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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: September ::
Re: Whores, etc.
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 593.  Monday, 27 Sept. 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Nancy W Miller <
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        Date:   Sunday, 26 Sep 93 11:26:20 EDT
        Subj:   Re: Whores, etc.
 
(2)     From:   Lars Engle <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Sep 93 08:18:43 CST
        Subj:   RE: "like a whore unpack my heart with words"
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nancy W Miller <
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Date:           Sunday, 26 Sep 93 11:26:20 EDT
Subject:        Re: Whores, etc.
 
This is in response to Ronald Dwelle's question about the volubility of whores.
Much of my current work focuses on the problem of women's chastity in early
modern England, and I've found a very widespread conflation between silence and
chastity (and, hence, volubility and unchastity), both of which are firmly
rooted in social order--sexuality and access to discourse are both privileges
of authority (and so denied to a large extent to women).  Shrews, scolds, and
whores often appear to be nearly interchangeable terms (it just depends upon
which aspect of aberrent behavior one wishes to emphasize).  See Joseph
Swetnam's _Arraignment of lewde, idle, froward, and unconstant women_ (1617)
for a good illustration of the misogynistic extreme of this conflation.
 
Although Hamlet's line is indicative of a common perception, Shakespeare often
separates the terms, and problematizes this conflation.
 
To Robert F. O'Connor, re Branagh: _Henry V_ was recently broadcast in the U.S.
on our Public Broadcasting System (perceived as "highbrow" by many Americans
and rife with British imports).
 
I'm the one who made the comment about American actors appealing to American
interests:  I'm not sure how well this works in terms of box office profits,
but the Americanization of Shakespeare has certainly been attempted before (Mel
Gibson's _Hamlet_, for instance, was perceived as a wholly American production
because Gibson appears in so many successful American films.)  The issue may be
less a nationalistic one, on second thought, than simply one of familiarity
with a particular face. Does anyone have some more informed ideas on this than
I do?
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lars Engle <
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Date:           Monday, 27 Sep 93 08:18:43 CST
Subject:        RE: "like a whore unpack my heart with words"
 
I happened to come across a comment in Mary Ellen Lamb's *Gender and
Authorship in the Sidney Circle* (Madison: UWiscP, 1990), p. 5, citing Peter
Stallybrass's well-known essay "Patriarchal Territories," to the effect that
"a married woman who would 'chafe and scold' at her husband risked
classification as 'next to harlots, if not the same with them.'  This
classification passed into English law, so that a man who slandered a woman
as a 'whore' could defend himself by stating his meaning as 'whore of her
tonge,' not 'whore of her body.'"
 
This seems to explain what Hamlet means, though there is doubtless (as
usual) a further level of suggestion that his burst of expressive volubility
compromises his bodily integrity much in the way that whores who sell sex
might be thought to compromise theirs -- Hamlet's ranting speech includes
the nightmare of having someone "give him the lie in the throat as deep as
to the lungs," thus imagining speech as penetration.
 
Lars Engle
U. of Tulsa
thus penetrating him with speech
integrity
 

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