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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: November ::
Re: Nubility and Juliet's Age
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 714.  Thursday, 4 November 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Jon Enriquez <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Nov 1993 10:13:12 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0710  Re: Nubility
 
(2)     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 03 Nov 93 12:53:03 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0710  Re: Nubility
 
(3)     From:   James Forse <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Nov 1993 16:40 EST
        Subj:   Juliet's age
 
(4)     From:   Martin Green <
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        Date:   Thursday, 04 Nov 93 00:13:14 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0710 Re: Nubility
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jon Enriquez <
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Date:           Wednesday, 03 Nov 1993 10:13:12 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0710  Re: Nubility
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0710  Re: Nubility
 
Bill Godshalk is of course correct when he notes that *R&J* is set in a
fictional Italian city, which may or may not have any relation to actual
Italian places.  However, I think Italian history *can* have some effect on our
understanding of this play.
 
Shakespeare chose to set the play in Italy.  The characters and situations
aren't especially Italian; we can transport the settings and names to France or
England and still get the same story.  But placing the play in an Italian
context has some impact on the audience.  Presumably, the audience has some
ideas about Italy that are evoked by the setting, in the same way that a
contemporary audience has ideas about New York that are evoked when a movie
opens up with a montage of New York scenes.
 
Unquestionably, these locational ideas are a mixture of fact, conjecture, and
exaggeration.  Life in Italy is not exactly the same as popular conceptions of
life in Italy.  But to the extent that fact matters, contemporary history does
have some valid use in assessing an admittedly mythic version of a place.  I'm
not especially eager to support or defend the particular conclusions in the
present inquiry, but I for one think history has some (limited, nuanced) value
in a case like this.
 
Jon Enriquez
The Graduate School
Georgetown University
ENRIQUEZJ@guvax     (Bitnet)

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Wednesday, 03 Nov 93 12:53:03 EST
Subject: 4.0710  Re: Nubility
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0710  Re: Nubility
 
I thought I was just going to eavesdrop on this conversation, but Bill
Godshalk asks an intriguing question: "how can 16th century history tell us
anything - either way - about a undated, fictional Italian city and its
culture?"  [I blithely ignore the fact that the question seems to be posed
rhetorically.]
 
The answer to Bill's question, it seems to me, is "quite a lot, if we tread
cautiously".  Shakespeare wasn't writing a diary, he was writing *plays*
designed to be seen by an audience.  These people, and WS himself, were
obviously subject to the prejudices and perspectives of their age: hence, for
example, _Richard III_ upholds the Tudor monarchy.  It doesn't seem to me to
be a leap of faith to suggest that Elizabethans regarded their own value
system to be universal: events were either within their experience or they
weren't, moral or not, etc.  Lest we get carried away by our 20th century
arrogance, I should note that this phenomenon is exactly what allows us to
tell the good guys from the bad guys in the universe described in, say, the
Star Wars movies.  Thus, the average Shakespearean theatre-goer might
reasonably be expected to bring to the theatre an attitude about, in this
case, the appropriate age at which girls/women should marry (and when, in
fact, they do).  And, to me, it is useful to know what that attitude was.
 
But at least two caveats also present themselves.  First, in order to know
what the attitude was, we need to know more about the situation than simply
that this or that real-life girl/woman was married at this or that age.
Plenty of events (e.g. surrogate parenting) are reasonably commonplace in our
own society without necessarily receiving the approbation of the public at
large (or of that somewhat different entity, the theatre-going public).  I
see little reason to believe that things have changed much in this regard in
the 400 years since Shakespeare's time.
 
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the messages are very often more
complex than they might seem at a glance.  We need only look at the society
which produced the golden age of Greek tragedy.  This was perhaps the most
self-consciously democratic culture in history (we'll leave aside questions
of slavery, gender equality, etc., and concentrate on self-image), yet the
tragedies center on kings and queens: the concept of monarchy is questioned
no more in the plays of 5th century Athens than in the plays of 16th/17th
century England.  I'll leave it to those better versed in post-structuralism
than I to explain the phenomenon; I merely point to its existence.
 
Finally, none of this helps define what a given passage "means", except to
its original audience.  So, is attempting to understand authorial intent
futile?  I don't think so.  But as the recent post about Chicago/Berlin
references in _I Am a Camera_ makes clear, authorial intentions are
ultimately unplayable: as I've been telling students for years, you can't
footnote a play as you act it.  And while I do believe in the value of
knowledge for its own sake, I also think all facts are ultimately subject to
that most damning of all questions: "So what?".
 
Sorry if I rambled.
 
-- Rick Jones

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Forse <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Nov 1993 16:40 EST
Subject:        Juliet's age
 
Concerning Professor Godshalk's observations: I think we have to remind
ourselves that there would have to be some relevence to Shakespeare's
contemporary audiences.  I think there is a mid-16th century temporal
significance to Juliet's age.  After all Shakespeare drums that age into
an audience's head, unlike the lack of specificity for most other characters.
I've argued elsewhere that it was a subliminal way to evoke sympathy for the
plight of the Earl of Southampton, who about the time of the play was being
pressured to enter into an unwanted marriage with Elizabeth Vere by his
guardian Lord Burghley.  To a modern audience, it is true, that insistence
upon Juliet's age has little meaning, except, perhaps, to misunderstand her
plight because we no longer consider 13 as an age of legal consent.  I agree,
if the play only refers to a *timeless* fictional Italian city there is
nothing to be learned.  If it relates to Shakespeare's London, as I think it
does, that's another matter
 
Jim Forse--History Dept. BGSU-in%"
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(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Thursday, 04 Nov 93 00:13:14 -0400
Subject: 4.0710 Re: Nubility
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0710 Re: Nubility
 
>Juliet is supposedly 13 years old (still) when she first appears on stage. She
>is a fictional character, living in a fictional world. This fictional world is,
>of course, set in Italy which also exists in our real world. As far as I know,
>and I've recently reread the play, there is no direct evidence as to the
>fictional date of the action.
>
>My question is: how can 16th century history tell us anything - either way -
>about a undated, fictional Italian city and its culture?
>
>Jean Howard has asked this question more abstractly. I think it's a good
>question.
 
Well, it's a good question to ask if you're a historian doing research
on undated, fictional Italian cities, in which case the history of
other times in other places is irrelevant; but if you're a historian or
literary scholar doing research on what SHAKESPEARE knew about undated,
fictional Italian cities, the mores he imputed to them, and why,
then  16th century history tells us a lot; indeed, tells us everything.
 
M. Green

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