“Shakespeare’s Dolphin, Dumbo’s Feather, and Other Red Herrings: Some Thoughts on Intention and Meaning,” by Professor of Comparative Literature Peter J. Rabinowitz, has been published in Style as part of a cluster of articles devoted to Shakespeare’s intentions. The essays in the collection had their origin in a discussion among Shakespeare specialists on the email list SHAKSPER. When SHAKSPER decided to work with Style to bring the discussion to the attention of a wider academic audience, Rabinowitz was brought in to provide an outsider’s perspective.
Rabinowitz begins by pointing to the gaps between various literary specializations. He then looks at SHAKPER conversation from two directions. First, he points to the ways that narrative theorists could learn from the interpretive and editorial problems central to Shakespeare studies. Then, after setting out some general distinctions he finds useful in any discussion of literary intention, Rabinowitz focuses more narrowly on the heuristic value of rhetorical narrative theory in dealing with several areas of contention that emerge among the Shakespeareans in the discussion (public vs. private, the multiplicity of interiority, and literary purpose). His argument places particular stress on the importance of author-audience relations and on the difference between “intention” and “meaning.”