[LMB] Joys of Doyle

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Sat Jan 15 19:30:30 GMT 2022

Pouncer: So much for Doyle, (Or SHAX, or Burbidge, in this case).  We are
with the Watsonian clues and we infer what we can.

John: Yup. Or then again, we can think theatre and reader history. Having
clearly specified ages in dramatic scripts is actually quite limited, and
most obviously associated with the long stage directions found between,
say, Shaw and Miller, Williams and Rattigan -- who were pre-empting
aggressively adaptive directors and designers. In Shax -not- having any
certainty about exact age is normative : if it matters to the plot, or to
something else, or just eases along some bit of dialogue, we're told ; but
if it doesn't, we're not -- it's a theatre role, will have many players
after its creator, and many audiences, who will see actors who -look- this
age, or that age, in themselves and with whatever make-up and performance.
In Q2, Mercutio has 228 lines, Tybalt 36, and that's all they are,
textually : everything else comes in performance, and varies. There is no
single answer to the question of their ages.

ObBujold: As Lois often says, responding to one of our questions, "Dunno.
Didn't -have- to decide, so I didn't."

 >> I remember my Shakespeare prof in college pointing out indications in
 >> the plays that there may have been "the short dark one" (Hermia,
 >> Celia) and "the tall blonde one" (Helena, Rosalind).

Pouncer: this is a true and I think highly interesting observation
that encourages us to use Watsonian methods from within the text to draw
inferences about what was going on in the real world, back stage, in the
company's hiring practices and finances or whatever.

John: Doesn't have to be Watsonian. There are instances in early Shax texts
where a speech-prefix gives the name of the actor, not the role ; that's
why we think a man called Sinklo or Sinclair was the thin one in the odd
couple pairings. With the child actors, though, unless they went on as
adults (like Nathan Field) records are -very- limited indeed, so while we
can infer a contrast of colour and height, we can't attach names.

Pouncer: Is there a technical name for the
artist's insertion, and the consumer's recognition, of what fandom
now calls the "Easter Egg"?

John: Well, yes -- categorically speaking, they are allusions, which can be
advertent or inadvertent. Few people using the term's "mind's eye" intend a
conscious allusion to HAM, which does not stop the phrase being at least a
borrowing from, and so an allusion to, that play ; but advertent allusions
are usually more interesting, and the issue you're raising involves who is
making them -- character, Watsonian narrator, or omniscient narrator/author
-- and those that would qualify as Easter Eggs (though its meaning is
widening fast) are typically author to consumer, sometimes bypassing the
Watsonian world altogether : as if the author, reading his or her story
aloud, winks at you.

That happens in Nabokov, say, with very organised purpose. Taking *Lolita*,
the supposed author of the foreword does not know he is John Ray, Jr., to
reiterate initials, and because John Ray Sr would be the C17 English
entomologist who had a bunch of things to say about butterflies, in which
Nabokov, but no-one in his novel, was seriously interested. BUT for a
reader, knowing the source of the name posts a ghostly Nabokovian
fingerprint ; and there are many more as the text proceeds. Some are by
Humbert -and- Nabokov (like Poe and *Carmen*), but gaps between what
Humbert means to signify and what Nabokov allows the knowing reader to
understand he is signifying can and do diverge, greatly to Humbert's
rhetorical and moral detriment. The novel is (inter alia) a sustained and
astonishing act of ventriloquy that is also a devastating indictment of the
ventriloquised ; and as with all stage ventriloquists, one can see the
puppeteer as well as the puppet.

As a much more puzzling example, at least three times in LR Tolkien makes
an allusion that leads straight out of the fantasy text he's spinning.
Fantasy does -not- usually like that sort of thing at all, and they go
right past all readers save obsessives like myself ; but, the Fellowship
leaves Rivendell on December 25th ; Sauron falls on Lady Day, thereafter in
Gondor, as in England until 1754 (IIRC), the new year ; and Celeborn says,
when he believes Gandalf dead, that in going into Moria he went into folly
-- for which the Latin is ... moria. Other real-world sources and refs can
help Watsonianly -- that Frodo means wise and Samwise, halfwise, in OE, say
-- but these point only to Tolkien, so while they can find some lodging in
the outermost shell of the construct of Tolkien as translator of Bilbo's
and Frodo's writings, they are for appendix-dwellers.

So it's a calculus, about whether a consumer is expected to know and
recognise the allusion, and how disadvantaged they are if they don't, which
is also a function of the value of the allusion within the plot. The points
made about superhero franchises require a further distinction of 'author'
into writer and publisher, the latter having a corporate identity, and
posit a new commercial purpose of, what? brand loyalty reward, I suppose ;
feelgood brand nostalgia, at any rate. But they are still allusions, and
while the franchise examples seem very gestural, any allusion -can-, in the
terminology of African-American lit. studies, signify on, not just signify
-- that is, invoke knowledge not only of the referent, but of the
significance of alluding to it, or of how others have alluded to it, or
habitually allude to it.

And recognition of allusion, especially such cued allusions as a franchise
practice will induce, is rewarding, a feelgood inclusion, a cabbalistic
decoding, a success indicating an elite reader ; to be supplied as exegesis
to less elite readers. It can be debased to the level of the plastic toys
fast food outlets give away ; but it needn't be.

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

Associate Member, Hughes Hall, Cambridge
Independent Scholar

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