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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0618.  Friday, 15 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Jul 1994 11:38:58 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Character
 
(2)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Jul 1994 16:40:47 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Character
 
(3)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Jul 94 18:10:16 EST
        Subj:   [Character]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Jul 1994 11:38:58 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Character
 
I can't imagine what 'conspiracy' Terence Hawkes thinks I've been 'confecting'
[sic] by associating him and John Drakakis with what was, in its own way, a
quite powerful, coherent, productive (and *explicitly* Brechtian) tendency in
in British cultural studies.  But if he wants to disavow that in favour of an
association with Knights, Knight, Bradbrook et al, so be it.
 
Since the L.C.Knights essay seems to have emerged as a kind of fons et origo
for this tradition I thought I'd better refresh my memory of it. I'd have to
say I found it a rather underwhelming experience.  I'd say more, but since
Hawkes and Drakakis seem unwilling to address any of the substantive points
I've made in recent postings, I thought I'd hide behind a comment on Knights's
essay made by one of their compatriots. After a fair and neutral digest of
Knights's argument that 'we cannot guess at Lady Macbeth's previous life for
the simple reason that she has no previous life; her being begins and ends with
what Shakespeare sets down for her to say', A.D.Nuttall offers the following
assessment, with which I largely agree: | 'It is strange that so coarse a piece
of reasoning should have passed for a great stroke of destructive theory.
Knights's singular presumption that humane inference is inapplicable to drama
is simply mistaken.  When a character sits up and yawns we infer that he has
been sleeping.  When another character gives a certain sort of start we infer
that he is guilty (readers of _Macbeth_, especially, should be aware of this).
If no inferences whatever are allowed, certain negative conclusions, on the
other hand, can always be drawn about Hamlet.  For example, he has no legs.
For Shakespeare never mentions them - or may we infer one leg from a down-gyved
stocking?  This may be thought silly, but a large part of Knights's case really
does depend on the absolute exclusion of inference . . .  A dramatist faced
with an entire audience who austerely repressed all inferences and bayed for
image-patterns might well despair.  Of course, Bradley never supposed for a
moment that Hamlet was a real man. . . .
 
What remains strong in Knights's attack is his intuition that Bradleian critics
occasionally carried their unverifiable surmises to ludicrous lengths.  I
cannot agree that the question about Lady Macbeth's children is as absurd as
Knights would have had us believe, but certain of Maurice Morgann's
observations on the military career of Falstaff are truly foolish.  But the
simple test of verifiability will not serve to distinguish an absurd from a
reasonable surmise.  All our inferences and suppositions with regard to
fictitious persons are in terms of probability, not fact'. . . .
 
[and finally]
 
'The . . critic who wonders why Cordelia cannot answer more warmly and thinks
of other daughters, some of whom have lived outside the pages of books, is
charged with confusing art and reality, but the charge is simply false.  Where
is the confusion?  When Balzac sent for Dr Bianchon (a character in one of his
books) to come to his bedside, he really did confuse art and reality.  If he
had merely asked "What would Bianchon have said about a case like this?" no
eyebrow would have been raised. The question is perfectly rational.'
(A.D.Nuttall, _A New Mimesis_1983, pp.82-3)
 
I think I'd give Knights a bit more credit than Nuttall does for the strategic
value of the essay, in directing critical attention to the poetic and thematic
dimensions of Shakespeare at a time when this probably needed doing.  Apart
from that I think it's a good comment.
 
While I'm agreeing with people, let me also say that I entirely agree with Bill
Godshalk's reply to John Drakakis on the Manningham example (with the possible
exception of the first sentence).  I await with real interest Drakakis'
response to Bill's question about mimetic incapacity and history.  On this
point at least the 'neo-Knightsians' go well beyond their mentor.
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Jul 1994 16:40:47 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Character
 
I hope nobody minds if I continue to yap away on the margins of this
conversation.  It is, after all, a public forum, so until I'm actually warned
off I may as well continue to have my say.
 
In his latest reply to Bill Godshalk, John Drakakis characterises as
'modernisation' of the Manningham description Godshalk's suggestion that
Manningham may have been out on the town and forgotten the names of the
dramatis personae and all but the general jist [sic: nothing to do with wellies
I hope!] of the action.  We do know that people did this sort of thing in the
Elizabethan period.  Let's not make historical reconstruction any more
difficult than it needs to be.  In any case,  the suggestion is quite specific
and makes no assumption about a 'universal human nature', or 'transhistorical
essence' or 'oceanic mind'  This is simply a red herring.
 
