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Re-Smelling Romeo's Rose

Re-Smelling Romeo's Rose

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Published by Dilshan Boange
An article written to the Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka.
An article written to the Sunday Observer in Sri Lanka.

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Categories:Types, Reviews
Published by: Dilshan Boange on May 11, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Re–smelling Romeo’s rose.By Dilshan BoangeThe works of William Shakespeare are foundational to the discourse(s) of English literature. The works of the ‘bard of Avon’ have stood the test of time to be treasured as carrying ‘eternal truths’ that explorehuman nature and the ways of the world, and thereby deliver sagely teachings couched in the beauty of  poetic language. Many are the lines from his plays that are still quoted in an everyday situation in themanner of an aphorism; and it is one such Shakespearean line that I wish to make the focus of this article.In Romeo and Juliet we find one of the most well known stories of tragic young lovers. This play alsocontains one of the most quoted lines by the Bard –“What’s in a name, that which we call a rose by anyother name would smell as sweet?” In discussing the relevance of this particular line as an aphorism toapply in situations in life it would be important to consider how it seems to negate the function of a name.Certainly the sentiment expressed by the lovelorn teenage Romeo in afore quote would not be applauded by modern day marketers who thrive on ‘brand’ value. And a name is very much the basis for branding,in that sense.The discussion I would like to build on is how the line written by Shakespeare intended to portray themindset of the young and naïve Romeo is generally attributed to be an advocacy of the Bard himself inlayman interpretations. Yes, Shakespeare wrote the line, but does that suggest it is his own belief andapplies as absolutism? It is in exploring the relevance of such a line as this that one can look at certain postmodernist literary criticism, such as the French theorist Roland Barthes’s concept of ‘The Death of the Author’, which can be applied to unravel greater interpretive scope of a text. Barthes propounded inhis essay “The Death of the Author” that a text can be divorced of its author and allow the reader a greater autonomy to interpret what the text may mean to him. This means to say that as a ‘reader’ one can andshould feel free to allow the meanings of the text to take shape in the course of reading, rather thanfeeling it is only the creator of the text (the author) who has the right to interpret it and that the reader’srole is to unravel the meanings, intentions and ‘message(s)’ of the author embedded in the text and itsnarrative. Thereby in classical criticism if an interpretation of a text by a reader may not seem to be thevery intention that the author intended to convey then such interpretations would be declared as ‘invalid’.In contrast postmodern textual analysis/criticism offers much greater space for the reader to explore possible ‘meanings’ of a text, regardless of whether or not they were intended by the ‘author’.Often when one quotes Shakespeare (or any other writer or speaker for that matter) it is done withreference to the source. The name (and possibly even the work) is mentioned. This is of course ethicallyrequired by norms in order to avoid being seen like a fraud who claimed credit for another’s creation. Buton another level the mentioning of the source and especially if it is a name held in great esteem in societythe name acts as a certificate to authoritatively assert the validity of applying the quoted line to explain anidea or argument. It is after all ‘the words of Shakespeare’ one could say and build ground to justify onesstance and find sufficient safety and shielding from critical attacks. In the essay “What is an author” theFrench intellectual Michele Foucault charts the origins of the role of the author in European society andhow the ‘author’ over time gained a position of eminence in society and thereby becomes an ‘authority’.The name of the author, his presence, and the authority he wields over the text he creates is called byFoucault as the ‘author function’.

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