingdom a new authoritarian monarchy—for the ‘organic’ philosophy of a unitary culture. But even granting this level of historical adequacy to Tillyard’s reconstructions, I would argue that to force of the appeal of his works was largely aesthetic. The Elizabethan world picture, with its multiple interconnected and corresponding orders, its unification of man, nature, and God, and of the cosmic, the political, and the psychological, is described by Tillyard in both works I am discussing with barely repressed delight and admiration. (51)

Thus, in the fifties and sixties, Tillyard’s hegemony within Shakespeare studies—if I may depart from the properly Gramscian sense of the term for a moment—was challenged, not by the plurality of discourses that were often thought to be in contention, but by what amounted to a single alternative critical paradigm that we can conveniently call ‘New Critical’ because its most salient feature, the recognition of ambiguity as a formal aesthetic property of the plays, is a well-known feature of New Critical theory. (54)

Around 1970, however—doubtless under the impact of the Vietnam era and the insurgency which marked the late sixties and early seventies in both American and British universities—a fundamental change begins to occur: a paradigm shift of a sort begins. One of the earliest harbingers of the new paradigm was an essay written in 1966 (but published posthumously in 1969) by Sigurd Burckhardt, …arguing that there was no unified, totalistic Elizabethan world picture which united Tudor and Shakespearean conceptions in some grand scheme. Instead, Buckhardt argued, ‘Shakespeare…discovered that the … golden unity of the Elizabethan world picture was in truth a lethal mixture of two mutually inconsistent and severally inadequate models of succession.’ In this insistence on clash and disparity which cannot be reduced to unity, we have the first sounding of a truly postmodernist, protodeconstructionist Shakespearean criticism; (55)


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