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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character: Milk and Titles
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0643.  Friday, 29 July 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Martin Mueller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 1994 14:18:29 -0500
        Subj:   Milk
 
(2)     From:   Thomas Ellis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Jul 1994 23:09:43 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0639  Re: Character: Dirt, Titles, Conduct Books
 
(3)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 Jul 94 11:30:00 BST
        Subj:   SHK 5.0639 Re: Character: Dirt, Titles,
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Mueller <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 1994 14:18:29 -0500
Subject:        Milk
 
EL Epstein writes that the Hottentots of south eastern Africa equated milk with
feces and urine and would not drink it.  I would want to know a lot more about
this culture to move from the fact that they didn't drink milk to the
conclusion that they "equated" it with feces and urine.   All milk? The milk of
cattle? Do infants in that culture drink the equivalent of urine from their
mothers' breasts? Source?
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Ellis <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Jul 1994 23:09:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0639  Re: Character: Dirt, Titles, Conduct Books
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0639  Re: Character: Dirt, Titles, Conduct Books
 
Response to David Schalkwyk:
 
The observation you make about the titling of the comedies and tragedies is
indeed germane to the ongoing discussion of the construction of "Character" in
Shakespeare's time. I would begin by observing how many of the comedies' titles
are genre-markers, intended to specify what the audience's generic expectations
should be as they approach the play: "Comedy of Errors;" "Midsummer Night's
Dream;" "As You Like It"; "Much Ado About Nothing"; "All's Well That Ends
Well."  All of these titles convey variations of the same message: NOT TO BE
TAKEN SERIOUSLY (although, in the latter two instances, this genre-directive
may well have an ironic twist).
 
Conversely, as you note, the major tragedies all focus on one (or two) dominant
characters in their titles; this practice seems to have been conventional at
the time (consider Jonson's "Sejanus" as opposed to "Every Man In His Humour",
for example).
 
From this practice we can reasonably hypothesize that, on the characterological
continuum from mimetic (or life-like) to emblematic (or typological),
Shakespeare and his contemporaries intended the tragedies to be approached more
mimetically and his comedies to be approached more emblematically. Putting it
probably too simply, we are intended to identify and empathize with Hamlet,
Lear, and Othello, and to laugh with and at the antics of Puck, Beatrice and
Benedick, Rosalind and Orlando, and Parolles.
 
At the same time, as many of the contributors here have observed, the mimetic
and the emblematic can never be separated, for theatre, like all art, embodies
the paradox that, according to Gregory Bateson, defines "play" as a mammalian
behavior: "This is not what it is." When a dog, in play, nips your ankle, for
example, it is sending the message, "This is, and isn't, a bite." At an
infinitely higher level of complexity, all dramatic artists are doing the same
thing: This (i.e. Hamlet, Lear, Cordelia, etc. etc.) is, and is not, a person.
The paradox is beautifully embodied in Shakespeare's most playfully recursive
and self-referential play, The Winter's Tale, when Hermione's statue comes to
life: "That she is living, were it but told you, would be hooted at like an old
tale, yet it appears she lives." Yet the play IS an "old tale" and it only
"appears" she lives, because, after all, this is only a play.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Friday, 29 Jul 94 11:30:00 BST
Subject: Re: Character: Dirt, Titles,
Comment:        SHK 5.0639 Re: Character: Dirt, Titles,
 
For David Schalkwyk,
 
It was Charles I who identified Much Ado as the comedy of Benedick and
Betteris, so there isn't very much authority for textual revision there. The
general question you raise is an interesting one though insofar as tragedy is
concerned with establishing individual identity (though there may be
exceptions to this rather crass generalization), and comedy is concerned, at
least at the level of manifest content, with a more inclusive social harmony.
That's true of Much Ado too.  What the Restoration does with these examples
is another matter altogether- see Mirabell and Millamant in Congreve's The
Way of The World for a version of the Benedick-Beatrice conflict.  Those
tragedies which share titles e.g. Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra
raise very large questions about the relationship between tragedy and gender.
On the questioon of comedies though, what about The Merchant of Venice?
Granted that there appear to be two of them, Antonio and Shylock; or what
about The Merry Wives of Windsor?  If you think of the way titles are used in
the History Plays, then this raises an even more complicated set of
questions: is I Henry IV a comedy? for example?
 
One of the issues which your query raises is the extent to which the
tragedies- and I'm thinking of Othello in relation to Much Ado here, or Romeo
and Juliet in relation to MND- rework in another mood the material of the
comedies.  It seems to me that this might be a good place to start.
 
Cheers,
John Drakakis
 

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