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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0627.  Friday, 22 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Pat Buckridge <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 12:26:30 +1000 (EST)
        Subj:   Character
 
(2)     From:   Fran Teague <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 94 10:31:35 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
(3)     From:   Al Cacicedo <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 23:42:48 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
(4)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 12:49:33 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
(5)     From:   Martin Mueller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 15:50:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
(6)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 21 Jul 94 22:31:24 EST
        Subj:   [Character]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Buckridge <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 12:26:30 +1000 (EST)
Subject:        Character
 
Could I start by saying that I appreciate the conciliatory tone of John
Drakakis' latest and will try to do likewise.
 
Secondly, yes, I like Nuttall's book a lot; in fact I think it's brilliant.
But I'm not in a position to have been influenced by it, since I only
discovered its existence last week, the day before I quoted it on the list.
Sometimes things just fall into your lap, don't they?
 
John has correctly identified the lines in both EMI and Hamlet that I had in
mind, and I agree that Jonson is less helpful to the 'realist' cause than
Shakespeare.  I think this is because he is setting out to do something
different from the established 'Shakespearean' theatre, something which takes
him closer to a theatre of emblems.  The Jonsonian theory of Humours is not
just a theory of social types: it posits a whole additional level of
(physiological) classification and abstraction of characters, and to that
extent encourages an 'emblematising' way of looking at the characters (i.e. not
just as social types -  'a greedy man' - but as iconic metaphors embodying
particular concepts - 'greed'), and does this against the backdrop of a drama
which, since the morality plays went out of fashion, had not been emblematic
(or metaphoric) but had been *literal*.  I'm sure John is right that the late
Elizabethan audience was quite heterogeneous, in its literacy as in other
respects, and that most of them probably didn't look at Jonson's characters any
differently just because Jonson harangued them through his Prologues and
mouthpieces (though I'm not sure how Goody and Watt's baseless and speculative
generalisations about the effects of literacy can help us to understand this
situation.  Now there's some *real* universalising for you!)
 
And by the way, I have nothing at all against 'symptomatic' readings (though I
don't quite see how this got into the discussion).  All I ask is that, we
recognise them as being, like emblematic readings, metaphoric.
 
I think David Evett's view of _King Lear_ as a play of social types is so
counter-intuitive as to be perverse (and he seems to conflate social types,
which are not metaphoric, with emblematic figures, which are; John Drakakis
does this too).  Sean Lawrence's response to Evett seems to me exactly right:
the major characters of Shakespeare's mature plays tend to define themselves
*with reference to* social types, but are made to exceed or contradict the
types they approximate.  My erstwhile mentor Bob Turner (whose pardon I beg for
dragging him into this) was talking twenty-odd years ago about the distinction
in Shakespeare's early plays between 'tautological' characters (i.e. types who
are what they do, and do what they are) and 'non-tautological' characters
(those who behave with a margin of unpredictability, outside or beyond their
type), and tracing what appears to be a controlled progression from the former
to the latter in the major characters of these plays.  (See his _Shakespeare's
Apprenticeship_1971).  I continue to find this very persuasive and helpful.
 
Pat Buckridge.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fran Teague <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 94 10:31:35 EDT
Subject: 5.0626  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
Like Naomi Liebler, I found some of the recent discussion of interest. There is
a fair amount, however, that seems more appropriate to private postings. From
past experience, I suspect NL will be assailed by posters who assure her she's
the only person in the world who could possibly feel as she does.  She isn't.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Cacicedo <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 23:42:48 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0626  Re: Character
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
Hear hear for Naomi Conn Liebler!!!!
 
Al Cacicedo
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 12:49:33 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0626  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
What Naomi Liebler says about feces is correct, I believe (unless convinced
otherwise). And it was just as correct 400 years ago. People eat and people
defecate -- same as 400 years ago. People have different feelings about feces.
Farmers may welcome it as fertilizer, and people who live in cities may find it
a definite problem -- same as 400 years ago.
 
