Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Raymond McDaniel introduces Charles Adams Kelly

Raymond McDaniel introduced Charles Adams Kelly before Kelly's presentation of his book, Echoes and Shadows in the Text of Shakespeare's Hamlet at Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor on October 25. I thought the introduction was so beautiful (and so evocative of the mystery of the received word) that I asked McDaniel if we could publish it here. He graciously gave his permission.

I hope his words will serve as a delicious incentive for you to attend Charles Adams Kelly's appearance at our Oberon meeting -- 7 p.m., January 17 at the Farmington Community Library.

In addition to hosting the reading series at Shaman Drum Bookshop, Raymond McDaniel writes for Fence magazine's The Constant Critic and teaches at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Murder (a violet). His second book of poetry, Saltwater Empire, is forthcoming from Minneapolis based Coffee House Press.

Here is what he said on October 25:

Good evening and welcome. Thank you for coming out tonight to greet Charles Adams Kelly, and congratulate him on the publication of Echoes and Shadows in the Texts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

When you are reading Hamlet, what are you reading? Words, as he himself might reply, words, sir. But to what degree does your knowledge of what you are reading depend on your prior convictions regarding what it must be? The multiplicity of Hamlet as a character is the source of ceaseless exegetical worry, but what if I were to tell you that the space in which the character is housed – literally, the text that allows him – is also not singular?

You need not riddle yourself over the hypothetical implications of this question; Charles has done the work for you, and with a greater degree of zeal and precision than the lay reader can easily recognize. For a bad quarto of Shakespeare offers not just a paleographer’s challenge, but rather challenges the limits of what we can know about the provenance of a text. In meeting this challenge, Charles has performed an astonishing act, one that expresses the rigors of historical, literary, archival, and – most tellingly – deductive scholarship.

Those whose devotion to English language is accidental at best, and whose suspicions of scholarship are devastating at the worst, often cite the storied and legendary difficulties of Shakespearean attribution as proof that all social aspects of literature are fraught, contingent, convenient, incomplete to such a case that any authoritative claim is, in its authority, proof of its own illegitimacy. And then there are those who err on the opposite extreme, and who treat one quarto, folio, performance or interpretation as if it came into being immaculate, singular and complete, unaltered and unalterable. Both of these are easy claims to make, just like it is easy to fight. What is difficult is to build a case from the widest array of facts, and to discern from those facts patterns of likelihood, and to establish thereby the most probable case.

In so doing with this both literary and social documentation, Charles has paid a set of tremendous compliments: to the Bard himself, of course, and also to those under-sung Elizabethan entrepreneurs and functionaries without whom we have so much less than we do, but also to you, the reader, for whom he has taken a potentially fatal uncertainty and made of it a sweet and wholly persuasive cure.

"What is difficult is to build a case from the widest array of facts, and to discern from those facts patterns of likelihood, and to establish thereby the most probable case." -- difficult indeed, but so rewarding!

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