Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Cordelia and Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0484.  Thursday, 2 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Martin Mueller <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Jun 1994 08:33:15 -0500
        Subj:   Cordelia
 
(2)     From:   Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 10:29:19 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0481  Re: Cordelia; Comedy
 
(3)     From:   Nick Clary <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 13:13:08 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Cordelia, Character development, and Comedy
 
(4)     From:   James McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 13:06:23 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   characters with character
 
(5)     From:   Timothy Dayne Pinnow <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Jun 1994 12:34:42 -0500
        Subj:   Cordelia
 
(6)     From:   Rick Jones <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 94 17:25:05 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0477  Cordelia
 
(7)     From:   Christine M Gordon <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 18:32:25 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Cordelia
 
(8)     From:   Luc Borot <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 2 Jun 1994 10:38:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0481  Re: Cordelia; Comedy
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Mueller <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 1 Jun 1994 08:333:15 -0500
Subject:        Cordelia
 
Everything Terence Hawkes writes to Pamela Bunna about Cordelia is true, and
yet I hear the cry of a baby as the bathwater rushes down the drain. And I am
reminded about early twentieth-century discussions of "character" in Greek
tragedy, where learned scholars argued at length that discussions of the
"character" of Antigone or Medea were in principle misguided. No doubt they
were but the "private motives, or emotions" of a literary character are not so
easily banished.
 
In wondering about the "sincerity" of Cordelia, as Pamela Bunn does, one might
go to Hamlet for a moment. There are significant scenic resemblances between
the first appearances of Hamlet and Cordelia. A public scene of pomp,
circumstance, and fraud; a royal child that says nothing or very little. Hamlet
is goaded into extravagant speech by his mother and in his words about
trappings and suits of woe he flaunts an irreducible "me" that is contradicted
in the very act of utterance: we witness the highly rhetoric and constructed
search for an authentic self. Cordelia says nothing, partly but only partly
because she is a woman. Hamlet raises the question of authentic character in a
highly rhetorical display, and Cordelia raises it differently in silence. The
answer that there simply is no there there will not quite do.
 
There may not be development in Cordelia's character, but there is a problem of
disclosure, and if a modern student asks about it, the question is already
there in that odd entity we are no longer supposed to call a text.
 
Martin Mueller
Northwestern University

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 10:29:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0481  Re: Cordelia; Comedy
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0481  Re: Cordelia; Comedy
 
I am not a reactionary old fart, and neither is Terence Hawkes, whose advice to
the student in a "Performing Shakespeare" class was a splendid counterbalance
to the teacher, actor, scholar, reader who has never been encouraged to give
credence to the guides Shakespeare and other careful playwrights provide in the
actions, thoughts and feelings as represented in the lines characters utter (OF
COURSE they do it on a stage!) in situations. I have said it before, to little
notice: characters in Shakespeare ARE what they SAY and HOW they say it, and
the "how" is almost always thoroughly given. In Cordelia's case it is balanced
(nearly legal) and plain-spoken; how she speaks is how she thinks and feels,
basically. Her sisters' speech patterns are totally different from hers and
from each other's. I could easily go on as I have before...
 
As an actor, I know that it is possible -- even desirable -- to be at once a
person and an emblem. Most important, I know that it is totally wrong to give
an extra-textual life to a character in these plays, totally misleading I
should say. Who I am comes (with appropriate physical type) from how I speak.
An ability to respond to the feeling of the lines in the most fundamental way,
allowing their shape and texture to affect the facial muscles and therefore the
rest of the body, brings the character to artistic life.
 
The simplest instance of this is perhaps the slight pause at a line's end:
therein lies a great deal of a character's emphasis and focus. A look at
Cordelia's
                You have begot me, bred me, lov'd me: I
                Return these duties back as are right fit
shows that she has inherited a mite of her father's selfishness. We know this
from the final "I".  Again, I could easily go on... any actor with an inkling
of the rhetorical tradition in which these plays are so rooted will know this.
 
I apologize if my posting sounds simplistic and reductionist. I felt that
Terence Hawkes' letter needed reinforcement.
 
