Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: June ::
Re: Suicides
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0556.  Wednesday, 22 June 1994.
 
(1)     From:   John Boni <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 12:48:05 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0552 Re: Similarities
 
(2)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 21:10:25 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Suicide and/or Noble Act
 
(3)     From:   John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Jun 94 11:17:00 BST
        Subj:   SHK 5.0552 Re: Similarities
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Boni <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 12:48:05 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 5.0552 Re: Similarities
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0552 Re: Similarities
 
To Hardy Cook: I will not quarrel with your desire to curtail the "O.J.
Simpson" thread, which I took in a lighthearted vein, though not everyone did,
obviously.
 
However, you make a dual assertion about Othello and Cleopatra and about
suicide.  I don't believe that suicide need be regarded as inglorious. In that
sense, Othello's suicide need not be termed ignoble.  Certainly, there exists
enough of the noble suicide in the work of Shakespeare's contemporaries as well
as his own.  The idea of Othello as judge and executioner as well as criminal
makes sense; after all, how could such a man (oh, oh, am I making him into a
character with human traits?), how could such a construct allow others to judge
him?
 
As with Cleopatra, the poetry enforces the nobility of her act.
 
We may have varying attitudes toward suicide, but at least one of them should
include nobility, if only for historical reasons.
 
John Boni

 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jun 1994 21:10:25 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Suicide and/or Noble Act
 
I gather Hardy Cook takes me to task because of the negative connotations of
suicide. But my position is: if you kill yourself, you've committed suicide.
Ergo, Othello and Cleopatra have both committed suicide.
 
I am not commenting on the nobility of either suicide. Eliot, of course, was
not convinced by Othello's final act of justice, when he identifies himself
with the Turkish enemy and smits himself as a turbaned and malignant
unbeliever. I find this suicide ambiguous rather than clarifying.
 
I have argued (and still believe) that Caesar convinces Cleopatra to kill
herself. Dolabella and Thidias enter the play together, and Thidias is the
first agent Caesar sends to Cleopatra; Dolabella is the second, and his job is
to get her to be noble to herself. Taking Cleopatra to Rome would be like
taking Mary, Queen of Scots, to London: not a good idea. Caesar wants to get
rid of her, but he does not want to appear in the deed. Dolabella works her
prefectly, and in the end Caesar turns to Dolabella: bury 'em. (There's more to
my argument, but enough for now.)  And so Cleopatra's death is at best
ambiguous.
 
(I'm sure this is Hardy's tactful way to get us off of contemporary events and
back to arguing about the plays!)
 
Yours,
Bill Godshalk
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 22 Jun 94 11:17:00 BST
Subject: Re: Similarities
Comment:        SHK 5.0552 Re: Similarities
 
Two brief points on Hardy Cook's comments on Othello's and Cleopatra's
"suicides":
 
It seems to me, Hardy, that you're right and wrong.  In a literal sense Othello
kills himself, that is to say, the actor playing the role of Othello kills
Othello at the end of the play.  T.S.Eliot, who should have known better,
thought that Othello's speech at the end was some attempt by the "character" to
"cheer himself up".  In fact here is the kind of evidence that always rattles
essentialist character-specialists that Othello is a "decentred character",
that he is both "the noble Moor" AND "the circumcised dog", and that the one
kills the other.  In this context, then it's a very peculiar suicide indeed,
since Othello is not taking his own life but an identity that is accorded to
the figure of Othello by Venice.  The death is cast in the form of a summary
execution, the protector of Venice and Governor of Cyprus killing the "turban'd
Turk" who traduced the State.
 
Cleopatra is even more complex, since her death follows Antony's botched heroic
death.  I question whether it is a "noble act" in the Roman sense of that
phrase.  I prefer to see this as an act of appropriation; Cleopatra takes Roman
suicide and appropriates it for Egypt. She transforms a particular manner of
death into an erotic Egyptian equivalent which has the effect of radically
questioning the masculine terms within which the tragic mood of the play seems
to be cast. Her death then becomes a tragedy which undercuts Roman tragedy, a
gesture which undoes the heroics that we associate with Antony.  All this from
a figure in the play for whom, undermining, undercutting, subverting, are means
of political survival.  Anybody looking for a feminine counter to the masculine
discourse of tragedy need look no further than Cleopatra, it seems to me.
Again, the actor playing the role of Cleopatra kills the "character", but then
the rhetoric of the process demands that we see this death in terms other than
suicide.
 
The point is, surely, that characters killing THEMSELVES here is a very
misleading formulation indeed- and before Bill Godshalk tells us that what he
sees happening on the stage is what actually happens on the stage, maybe we
should ponder our own commitment to a naively mimetic principle that the plays
themselves, and these two in particular, fly directly in the face of. This is
another way of pointing up the crass stupidity of those who would wish to make
ignorant connections between Othello and O.J.Simpson.  Now if they wish to make
connections between Othello and Detective Nordberg, then we might have a more
serious debate.
 
Cheers,
John Drakakis
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.