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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Jachimo; Character; Query re: New Edition
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0586.  Friday, 1 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, June 29, 1994
        Subj:   Jachimo in the Box (again)
 
(2)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Thursday, 30 Jun 1994 15:27:25 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Character
 
(3)     From:   Edna Boris <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jun 94 19:13:36 EDT
        Subj:   [New Edition]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, June 29, 1994
Subject:        Jachimo in the Box (again)
 
Antonia Fraser, A HISTORY OF TOYS (1966; London: Spring Books, 1972) 159,
writes: "The jack-in-the-box . . . a toy whose origins are obscure but whose
sixteenth-century name of 'Punch-box' may connect it with the puppet -- the
faces of the Jacks are often asonishingly similar to that of Punch -- is
another typical toy of the Victorian child."
 
Unfortunately, Antonia gives no reference for any of this. She seems certain
that the toy was available in the sixteenth century, but "Punch-box" does not
appear in my copy of the old 13 volume OED, and "Punch" is given an 18th
century or  late 17th century date.
 
The search for Jack-in-the-box goes on.
 
Reporting from Cincinnati, I remain,
Bill Godshalk
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 30 Jun 1994 15:27:25 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Character
 
A few slightly irritable thoughts about the character controversy:
 
I think it's about time the standard-bearers of the tired and predictable
British neo-Brechtian orthodoxy (Hawkes, Drakakis et al.) took time out to
reflect on whether their unchanged assumptions and formulaic pronouncements
about 'realist illusions' have quite the political edge they obviously think
they have, and that I suppose they may have had, fairly briefly, ten to fifteen
years ago, before it became pretty obvious to everyone but them that texts that
expose their mechanisms to audiences or readers actually aren't noticeably more
politically transforming than texts that don't.  Realism is not false
consciousness, as Raymond Williams, at least, was well aware.
 
One of the things I find annoying about the 'constructivist' critique of
character is its patronising assumption that people don't know, at least
implicitly, that characters are constructed out of conventional signs. Of
course they are.  Writers, directors, readers or audiences may, for particular
reasons, choose to foreground this axiomatic textual fact; for different (and
equally 'political') reasons, they may choose to background it.  In certain
historical conjunctures, exposing the text's means of production may be a
genuinely progressive thing to do; in others, it can be likened to the sin of
Onan.  It has no consistent and portable political value.
 
Furthermore (indeed, a fortiori!) it has no epistemological advantage either.
It is not 'truer' to say that Othello is a cluster of conventional signs than
to say that Othello is an imitation of a Moorish general.  (Of course, to say
that he *is* a Moorish general is false, but nobody believes that anyway; it's
a straw man).  The difference between these two, equally true, descriptions of
the character Othello is the same as the difference between the cluster of
signs which is Othello, and the black marks on the page which 'are' these same
signs at an earlier point in the decoding process.  It's all just a matter of
which codes you decide to pretend you don't have the key to - and there may be
good pedagogical, performance-related, or even political reasons for feigning
ignorance of particular codes in particular circumstances.  Adrian Kiernander
(hi Adrian) thinks it's theatrically interesting to feign ignorance of parts of
the first code; e.e.cummings thought it was poetically interesting to feign
ignorance of parts of the second.  I have no problem with either.  Let a
hundred flowers bloom!
 
One effect of the neo-Brechtians' insistence on the greater material 'truth' of
a semiotic description of character - ironically, in view of their
'no-nonsense' rhetorical stance - is to uphold a basically sentimental
distinction between fictional characters and real people. The constructed-ness
of the former is routinely emphasised by contrasting it with the flesh and
blood reality and wholeness of you, me and the people in the row behind.  But
in fact all of those people are just as constructed as the characters on stage
- much more complex and ongoing constructions, no doubt, but constructions all
the same.
 
You don't *have* to see people that way, of course, but it's certainly possible
to do so, and a great deal of social science research, psychological therapy
and social policy would grind to a halt if it weren't.  You can also, if you
like, see them as unique individuals; there are uses for that perspective as
well.  But if you're going to adopt a constructivist view of fictional
characters you may as well follow through with a constructivist view of social
and psychological 'characters'.  Once you do that, of course, you notice that
there is no clear boundary within the cultural field between fictions and
social realities, and that there's absolutely no reason why, for certain
purposes, a 'realist' view of both characters and people might not be more
useful.
 
For some of the above reasons I strongly disagree with whoever it was (I don't
mean to be rude, but I've deleted it) who suggested that tragedy is a purely
literary category, which it's somehow illegitimate to look for in the social
world.  I'd go further than Dave Kathman on this.  I don't even think a person
or event has to be out of the ordinary to be a legitimate subject for tragedy,
which is to say (at least) potentially tragic.  Neither did Arthur Miller.  But
on the particular question of tragedy as a *social* fact, people should read
(or reread) the first chapter of Raymond Williams' 'Modern Tragedy', a book
which I find improves with age.
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edna Boris <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jun 94 19:13:36 EDT
Subject:        [New Edition]
 
Recently someone referred to an excellent new edition, I thought of Romeo and
Juliet, and I thought from Everyman, but I got nowhere in trying to check it
out.  Is more specific information available?
 

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