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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: January ::
Related to Development of Individualism
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0065.  Thursday, 25 January 1996.

(1)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 09:36:14 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Methinks

(2)     From:   Jonathan Sawday <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 17:20:35 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0060  Re: Development of Individualism

(3)     From:   Chris Ivic <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 21:07:05 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   [Shakespeare and the Irish]


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 09:36:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Methinks

Chris Fassler's characterization of "methinks" as a "reflexive construction"
isn't quite right: it's actually an impersonal construction with an unexpressed
subject and indirect object meaning "it seems to me."  "Thinks" here (which,
incidentally, must be third person singular present-- note the "s" inflection)
is not our familiar verb meaning "to conceive in the mind," but rather the
archaic verb meaning "to seem," "to appear," from the Old English _thyncan_, a
verb related to but distinct from _thencan_, the source of our common modern
verb.  The "e" in "methinks" should probably be pronounced as an unaccented
schwa-glide, "muhTHINKS," rather than as a fully vocalized long "e," which
tends to make the phrase sound like a bad caricature of a Native American in a
Hollywood western.

                                               --Ron Macdonald

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Sawday <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 17:20:35 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 7.0060  Re: Development of Individualism
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0060  Re: Development of Individualism

My apologies to Chris Fassler. The obscure reference to `Cartesian Fish' in my
last posting, was an allusion to the colleague who (at an earlier point in this
discussion) had deduced the possibility of individual fish within a shoal of
the creatures possessing a sense of `individuality', since one could observe
them struggling to evade being eaten, or hunting for food. I believe that there
are various unicellular forms of life which move in ways suggestive of the
possession of intent, but I doubt we would wish to attribute to them a
reasoning power of the kind outlined by Descartes...can we then infer from an
observed motion a power of the will (in Cartesian terms) or the intellect?

Since Shakespearian characters possess neither of these attributes (will or
intellect) can we usefully argue for the presence or absence of `individuality'
in a given epoch, based on the evidence of artistic representation, as
Burckhardt attempted?

Chis Fassler writes `Descartes wrote "cogito, ergo sum"' and then he
interestingly speculates `What happens to our notion of self, individuality,
etc. if we imagine this...claim translated as "Methinks I am" -- or some such
Bottomian phrase.'

What indeed? But I don't think Descartes did write this, or at least not in the
first instance. His first formulation of the Cogito is, I believe: "Je pense,
donc je suis", later translated (by Descartes) as the more elegant "Cogito ergo
sum". The problem with Descartes' own translation is that it misses the double
use of the `I' which is suggested in the French version. The only way in which
the Latin version of the Cogito can be made to make sense in English, within
the context of the overall discussion, is to return to the French, and
translate the phrase using the continuous present, thus: `I am thinking,
therefore I exist' -  a sense loosely cognate with a phrase such as `Only
whilst I am thinking, am I able to be assured of the consciousness of my on
existence'. This is important to the distinction between thinking and existence
which Descartes is intent on exploring, since he sees consciousness of
existence as _momentary_, in comparison to the day to day business of carrying
on with unreflecting existing. For most of our lives, he argues, we are
operating in a fairly machine-like (fish-like?) way, only when we pause to
reflect on the process of thought, can we be convinced that we are _not_
machines (or fish). The argument becomes more difficult of course with cats and
dogs (let alone chimps), but certainly it allowed the intellectual construction
of the monstrous `L'homme machine' in the later 17th cenury by La Mettrie et
al.

In an earlier posting, I tried to suggest how this might impact on our use of
the Shakespearian soliloquy in helping us to understand the idea of
individuality. Shakespeare and his contemporaries, deploying the soliloquy form
in the later 16th cent. had anticipated the cartesian problem. They had found a
means, in representation, to offer the convincing (but momentary) _illusion_
that thought-processes were in operation, when, of course, they weren't. A
Shakespearian `character' possesses the same ability to reason as does the
unicellular creatures alluded to earlier. Since I could go on about this _ad
nauseam_ all day, I shall now indulge in shameless self-advertising (as we are
now able) and refer participants in this discussion to an essay on this topic
which I have written, entitled `Self and Selfhood in the Seventeenth Century'
to appear in Roy Porter (ed.), _The Making of the Modern Self_ (Routledge,
1996). Since the piece hasn't appeared yet, but this seems to be a hot topic,
if anyone is anxious to have a copy pre-publication, then they are invited to
drop me a line privately. You may imagine me blushing at this point.

On the question of Shakespeare and genocide, I don't have that much
confidence. But the author of _Henry V_ or _Coriolanus_ seems to me to be more
than likely to have shared the cultural assumptions of a contemporary who,
quite logically (from the contemporary point of view of the English polity in
the late 16th cent), had argued for a policy of genocide. What do other people
think?

Needless to say, I do not endorse etc etc.

Jonathan Sawday
University of Southampton

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Ivic <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Jan 1996 21:07:05 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        [Shakespeare and the Irish]

On Wed, 24 Jan 1996, Chris Fassler wrote:

>6)  BTW, while I do not share the reverence for Shakespeare and everything
>Shakespearean that is common on this list, I must question Jonathan Sawday's
>great confidence that "the historical Shakespeare" must have shared Spenser's
>genocidal contempt for the Irish.  The evidence seems to me, at best,
>insufficient with regard to Shakespeare in particular, and the view seems to me
>hardly to have been universal (though perhaps nearly so) in early modern
>England.

We do have more "evidence" of Spenser's representations of Ireland than we do
of Shakespeare's, for Spenser wrote at length about Ireland.  But I don't think
we have "insufficient" evidence of Shakespeare's view of "Brother Ireland," to
borrow a phrase from the Queen of France in _Henry V_.  Dromio S., for
instance, figures Ireland as a wasteland: when asked "In what part of her body
stands Ireland?" he responds, "Marry, sir, in her buttocks.  I found it out by
the bogs" (3.2.116-8).  One may choose to dismiss this as nothing more than a
harmless joke, but there's nothing funny about the desire to see Essex, or
Mountjoy, "from Ireland coming / Bringing rebellion broached on his sword"
(_Henry V_ Chor.5.32-3).

Chris Ivic
Univ. of Western Ontario
 

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