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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: April ::
Re: MND (Alienation and Chastity)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0294.  Thursday, 18 April 1996.

(1)     From:   Chris Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Apr 1996 01:04:10 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0287  Re: RSC MND

(2)     From:   Joseph M Green <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Apr 1996 12:26:38 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0290  Re: RSC MND


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Apr 1996 01:04:10 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0287  Re: RSC MND
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0287  Re: RSC MND

In response to Shirley Kagan and Joseph Green's recent posts on the alienation
effect....with specific reference to MND....

Here's Brecht's poem "Showing Has To Be Shown" (or part of it)

     Show that you are showing! Among all the varied attitudes
     Which you show when showing how men play their parts
     The attitude of showing must never be forgotten....
     This is how to practice: before you show the way
     A man betrays someone, or is seized with jealousy
     Or concludes a deal, first look
     At the audience, as if you wished to say:
     'Now take note, this man is now betraying someone and this
          is how he does it....'
     In this way...your playing will resemble a weaver's weaving, the
     work of a craftsman...."

Now, aside from the mention of "weaver", there DOES seem to be an attitude
similar here to the dramaturgical attitude of Bottom and the "rude mechanicals"
in MND. It has been a commonplace of Sx criticism that S is satirizing the
ineptitude of these actors and their "botched job" is seen as a result of their
misguided fear of "frightening the ladies" with the power of dramatic
verisimilitude. Yet, it seems possible that Shakespeare, in that play at least,
is turning the satire against the ON-STAGE audience at least as much as against
these rude mechanicals. There is a sense in which the whole play of MND does to
tragedy on a macrocosmic level the same thing that Bottom and company's
unwitting "alienation effect" PYRAMUS AND THISBY does to it (tragedy) on a
microcosmic level....

This distrust of the conventional limits of theatre may very well be
pre-emptive, insofar as calling attention to the weakness of one's
representation may cut potential audience skepticism at the pass as it were
('were it played on the stage it would be condemned as an improbable fiction"),
but I think that it only "authenticates" what we see on the Shakespearean stage
by calling attention to the questionable status of ANY thing that claims
unselfconsciously to be "authentic". This, I believe, is where the
subversiveness lies (and it's not restricted to the comedies either). Chris
Stroffolino

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joseph M Green <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Apr 1996 12:26:38 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 7.0290  Re: RSC MND
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0290  Re: RSC MND

Anent "enforced chastity" Antony Price (in the Macmillan Press Casebook)
gleefully quotes Sir Arthur Quiller Couch:

...A friend of mine -- an old squire of Devon -- used to demonstrate to me at
great length that when Shakespeare wrote...of the moon looking with 'with a
watery eye' --

And when she weeps, weeps every little flower,
Lamenting some enforced chastity

-- he anticipated our modern knowledge of plant-fertilization. Good man, he
took 'enforced' to mean 'compulsory'; and I never dared to dash his enthusiasm
by hinting that, as Shakespeare would use the word 'enforced chastity' meant a
chastity violated.

(An extract from *Shakespeare's Workmanship*)

Price adds that "A failure to understand the meaning of this phrase vitiates
the arguments of Jan Kott...and many other recent critics."

The OED, however, cites "enforced smiles" from Richard III so the meaning of
compulsory or "produced by force" seems clearly a meaning Shakespeare would
give to the word. But it still seems to me that that would be the meaning in
this instance: as unlikely as Kott's assertion that Titania longs for animal
love.  The moon that is weeping is the same moon whose "chaste beams" allow the
fair vestal enthroned in the west to carry on as usual when Cupid's shaft is
quenched by them.  Furthermore, even if "enforced chastity" is taken to mean
compulsory, it seems fantastic to imagine that the moon and the little flowers
weep because men and women are forced to remain chaste until marriage and that
the audience is meant to view "free love" (or whatever Jan Kott had in mind) as
a good thing and weep with the little flowers.  Titania's speech here is a
response to Bottom's speeech to Mustardseed: "I promise you your kindred hath
made my eyes water ere now."  Titania looks from Bottom's watery eyes to the
moon's "wat'ry eye" and, I suspect, if the meaning of "compulsory" is the
meaning intended, Shakespeare is, once again, perjuring the eye and the
ridiculousness of the sentiment is what is presented rather than the tragedy of
maidens (and Fairy Queens) being denied a good futtering.  Or, if the
significance of this image pattern is not admitted, it is still very likely
that the enforced chastity that is lamented is the enforced chastity of those
who are denied their choice of marriage partners -- as might happen to Hermia.

In a society in which there was even a concept of "wedded chastity" in which
even a women who gave birth could be described as chaste it doesn't seem to me
that the contrast often cited between the moon as embodying virginity and the
moon embodying child-birth, mutability in the play would be seen as a contrast.
Marriage partners could be lovers and remain "chaste" as is shown by a glance
through Spenser. A compulsory chastity denies the chastity of wedded love and
little flowers might weep.  It is hard to imagine little Elizabethan flowers
weeping because maidens and a fairy queens are denied a Kottian coupling --
unless thay are to be understood as having made the acquaintance of Master
Mustardseed.
 

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