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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Cordelia and the Fool; Leontes "O she's warm..."
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0198.  Wednesday, 12 February 1997.

(1)     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Feb 1997 19:53:31 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0187  Re: Cordelia and the Fool

(2)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Feb 97 23:49:09 GMT
        Subj:   RE: Leontes "O she's warm..."


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Feb 1997 19:53:31 -0800
Subject: 8.0187  Re: Cordelia and the Fool
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0187  Re: Cordelia and the Fool

> Thomas Larque wrote:
>
>>It is just possible that Lear's court would fail to recognise Kent or Edgar
>>when smothered in mud or "Razed" (shaven?).  It seems rather more likely that
>>they would notice if the Fool they had all known for some time had suddenly
>>shrunk, and turned into an entirely different person.

Bill Goodshalk wrote :

>But disguise in Shakespeare's plays seems to be absolute.  When a woman puts on
>man's clothes, not even her father can recognize her, let alone the man who
>says he loves her--witness <italic>As You Like It.</italic> In <italic>Two
>Gentlemen</italic>,

But then the theory that Cordelia disguised herself as the Fool is dependent on
Shakespeare having broken his own conventional use of disguises.  Neither of
the examples that you give are of somebody being disguised as another
identifiable person.  These people are concealing their own identities, rather
than seeking to pass themselves as somebody else.

The only times that I can think of in Shakespeare's plays when people are
mistaken for another real person in full daylight (to comic effect) are the
twins in TWELFTH NIGHT and COMEDY OF ERRORS.  The COMEDY OF ERRORS characters
are identical twins.  Sebastian and Viola are non-identical twins (one male,
one female) who are described as looking very like one another, and who are
wearing identical clothes (Viola based her disguise upon her brother).

The Fool and Cordelia are not identical twins (she is female, he is male, and
even if the Fool were Lear's ilegitimate offspring he would only be her
half-brother).  They are certainly not dressed identically.

Shakespeare's convention is that people who are disguised are unrecognisible -
not that they can make themselves look exactly like a third party.  In any case
these conventions are always underlined for the audience by lines to tell them
what is happening.

For example :

TWELFTH NIGHT -

SEBASTIAN  -

... my sister drowned

... it was said she much resembled me   (2.1.22-25)


VIOLA -

Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent ...
Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him.      (1.3.53-56)

VIOLA -

Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness ...
What will become of this?  As I am man ...
As I am woman ...                               (2.2.26-37)

VIOLA -

Prove true, imagination, O prove true,
That I, dear brother, be now ta'en for you!     (3.4.384-385)

He named Sebastian.  I my brother know
Yet living in my glass; even such and so
In favour was my brother, and he went
Still in this fashion, colour, ornament
For him I imitate.                              (3.4.389-393)

Every time that disguise is used, Shakespeare is equally careful to tell his
audiences that characters are disguised, why they have put on the disguise,
what they think about wearing the disguise - and when their identity is
confused with that of another person, he is careful to tell us that this is the
case, and why it is possible.

The key to the Renaissance theatrical conventions that Bill Godshalk describes
is that they remain open and transparent to the audience at all times.  When
Oberon says "I am invisible" (MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM  - 2.1.186) he becomes
invisible.  On stage there has been no change at all, but the audience are
willing to suspend their disbelief - and accept whatever the playwright tells
them.

The only thing is that he DOES have to tell them first.  There is no indication
of any kind in KING LEAR that Cordelia is disguised as the Fool.  There is no
line that even suggests such a thing clearly enough for a live audience to
understand it.  As a result it seems almost impossible that this is what was
intended.

THOMAS.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Feb 97 23:49:09 GMT
Subject:        RE: Leontes "O she's warm..."

David Evett analyzes some lines from The Winter's Tale:

> A speech such as Leontes' "O, she's warm! / If this be
> magic, let it be an art / Lawful as eating" works
> through 5 substantives (she, warm, art, law, eating)
> that must have counterparts in any natural language
> and significance in the constructs of any human
> culture...I see no way to deny that the emotional
> force of the line resides chiefly in the collocation
> of so many powerful terms, which reach us across 4
> centuries with unabated force....

If mere collocation of "powerful terms" is enough, wouldn't this line be just
as good:

"O, the king's cold / If this be ague, let it be a disease / as noble as
madness"

This collocates 'king', 'cold', 'disease', 'noble' and 'madness' which are
equally powerful terms, aren't they? And I just made that line up!

Surely the line doesn't have an emotional force on it's own, and only acquires
it in the dramatic context? At the very least you'd have to account for the
significance of metre as well as the collocation of grand themes.

Furthermore, what Leontes's means by eating is not what a starving Biafran
means by eating. Likewise, body painting by Amazonian rain forest dwellers is
so unlike Renaissance Art (let alone whatever we might decide Leontes means by
'lawful art') that asserting that these things are transcultural is merely
cultural imperialism.

Whoops. That last paragraph might be in danger of starting a relativism thread.
For that reason, I retract it.

Gabriel Egan
 

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