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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Metrics; Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0605.  Tuesday, 12 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Monday, 11 Jul 94 10:04:38 EDT
        Subj:   Metrics
 
(2)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Jul 94 13:14:00 BST
        Subj:   SHK 5.0603 Re: Character
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Monday, 11 Jul 94 10:04:38 EDT
Subject:        Metrics
 
At the risk of becoming incredibly pedantic, I want to make a few observations
about metrics.
 
A.  It is true, as pointed out by my always intelligent colleague Rick Jones,
that Shakespearean lines don't always proceed in straight iambs.  The typical
variations, however, are far from random. Nearly all departures from the iambic
pattern fit into two categories: 1. a trochaic foot at the beginning of a line
or immediately after a caesura, or 2. a feminine ending at the end of a line or
immediately before a caesura.  Jones' example "*that* is the quest(ion)"
displays both of these variations.  These variations are so common in blank
verse lines that an actor needn't really worry about adopting such a reading
when it is the natural scansion, but more significant variations need to be
approached more warily.  The proposed stressing of the Midsummer line, "I love
*thee* not" does not follow one of the typical variation patterns, and is quite
suspect.
 
2.  These two common patterns of variations are actually quite musical, giving
lines a little extra push at their start, or a gentle stretch at their end.
Variations buried in the middle of lines and phrases are rare because they
interupt the musical flow, make the line hard to speak, and make it harder to
hear.
 
3.  Just because Shakespeare introduces variations into his lines occasionally,
does not automatically mean that we are equally free to do so, especially when
a perfectly valid, regularly metrical reading is available.  This leap of
logic, the usual argument against relying too heavily on scansion, has quite a
few holes in it.  If Shakespeare is purposely violating meter for meaning on
occasion, we obscure that by violating meter at our whim.  This, I believe, is
the point Paul Hawkins makes about the specific line reading in question in his
posting of Saturday.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Jul 94 13:14:00 BST
Subject: Re: Character
Comment:        SHK 5.0603 Re: Character
 
Bill Godshalk is right in that "character" is a very slippery category.  I'm
not sure that within the field of Shakespeare Studies it's all that ambiguous,
though, since L.C.Knights' rebuff of Bradley in the early 1930s.
 
We habitually associate "character" not with function, but with the concept of
expressive subjectivity, and hence with INDIVIDUALITY. Now if we apply this to
Renaissance drama then we are in danger of slipping into anachronism. Terms
such a "role" or "dramatic figure" would do, but what they obscure are those
textual phenomena which I tried to identify a long while ago in this debate as
"character effects", that is, details which we are given which might suggest an
extra-dramatic life for the fictional speaker.  What L.C.Knights's Macbeth
essay does is to extrapolate this concern to give Lady Macbeth a whole "other"
life, and the same could be done for Gertrude, or Claudius, or Othello, or
Lear.  Oddly enough it is only Coriolanus which tells us something in detail
about the protagonist's pre-dramatic life, and even that is repeated on the
stage in the figure of his son.
 
On a stage where there was no scenery, where the dominant dramatic mode was not
naturalism, and in a culture that was attuned to the social semiotics of
costume, the likelihood, it seems to me, was that audiences READ dramatic roles
NOT as expressions of the individuality of the speaker.  This brings me to the
example that Bill Godshalk offers.
 
Surely, the point is not that this description has to do with REAL HUMANS.  I
don't think that the issue of "realism" is what is interesting here.
Manningham's description is of social types: "the Steward", "his Lady Widdowe"
etc. There's nothing individual about this, and a lot that is emblematic. The
question as I see it here isn't to do with mimesis; if the stage did not in
some way or another offer a recognizable representation of social life, then it
would have been difficult for audiences to read what went on. For us the
problem is that we tend to graft onto Elizabethan notions of "realism" our own
preconceptions. And it's here that the concept of "character" becomes
problematical. There is nothing in the example that Bill Godshalk offers us
that would challenge an emblematic reading.  In fact we could trace this way of
talking about "character" through Overbury, Wye Saltonstall, John Earle, and
all those who wrote descriptions of social types in the Theophrastan mode. My
guess is that for Elizabethan audiences emblematic figures as "real humans"
were the same thing, and that is very clearly a point of difference between
sixteenth-century culture and our own. Of course, if you insist that "human
nature" is a transhistorical constant, then you obscure that difference.
 
Over to you Bill
 
Cheers,
John Drakakis
 

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