Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Do you need to visit Italy to write "The Merchant of Venice"?

One of the more famous twentieth-century theories of non-Stratfordian authorship of the works of Shakespeare holds that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford and one-time protege of Queen Elizabeth the First, wrote the works instead.

One part of that controversy that may be well suited for the discussion of contradictions is the claim that the frequent setting of Shakespeare's plays in Italy is an indication of a travelled man that had visited that region. Founder of the Oxfordian theory, J. Thomas Looney, wrote:
[The author of the Merchant of Venice, RCK] knew Italy first hand and was touched with the life and the spirit of the country. 
(Wikipedia notes that this claim had also been used to support the authorship candidacy of the Earl of Rutland and the Earl of Darby, who had also travelled the European continent.)
Oxfordian William Farina refers to Shakespeare's apparent knowledge of the Jewish ghetto, Venetian architecture and laws in The Merchant of Venice, especially the city's 'notorious Alien Statute'. 
There is evidence that De Vere lived in and traveled in Italy for over a year. He was there when writing to Lord Burghley Sept 24, 1575, though he disparages Italy and "care not ever to see it anymore" in that letter. De Vere departed Venice in March of 1576. The Venetian Inquisition received testimony of De Vere's fluency in Italian. Oxfordian Anderson argues that Oxford
... visited Venice, Padua, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Florence, Siena and Naples, and probably passed through Messina, Mantua and Verona, all cities used as settings in Shakespeare.
In contra-indication, Shakespearian scholars have pointed out:

  • As far as The Merchant of Venice is concerned, "the play itself knows nothing about the Venetian ghetto; we get no sense of a legally separate region of Venice where Shylock must dwell" (Kenneth Gross)
  • Similarly, the setting is described as "a nonrealistic Venice" and the laws invoked by Portia as part of the "imaginary world of the play" inconsistent with then-existing legal practice (Scott McCrea)
  • The Alien Statute bears little resemblance to any Italian Law (Charles Ross). 
  • Lewes Lewknor's 1599 English translation of Gasparo Contarini's The Commonwealth and Government of Venice provides details on Venice's laws and customs that Shakespeare could have used in Othello, for example.
  • The Italian scholar John Florio, who lived in England and was consulted by Ben Johnson for Italian details for Volpone, published two books, First Fruits (1578) and Second Fruits (1591), the latter a bilingual introduction to Italian Language and and culture, which have been suggested as the origin of Italian idioms and dialogue (e.g. in The Taming of the Shrew) by Kier Elam and Jason Lawrence. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

An Early Akkadian Historical Argument

I have often felt that the initiation rite that Gilgamesh does not pass in Tablet XI of the standard Akkadian version (right after the flood narrative of Utanapishtim) of the Epic is one of the earliest historical arguments that we have (ca 1200BC, from the Library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh). It is unclear to me whether the older Babylonian versions contained this section.

The context of the story is the challenge that the "Akkadian Noah" Utanapishtim gives to Gilgamesh to show that he is worthy of eternal life; he must not fall asleep for a week. Utanapishtim and his unnamed wife had earlier received, as an exception, immortality from Enlil, because they had overheard the secrets of the Gods; cf. L190ff.
(L198) [Utanapishtim said:] "Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
that you may find the life that you are seeking!
Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights."
soon as he [Gilgamesh] sat down (with his head) between his legs
sleep, like a fog, blew upon him. 
Gilgamesh falls asleep immediately, and Utanapishtim complains to his wife that Gilgamesh failed, but she asks for mercy, that he may wake up and return home. 
(L202) Utanapishtim said to his wife:
"Look there! The man, the youth who wanted (eternal) life!
Sleep, like a fog, blew over him."
His wife said to Utanapishtim the Faraway:
"Touch him, let the man awaken.
Let him return safely by the way he came.
Let him return to his land by the gate through which he left." 
Utanapishtim is concerned that Gilgamesh will deny falling asleep altogether, so he sets up a temporal trap, asking his wife to mark off the days on the wall and place fresh loaves of bread next to him.
(L208) Utanapishtim said to his wife:
"Mankind is deceptive, and will deceive you.
Come, bake loaves for him and keep setting them by his head
and draw on the wall each day that he lay down."
She baked his loaves and placed them by his head
and marked on the wall the day that he lay down.
The first loaf was dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist(?), the fourth turned white,
its ..., the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh. [...]"
One suspects that the earlier version had just marks on the wall, and the later version then fixed the fact that the marks show no temporal progression per se, but could be made together. This is independently interesting, if my suspicions are correct.
(L218) The seventh--suddenly he touched him and the man awoke.
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim:
"The very moment sleep was pouring over me
you touched me and alerted me!"
As Utanapishtim predicted, Gilgamesh tries to deny it by claiming that he ad been sleeping for just a moment (i.e. was not really asleep yet). But the evidence makes that story unsupportable.
(L222) Utanapishtim spoke to Gilgamesh, saying:
"Look over here, Gilgamesh, count your loaves!
You should be aware of what is marked on the wall!
Your first loaf is dessicated,
the second stale, the third moist, your fourth turned white,
its ...
the fifth sprouted gray (mold), the sixth is still fresh.
The seventh--at that instant you awoke!"
Gilgamesh said to Utanapishtim the Faraway:
"O woe! What shall I do, Utanapishtim, where shall I go!
...."
As far as the translation is concerned, the problem is the rotting away of the bread. E.A. Speiser had "soggy" instead of moist.


