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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: January ::
Re: *MND*, *Lear*, and the Human Condition
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0074.  Sunday, 30 January 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Richard Jordan <
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        Date:   Sunday, 30 Jan 1994 11:14:35 +1100 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0070  Re: *MND* and *Lear*
 
(2)     From:   Martin Mueller <
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        Date:   Saturday, 29 Jan 94 20:33:46 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0070  Re: *MND* and *Lear*
 
(3)     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Saturday, 29 Jan 1994 23:49:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0055 Q: *MND* and *Lear*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Jordan <
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Date:           Sunday, 30 Jan 1994 11:14:35 +1100 (EST)
Subject: 5.0070  Re: *MND* and *Lear*
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0070  Re: *MND* and *Lear*
 
> Your project seems to me to rest on a huge assumption: that the 20th century
> sense of a gap between someone's social role and their 'real' private
> individual 'self' would have been shared by an early modern audience. There
> are no universal human experiences, and you're in danger of draining away
> something rather important. It used to be called history. No cigar.
>
> Terence Hawkes
 
"No universal human experiences"? Try birth, death, and defecation for
starters (and they start a lot)? "History, said Emerson, is the shadow
of a man."
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Mueller <
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Date:           Saturday, 29 Jan 94 20:33:46 -0600
Subject: 5.0070  Re: *MND* and *Lear*
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0070  Re: *MND* and *Lear*
 
"There are no universal human experiences." So writes Terence Hawkes
reflecting a current dogma. But in so barren a form, the statement that
there are no universal human experiences probably lays no greater claim to
our attention than its opposite that there are only universal human
experiences.  Human beings have not been around for very long and will not
be around forever. They are extraordinarily adaptive and transformational
animals (and have understood themselves as such, e.g. the ode on man in
Sophocles' Antigone). But the extraordinary diversity and divergence of
cultural and historical experience is interpretable only with reference to
the enabling and boundary conditions that the physical world and
evolutionary history have established for human beings wherever and
whenever they exist. It has been fashionable of late to think of these
conditions as a negligible substratum of our lives, and I recall reading
somewhere that it is the prfessional malpractice of anthropologists to
exaggerate the otherness of strange culture. It is probably the case that
we can never hit the rock bottom of human nature in an unmediated fashion,
because human experience is always and everywhere mediated through culture
and history, and culture and history are always and everywhere different.
But their difference is a difference within a frame, and from this
perspective the award of "no cigars' to folks who want to compare deep
resemblances between cultures is as naive as the desire to the same thing
everywhere.
 
Martin Mueller
Professor of English and Classics
Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois 60208

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708-864-3496
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Saturday, 29 Jan 1994 23:49:03 -0400
Subject: 5.0055 Q: *MND* and *Lear*
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0055 Q: *MND* and *Lear*
 
Isn't there also a problem with your assumption that the early moderns did not
sense a gap between one's social and "natural" self?  If so, certain things
make no sense.
 
Edmund's speech on his motivations and natural abilities in King Lear seems to
rest on the assumption that his social role doesn't quite match the honour
deserved by his natural worth.  Morgan's description of his "sons" in Cymbeline
as princes even though not raised as such seems like a demonstration of
"natural" personal essence.  Going a little further afield, one could mention
how Sir Torre is "naturally" a knight, having been sired by a knight, despite
being raised by a cow-herd, in Malory's tale of "Torre and Pellinor."  Certain
qualities are recognized in the natural or "wild" man in Spenser's *Fairie
Queene.*  The wild man (I don't think he has a name, or much to do with *Iron
John*, incidentally) in book five is probably the best example, but there are
other examples of noble savages, striding powerfully through the pages of
literature in the centuries before Rousseau. Not all of these examples may seem
immediately relevant, but the very idea of a noble savage is ironic, and
suggests that the person who lacks social position may still be of significant
worth, unjustly unacknowledged by society.
 
Your point though is well taken, Terence, in asserting that the division
between the natural and social realms is considerably different in the early
modern period from our own post- romanticist notions.  It might be more useful,
Julie, to look at how conceptions of "nature" are constructed and
re-constructed in both plays.  In *Lear*, for instance, the word nature
undergoes some interesting shifts from the natural obedience demanded of his
daughters (a social nature, or divine providence) to the nature of the wren
that "does it in my sight" (or something like that).  A similar, but (in my
mind at least) much more positive, shift takes place in MND between the demand
for natural obedience to one's father, to the natural world where anything is
possible as long as Puck and Oberon keep interfering.  Perhaps more important
is the shift between the call for natural loyalty and the acceptance of the
natural love of the couples.
 
Anyway, I've babbled far too long now, but the point is that neither accepting
our post-romantic division of social and natural selves utterly, nor dissolving
any such division in historical relativism is likely to yield very interesting
results.
        Good luck,
        Sean Lawrence.
 

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