Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I Never Got my PhD

Back in the late middle half of the last century (i.e., 1973-ish) I was actually enrolled in graduate school at a major university in California pursuing a Doctorate in English Literature. But shit happens and I didn't stay long enough in the program to even get my own grad student locking library study carrel or my own willing and nubile teaching assistant.

But I did stumble across a portion of my dissertation the other day when I was cleaning out my garage, and thought I would share it with the literary world.

It wasn't interested, so I am going to foist it off onto you. "Deconstructionism" and "Deep Structure" aren't the lucrative fields of English Literature studies they way they used to have the potential to be, so don't be alarmed if some terms don't seem familiar...

Prefatory Note: "Deconstructionism and Deep Structure Analysis" was a form of literary exegesis that had a brief but bright academic career in the early 1970s, following the publication of "The Greatest English Lyric? -- A New Reading of Joe E. Skilmer's 'Therese'", by Professor John Frederick Nims, which starts out, "I think? That I should never see..."

Deconstructing the Deep Structure of Shakespeare's Hamlet

Everyone is familiar with William Shakespeare's Hamlet -- it can fairly be said that it is his best-known play. But not many people, not even many academics, know the actual history of the composition of the play, that it was written as the result of a barroom bet made between Shakespeare and Lord Francis Notteby, the First Earl of Butterface, after a night of drinking and carousing from public house to public house in central London. The bet was whether Shakespeare could memorialize, in "deep structure", the name of his friend, the "special nature" of their friendship and their night on the town.
Notteby, for the record, was an amateur meteoroligist and later became both the combined perpetrator and ultimate victim of the now-largely-forgotten "Unfortunate Incident of the Trained Cormorant and the Bishop's Wife" (memorialized in Pitt and Pendulum's "Shakespeare's Secret Life", 1922), a scandal that resulted in his total erasure, not only from his earldom but also from any mention of his name in any current and any subsequent editions of Burke's Peerage. It was only through the accidental research of Bangor and Mashe in 1968 ("Hi Ludi F. Baconis: The Evidence of the Shaved Vellum") that the previously carefully-excised-by-barber's-razor pages were found in an old volume of Francis Bacon's notes (Bangor and Mashe, you will recall, successfully proved that William Shakespeare actually wrote all of the works of Francis Bacon, a discovery that set the academic world on its head in 1970, op cit.).
For example, a literary deconstructive/deep structure analysis of Hamlet's famous Soliloquoy (Act III Scene 1) shows a very different understanding of the Bard's intent:

Commonly known version:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

"Deep Structure" interpretation (see notes below)
To beer, Notteby, data's the question;
Weather? Tis no blur in the mind, tooth suffer
The sling sand airs of Outer Regis Fortune,
Or to take arms against Stacy Ott Rubblesand
By opposing Endham. Today, to sleep,
No! More! And by a sleep-to, say "viand",
The heart, aachen, the Townsend National clocks;
That flesh is hair, too; 'tis a consummation
Devourly to be wished.

1. "To beer, Notteby" -- The two had consumed a large amount of ale during the evening.
2. "Data's the question" -- Witnesses claim that an argument had erupted in the Skink and Skank pub during the early morning as to whether facts, i.e., "data", took precedence over feelings, over intuition. It remained unresolved, apparently.
3. "Weather? Tis no blur in the mind" -- Notteby, you'll recall, was an amateur meteoroligist; weather was not responsible for blurring the mind -- the mass quantities of alcohol they consumed took care of that.
4. "tooth suffer the sling sand airs of Outer Regis Fortune" -- two years earlier Shakespeare and Notteby had taken a questionable "vacation" to the Hebrides island of Outer Regis Fortuna, an non-notable windswept outcropping in the North Sea, where the driving wind blew -- or "slung" -- coarse sand into their teeth; both men suffered painful and debilitating Scoured Tooth Syndrome for years afterward.
5. "Stacy Ott Rubblesand" -- Rubblesand was a drifter and itinerant vagabond who happened to be on the island at the same time and who, he later claimed, stumbled on the pair as they were locked in what he described as a "semi-amorous embrace" (both Shakespeare and Notteby denied it -- they were each protecting the other from the blowing sand, they claimed).
6. "By opposing Endham" -- Then as now, Greater Endham was a powerhouse in football (i.e., "soccer"), and Rubblesand had concocted a grand scheme to cheat at gambling by placing bets on the Endham Nine for Shakespeare and Notteby. The two men turned the tables on Rubblesand and bet against Endham, which drove Rubblesand into the shame of bankruptcy. Rubblesand was sometime later found dead, washed up on the coast of Scotland near Dunsinane, and local speculation was that Shakespeare and Notteby had added injury to insult by murdering him. From a careful reading ("take arms against"), this line appears to be a coded confession to the crime. Neither man was accused formally nor were they ever prosecuted except in the court of public opinion of the north shore of Scotland.
7. "Today, to sleep, No! More!" Obviously the two had been up late the night before and by the time Shakespeare wrote this, he was teetering on the edge of unconsciousness. He wants to sleep today, but won't let himself ("No!"); he must do more.
8. "And by a sleep-to" -- a sleep-to is known today as a "sleepover"; it appears that Notteby spent the night with Shakespeare, or vice versa.
9. "Say 'viand'" -- Viands = food. Calling for room service perhaps?
10. "The heart, aachen" -- Much has been made of the "Italian" side of William Shakespeare, but not so much of the "German" side; Aachen is a city in Germany less than 650 km from the southern border of Denmark; Denmark of course is the setting for Hamlet. Is Hamlet saying that he'd rather be German than Danish? Given the way things turned out for him, he'd probably have been better off.
11. "The Townsend National clocks" -- Townsend National was one of the first major banks in London, at the time famous for its four clocks facing the four cardinal points of the compass. Shakespeare and Notteby spent part of the early hours drinking in the Hart and Sole, within earshot of the famous bells of Townsend.
12. "The flesh is hair, too" -- A little known comestible in the Hart and Sole Pub was the "Hair Pie", which, unlike many oddly-named English foods (e.g., Toad in the Hole, Bubble and Squeak, Spotted Dick, et al.) is actually -- indeed, disgustingly -- physically descriptive of the dish itself.
13. "Devourly to be wished" -- A close examination of the original manuscript for Hamlet (when it was still called "Baconlet", before Shakespeare changed the name to protect his secret identity as Francis Bacon) shows the word to be "devourly", as in devour, as in eat... Clearly he wanted some Hair Pie.
[For the complete analysis of "Therese" by Joe E. Skillmer, see here.]