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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: December ::
Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0945. Wednesday, 6 December 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Moray McConnachie <
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        Date:   Monday, 4 Dec 1995 19:57:46 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0942 Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
 
(2)     From:   Thomas Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Dec 1995 18:34:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0942  Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
 
(3)     From:   Peter L Groves <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Dec 1995 16:05:11 GMT+1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0933  Re: Soliloquies
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moray McConnachie <
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Date:           Monday, 4 Dec 1995 19:57:46 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 6.0942 Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0942 Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
 
Thanks to all those who supplied me with the bibliographical details of the
book by Harry Berger I was after. I shall scoot off and re-read it - after
which I would love to discuss the issues he raises, through the medium of this
list - those, at least, which do not regularly appear in any case...
 
Yours,
Moray McConnachie
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Dec 1995 18:34:43 -0500
Subject: 6.0942  Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0942  Re: Silent Reading and Soliloquies
 
Soliloquizing in public again, I should first apologize to Bill Godshalk for
misremembering the passage from Augustine, though it was Ambrose and the point
about rhetoric versus theology I think will pass muster.
 
Thanks to all who responded to my first go at an account of the dramaturgy of
the soliloquy.  Here follow some various thoughts on your thoughts...
 
For Adrian Kiernander: yes, Launce is a wonderful example, though he might
force us to reinvent the category of soliloquy just in order to include him
out!  The only other instance of this I can think of is Launcelot Gobbo (very
much the same sort of figure) who says "saving your reverence" at one point in
his speech about the Devil tempting him to leave Shylock. The whole speech is
"performative" in the same way as Launce's skit with dog Crab, I think. And
this brings us to the issue of class as a determinant of what actors can and
cant do in talking with audiences (and to Weimann, of course, who has been
lurking around all along).
 
A related, and perhaps even more interesting case is that of the Scrivener in
Richard III, who is very clearly talking to an audience who cannot betray him
to anybody, and who yet seems to regard us as somehow powerful to do something,
even if only to witness the nature of the injustice he is privy to.  His access
to us seems to be an aspect of the intensity of his need to speak, and ours to
know.  And though class is very relevant, it's not the same deal as with
Launce, who is exercising a certain amused detachment from the whole business
through his miming it out for us.  Yet _this_ kind of access to a crowd of
witnesses is often withheld from more aristocratic characters, leaving them the
more isolated, like people in private meditation -- or prayer.  When Gloster
calls to "You mighty gods" who see him on the top of Dover Cliff, it doesnt
help me much to see him seeing us seeing him, though it helps enormously that I
_am_ in fact seeing him (perhaps an actor could make use of this, especially a
Brechtian one). "If I were any god of power..." as Miranda says, I might well
intervene (Edgar says I do). But in fact there's nothing I can do, except,
perhaps, laugh or weep. Or fake a heart attack and stop the play. And thereby
hangs a tale.
 
For Chris Stroffolino and Florence Amit:
 
What I meant by my comments on Richard's Pomfret soliloquy was less something
about the whole play, either past or future, and more something about what
happens in that scene.  When Richard comes forward to propose a meatphor
("prison = world") and declares he has failed in it because there are no people
in the prison, I can accept that he does not see me and my fellow playgoers,
and this blindness I understand as a mark or trope of his isolation from us all
-- that we are here and he, imprisoned, cannot see us. Poor Richard! When he
then populates his ragged prison walls with "many people", in a curious way we
begin to materialize to him, and hence to each other (?) (cf. the Porter in
Macbeth?) in a usually motley Globe array of classes: "the better sort" , the
ambitious, ones who flatter themselves as misery loves company, etc. By the
time he reaches " thus play I in one person many people" a strange
transformation has come over the theater: it is full of people!
 
And yet these people are packed into the thought of a character who remains in
prison alone. For a moment then, we are "inside" Richard's head, as it were,
and when he speaks of tearing his way out, the prison and his body have become
indistinguishable.  Hence it is foolish here to speak of a distinction between
"talking to himself" anmd "talking to the audience" -- both the unitary and the
multiple nature of thought and identity are in play, against one another.  One
voice speaks the existence of many voices, many ears focus themselves on one
voice speaking to itself (and who knows if an actor might not be picturing
himself talking to himself here?) Just as this happens, Shakespeare introduces
(the idea of) a consort of music, that needs to "keep time." I call that a
remarkable piece of poetic thinking.
 
As to whether this is "subversive" of traditional readings or "subordinates
character to plot" I'm not sure.  I have not really thought these things
through, and am not sure I understand the terms they're proposed in.  I'd love
to be enlightened.
 
Cheers,
Tom
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter L Groves <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Dec 1995 16:05:11 GMT+1000
Subject: 6.0933  Re: Soliloquies
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0933  Re: Soliloquies
 
I'm afraid I seem to have got Bradley S. Berens rather hot under the collar; I
think he has to learn, however, that bluster and personal abuse are not much of
a substitute for careful reading and considered writing.  To clarify: my
original posting was in response to a question about whether there is any
"textual 'proof'" that Ophelia overhears Hamlet's soliloquy (if--in the light
of recent comments--that is what it is) "To be, or not to be"; I took this to
be a question about textual semiotics--that is, about what is or is not encoded
in the texts of _Hamlet_ as we have them--and (as my later posting surely made
clear) I was never talking about the interesting question of what a director
might choose to do with the scene, since directors are not (and perhaps cannot
be) entirely bound by the semiotics of the text (I admit that I was too hasty
in dismissing the theatrical possibilities of such an overhearing: you never
know what the effect might be until you see it).  My point (and here my initial
posting was not sufficiently explicit) is that a convention such as
'soliloquies are not overheard' is "strong" purely in the sense that it
functions as a kind of default condition: it will operate unless actively
countered, either in the text or in the performance.  It's a bit like the
presumption of innocence under the law: "no compelling evidence either way"
doesn't mean no verdict, it means not guilty.  Because nothing in the text
works against it, therefore, a reader of _Ham_ who is conversant with
Elizabethan theatrical convention will assume that Shakespeare did not intend
us to imagine an Ophelia who hears the speech; the same person watching the
play will also assume this unless the director actively signals the contrary,
as in the case of the Beerbohm Tree production that Mr Berens cites.  This
point is not, of course, affected by producing instances where overhearing is
clearly signposted in the text.
 
This explains, I hope, why I felt it necessary to remind Mr Berens of the
obvious fact that _Hamlet_ is a fiction: unless you are discussing a specific
production it really doesn't make any sense to say "No one should conclude that
Ophelia doesn't overhear Hamlet based only on this weak-kneed convention", as
though we were talking about some real person who might in some historical
sense have either overheard or not overheard.
 
Peter Groves
Department of English
Monash University
 

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