        Harry Hill
        Montreal
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nick Clary <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 13:13:08 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Cordelia, Character development, and Comedy
 
In a curious coincidence, Norman Rabkin has some wonderfully interesting things
to say about the relationship between dramatized time and character in his
Appendix "Shakespearean Mimesis, English Drama, and the Unity of Time," printed
in *Shakespeare and the Common Understanding* (1967). Here we are reminded that
time is a dimension of character and that Shakespeare's portrayal of entended
time, especially in his mature work, may be an indication of his perception of
character as changing.  Let me share at least one paragraph with anyone who
does not have Rabkin's book handy:
 
        Our consideration of the problems raised in measuring Elizabethan
        drama by Sidney's standards leads us thus to realize that the
        hybrid nature of that drama, its fusion of conventions derived
        from divergent mimetic traditions, builds into it a kind of
        internal conflict between notions of character; it builds in
        as well a source of versatility unprecedented in theatrical
        history, and my help explain why the theater of Shakespeare
        and his contemporaries is able to present, with the aid of a
        finite number of conventions, such a varied set of personal
        visions of the human condition. By founding a play on
        conventions derived from the classical or medieval tradition,
        a playwright is enabled to embody a view of character as
        fixed or in process, of life as determined or free. By
        combining conventions, he is able to ascribe theatrically
        fruitful ambiguity to the human condition, and to find a
        vehicle most admirably suited to his own view.
 
This may or may not be particularly useful to Ms. Bunn--I hope it can be.  I
remember be greatly impressed by the book when I first read it.  I return to
it from time to time and continue to find it arresting.
 
Nick Clary
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 13:06:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        characters with character
 
Dear Professor Hawkes,
 
I am confused.  When you claimed that Cordelia cannot develop because she isn't
a real person, I felt a great emptiness somewhere in me.  I realized that, for
years and years I had mistakenly thought that the people (whoops! characters) I
had been reading about shared with me deep longings and hopes.  Suddenly, I
found myself alone among pasteboard emblems.  The contact I'd thought I'd had
with men and women of times and places far distant from myself vanished, and I
realized my awful aloneness in the world.  I began to question whether the
images I had in my mind of the people around me (whom I thought I knew) might
be equally false and flat constructs.  In the end, I came to understand that
even my own knowledge of myself is faulty and is, in fact, the creation of a
character.  With this heavy burden of falseness and emptiness on my soul, I
walked in the dark along the muddy Ohio, seeking in the shimmering reflections
some solace for my terrible solitude.  In the end, I drowned myself and am now
washing slowly along the bottom toward Louisville.  Fortunately, since I am a
character, all this hurt far less than one might expect.  Still, in my muddy
wanderings, I wonder whether there might not be more to life than flatness and
historicity.  What do you think?
 
Soggily yours,
James "Driftwood" McKenna
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Timothy Dayne Pinnow <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 1 Jun 1994 12:34:42 -0500
Subject:        Cordelia
 
To Pamela Bunn--
 
First, let me encourage you to keep doing what you're doing--ask questions,
try to learn as much as you can--even when crusty old literary types sit
around and lie in wait for eager students like yourself to ask questions so
that they can jump at you in order to build themsleves up and tear you and
your teachers down.
 
Second, the problem I think you're running into in ACTING Cordelia is that
it is relatively impossible to play two emotions at one time.  In fact,
it's relatively impossible to play emotions.  Try concentrating on what it
is the Cordelia is *doing* not feeling.  What is she trying to accomplish
by her statements? whose behavior is she trying to affect?  How does she
want the whole situation to turn out?  All acting is interacting, so if you
can figure out what is going on between her and those around her, you'll
have some pretty big clues. Most of all, however, (and watch the literary
types jump on me for this one) don't allow yourself to get too caught up in
the thematic content of the play, except insofar as it helps you understand
the play and it's situations.  Themes are best left up to directors to
communicate--actors work in the moment-to-moment relationships.  Best of
luck--and don't ever stop asking questions.
 
                                         Timothy Dayne Pinnow
                                         St. Olaf College
                                         
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 94 17:25:05 EDT
Subject: 5.0477  Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0477  Cordelia
 
We are all deeply indebted to Terence Hawkes for alerting us to the remarkable
discovery that fictional characters aren't real people.  Imagine! Surely none
of us could have come to this deep understanding of the ways of literature
unaided by his pompous pronouncements.
 
