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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: February ::
Re: Birth Defects; Performance Criticism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 58.  Tuesday, 2 February 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Feb 1993 09:41:00 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Renaissance theories about birth defects
 
(2)     From:   NAOMI LIEBLER <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Feb 93 10:31:00 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0055  Q: Renaissance Theory of Birth Defects
 
(3)     From:   Ed Pechter <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Feb 1993 10:35 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
(4)     From:   Kay Stockholder <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Feb 93 07:43:38 PST
        Subj:   Re: Renaissance Theories about Birth Defects
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Feb 1993 09:41:00 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Renaissance theories about birth defects
 
Edmund the Bastard in _King Lear_ seems to imply that the quality of the
sex act itself has some bearing on the quality of the results, at least
he claims that his illegitimate kind "in the lusty stealth of nature, take /
More composition, and fierce quality, / Than doth within a dull, stale,
tired bed / Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops, / Got 'tween asleep
and wake" (I.ii.11-15).  And let us remember with gratitude Mrs. Shandy's
question about the clock, posed at an inopportune moment in the conjugal
bed.
                                        --Ron Macdonald
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           NAOMI LIEBLER <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Feb 93 10:31:00 EST
Subject: 4.0055  Q: Renaissance Theory of Birth Defects
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0055  Q: Renaissance Theory of Birth Defects
 
Dear Douglas,
 
You might want to have a look at 2 essays in the _Mississippi Folklore
Register_ 10 (1976): one by Barry Gaines and Michael Lofaro, "What Did Caliban
Look Like?" (75-86), and the other by Linwood E. Orange, "Despised Nativity:
Unnatural Birth in Shakespeare" (163-174).  Also Mary Douglas' _Purity and
Danger_ (London: ARK, 1966) has a terrific anthropological discussion of
anomalous births which can be extrapolated for application to Renaissance
drama, though she doesn't discuss such literature directly.
 
Best Wishes,
 
Naomi Liebler
Montclair State College
 
(3)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Pechter <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Feb 1993 10:35 EDT
Subject:        Re: Impossibility of Performance Criticism
 
About performance criticism:  a great essay by W. B. Worthen in *SQ* a couple
of years ago.  Like literary criticism, performance criticism understood not as
referring to some stable prior event or phenomenon, but constituting it.  Does
away with the Harry Berger distinction between the slit-eyed textual critic and
the wide eyed performance critic (Berger in *Imaginary Audition* had done away
with it himself, though he may have recuperated it, some people think).  But
the two kinds of criticism are different in focusing on different kinds of
things--performance criticism is interested in various historically determined
acting styles and production conventions.
 
About birth defects:  "Middleton's characters, having been born, show an
intense interest in the circumstances of their conception, together with a
tendency to see themselves as wholly determined by it, and always for the
worse."  This from an R. V. Holdsworth essay in his Casebook on *3 Revenge
Tragedies*, p. 97, followed by examples from Middleton.  He connects it with
the pretty plausible assumption of Middleton's Calvinism.  On the other hand,
in the hilarious scene where Sir Epicure Mammon tries to locate Dol Common's
aristocratic nature, he comes, having failed to locate it in her behaviour and
manners, to situate it in her father's procreative act--such a noble
performance that, had the old gent done nothing more but lie there panting, it
had been enough to guarantee genuine nobility to her and all her heirs, words
to that effect.  (Dol's mother, as I remember, was unsurprisingly absent from
the scene.)  Since Jonson wasn't a Calvinist, this may suggest other contexts
for understanding the idea.  I know, nothing, however, of the folk or
scientific medical beliefs that may be relevant as well, and would like to.
 
Having brought together two unrelated interests in the possibility of
performance criticism and sexual acts, I wonder about the possibility of the
theatrical performance of sexual acts.  This probably reflects the fact that I
am trying to write a paper on *Othello* for Atlanta, and not getting very far.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kay Stockholder <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Feb 93 07:43:38 PST
Subject:        Re: Renaissance Theories about Birth Defects
 
Yes, Edmund sees to hold that view about the "lusty stealth of nature" that
prevailed on his own birth. It would seem, though, that Shakespeare did not. It
must have been an issue at the time.
 

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