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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: September ::
Re: MV Characters; Habits of Mind; EXTRACT/MAIL
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No.0746.  Monday, 26 September 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Richard C. Jones III <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Sep 1994 20:59:30 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   S&S
 
(2)     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Sunday, 18 Sep 94 10:09:56 EST
        Subj:   Peter Sellars' MV
 
(3)     From:   Kathleen Kendrick <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 Sep 1994 14:01:17 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   MV's Portia
 
(4)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Sep 1994 21:44:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0739  Re: Henry V, Habits of Mind, and Death
 
(5)     From:   Ralph Alan Cohen <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Sep 1994 15:18:01 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 14 Sep 1994 to 15 Sep 1994
 
(6)     From:   E. L. Epstein <epstein%
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Sep 1994 14:47:21 EDT
        Subj:   [Character]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard C. Jones III <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Sep 1994 20:59:30 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        S&S
 
As it happens, the recent discussions of Salerio and Solanio in *MV* coincided
with my being cast as Shylock in a scene for a directing styles class.  Perhaps
because we'll be working only on Act I, my re-read of the play highlighted some
things in my own mind.
 
Foremost among these is that Shylock is justified in his anger and resentment
up until the point at which he starts valuing (or saying he values) the bond
more than the fulfillment of the contract itself, i.e. early in Act III.
Obviously, this is not a startling new insight, but I was surprised at the
degree to which Shakespeare goes out of his way to provide a legitimate
explanation for Shylock's actions.  He isn't exactly sweet and cuddly, but his
only real offense is hating Antonio "for he is a Christian"; and of course
Antonio clearly hates *him* for *not* being a Christian.
 
More interesting to me, however, was the importance of S&S in all this. They
have only one scene (III.i) in which they interact directly with Shylock.
Salerino and Solanio remind me of junior-high brats who snigger incessantly in
the back of the classroom, and consider it the height of fun to make the
substitute teacher threaten detention.  In the 20 lines immediately prior to
the speech in which Shylock first really loses his cool, S&S admit that they
were complicit in Jessica's elopement and insult Shylock's religion, age,
profession, and sexual potency.  When Shylock explodes in the "let him look to
his bond" speech, they have won.  I see them exchanging smirks to signal their
triumph.  And Shylock's *next* line after that is "Hath not a Jew eyes", which
I fear is too well-known as a set-piece ever to be played as I would: in full
righteous dudgeon at the simpering little fey twerps who goaded Shylock into
the outburst.
 
I'd go a step further, too: I'd suggest that S&S's petty viciousness is an
important dramatic catalyst.  Shylock first threatens holding Antonio to his
bond not after sober and clinical deliberation, but in a fit of pique.  Having
done so, however, he cannot retreat without a significant loss of pride...
which, for Shylock, means he can't retreat at all.  In other words, Shylock
does not conceive of the threat and then deliver it: he makes the threat and
then must find a way to believe in its "truth".  [I had a dean like that once,
but therein hangs another tale.]
 
I am fully aware of the uselessness of playing "if only" games when dealing
with a fictive construct like a play: speaking only in formal (rather than
"character") terms, though, I think it is clear that S&S are far more important
than mere functionaries.  Are they much different from each other?  No, of
course not -- but not because Shakespeare didn't bother to differentiate them.
Rather, they're cut from the same cloth (again, in formal terms) so that one
will always be available to act as audience for the other's bitchy witticisms.
 
Too bad I don't get to do Act III...
 
Rick Jones

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Sunday, 18 Sep 94 10:09:56 EST
Subject:        Peter Sellars' MV
 
Someone on the list last week wanted information about Peter Sellars' Chicago
production of _Merchant of Venice_. According to a theatre note in today's
Tribune, the show is in its second week of rehearsals at the Goodman Theatre
and is currently seven and a half hours long (expect that to decrease). The
cast includes an African-American as Shylock, an Asian-American as Portia, and
a Latino as Antonio. The show opens Oct. 10.
 
