Saturday, September 19, 2009

Compatible Quotes

“Whether the Shakespeares were recusants, Protestant, or `church papists,’ who conformed outwardly to the Anglican church while remaining Catholics in their hearts, the balance of probability is that William Shakespeare’s own instincts and inheritance were cautious, traditional, respectable, suspicious of change. We may as well say conservative.”

–-Jonathan Bate, Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare, page 66

“To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise.”

–-Michael Oakeshott, “On Being Conservative”


Ciara said...

I'll run these up the flagpole, just for the heck of it. (1) I doubt very much that Shakespeare was a conservative. His work seems to me to shout otherwise. (2) Michael Oakshott's words invariably make me want to hurl. (3) Patrick Kurp's writing does not generally have that effect on me at all. Quite the contrary.

Ms Baroque said...

Ah, but Bate isn't talking about William Shakespeare. He's talking about the Shakespeares as a family. Shakespeare's father was an alderman of the town.

I think "make me want to hurl" is rather an unfortunate phrase. It's pointless, ugly, antithetical to thought, and personally insulting, in this case, to Oakeshott - a philosopher I'm willing to bet Ciara never knew personally.

The addition of "invariably" is an even more unfortunate addition.

Vomit why? Because they're badly written? Because you disagree? But why should you agree with everything? Or read only things you agree with?

Is it worth pointing out that Oakeshott's essay is about character? It is largely self-portrait, of course. It is a discusison of an abstract principle, and how it manifests in different ways. Character, politics, ideals. In describing a character type - and many people not of this type possess some of its traits - he is also opening a conversation with the reader.

Shakespeare's genius, of course, was to show us how the traits are not the man, how people are made of contradiction.

Oakeshott also, interestingly, says this:

"Everybody's young days are a dream, a delightful insanity, a sweet solipsism. Nothing in them has a fixed shape, nothing a fixed price; everything is a possibility, and we live happily on credit. There are no obligations to be observed; there are no accounts to be kept. Nothing is specified in advance; everything is what can be made of it. The world is a mirror in which we seek the reflection of our own desires... We are not apt to distinguish between our liking and our esteem; urgency is our criterion of importance; and we do not easily understand that what is humdrum need not be despicable. We are impatient of restraint; and we readily believe, like Shelley, that to have contracted a habit is to have failed. These, in my opinion, are among our virtues when we are young... Since life is a dream, we argue (with plausible but erroneous logic) that politics must be an encounter of dreams, in which we hope to impose our own. Some unfortunate people, like Pitt (laughably called "the Younger"), are born old, and are eligible to engage in politics almost in their cradles; others, perhaps more fortunate, belie the saying that one is young only once, they never grow up. But these are exceptions. For most there is what Conrad called the "shadow line" which, when we pass it, discloses a solid world of things, each with its fixed shape, each with its own point of balance, each with its price; a world of fact, not poetic image, in which what we have spent on one thing we cannot spend on another; a world inhabited by others besides ourselves who cannot be reduced to mere reflections of our own emotions..."


Thanks Patrick.

ceci n'est pas mon nom said...

I like your blog for its erudition and certain of its partisanships (Geoffrey Hill, eg) but this is just a scandalous cut and paste, what are you trying to suggest? Not one tedious member of Oakeshott's depressing list applies even in the least degree to Shakespeare's oeuvre, otherwise why would we read it? The best definition of the conservative is one who seeks out (and believes he finds) the confirmation (=conservation) rather than infirmation of his prejudices (=belief that his way of conceiving the world captures it in fact), and no such character in Shakespeare prospers (textually), at least none I can think of (unless we take the oeuvre's quintessential representative to be Polonius).