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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: September ::
Re: Bassanio; Henry V; Deaths
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 739. Thursday, 15 September 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Sep 94 14:53 BST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 5.0731 Re: Assorted MV: Bassanio
 
(2)     From:   Terence Martin <STSMART@UMSLVMA.BITNET>
        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Sep 94 13:37:50 CDT
        Subj:   Henry V - War
 
(3)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Sep 94 17:27:59 EST
        Subj:   [Natural Deaths]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Sep 94 14:53 BST
Subject: 5.0731 Re: Assorted MV: Bassanio
Comment:        RE: SHK 5.0731 Re: Assorted MV: Bassanio
 
Does Ralph Cohen really have access to Bassanio's 'habit of mind'? How? I am
agog.
 
T. Hawkes
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Martin <STSMART@UMSLVMA.BITNET>
Date:           Wednesday, 14 Sep 94 13:37:50 CDT
Subject:        Henry V - War
 
I certainly agree with Ben Schneider and his point about the Elizabethan
attitude to war.  Attitudes to war have changed generally even within this
century in Europe and the US.  Nonetheless, Henry V in particular has always
been glorified in English poular culture and education for his warrior
abilities at least up until my experiences as an English school boy in the
1950's.  Perhaps now teachers are a little more critical of a monarch who spent
most of his reign gallivanting around France rather than looking after England!
 
Terence Martin
UM - St. Louis
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Sep 94 17:27:59 EST
Subject:        [Natural Deaths]
 
Ron MacDonald, citing Stephen Greenblatt and others, proposes that there is no
such thing as "natural" death: since life is our "natural" state, each of us
perceives her or his death as an unnatural event, an alien intrusion.  (No
doubt this helps account for the traditional Western visual figuration of death
as a walking skeleton, a being who both is and is not human.)  This is a
perspective, however, that like much other poststructural thinking privileges
subjectivity.  Yet we receive as well as make our language, after all, and
almost all adults in our culture (I would guess that includes Greenblatt and
MacDonald) also discriminate in their ordinary if not their academic discourse
among three types of death, with respect to their perceived, comprehensible,
articulable causes--(1) deaths caused by willed human acts (murder,
manslaughter, suicide [it occurs to me that English does not have a distinct
word for death caused by war--do such words occur in other tongues?]); (2)
deaths resulting from a single perceivable event of a kind not predictable as
part of the normal course of any particular life, even of the life of a
deep-sea diver or steelworker or bomb defuser (accidents); (3) deaths caused by
events so imperceptible, complex, or nysterious that they cannot be specified,
and that share these qualities with so many other deaths that most of us can
anticipate experiencing such a death, with the expectation that most people who
survive the first few hours or days of life will survive the next few decades,
so that some of the shock and dismay aroused by instances of types 1 and 2
attends unusually early versions of type 3.  These are the deaths we call
"natural," in this case meaning something like "common" or "usual"; we call
them that also because we see that death is a part of nature, in that all
things that live also die. (I'm afraid most of this is pretty obvious.)
 
There is certainly much to be learned from thinking about any of the kinds of
death terms of their subjectivity (especially as we try to understand the power
that images of death have for moving us, as readers or spectators, over and
over again).  But there are also things to be learned from studying the social
and institutional construction of death--the death of others, if you will.
Literary artists, at least in the West, have, by and large, studied the first
kind of death more extensively than the other two: Shakespeare shares this
characteristic with Homer, Chaucer, and Dickens, to the point where most of the
deaths in his plays are of type 1.  Anticipation is part of it, but I suppose
that the issue of (in)evitability is at the center of this process: we can see
the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, Desdemona and Othello coming from a long way
off, but along that way there are many opportunities--not taken, of course,
perceptible to us but not to them--for avoiding the violent close.  The
paradigm is supplied by the old fable about the man still in the prime of life,
warned that he would meet his early death in the marketplace so that he fled to
Aleppo, meeting an equally surprised Death in the marketplace of Aleppo.  It is
restated in the rage of Mercutio (not that he oughtn't to have known better),
sure that he could have handled Tybalt if not for the "accident" of Romeo's
well-intentioned but ill-timed intervention.  (The obverse of the process, it
seems to me, allows many readers and spectators to register many suicides-
-Juliet's, Cleopatra's--as at least partially triumphant.)  By contrast, the
deaths of Gaunt (who rails against Richard, not cancer or emphysema or
whatever) and Henry IV (the two "natural" Shakespearean deaths given extensive
stage time), for all that their unhappiness is perhaps one of the factors
involved, seem not more avoidable than changes in the weather--and, as enacted
in the plays, not much longer remembered.  And the ways that they and those
around them treat the fact of their dying strike me as different from the
treatment accorded most other Shakespearean deaths.
 

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