David J. Knauer

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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kathleen Kendrick <
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Date:           Friday, 23 Sep 1994 14:01:17 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        MV's Portia
 
I am doing a paper on Portia's .."little body's weariness".  Obvious, her
frustration as a woman of that age and tediousness of interviews with
inappropriate suitors, but any other ideas?  Thanks.
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Sep 1994 21:44:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0739  Re: Henry V, Habits of Mind, and Death
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0739  Re: Henry V, Habits of Mind, and Death
 
Terence Martin seems to suggest that all English people (every last one of
them) before 1950 thought that Henry V was a hero king. If this is true, I
believe it is the first time in recorded history that all members of a nation
have believed the same thing about an historical fact or figure. Like Terence
Hawkes, I am agog.
 
But, unlike Terence Hawkes, I hold with Ralph Cohen that habits of mind can be
determined by words (and only words). Norman Holland had to (graciously)
concede this point some years ago.
 
And Dave Evett seems to be right that we do not have a common word for "death
in battle," but at least one war developed slang words for death in battle
(I've learned from Walker Percy). The Korean war used "bought it" or "bought
the farm" to mean "died in battle." I think the phrase still has connotations
of violent death.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ralph Alan Cohen <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Sep 1994 15:18:01 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 14 Sep 1994 to 15 Sep 1994
 
Professor Hawkes is right:  I should have written of the character's "habit of
speech," not Bassanio's "habit of mind."  My point was that an actor trying to
understand the character he was to play found what he felt (and I agreed) was a
significant difference in the pattern of that character's language from the
language of similar characters in the play.  I meant only to share his insight,
not to claim any of my own.
 
Ralph Alan Cohen, James Madison University
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           E. L. Epstein <epstein%
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Sep 1994 14:47:21 EDT
Subject:        [Character]
 
(ELEpstein) in re character: Before we wrestle with the problem of character in
fictional and dramatic contexts, we should first answer the question, "How do
we recognize *real* people that we know?" The answer is that we recognize them,
first by their physical configuration, the flesh and bone envelope that we have
seen before, and by the tones of the voice. However, there is an even more
crucial element in the recognition process: the impact of our friend's
characteristic psychology, the type of mind that produced the utterances we
hear or read, the "sort of things that old Charlie would say," the utterances
of the *souls* of our friends and acquaintances. This second element lasts much
longer than the physical appearance of these friends and acquaintances, which
alas fades with the passing years.
 
Of these two elements, the first--the physical envelope-is absent in fictional
or dramatic characters: fictional characters do not have bodies or voices in
any literal sense. Dramatic characters have bodies but only those lent them by
the actors. However, the characteristic mind or soul of the fictional or
dramatic characters is still there, and is as strong or even stronger than
those of our friends and acquaintances. We have a much clearer idea of what
Hamlet or Macbeth would do in circumstances other than those in which the
playwright has shown them than we have for all but the most intimate of our
friends and acquaintances.
 
Hence, we can have at least half of the experience of recognition for fictional
or dramatic characters than we have for recognizing *real people.* In fact,
some people would say that in recognizing our friends by the configuration of
theirs souls, we have the more characteristic, and certainly the
longer-lasting, element in character recognition. The body changes, sometimes
out of all recognition; the soul changes much more slowly. The soul forms the
body, according to Aristotle, but the material of the body decays, while the
forming soul remains a simple substance incapable of decay. If some religions
that derive their notions of the soul from Aristotle are right, the soul
changes not at all, assuming its final shape in eternity.
 
Finally, by limiting our competence in experiencing contact with fictional or
dramatic characters to recognition of accepted conventions or emblems, we are
limiting ourselves to recognition of the most hackneyed cliche elements of
their characters. If Falstaff is only the Miles Gloriosus plus the Parasite,
what is the difference between Falstaff and the Miles Gloriosus plus the
Parasite of the worst, the least talented Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights?
If Shakespeare is only the producer of clothed dramatic conventions, the less
Shakespeare he.  Certainly Shakespeare's audience and the succeeding
generations perceived the Miles and the Parasite, but they must have seen more,
since some of them, at least, accorded Shakespeare a higher status than they
gave to his hackneyed contemporaries. I would suggest that the perception of
the soul, as opposed to the perception of the cliche conventional elements, is
not a matter conditioned entirely by historical environment, but a process
which can proceed unlimited by time. That is, if the perception of the souls of
the character proceeds at all, it proceeds with minuscule change through time.
 

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