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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: March ::
Re: A Few Good Men
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0257.  Tuesday, 22 March 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Karla Walters <KWALTERS@UNMB.BITNET>
        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 1994 08:08 MST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
(2)     From:   Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 1994 12:52:29 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
(3)     From:   Michael Calvert <CALVERT@UCONNVM>
        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 94 12:35:11 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
(4)     From:   Chris Kendall <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 1994 10:23:04 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   good guys
 
(5)     From:   Helen Ostovich <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 1994 12:37:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0256 Q: A Few Good Men
 
(6)     From:   Daniel Colvin <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 1994 12:45:43 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   A Few Good Men
 
(7)     From:   Edward T Bonahue <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 94 13:52 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
(8)     From:   Patrick Dolan <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 1994 11:55:58 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karla Walters <KWALTERS@UNMB.BITNET>
Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 1994 08:08 MST
Subject: 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
What's not "good" about Horatio in Hamlet, Edgar in Lear, and Benvolio in R&J?
 
Karla Walters

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Harry Hill <HILHAR@CONU2.BITNET>
Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 1994 12:52:29 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
Edgar?
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Calvert <CALVERT@UCONNVM>
Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 94 12:35:11 EST
Subject: 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
Blair Kelly asks: Are Shakespeare's bad boys more interesting than his
good guys, and for that matter, are there any good guys?
 
The answer to the first question is certainly yes, not only in Shakespeare
but in virtually all of literature.  Iago is more interesting than Othello,
and Satan in PL is far more interesting than Adam, or, for that matter,
God.  Evil is always more interesting than good--I'm not entirely sure why,
though my guess would be that being the depraved creatures we are, we enjoy
the vicarious expression of our darker impulses by characters we can
morally revile. (I believe this is Freud's explanation of the question,
fundamentally.)
 
Your perception that there are no "good" major characters in the plays
is also correct, I think.  There are heroic characters, like Hamlet and
Henry V, and shrewd characters like Ulysses and Duke Vincentio in
_Measure_.  But no _good_ major male characters (at least none I can think
of).
 
Explanation?  Shakespeare wasn't much interested in moralizing, but
exploring life.  And in life one rarely encounters saints, (and when one
does, they are likelier to be female than male, but perhaps that's another
discussion).  Shakespeare's heroes are generally caught up in some sort
of political power struggle; hence morality is seldom an issue in the
usual sense, but effectiveness sure as hell is.  Hamlet doesn't need to learn
how to be "good", he already is "good"--he needs to learn how to ruthlessly
slaughter his enemies, and in the end he does.
 
To paraphrase a line from Shaffer's _Amadeus_--goodness means nothing in
the crucible of art--here read politics--that, I think is the truth
(unpleasant tho it be) that Shakespeare is getting at with his tragic
heroes.
 
Leading male figures in the comedies are another matter, of course.
They mostly _are_ good, and hence, much less interesting than the
heroines.
 
Michael T. Calvert
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Kendall <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 1994 10:23:04 -0700 (MST)
Subject:        good guys
 
If you can forgive a premature burial at sea, Pericles comes off looking
pretty good.  He does exact some revenge, if I remember correctly, on the
reprobate foster parents, but they really had it coming.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Helen Ostovich <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 1994 12:37:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0256 Q: A Few Good Men
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0256 Q: A Few Good Men
 
Are you forgetting Kent in KING LEAR?  There can't be much doubt about him,
even if you see problems with Edgar and Gloucester.  Or what about Horatio in
HAMLET?  Henry VI in 3H6?  McDuff?  (I draw the line at Malcolm.)  May one be
good if wrong-headed?  How about Brutus?  Or if light-headed?  Cassio?
 
Helen Ostovich
McMaster University
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Colvin <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 1994 12:45:43 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        A Few Good Men
 
To some extent, of course, the problem with identifying "good men" in
Shakespeare is that we must define "good"  -- is it a moral term alone or
must it include some "effectual" goodness?  For example, Jonson's Bonario is
"good," but he is not especially effective in his actions.  And others, like
Friar Lawrence, have undercutting elements:  Edgar's use of deception
(though see Greenblatt on the uses of anxiety) or Prospero's hegemony.
Still, I would offer the following as some of Shakespeare's "good" (though
not perfect) men:
        Horatio
        Kent
        Ferdinand
 
It is true that evil seems to be more interesting.
 
Daniel Colvin, Western Illinois University

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(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward T Bonahue <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 94 13:52 EST
Subject: 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
Blair Kelly raises an interesting point about "good guys."  As I run down the
list of men in the comedies, not too many would pass for "good."  Theseus,
Lysander, Demetrius--not particularly.  Orsino, no; Sebastian, well, o.k.,
although the real spokesman for loyalty and love is Antonio.  Bertram?  No way.
Antonio, Bassiano and Gratiano?  No way.  Petruchio?  No way.  Duke Vincentio?
No way. At least, the generally accepted/received moral status of these men is
equivocal.
 
The tragedies and histories, though, give us lots of good guys.  Should we
start with Hamlet?  At least Horatio?  From _Lear_ the trio of Kent, Edgar and
Albany seem like good candidates.  Are Julius Caesar and Titus essentially
"good"?  Certainly the entrance of Henry VII at the end of R3 has all sorts of
"goodness" pinned to it.  Both John of Gaunt and the Duke of York in R2 carry
moral weight.  Various figures in H4, H5 and H6 carry the torch.
 
In _T&C_ even Hector stoops for the armor.  How about the romances? Could
Prospero pass muster? (Probably Gonzalo would.)
 
Of course, I can sit here and cull out my list of moral heroes all day long,
but I wouldn't care to make any large claims for "goodness" as anything more
than a highly localized and subjective construct.  Each time a student comes in
and says, "So Hamlet's supposed to be the good guy," I wince.  "To me?" I ask.
"To you?  To the audience at the Globe?  To women and minorities?  To Marxists,
deconstructionists, queer theorists?"
 
Besides, to most of us cutting-edge types, I suppose this kind of
character-based analysis is dreadfully passe.  Still...
 
Ed Bonahue
University of North Carolina
 
(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patrick Dolan <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 1994 11:55:58 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0256  Q: A Few Good Men
 
Perhaps the best moral exemplar among all Shakespeare's characters is "First
Servant" in Lear III:vii.  C.S. Lewis points out that "if it were real life and
not a play, that is part it would be best to have acted."
 
Another character of great moral interest is Kent, who somehow embodies
disillusioned and weakened middle-age in search of meaning.
 

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