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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Cordelia; Comedy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0481.  Wednesday, 1 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH
        Date:   Tuesday, 31 May 1994 22:05:27 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Cordelia or Terence: human or emblem?
 
(2)     From:   Rex Bunn <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Jun 1994 14:21:15 +1000
        Subj:   Re: Cordelia
 
(3)     From:   Lonnie J Durham <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 03:15:20 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Comedy and Cordelia
 
(4)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 94 07:21:59 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0477  Re: Cordelia
 
(5)     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Jun 94 08:23:10 EDT
        Subj:   Playing Cordelia
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH
Date:           Tuesday, 31 May 1994 22:05:27 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Cordelia or Terence: human or emblem?
 
For Pamela Bunn:
 
Terence Hawkes writes as if he is an Old Testament prophet, and as if his
vision is the only vision. Of course, KING LEAR may be read thematically or
emblematically. But if Cordelia should be read as an emblem, this emblem dies
in the last scene of the play. And when Lear enters with her in his arms, we
have a reversal of the conventional pieta. Surely this is emblematic. Let's ask
Terence what this emblem meant to a Renaissance audience.
 
But there are other ways to read plays. (I've got words that jinge jangle
jingle.) You may, if you wish, take a dramatic character to present a real
human woman, with real human emotions and problems. Unfortunately, Renaissance
playgoers did NOT tell us exactly how they interpreted drama, but the few
descriptions that we have do not seem to be emblematic or thematic. Characters
are described as if they are real people. Am I wrong?
 
As Terence Hawkes implies, Knights is a very good reader of Shakespeare, but he
is not the only good reader. Now that I think of it, wasn't Knights a bit of a
Marxist?
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rex Bunn <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Jun 1994 14:21:15 +1000
Subject:        Re: Cordelia
 
For Terence Hawkes
 
Your students must adore you if you put them down so callously and
unnecessarily as you did my namesake, Pamela Bunn. Did you not notice
that her paper is for a Performing Shakespeare class? Pamela knows,
and I know, and you ought to know, that when an actor steps onstage in
the character of Cordelia, there is a real, live flesh and blood human being
called Cordelia whether armchair literary pontificators like it or not.
Pamelas question is a legitimate one for anyone involved in actual theatre,
where the luxury of believing in the fallacy of *neutral
performance* does not exist.
 
Rex Bunn <
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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lonnie J Durham <
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Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 03:15:20 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Comedy and Cordelia
 
Two things: first, regarding Terence Hawkes' advice to Pamela Bunn--hear,hear.
 
Second: regarding Elizabeth Schmitt's inquiry about good stuff on
comedy--I know it's not much in fashion, but I still find Northrop Frye's
discussions, both in the *Anatomy* and in "The Argument of Comedy," to be
very useful in class discussions.  He schematizes comedic forms and
conventions in a way students can easily grasp, and from there one can
point out all the departues, variations and inversions of (from) these few
simple schemes.  Of course the book of my old mentor, C.L. Barber,
*Shakespeare's Festive Comedies* isn't exactly chopped liver either.  I
know that C of E  isn't technically a festive comedy (nor is the wild sea
out of which the radical confusion arises exactly Frye's "green world")
but many of the same principles still apply.
 
For myself--I've had interesting times applying one of Levi-Strauss's (doesn't
THAT name seem quaint in these days!) old dichotomies: the raw and the cooked.
Ephesus is "overcooked," the meat is falling off the spit; Antipholus of E is
stuck in a pressure cooker in too-close proximity to a young and desirable
sister-in-law.  He is also over-identified: everyone knows him and what he's
supposed to be and be doing. He can't even be late for dinner.  The play's
action is to inject some of the "raw" world, the radical confusion (madness)
that comes out of the sea to reinvigorate a stifled society.  The "raw" comes
out in the ostensibly incestuous proposals of Antipholus.  Get the repressed
EXpressed in other words--the rage of A of E at his restricted identity and A
of S's terror of madness and foreigners (which is also the Duke's fear, making
him execute one for whom he has so much fellow-feeling), and the old
institutions (like marriage) can be re-invented.  I won't ramble any more, but
you get the drift. Good luck, Elizabeth.
 
Lonnie Durham
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 94 07:21:59 EDT
Subject: 5.0477  Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0477  Re: Cordelia
 
Dear Pamela Bunn,
 
Terence Hawkes warns you about mistaking the marks on the page for a "real"
flesh and blood entity like yourself (unlike me, though, a mere projection of
electrons emanating from some NYNEX connection in Greenwich Village).  The
marks on the page, nevertheless, may be mapped onto three and four dimensional
critters, and the projection may possibly create interesting simulacra of
"real" emotions and ideas and events.
 
The technical skills needed to accomplish such translation from script to flesh
seem to have shaped the profession of acting, directing, and playwriting in
many different cultures, in many different ways.  One of the repeated
discussions in written treatises on acting is how to project or to enact the
experience of juxtaposed emotional states: eagerness and reticense at once,
politeness and fury, a desire to stay and a compelling need to go.
 
A script can suggest "development" in a fictional character as the balance of
loyalty against rebellion, for example, shifts from the early part of a dialog
to a later one.  The opening scene in LEAR seems to be an demonstration of
family equilibrium: "How much stress can we apply to this daughter before she
falls off the balance-point?"  As with jugglers and acrobats, we watch to see
the breaking point, teetering over disaster.  (Not real disaster, just a
fictional disaster.)  Living creatures seem to take pleasures in such dynamic
displays, like dance, song, spicy food, body-surfing, and "learning."
 
Beth Goldring, "COR's Rescue of Kent," in Gary Taylor and Michael Warren, THE
DIVISION OF THE KINGDOMS (1983), looks at how the different printed texts of
LEAR offer different maps for an emotional/political/hierarchical journey to be
taken by Cordelia   (or by the artificial arrangement of signs on the page that
we encourage actors to "play" as if they were a real person's unrehearsed
spontaneous actions and utterances.)
 
You might look at Bertram Joseph, ELIZABETHAN ACTING, 2nd edition, and other
more recent studies of the craft to see how those folks talked about these same
issues raised by us today.  Same fights, different players.
 
                                        Essentially,
                                         Steve Urkowitz
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Jun 94 08:23:10 EDT
Subject:        Playing Cordelia
 
Re:  Terence Hawkes reply to Pamela Bunn on playing Cordelia.
 
As an actor and teacher of Shakespearean performance, I find Terence Hawkes
reply to Pamela Bunn a bit overstated.  While it is true that Cordelia is not a
real person, it is also true that actors playing her are.  To suggest that
Shakespeare's art is entirely emblematic is perhaps a perfectly agreeable
solution in a class focusing on literary analysis, but it wouldn't get one very
far in a performance class.  Actors who resort to emblematic performances, even
when citing historic precident, are apt to appear very wooden in a modern
production.  Actors do have to think about the emotional states they (as their
characters) are undergoing as they play a scene.  I may be wrong here, but I
understood Ms. Bunn's question to be in the context of writing about *playing*
the character.  I think that a "Cordelia" would indeed have to face the problem
of undergoing layers of evolving (and sometimes conflicting) emotions.  Finding
a way of keeping those clear to oneself, and to an audience, is a real actor
problem.
 
While I respect Prof. Hawkes's caution that sentimental character biography can
lead to terrible distortion of plays and characters, I would assert that his
position seems as reactionary and damaging in an equal and opposite way.
 

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