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01 August 2008 @ 01:09 pm
I am all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers too  
I'm currently reading an article from Shakespeare Quarterly 51:2 (2000), "Deaths in the Family: The Loss of a Son and the Rise of Shakespearean Comedy" by Richard P. Wheeler. As one could probably guess from the title, it's about how the death of Hamnet might have influenced Shakespeare's writing of the comedies, and arguing that the separation between Shakespeare's life and his works is fairly arbitrary when most other types of historical information are considered to be a fair basis for interpretation. I have yet to finish it, so I'm not sure how convinced I feel, or what makes this criticism and not biography, but I admit to being sort of charmed by the old-fashioned question being asked here: "Are there ways of bringing a sense of Shakespeare's particular life closer to the work? The death of Hamnet seems likely to have affected the person who wrote the plays deeply--did it also affect the plays he wrote? How? How would we know?" (140)

This is aided, I'm sure, by the fact that I've been totally fascinated by Hamnet since I first learned of his existence. (As with many things about me, this can be explained by the fact that Twelfth Night is my favorite play.) Hamnet's existence is fertile ground for fiction: the "Midsummer" issue of Sandman; My Father Had a Daughter by Grace Tiffany (a book that irked me almost solely because I am *very* protective of the Judith I've constructed in my head); mentions in things like King of Shadows and "The Shakespeare Code" (both of which, like Joyce, play on the similarity of the names Hamlet and Hamnet). I've been smitten with the Folger Shakespeare Library since the day I found out that their online catalog is named HamNET. And I once tried to write a story about Judith after Hamnet died--which was clunky and horrible, but the point is that I'm having a really hard time separating my love of the imaginative possibilities of this particular biographical detail from my evaluation of the article itself. The perils of reading about things you're too close to, I suppose.

It seems that Twelfth Night gets a little leeway, though--gets to bend the "no biography" rule a bit more. Jonathan Bate puts the presence of Hamnet and Judith up front in his introduction to the play in the RSC Shakespeare, and alongside the useful discussion of source materials and John Manningham's diary, Stanley Wells and Roger Warren suggest in their introduction to the Oxford edition that Shakespeare might have been attracted to the material, and given it more depth, because of his twins. I'm wondering whether I would find the same thing in other criticism of the play (I can't think of any right now, but it's not like I have instant and perfect recall of all the TN criticism I've ever read), or if this is limited to (only acceptable in?) introductions.

...Oh, Twelfth Night, I do adore you. I can't *teach* you, mind, because even thinking about you makes me too giddy, and I can't explain why I adore you in the first place... "Because of everything" doesn't really do, and all my other answers tend to be fragmentary lists of words and phrases, like, "Viola is lyrical even while she's practical," or "the play is melancholy even while it's festive." I suppose it's about the mingling of opposites, not just the juxtaposition of them--everything actually contains its opposite, rather than just being opposed to it or existing alongside it. Sebastian is "both maid and man," for example, and Viola/Cesario is a true hybrid--"in standing water," as Malvolio notices--in a way that Rosalind never is as Ganymede. I think Feste picks up on this: "Anything that's mended is but patched," and the patches of different material become a part of the original whole. And it's a play that reminds us of clock time, real time, the time that hastens us toward our grave (as the priest notes in 5.1); but it's still a play that holds out hope of "golden time," reunion, and resurrection.

...Plus it's got cross-dressing. :)