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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: February ::
Re: Coral; Kiss Me; Shylock
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0113. Thursday, 16 February 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Scott Shepherd <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Feb 1995 15:27:12 -0500
        Subj:   Of his bones are coral made
 
(2)     From:   Scott Shepherd <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Feb 1995 21:55:44 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Kiss Me Video
 
(3)     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Feb 95 14:50:58 EST
        Subj:   [Shylock]
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
 
I know this is an old topic, but because it mutated immediately into a heated
meta dispute about appropriate critical inquiry the original question was never
addressed. It's been nagging me.
 
I agree that "Of his bones are coral made" scores so many points for euphony
and fantastic image that a little semantic problem would be easy to excuse. But
in fact there is no semantic problem.
 
"Of his bones are coral made" uses the same "make...of" as "conscience does
make cowards of us all." The correct rephrasing is "(Something) has made coral
of his bones."
 
E L Epstein's inversion "Coral are made of his bones" is a linguistic red
herring that seems to uncover a difficulty not actually in the original. The
trick is that word order _matters_ in English, and it sometimes matters in ways
that are instinctive and therefore hard to detect.
 
For example, consider this quasipoetic phrase:
 
>From the lips of Demosthenes come diamonds
 
This is perfectly clear, but the inversion
 
>Diamonds come from the lips of Demosthenes
 
sounds like it's accounting for the origin of _all_ diamonds (especially if you
don't know what Demosthenes is). A native speaker can sense this without
knowing why it happens.
 
Why does it happen? I think
 
1) A plural or collective noun without an article tends to acquire an implied
"all" at the beginning of a sentence (eg "Men are scum") but less usually in
the middle (eg "The scum gave me diamonds").
 
2) Simple indicative present-tense constructions often have the ring of
universal factual statement (cf "Diamonds _came_ from the lips...," where past
tense eliminates the confusion). Inversion deadens the encyclopedia effect by
separating encyclopedia combinations like "come from" and "are made of".
 
In our *Tempest* example things are further complicated because the
present-tense verb actually denotes past action, ie "are made" = "have been
made" (cf "I am transformed", "the bed is made", "Christ is reborn"). Adjusting
for this will clear up Epstein's version:
 
>Coral(s) have been made of his bones.
 
Yes, poetry enjoys a certain linguistic license, but it's still made of words
(anyway it is in Shakespeare) and must operate by means of that mysterious
peculiar thing language. True semantic difficulties in the plays, no matter how
florid, get plenty of critical attention. Nobody wanted to discuss this one
because "Of his bones are coral made" doesn't _sound_ wrong (on the contrary it
sounds great!). It only becomes problematic after erroneous examination.
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Shepherd <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Feb 1995 21:55:44 -0500
Subject:        Re: Kiss Me Video
 
If Kiss Me Petrucchio is that documentary about the Raul Julia / Meryl Streep
*Shrew* production in Central Park that I borrowed once from the Midtown
Manhattan Library, I borrowed it once from the Midtown Manhattan Library (not
the one with the big lions but just across 5th Avenue from there). It is
wonderful. Raul Julia's Petrucchio gets enthusiastically booed, and he LOVES
it, gazes no-shit-takingly into the auditorium and in his beautiful Puerto
Rican voice bellows "She is my ASS! My household STUFF!" etc. Footage of the
play is intercut with interviews backstage and in the audience about the
production and the age-old Kate problem. Anybody who was involved in that Shrew
thread a few weeks ago should try to get their hands on it.
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Feb 95 14:50:58 EST
Subject:        [Shylock]
 
Bill Godshalk got me dead to rights, of course, when the automatic writing part
of my text constructor slipped "the text invites such readings" past the more
recently installed postmodernist censor. One of those great shots _through the
water barrel_, so that the water arcs out onto the white hat (must be a white
hat; if he's _Bad_ Bill he has to wear the black one) where it lies, in the
sun, with the dark line of shadow, diagonally across the screen, separating it
from the fallen head.
 
But we rise on the stepping stones of our dying selves to higher things, Bill,
and a useful thing about the slip is that it helps call attention to two
crucial elements in the problem we're concerned with here, of the appearance of
stereotypical images and statements in Shakespearean texts (stereotyping not
just Jews but Moors and Welshfolk and Wymmyn): (1) the huge weight of habit
that governs (sure is hard for somebody with my training and experience to
write without personifying the components of the process) everything that even
the most assiduously self-aware of us does and says and composes; (2) the
intellectual and moral inconsistency that seems to me to be a normal feature of
human beings (e.g. the President of Rutgers University), such that a thoughtful
writer of popular plays, consciously interrogating the validity of stereotypes
which other writers and his own experience have called into question, might
still have a corner in the cistern of his heart where lurks a need for a Jewish
Other, a Moorish Other, a Welsh Other, a regiment of Female Others in
difference from which exultantly or hesitantly to define himself.
 
Penitentially,
Dave Evett
 

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