But speaking of projecting one's own values and so forth, we have yet to hear
by what miracle of timeless perception John Drakakis manages to do otherwise,
and what completely alien world-view he has thereby discovered.  So far we seem
to have(1) a *speculation* (so designated) that symbolic reading 'may have been
one of the main ways in which Elizabethans read/made sense of the world around
them', and (2) a pure *assertion* that 'what evidence we have points to
DIFFERENCE, not similarity'.  Well, I'm afraid that until some of this evidence
is presented some may take leave to doubt the assertion, however frequently
it's made.  Without having to rack my brain, I can think of at least two pieces
of evidence - Hamlet's advice to the players, and the Prologue to _Every Man In
His Humour_ - which seem to me to point to the mimetic effect Drakakis is
disputing.  (In the latter instance, I believe Jonson is defending a method
that comes close to what might be called 'emblematic', but he does so with
reference to a mimetic mode he wants to disparage.  Actually, I think his own
method could better be defined as a satiric variant of mimesis than as
non-mimetic, but we'll leave that).
 
What all of this suggests is that 'the Elizabethan psyche' to which Drakakis
(somewhat disconcertingly) likes to refer actually accommodated several
different ways of reading dramatic performances, and other texts.  One of these
is undoubtedly the emblematic, another the mimetic, and it's not difficult to
subdivide each of those, and to single out some others as well.  But the point
about emblematic reading is that it's always *second-order* reading (as the
dual structure of pictorial emblems clearly signifies).  To suggest that an
emblematic reading would ever be the *first* option for an audience of a
literal drama (whatever the shape of the theatre) ignores this self-evident
characteristic of symbols.  It also, I have to say, bespeaks a not very
detailed familiarity with the variety of social and devotional uses to which
emblematic reading was actually put in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Jul 94 18:10:16 EST
Subject:        [Character]
 
One obvious way to approach the questions about the Shakespearean expression of
early modern subjectivity raised and chased by Bill Godshalk, John Drakakis,
and others, is to look at the way the dramatic figures speak about each other
and themselves.  I'm teaching a seminar on <King Lear> this summer; last night
the students and I spent a lively half-hour scampering around the text
(Arden--I don't think current textual concerns bear on this issue, but I
haven't taken time to investigate) looking at moments of address, and ended up
persuaded that consciousness of social role much more than anything like the
modern notion of personality governs almost all such moments.  Only women,
children, and servants have names--all the grown-up aristocrats but Lear are
known only by their titles (Kent, Gloucester, Albany, Cornwall), and Lear is
much more often "Lear" to himself than to others, who are more likely to call
him "king".  Within families, even women and children are mostly addressed in
terms of family relationships- -father, daughter, son, named only to
distinguish them from one another: "Our son of Cornwall, and you our no less
loving son of Albany," "Goneril, our eldest born," "Regan, wife of Cornwall,"
"my son Edgar," "brother Edmund"; all the exceptions I can find occur in
contexts where the speaker wishes to stress the bonds of intimacy and mutual
reliance--moments where, to be sure, personal considerations override social
ones.  Figures are classed by age ("Idle old man"), by capability ("old fool"),
by rank ("my gentleman," "my lord's knave"), by situation ("the whoreson,"
"banished Kent."  Two figures (both servants) are given extensive characters,
in the Theophrastan sense--Oswald by Kent in 2.2, Edgar as Mad Tom by himself
in 3.4: both are normative, not distinctive. It is instructive that Edgar in
disguise takes a generic, not a personal name.  Kent repeatedly defines himself
as a servant.  And so on.
 
By the same token the qualities by which we are accustomed to distinguish
ourselves and others as individuals (consider how you go about describing
friends to other friends) are largely absent. No physical characteristics
except those ("gray beard," "her voice was ever soft, gentle, and low--an
excellent thing in women") that place figures in social groups.  No distinctive
gestures.  No favorite foods, colors, kinds of music, hobbies.  No
reminiscences. And so on.
 
It is true that Edmund constructs himself somewhat differently (I am not the
first, of course, to see in him signs of the emerging shift)--"my dimensions
are as well compact, / My mind as generous, and my shape as true. . .".  But
even he goes on to speak of his brother and himself in social terms:
"Legitimate Edgar," "bastard Edmund."
 
This is only one play, of course, and a play in which issues of social role and
function are especially urgent.  It's also the case that drama is
metadramatically sensitive to matters of role, as the metaphor itself implies.
Still, I think a similar inspection of other texts will produce similar
results.  And if others show me wrong, we'll learn from that, too.
 
Theophrastically,
Dave Evett
 

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