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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: R3/St.Paul; Cordelia/Fool; Transcendence v.
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0167.  Monday, 3 February 1997.

(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Saturday, 01 Feb 1997 22:48:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0161 R3 and St. Paul

(2)     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 1997 00:07:54 +0200 (IST)
        Subj:   Cordelia and the Fool

(3)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Feb 97 11:13:20 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Transcendence v. Historicism


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Saturday, 01 Feb 1997 22:48:20 -0500
Subject: 8.0161 R3 and St. Paul
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0161 R3 and St. Paul

Regarding Richard III and St. Paul, John Harcourt, "Odde Old Ends, Stolne . . .
King Richard and Saint Paul," <italic>Shakespeare Studies</italic> 7 (1974):
87-100, and Alistair Fox, "Richard III's Pauline Oath: Shakespeare's Response
to Thomas More," <italic>Moreana</italic> 12 (1978): 13-23, comment on Richard
III's use of St. Paul.  Harcourt points out some interesting parallels. For
example, St. Paul was supposed--in legend--to have been crippled. Both articles
are noted in James Moore's Garland bibliography of <italic>Richard
III</italic>.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 1997 00:07:54 +0200 (IST)
Subject:        Cordelia and the Fool

Since fifteen generations of directors and audiences have found the traditional
reading of Lear sufficient to provide a gripping and evocative experience, I am
grateful not to have been considered completely off the wall in seeing the Fool
as Cordelia in disguise.  Even the rejoinders have been gentle.  I must admit
though that the most serious text-based objection has not yet been mentioned.

In  Act 4 scene iii in which a gentleman describes Cordelia reading a letter,
presumably from Kent and uttering comments that imply the events of the
expulsion of Lear are new to her: "What, i'the storm? i'the night? Let pity not
be believed!"

However, this raises another question.  A.W. Verity, editor of my highschool
edition credits Bradley with "the acute criticism that there is no other
character in Shakespeare who, appearing so little and speaking so little, makes
so profound an impression".  Surely the author could have found a way giving
Cordelia a few more lines to show her state of mind without damaging her image
of strength.  Instead he gave them to an anonymous third party just as he did
with the Fools introduction.  If 4,iii is ommitted as in the folio version
there is no problem.  In the following scene when the messenger tells her of
the state of her sisters' forces, her answer "T'is known before" refers to the
information she has gathered herself.  With the previous scene in place we can,
according to the standard reading, take her to be referring to the contents of
Kent's letter. But why not have her read the letter to us?  The answer is, as I
suggested in the previous posting, she is just finishing her costume change and
isn't available.

Thomas Larque and others take issue with my use of the Knight's lines in Act
1, Sc. 4.  "Since my young Lady's going into France, Sir, the Fool hath much
pined away".  Larque says: "This seems to make clear that people knew the Fool
BEFORE Cordelia went to France (in order to make the comparison between his
moods)."

First of all, in commenting that Cordelia was not a stranger to the jester's
craft I didn't mean to imply that she was previously the court jester in
disguise, only that she was a very good student and was equipped to accomplish
the substitution.

My estimate of Shakespeare is that, while possessing many words, he is stingy
with them. The more I think of it, the knight's comment is a waste of words.
In his own lines the Fool makes clear his view of things.  Do we need to be
told before we see him that he is sad about Cordelia's banishment?  We all are!
Well, maybe it can help explain his disappearance later on: he died of
pneumonia contracted in the storm because of his weakened condition.  But then
his wasted condition would have to be acted all the way through.  Indeed in the
Granada production, Michael Elliot gave us our last view of John Hurt the Fool
huddled away shivering.  But do we really need the knight's comment for that?

It seems to me that the concept 'Cordelia as the Fool' gives meaning to the
knight's comment. My dictionary gives the following defintion for "pine": "to
*waste away* with grief, anxiety, want etc; to *wither*; to desire eagerly."
The context does not allow the last usage.  Therefore it is clear that the
knight is commenting not on the Fool's mood, nor on his behaviour, but on his
appearance.  He is not pining for anything; he has pined *away*. The Knight,
for some reason is commenting on a change in the Fool's body volume.

