Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0625.  Tuesday, 19 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Ben Schneider <SCHNEIDB@LAWRENCE.BITNET>
        Date:   Monday, 18 Jul 1994 10:03:43 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0622  Re: Character
 
(2)     From:   William Proctor Williams <TB0WPW1@NIU.BITNET>
        Date:   Monday, 18 Jul 94 16:23 CDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0622  Re: Character
 
(3)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 18 Jul 1994 21:16:23 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0622  Re: Character
 
(4)     From:   Terence Hakwes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jul 94 14:05 BST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0618 Re: Character
 
(5)     From:   John Cox <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jul 1994 16:03:12 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Emblematic Character
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Schneider <SCHNEIDB@LAWRENCE.BITNET>
Date:           Monday, 18 Jul 1994 10:03:43 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 5.0622  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0622  Re: Character
 
If the plays in question were written by Kwakiutls, Bantus, or Maoris, or some
really anthropologically studiable group, would we be so quick to apply our
behavioral standards to the plays?  I suggest that Shakespeare, his audience,
and perforce his characters, are as different from us in presuppositions,
motives, inclinations, and so forth as Kwakiutls, and that to study them as if
they were us is ethnocentric.  Right on Drakakis, Evett,  May you live long!
And Hawkes.
 
Yours ever
BEN SCHNEIDER
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <TB0WPW1@NIU.BITNET>
Date:           Monday, 18 Jul 94 16:23 CDT
Subject: 5.0622  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0622  Re: Character
 
I am sorry.  I did not make myself clear. These 'texts' are 'playscripts'.  We
must read them as such.  That is all, and all anyone, should wish to say about
them.
 
William
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 18 Jul 1994 21:16:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0622  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0622  Re: Character
 
For Pat Buckridge,
 
Pat, do you sometimes feel that arguing a point with John Drakakis is like
fighting with the tar-baby? He tell you that Jonson is "offering a
REPRESENTATION," as if mimesis is not representational. Kendall Walton's
MIMESIS AS MAKE-BELIEVE is subtitled: ON THE FOUNDATIONS OF REPRESENTATIONAL
ARTS. The point of mimesis is that it represents "deeds and language, such as
men do use."
 
When John Drakakis says, "The assumption is that what we are looking at here is
an unmediated 'showing,'" I'm not sure who makes this assumption. Is it
Hamlet's assumption? Or yours? I certainly would say that there is no
unmediated "showing." As far as humans are concerned, there is no unmediated
experience, since all experience is mediated by our sensory system. And in
plays, we also have the mediation of the actors -- between us and the script.
I'm not sure what point is being made; John Drakakis is also subject to this
mediation. His knowledge is also second-hand, if you will.
 
John Drakakis also asserts "the majority of Elizabethan auditors were
non-literate." I assume that he means "auditors of plays." John makes no
reference to Andrew Gurr's PLAYGOING IN SHAKESPEARE'S LONDON nor to Ann
Jennalie Cook's THE PRIVILEGED PLAYGOERS OF SHAKESPEARE'S LONDON. Although Gurr
questions Cook's conclusions, his own list of "Playgoers 1567-1642" (191ff.)
suggests a literate audience. In wonder if John is here entangled by his "own
expectations and assumptions" -- his charge against us.
 
And I think that John has to be clearer in his distinction between "WHAT is
shown" and "HOW that showing takes place." I don't see how these two elements
can be divorced on the stage. I will not try to imagine what John means by this
distinction because everytime I try to interpret him, I misinterpret him. But,
note, my interpretation does not seem to be LIMITED what John says or how he
says it!
 
For Sean Lawrence,
 
Since Dave Evett's comments on LEAR reminded us both of HAMLET, I found your
comments very interesting. But is it possible that Kent's transformation from
nobleman to (almost) nameless servant might question the assumption that
"identity . . . transcends social or metaphysical 'role'"? In other words, if
you believe in a stable society with stable social positions, would reminders
that "you can be replaced" fill you with tension and conflict?
 
Hamlet has been replaced as heir, has a new father, and others are trying to
force a new identity upon him -- as you justly point out. Could one of the
basic conflicts be between a stable concept of identity ("I know not seems")
and the reality of unstable identity? And could this conflict in the play key
into a conflict in late sixteenth and early seventeenth century society? And,
in turn, does this confict mirror a conflict in our contemporary society
between those who see identity as a cultural construct and those who see
identity as innate?
 
