Thursday, August 26, 2010

Literary Theory & Conjecture

Every academic discipline has its share of debatable theories, to keep scholars on their proverbial toes. Physics has dark matter, which is theorized to exist in order to make gravitational models make sense. Historians talk about a theoretical Siberian/Alaskan land-bridge, which may have allowed ancient Asians to have settled the Americas and spawn, what we know as, Native American cultures. Mathematicians have Number Theory, which I can’t begin to summarize. Likewise, the realm of literature and writing owns its share of theories and debatable ideas.

I remember sitting in my creative writing class, at OSU, as our gray ponytail wearing professor explained that westerns are actually homo-erotic fantasies in disguise, the horse supposedly being a literary substitute for a male sexual lover. He was earnest in his conviction too, this is how things were. He was a professor, and he was professing the truth to us. He’s not alone in this belief, which was recently energized by a certain Heath Ledger film. Such theorists have pointed at the film and said, “Told ya so,” as if Annie Proulx had somehow let the cat out of the bag.

Equally steadfast in their convictions are the Oxfordians, Baconians, Marlovians, and Derbyites, who insist that William Shakespeare lacked the education necessary to produce the body of work which has been attributed to him. Not only will they tell you that Edward de Vere (17th Earl of Oxford), Sir Francis Bacon, dramatist Christopher Marlowe, and/or William Stanley (6th Earl of Derby) wrote the works, they’ll tell you that mainstream literary minds ONLY dispute the claim because they have a financial interest in promoting the collection as a single body of work.

Both theories have their fervent supporters and nay sayers. I have no doubt that some frustrated homosexual authors wrote westerns in order to express themselves without being lynched. Literature has a long tradition of metaphor and allegory, which could only be recognized by “those in the know.” Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm are superb, if obvious, examples of writers saying something without actually saying it.

Surely an oppressed population, such as 19th & 20th century gays, needed such a vehicle to express themselves. However, it doesn’t logically follow that westerns, across the board, are a form of gay literature. Louie L’Amour’s Sackett saga, was comprised of straight forward tales of settling the west. True Dime Novels and Story Papers were pretty one dimensional publications, written to whet people’s appetite for the west. A good portion of westerns are little more than good versus evil morality plays, with little, if any, room for hidden meaning.

As for the Shakespeare theory, Oxfordians, and others, maintain that without a formal education, William Shakespeare wouldn’t have known about the customs and habits of the aristocracy. I don’t find his lack of a documented formal education to be a compelling argument though. Setting aside the fact that home schooling has been around forever, the fact is that he was an actor. As such, his troop would’ve been invited into a variety of estates, where he would have been able to observe the upper class first had. Remember, these weren’t high brow plays when they were written. These were tales of violence, murder, and sexual intrigue which were written to appeal to a broad audience. They were the 90210 of their day.

Keep in mind as well, most of these plays painted royalty and the upper class as being jealous, selfish, and conniving. Lady Macbeth killed anyone she perceived to be a threat to her husband’s power. Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, killed his own brother to steal his wife and throne. Othello couldn’t trust his wife enough to believe her claims of fidelity. Richard III was a tyrant pure and simple. Such a dark portrait of the ruling class is hardly a picture an Earl, or other member of the aristocracy, would wish to paint. Such a view would have been more likely to come from a disgruntled commoner.

Unless we find a cache of diaries, most literary questions will never be resolved. That’s OK though. Whether or not one man wrote all of “Shakespeare’s works” doesn’t really matter. It’s still a single body of work, which has inspired multiple writers over the years. As for what’s in a writer’s mind when they write a piece, we’ll never really know that either. Again, it doesn’t matter. Art is subjective. Once a writer publishes a piece, it belongs to the reader. The reader will attribute meaning to it, based on their own set of beliefs, thoughts, and experiences, which is as it should be.

No comments:

Post a Comment