Would digestion be a better example?  As Joseph Wood Krutch comments, not many
people make digestion into a "human value." Isn't digestion a basic biological
fact -- putting aside the variables? If you don't have food to digest (no
matter what you think about eating), you will starve to death (no matter what
you think about the pros and cons of starvation).
 
My feces example was used to make two points: (1) material phenomena pre-exist
interpretation. (2) These phenomena are not necessarily changed by historical
change. I BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION, but the human species has not evolved
significantly in the last 400 years.
 
And that means I do not buy theories of radical discontinuity between 1600 and
1994. We do have a chance of understanding Shakespeare's playtexts.
 
Yours,
Bill Godshalk
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Mueller <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 1994 15:50:32 -0500
Subject: 5.0626  Re: Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0626  Re: Character
 
Naomi Conn Liebler may have a point in playing the stern mother that sends
the naughty boys to their rooms. On the other hand, her refutation of
"Billy G's" claim that "shit is transhistorical" not only contradicts the
impartiality that should go with that role but is highly problematical. To
be sure  "the specific biochemical composition of feces depends greatly on
nutritional and other environmental differences. It is also the case that
dirt is culturally defined as matter out of place and that cultures differ
considerably in what counts as dirt and how it counts. But problems arise
with the sentence: "Primary among substances capable of such variant
definition are bodily substances like blood, urine, milk, feces. " If this
is taken to mean that these bodily fluids are more or less free variants
for inclusion in the category of dirt according to the patterns of
particular culture, that seems highly implausible. I would very much like
to see reliable evidence about a human culture that has a concept of dirt
and does not include feces in it. I'd also like to see evidence about a
culture that puts milk and feces in the same category. And while "shit in
one cultural context is not the same in another," it's probably pretty much
the same, and the variability of of its functions moves within quite narrow
and cross-culturally stable parameters.
 
Martin Mueller
Northwestern University

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(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 21 Jul 94 22:31:24 EST
Subject:        [Character]
 
A brief extension of my earlier remarks.  I meant to suggest that on the
evidence of <King Lear> and other Shakespearean texts, for whatever that is
worth, early modern Britishers tended to DEfine one another and themselves in
terms of social role.  (You might think here of the striking formality of
almost all the surviving early modern British correspondence.)  I would not at
all wish to argue that Shakespearean characters (to say nothing of actual
persons) were CONfined by such roles.  Indeed, all the plays give central focus
to characters displaced from their initial roles by accident, villainy, or
their own free choice and thereby forced to find or develop new ones.  Many of
these--the usual comic pattern-- then return to their original roles, perhaps
at some normal later developmental stage (e.g. daughter to wife)--thus Rosalind
climbing back into her skirts; others--the usual tragic pattern--cannot do so.
The beginning of <Lear> is a mad round of sociological musical chairs in which
nearly every character participates, willy-nilly, some (Kent and Edgar) more
radically than others.  Hamlet, adduced by Bill Godshalk as a character who
does not fit the pattern, seems to me, in fact, an interesting case in point.
At the outset, he is the Prince--skills and qualities enumerated by Cordelia,
job description implied by Fortinbras.  In the Denmark of the play it is a role
he does not wish to fill, and he keeps trying to rewrite it (I once heard the
character described as a variant on the old nightmare in which you're on stage
in a play you've never rehearsed, having to improvise all your lines, only in
Hamlet's case they keep changing the genre, too).  By the end, however, he
marks his readiness to move on to the next normal stage, King ("For he was
likely, had he been put on, / To have proved most royal"), by doing the
definitively kingly things, righting wrongs in the community and defending it
against its enemies (internal, in this case).  In a comedy, he would be crowned
(as happens to Edgar in the Tate revision of <Lear>); it's a tragedy, so he
dies instead. To be sure, such structural/mythic ideas about characters having
to move from center to margin and back again are almost as old hat as L.C.
Knights.
 
Marginally yours,
Dave Evett
 
p.s.  A propos the prophylactic gloss on Wellies, I will be happy to share with
anybody who cares to solicit it directly the fine joke about the American
suddenly widowed in Paris.
 

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