In any case, Shakespeare comes back to this conflict recurrently -- and always
with a slightly different take. Orsino substitutes Viola for Olivia without
dropping an iamb.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hakwes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jul 94 14:05 BST
Subject: 5.0618 Re: Character
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0618 Re: Character
 
To Pat Buckridge:
 
Nuttall's rather flat-footed account of L.C.Knights at least indicates a sense
that he was intervening in a long-standing debate -something to which the TLS
reviewer (11 May 1984) also responded -rather deftly I thought- when he nailed
tall's arguments as 'Bradley and water'. The occlusion of this sort of
historical dimension still strikes me as regrettable in the discussion of
Shakespearean 'character'. It aids the construction of an easily dismissed
'Cultural Materialist' bugbear and thus plays into the hands of that pernicious
mode of teaching archly concerned to flatter, rather than confront and engage
with, the naivety of its students.
 
As for wellies, young Drakakis's mischievous attempt to conflate two quite
different sorts of prophylaxis may mislead -if not injure- the unwary. the
injunction 'Give it Some Wellie' (heard regularly on the terraces of Football
Grounds north of Watford) urges greater effort and commitment rather than the
reverse. I'm delighted to see that you're responding and presume that the World
Cup has made an appropriate impact.
 
T. Hawkes
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Cox <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jul 1994 16:03:12 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Emblematic Character
 
Most helpful to me in the recent discussion of character has been John
Drakakis's mention of "emblematic" characterization.  I think he means social
emblems in particular (rather than moral emblems), as his canny reading of the
Manningham report of Twelfth Night suggests.  In other words, he sees
characters as conceived by playwrights on the basis of social roles, which are
assumed to be fixed and therefore revelatory of whatever the person
is--servant, lady, king, clown, "greasy Joan," etc.  Bill Godshalk's citing of
Lear's gray hair does not refute Drakakis's point but reinforces it, since gray
hair is an emblem of old age- -"four score years and upwards"--just as grease
is an emblem of scullery maids.
 
But confining emblematic characterization to social roles is unhistorical,
given the conscious fascination with moral emblems as keys to "personality."
Falstaff's girth and dagger of lath are cases in point:  they indicate gluttony
and a well-worn stage emblem (the Vice) that derive from moral emblem-making,
not from social roles.
 
And once one acknowledges moral emblem-making, the case becomes much more
complex.  Volpone as an emblem of avarice is easy to see, and he has a long
stage tradition.  Consider his ancestor in the late-fifteenth-century play
*Wisdom*, for example.  When Understanding is corrupted by Lucifer, he becomes
avaricious in terms that strikingly anticipate Volpone, especially in the
sensuous suggestiveness of his adoration of gold:
 
          And my joy ys especyall
          To hurde uppe ryches, for fer to fall,
          To se yt, to handyll yt, to tell yt all,
          And streightly to spare! (581-84)
 
As in Jonson's play, wealth creates unnatural social competition:
 
"Ryches makyt a man equall / To hem sumtyme hys sovereyngys wer" (587-8).
Wealth also makes a man deceitful and grasping:
 
          The ryche covetouse wo dare blame,
          Off govell [usury] and symony thow he bere the name?
          To be fals, men report yt game;
          Yt ys clepyde wysdom, "Ware that" quod Ser Wyly. (601)
 
But are we to say that Volpone is "merely" Avarice--that Jonson has done no
more than the author of *Wisdom* did 150 years ear- lier?  Surely we can see
something of "real" people in Volpone that we can't see in the corrupted
Understanding, and what we're seeing is what Jonson put there on the basis of
his observation of "real" people.
 
The risk of emblematic reading, as I see it, is reductiveness.  Lear is Old
Man, Tyrannical Father, King, and he is also Mankind, in his offense against
Cordelia and his readiness to repent of it and ask her forgiveness.  "Thou hast
one daughter that does redeem nature from the curse that twain have brought her
to" (quoting from memory).  That's all fine and good, and Maynard Mack has
explicated it well.  But where does Lear's heartbreak come from?  Are we to say
that he is an emblem of one who puts his faith in the wrong thing?  Is that
morally censorious response to Lear's grief appropriate to the play?  Not for
me, anyway.  Lear's heartbreak seems to me to come from careful observation of
human attachment and the emotional life for which moral and social emblems are
inadequate.
 
John Cox
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.