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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Character and Cordelia
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0489.  Friday, 3 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Bill McRae <MWM9389@TNTECH.BITNET>
        Date:   Thursday, 02 Jun 1994 10:40:46 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Cordelia and Character
 
(2)     From:   Lonnie J Durham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Jun 1994 12:00:11 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Reading Character
 
(3)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Jun 1994 14:51:20 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0484  Re: Cordelia and Character
 
(4)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Friday, 3 Jun 94 11:30 BST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0484 Re: Cordelia and Character
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill McRae <MWM9389@TNTECH.BITNET>
Date:           Thursday, 02 Jun 1994 10:40:46 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Cordelia and Character
 
Terence Hawkes tells us in *Meaning by Shakespeare* that "Shakespeare doesn't
mean: *we* mean *by* Shakespeare."  Christine Gordon speaks of her reading
Shakespeare in similar instrumental terms.  The debate over character seems to
turn on precisely this question of instrumentality; the plays are our
instruments.  We ought to pay attention to that fact, for its political
significance carries--dare I say it--powerful moral consequences. How we use
Shakespeare is how we use ourselves.
 
As a sidebar to all this--has anyone thought of the ways this debate evokes the
problematics of the cyber world?  Have a conversation in a MOO sometime to see
just how plastic the notion of character is, how easily character elides "real
life" and "virtual reality."
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lonnie J Durham <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Jun 1994 12:00:11 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Reading Character
 
Being fairly new to the SHAKSPER conference, there seems to be a history behind
the exchanges between Hawkes and Godshalk's gaggle of supporters that I'm not
aware of; but I doubt that Hawkes, in his remarks to Pamela Bunn, was intent
upon swatting down some poor, questing student.  What I felt was his
exasperation at her teachers for neglecting the training of students in matters
of literary CONVENTION--i.e. literary education itself--and replacing it (in
the name of making them better people) with a pretense at cultivating human
compassion.  I hope my students are compassionate, but I do not believe
attempting to turn literature into a means of social control (even for the most
laudable ends) can result in anything more than moral saws and shallow,
self-congratulatory treatises.
 
ANY hypothesis about character, however, is merely a critical construct anyway,
applied for the sake of organizing critical attention toward this or that set
of details.  The hypothesis that characters can be thought about rather in the
same way we think about living beings results in the sort of thing I read once
claiming that since all upper-class English children were wet-nursed, King
Lear, being upper class, was denied nursing by his own mother, resulting in his
current rage to capture and nurse upon his most beloved daughter.  But more to
the point: the "real humans" hypothesis leads one to interpret in terms of the
most powerful current popular obsessions, so that rather than getting CLOSER to
the humanity of other times and peoples, we are actually getting further away,
replacing their intellectual constructs with our own. This is NOT the path to
multicultural understanding, but the ethno- and chrono-centric annihilation of
cultural difference.
 
But too preachy. I hate my tone here.  The fact is, I will do ANYTHING to grasp
and convey a moment in the poetry.
 
Love to you all, and cheer up Pamela Bunn, wherever you are,
 
Lonnie Durham
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Jun 1994 14:51:20 -0300
Subject: 5.0484  Re: Cordelia and Character
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0484  Re: Cordelia and Character
 
Dear all,
 
I've been enjoying the discussion about the ontology of characters.
 
A couple of days ago I borrowed a book from the library called *Character as a
Subversive Force in Shakespeare*, by a man named Bernard Paris (are you out
there, Prof. Paris?).  I have yet to read much of it, but the title got me
thinking.
 
If character is entirely emblematic of, one supposes, what the theatrical
traditions demand, then can we ever really learn anything from a play?  Don't
we end up doing something analogous with the more decadent forms of Freudian or
archetype criticism, reading a book to find out how it is essentially like all
other books everywhere?  Nietzsche once observed that most men read not to
learn, but to confirm what they already know.
 
The reason that such readings don't quite function, IMHO, is that we are called
upon to, or seduced into sympathizing with literary characters.  No doubt this
all sounds very romanticist, but isn't that essentially why we read, as a form
of, or at least simulacrum to, communication?  We construct another subject out
there, in the novel or play or whatever, and recognize it as somehow like
ourselves.  This is why its actions can shake us up, why we do not (hopefully)
dismiss it like the two-dimensional criminals and politicians we are presented
by the popular press.
 
I can't help thinking that the only way in which literature can call upon us to
question our own prejudices and bigotries is by presenting characters that
possess enough sympathy to draw us into their apparent subjectivities.
Shakespeare seems particularly good at doing this.  Even if we do not admire a
Hotspur or a Falstaff (depending on our politics) we cannot simply dismiss them
if we listen to them speak.
 
Enough of my out-dated rambling,
        Sean Lawrence.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Friday, 3 Jun 94 11:30 BST
Subject: 5.0484 Re: Cordelia and Character
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0484 Re: Cordelia and Character
 
Dear Professor McKenna,
 
Did you perhaps -like Lady Macbeth- really faint? (That'll be $500.00 please).
 
T. Hawkes
 

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