It is no doubt true that modern theories are often imposed on works which were
not designed to accommodate them.  It is also true that any modern actor who
chooses to play Cordelia solely in terms of her emblematic value to the play as
a whole will be out of a job in a big hurry: and rightly so.
 
My advice to Pamela Bunn is fairly simple.  It is impossible to play "hurt" or
"disappointed" or whatever.  A character who has been hurt wants to appear that
she wasn't hurt, or she wants to change the behavior of her adversary, or she
wants to make the person who hurt her feel guilty, or perhaps she wants
something else: these are playable, because they represent what the characters
WANTS.  The fact of the hurt is simply background.  As I tell students
repeatedly (some might say ad nauseum): Play the right verbs, and the
adjectives and adverbs will take care of themselves.  I realize that this is a
paper, not a performance.  Still, I'd take a long look at what Cordelia really
WANTS, the obstacles she must overcome, and the tactics she employs to overcome
the obstacles and achieve her objectives.  Is this straight from about the
third day of Acting I?  You bet!   But it's there for a reason.
 
What I urge Pamela NOT to do is to construct long character histories involving
manifold suppositions that are not supported directly by the text. These work
fine for (many) modern plays, but not (at least in my experience) for
Shakespeare.  If the information is important, it's right there for you. If it
isn't there, it's pretty much irrelevant.  (Obviously, there are exceptions --
some knowledge of what was expected of a princess, for example, is important.
What she had for breakfast or whether Goneril used to pull her hair isn't.)
Above all, I urge approaching the character in her own terms -- if you're doing
a character study, either for stage or page, the function of your character
within the framework of the play is irrelevant to your purposes.  [N.B. I am
NOT suggesting that this is irrelevant work, merely that it is irrelevant to
the project at hand.]
 
I've rambled long enough.  Send me personal e-mail, Pamela, if you'd like to
discuss this at greater length.
 
Rick Jones

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine M Gordon <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 01 Jun 1994 18:32:25 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Cordelia
 
Well, here I go, blowing all my radical credentials, achieved over time with
much energy and cost. When I read a work of literature, or see a play, I do so
to learn more about what it is to be human. Thus the marks on the page (the
signs in the semiotic universe) do, in fact, become real for me in their own
way. Not perhaps as real as the students in my classroom, my family, my
friends; yet real enough so that when an actor brings one of them to life on
stage or screen, I might be moved to experience real emotions of my own in
response to her or his performance. The stories are what made me fall in love
with literature as a child: I became the characters about whom I read. The
stories, and the characters who inhabit them, are what still attract the
majority of undergraduates whom I teach and advise. This is not to say that
I/we don't deal with the other issues that Terence and others have raised,
since literature is much more than simply the stories (that's what reading
groups are for, I tell prospective majors). Nonetheless, if it weren't for the
stories, I wouldn't be here. (And good riddance, I hear a few voices saying;
but I want us all to be part of the enterprise, even as we argue.)
Affectionately, always, Chris Gordon
 
(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Luc Borot <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 2 Jun 1994 10:38:38 +0100
Subject: 5.0481  Re: Cordelia; Comedy
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0481  Re: Cordelia; Comedy
 
Dear all,
 
For a change, I think that we are ALL perfectly right and relevant about Pamela
Bunn's question. For a change, I agree with Terence Hawkes, when he reminds us
that there is no set and established psychology in a literary character, and I
would add, especially in drama. If there was such a thing as a set psychology
implied and imposed for a given character, where would be the
pleasure,challenge and art of acting? There would be no performance, only
liturgy, though I know many specialists of liturgical studies who would not
agree with this comparison... Terence is right as he makes the point that no
woman of flesh is on the page, or is prescribed by the text, whatever text is
chosen, and *Lear* is a text with lots of problems.
 
The character is, I think, an interface between the written text, the reader of
the text, and the theatrical interpreters, stage-directors, dramaturgs and
performers... and to make it more complex, the spectators. This conception of
the character is interesting because it makes the character a potential, an
open figure, and it also provides barriers: the chosen text is there to make
sure it is not thorough improvisation.
 
A character does not fully exist until it is enacted on a stage, or at least
until we readers try to put the pieces together to make it live in our brains.
 
So I think we all are right, but it does not mean that we shall ever agree, but
is there any alternative in this postlapsarian, sublunary world?
 
        Sublunarily and postlapsarianly yours,
                                                Luc
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.