Colophon: Tablet XI translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs, electronic version by Wolf Carnahan, line numbers according to ANECT, 3rd edition with Supplement, (pp.95-96).

Disagreements in Wikipedia

I have been tracking disagreements between articles in Wikipedia for a while now, and just found another nice one (though admittedly one of the articles is a stub). I found this while researching this post. The articles are about the Egyptian Pharao Dejdkare Isesi, specifically his daughters, and the man married to one of them, Senedjemib Mehi, who had finished the tomb that the previous post talked about.

While the stub-article on Senedjemib Mehi identifies his wife Khentkaus as either a daughter of Pharao Djedkare Ikesi or Unas, the successor of Djedkare Ikesi, the article on Djedkare Ikesi writes:
Less certain is the filiation of Kentkhaus III, wife of vizier Senedjemib Mehi, who bore the title of "king's daughter of his body".[75][76] It is debated whether this title indicates a true filiation or if it is only honorary.[76][77]
The fascinating part is that the quote draws upon Brovarski's 2001 work, The Senedjemib Complex, p.30 (= Fn 75),  but so does the stub-article on Mehi!

An Old Egyptian historical Argument

In the autobiographical part of his tomb inscription, Vizier Senedjemib Inti of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt, who worked under Pharao Djedkare Isesi, writes:
When it came to pass [Register 4] his majest caused that I be annointed with fat [by the side of his majesty] [Register 5] [Neve]r [was done] the like by the side of the king for anyone. [Register 6] -- James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol 1, #270, p.122.
Given the dating of the Fifth Dynasty, that would put the record between the late 25th and the mid 24th century BC; see here for some of the proposed dates of Djedkare Isesi's reign.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reactions to Schank

In my previous post,  I reviewed Roger Schank's Tell me a Story, New York (Scribener) 1990 (= NWU Press, 1995) as to the problem of how to construct narratives, what constituent pieces are, and especially how to challenge or critique them. Though in the previous post, I mentioned three examples of analysis by Schank, I mostly focused on Tawana Brawley and on Iran Air Flight 655 getting shot down by the USS Vincennes, leaving Canadian Olympic gold-medalist runner Ben Johnson aside.

In musing over my dialogue with Schank, I wanted to offer some preliminary stabilization of my thoughts in terms of some theses to historiography---especially in the aftermath of the political display of revisionist Southern supremacy history in Charlottesville. Some of these are issues that Schank is concerned about and some of them I do not take him to care about.

  1. Schank is right that story skeletons and their selection form an initial stance on the problem that even leads to the filtering of information or adaptation of memories. In fact, if Schank had the benefit of hindsight that we have, he could have pointed to the US Navy's explanation of scenario confirmation offered to the BBC in 2000 for the precise behavior that his story skeletons had predicted in terms of filtering incoming information.
  2. Schank correctly distinguishes between story, skeleton and gist. The story is the actual production of the human talker, targeting the listener. The skeleton is the summary of the basic telos and gives explanation patterns at hand (more of that probably in Schank's prior book on Explanation Patterns). The gist is the cake mix, to use an analogy from cooking, that can be turned into a variety of cakes that all share a distinct family resemblance. Knowledge about what my current guests like and what I have quickly at hand inform the actual execution.
  3. Schank's skeletons provide an easy ingress into his theory for content analysis. The arguments made and the supports advanced and the information elided (if we can reconstruct it) come from the telos of the skeletons that is truly most like a political stance.

  1. Because Schank does not do much with the evidence/story or fact/narrative distinction (possibly because his biases against expert systems and automated theorem proving), he misses out on the ability to postulate that facts are stories for a subculture that no longer can or wishes to treat these stories narratively. They are as if baked, and questioning them can be interpreted as a violation of the norms of the subculture. Even low level sensor readings have these stories behind them, and this holds true even in particle physics (cf Knorr-Czetina), where the individual detectors in a setup such as the CERN super-collider are attributed 'personality' (in a anaphoric sense) because of their non-interchangeable behaviors. Unlike edible cookies however, facts can be unbaked back into stories if there are anomalies, provided the research data is available. Thus, bad footnotes or page references ghost through the literature until some brave grad-student hunts them down and slays them. For many historical documents, that is not possible, and here the community finds the line drawn for it. 
  2. Schank has no locus for the social role of power in the success of narratives, because he does not distinguish the UN Security Council adequately from a US district court or the admiralty of the US Navy. Schank tries to rope this in while looking at the story expectations, but that is really a small aspect of the problem only. His use of made-up stories or divorcee self-reports is equally ill-suited to discover this, as in the first case everyone knows the story is not real (thus there are no real validity requirement or possibility) while in the second case our culture considers it flat-out rude to question people's divorce narratives. 
  3. Schank is handicapped by his focus on the genre newspaper articles and transcript of psychological experiment. He looks a bit at screenplays as well, but never clarifies how the fictional status of these works interacts with the realistic status of the newspaper article or the emotional stance of the transcribed individual.