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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: December ::
Re: Fate in *Rom*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 1021. Thursday, 22 December 1994.
 
(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Dec 1994 22:50:48 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Fate versus Hamartia in ROM
 
(2)     From:   Naomi Liebler <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Dec 94 00:13:00 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.1017  Re: Fate in *Rom*
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Dec 1994 22:50:48 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Fate versus Hamartia in ROM
 
When Alfred Harbage talked about ROM in class, he'd say that we know what kind
of tragedy this play is because Shakespeare tells us in the first Chorus;
"star-cross'd," he said, means that this is a tragedy of fate. So far so good.
But Naomi Liebler reminds us that OEDIPUS is also a tragedy of fate, and so
fatal tragedies can also apparently have tragic protagonists who miss the mark.
 
But in ROM it's not the protagonist that misses the mark first; it's Friar
Laurence. After he marries the kids, he's supposed to tell the families so that
the marriage can bring peace. Instead he keeps it to himself -- and another
teen suicide is the result.
 
Beyond that, there does seem to be a heavy pattern of coincidence, adverse
coincidence, in the play. Friar John's inability to deliver the letter is
perhaps the last straw.
 
Yours, Bill
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Naomi Liebler <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Dec 94 00:13:00 EST
Subject: 5.1017  Re: Fate in *Rom*
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.1017  Re: Fate in *Rom*
 
Daniel Larner asks "what do [I] think 'unfortunate' means," if not "ill-fated,"
in R&J. I think it means "unlucky," which is quite a different matter from
"ill-fated" or "doomed." The stars that cross these young lovers were thought
to govern fortune, not fate. I take my cue from Nashe's "Unfortunate
Traveller," whose plucky and picaro- protagonist is beset with all manner of
misfortune and through wit--i.e., through his very human, very clever
maneuvering--lands on his feet at every one of the novella's multiple turns.
Nashe's novella is, of course, comic; and Larner is quite right to see the
comic POSSIBILITIES in *R&J," possibilities that are indeed realized in another
version of the same story, *MND.*
 
That's part of my point: as in the case of Nashe's protagonist, social life
presents possibilities which the genres of tragedy and comedy represent quite
differently. But in the post-Greco-Roman world of Christian London, fate as an
unavoidable, divinely ordained doom that no amount of human intervention could
influence just doesn't apply. Moreover, the notion of "doom," like an
unalterable sentence (the contemporary usage of the term makes it again a
humanly --or govermentally--controlled event), exonerates and exculpates both
protagonists and their represented communities from any and all responsibility
for what happens to them, and as I said in my first posting, even Oedipus, the
most doomed of tragic protagonists, rejects that exculpation. As Brecht wrote
in response to Shakespearean tragedy, "the sufferings of this man appal me,
because they are unnecessary," and as Raymond Williams wrote about that
sentence, "we have to see not only that suffering is avoidable, but that it is
not avoided. And not only that suffering breaks us, but that it need not break
us" (*Modern Tragedy,* Stanford UP, 1966).
 
OK?
 
Cheers,
Naomi Liebler
 

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