Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0243. Thursday, 17 March 1994.
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Thursday, March 17, 1994
Subject: New on the SHAKSPER FileServer: DEATHBED SCENES
As of today, SHAKSPEReans may retrieve from the SHAKSPER Fileserver David
Evett's "Remembering Death: Deathbed Scenes in Shakespeare's Plays and the
Visual Tradition," his seminar paper for the Shakespeare and the Graphic Arts
session at this year's SAA Annual Meeting (DEATHBED SCENES).
To retrieve DEATHBED SCENES, send a one-line mail message (without a subject
line) to LISTSERV@UTORONTO.BITNET, reading "GET DEATHBED SCENES SHAKSPER."
If you are directly connected to BITNET, you may issue the interactive
command, "TELL LISTSERV AT UTORONTO GET DEATHBED SCENES SHAKSPER."
Should you have difficulty receiving any of these files, please contact the
> or <SHAKSPER@utoronto.bitnet>.
"Remembering Death: Deathbed Scenes in Shakespeare's Plays and the Visual
Tradition" By David Evett
Death in its various forms is a frequent visitor to the Shakespearean
scene. Old Mors is much more common in tragedy and history than in comedy, of
course, but his osseous figure is not unknown even there--consider the arrival
of Marcade at the end of Love's Labour's Lost, Jaques' moralizing on the dying
deer in As You Like It, or the pretended death of Hero in Much Ado About
Nothing--, and he celebrates a real or imagined triumph in each of the
romances. Such a common motif has naturally drawn scholarly and critical
attention, and in addition to hundreds of local references in books and
articles on the genres already mentioned, on particular plays, on particular
characters and scenes, there have been several substantial studies of the
topic, although, oddly enough, no book-length treatment of death in Shakespeare
has yet appeared. [1. The foundation text is Theodore Spencer, Death and
Elizabethan Tragedy (1936), which digests a diligent survey of many plays into
a lucid and graceful outline of the principal categories under which early
modern playwrights handled the topic. Spencer's wide-ranging model apparently
influenced the design of more recent and more specialized treatments which
nonetheless look at early modern English drama generally rather than
Shakespeare in particular. These include Roger Stilling's investigation of the
close relation of Love and Death in Renaissance Tregedy (1976). Phoebe S.
Spinrad has looked at the particular moment when the cold hand falls on the
living shoulder, The Summons of Death on the Medieval and Renaissance Stage
(1987), and Michael Cameron Andrews has surveyed the living mouth's response by
looking particularly at final speeches from dying mouths and at speeches about
the final moments of life, The Action of Our Death (1989). Arnold Stein, The
House of Death (1986), although its particular applications concentrate on
17th-century non-dramatic works, has useful introductory materials.] It must
be noted, however, that none of them has any pictures: despite a few references
to visual materials, they are logocentric. That is natural enough, for despite
the labors provoked by the renewed interest in Shakespeare on the stage over
the last couple of decades, we cannot know much about the actual physical
presentation of Shakespearean death scenes in his own time. Yet the theater is
a visual as well as a verbal medium; successful playwrights necessarily have
strong visual imaginations. In fact, study of the visual as well as the verbal
traditions and conventions for the representation of death turns out to
illuminate and invigorate all the Shakespearean death scenes, and although the
argument that follows necessarily concentrates on what survives to us of the
Shakespearean construction of death--that is, the text--it will, I hope, become
clear that the visual element is continuously active in and behind the scene.