The success of the playwright depends on suspension of disbelief on the part of
the audience.  We haven't seen the Fool or even thought of him before he is
announced, so the comment on his pining away isn't necessary for our acceptance
of him.  It does not matter to us that he has become slight of body and narrow
of shoulder, but once it has dawned on us who is the owner of that body, we
might be tempted to ask how come nobody on stage noticed, not the disguise - no
one saw through Kent either, - but the fact that the Fool himself ought to look
changed to the members of the court.  The author has primed us to look for
something special about the Fool, to make the discovery ourselves, and has
given us the means to accept the acceptance of an altered fool by the other
characters.

Thomas Larque has also offered an interesting objection based on a lack of
formal self-explication.  "Since Shakespeare's theatre used doubling, Cordelia
(if playing the SAME CHARACTER in different costume) would have needed a little
speech to tell the audience that this is what was happening. Kent transforming
to Caius, and Edgar changing into Poor Tom, both get these speeches."

This attractive objection sent me back to the text, and I found once again to
my amazement that the author has indeed provided the answer. Look at line 219
of the opening scene:

Cordelia: ...
        If for I want that glib and oily art,
        To speak and purpose not; *Since what I well intend,
        I'll do't before I speak*,-

Several have wondered how the King of France could allow his wife to return to
England unchaperoned and disguised.  Ask in any case how he could take off to
France, leaving his to wife fight the crucial battle herself. I think France
could be the subject of many pages of analysis and conjecture.  He personifies
right thinking and disinterestedness.  He takes Cordelia not for her fortune or
her but for her cleaving to the truth: "Thee and thy virtues I seize
upon";"...My love should kindle to inflamed respect." "Thy dowerless
daughter....is queen of us."  This is no mere love talk.  He really means it.
He has already heard her say that her father will have half her loyalty and her
husband the other half, and has accepted those terms.  His leaving his forces
under Cordelia's command (even though the Marshal of France is left as general,
she is clearly in command) shows not only his faith in her but also that he has
no designs on English territory.  I feel that his assessment of her and the
esteem in which he holds her is sufficient to trust her judgment and go along
with any plan she might have to protect her father, including infiltration.
Derek Wood asks "And would he overlook some of her filthy humour?"  Holinshed
gives the date of the Cordeilla's accession to "supreme gouernesse of Britaine"
as being 54 years "before the bylding of Rome". I would imagine that women in
those days were a tougher breed, having not yet been molded to their more
fragile and dainty image.

Thus I see Cordelia as a proto-Fidelio who uses a cross dressing disguise, not
for self preservation, as did Viola and Rosalind, but to infiltrate the enemy
camp to get close to her loved one at the risk of personal danger. She has
taken the place of the Fool, who has been loyal to her, and who is presumably
in France for Rest and Recuperation.  Her purpose is not only to watch over her
father but to gather information: not only do we have "'Tis known before" of
Act 4, scene iv, there is an interesting little by-play in Act 1 Scene iv.
After line 305 Lear Kent and attendants exeunt, but not the Fool.  Goneril
urges him out a few lines later with  "You, sir, more knave than fool, after
your master." Presumably he has hung back to glean whatever additional
intelligence available.

Incidentally, this cloak and dagger business brings to mind an other of the
sterling cast in the Granada production I referred to (which indeed had Leo
McKern as Gloucester).  Regan was played by Diana Rigg, who in a previous
incarnation was Mrs. Emma Peel, sidekick of Mr. Steed, in the TV Avengers, who
weekly put herself in danger (and if rememeber correctly, black leather) for
the sake of Good.

Thanks for bearing with me. Now back to Iago, WT and categories.

Best wishes
Syd Kasten

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Feb 97 11:13:20 GMT
Subject:        Re: Transcendence v. Historicism

Paul Hawkins blurs the distinction between transcendence and historicity. He
claims that those who don't dismiss transcendence can

> imagine what it would be like to live in Shakespeare's England,
> or Plato's Athens, will walk among the extant buildings, or the
> ruins of buildings, or the reconstructions of either place indulging
> their imagination, and will read the works of either writer
> feeling themselves their contemporary.

In fact those who claim transcendence for the Shakespeare texts have a good
reason not to be concerned with reconstructions. Quite the reverse, in fact. If
Shakespeare speaks to us down the centuries, if we our already 'his
contemporary', then there is no need to reconstruct the material and
intellectual context of the plays.

One cannot be for transcendence and historicism.

Gabriel Egan
 

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