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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Cordelia and the Fool
Shakespeare Electronic Conference: SHK 8.0213.  Friday, 14 February 1997.

(1)     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Feb 1997 21:34:12 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0202  Re: Cordelia and the Fool

(2)     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Feb 1997 22:06:46 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0202  Re: Cordelia and the Fool


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Feb 1997 21:34:12 -0800
Subject: 8.0202  Re: Cordelia and the Fool
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0202  Re: Cordelia and the Fool

Thomas Larque wrote :

> > The key to the Renaissance theatrical conventions that Bill Godshalk
> > describes is that they remain open and transparent to the audience at
> > all times ... 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.

Tai-Won Kim wrote :

> How about Frank Ford in <The Marry Wives of Windsor 2.2 where he
> disguises as Master Brook? In fact, Ford reveals his identity in a
> soliloquy at the end of the scene. The revelation comes last, rather
> than first. Certainly, the audience may realize that the guy is in fact
> Ford even before he admits his disguise. The stage direction about his
> disguise, according to the Arden edition, is not in the Folio, but in
> the Quarto and Theobald. Anyway, it doesn't matter because Thomas
> doesn't seem to bear in mind stage directions when he said
> "[Shakespeare] DOES have to tell them the first." So, at least in this
> example, he seems to be wrong.  I'm not just finding fault with his
> wording--"first," though. I think the convention of disguise in
> Shakespeare is more complicated than Thomas figured out.

I am quite happy to admit that I haven't checked through every use of disguise
in the plays to test my theory, and I would be interested to hear if anybody
DOES know of any exceptions.  But I have to say that Ford disguising himself as
Brook is actually another example of Shakespeare warning his audiences BEFORE
disguise occurs.

Tai-Won Kim is right to say that there is no textual indication that Brook is
Ford at the beginning of the scene in which he holds his first meeting with
Falstaff (Act 2, Scene 2) - but this is because Shakespeare has explained the
disguise, and named the disguised character, at the end of the last scene - and
this information should be reasonably fresh in the audience's minds.

FORD -  Good mine host o'th Garter, a word with you.
                                        [DRAWING HIM ASIDE]
...

HOST -  Hast thou no suit against my knight, my guest cavalier?

FORD -  None I protest; but I'll give you a pottle of burnt sack to give
        me recourse to him, and tell him MY NAME IS BROOK - only for a
        jest.

HOST -  My hand, bully; thou shalt have egress and regress ... AND THY
        NAME SHALL BE BROOK.

...

FORD -  ... she was in his company at Page's house; and what they
        made there, I know not.  Well I will look further into't, and I
        HAVE A DISGUISE to sound Falstaff.

(Merry Wives of Windsor - 2.1.193-227)

So to compare this with my list of things that Shakespeare always told his
audience.  We are told that Ford will be disguised ("tell him my name is Brook"
AND "I have a disguise", see above).  We are told why he has put on his
disguise ("to sound Falstaff").  We are even told why Ford can fool Falstaff
into believing him to be Brook (he has never met Falstaff before - "she was in
his company at Page's house", from the earlier scene we know that Page was not
- and he will be given a false introduction by his friend the Host - "tell him
my name is Brook" - a man that Falstaff trusts).

Pretty much everything we could possibly need to know, in fact, and it seems
likely that the actor playing Ford / Brook would then continue to give physical
signs to the audience during his conversation with Falstaff which will remind
even the most forgetful members of the audience that this is the jealous
husband, Master Ford, in disguise - and not a new character.

Tai-Wan Kim's example actually supports my case.  Shakespeare lets his audience
know when a character is wearing a disguise.

Although it may not have been clear, I would also like to point out that when I
said that Shakespeare "DOES have to tell them first" (to suspend disbelief), I
did mean to imply stage directions as well as textual comments (although
textual comments are clearer, and much more commonly used by Shakespeare for
this sort of purpose).  If, for example, a character actually changed into
disguise on-stage (which could be described in stage directions without a word
being said), this would in fact be the clearest possible way of telling an
audience that the character is adopting a disguise.

I should also point out, that my arguments have very much intended to separate
"disguise" and "doubling" (something Tai-Won Kim suggests that they do not do).
 I have said from the first that I think that a doubling of Cordelia and the
Fool would certainly have been possible (although it is likely that it was not
originally used in performance, as Shakespeare had an adult clown who seems to
have played the Fool type roles), but that - on the basis of the text that we
have - the idea that the original performance showed Cordelia disguising
herself as the Fool is extremely unlikely.

As far as I can work out the convention of disguise within Shakespeare's plays
is very much fixed, and always informs the audience that a disguise is a
disguise rather than a doubling.  As I say, however, I have not checked this in
great detail - and I would be grateful for any other suggestions of plays in
which people think this argument does not apply.

THOMAS LARQUE.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Feb 1997 22:06:46 -0800
Subject: 8.0202  Re: Cordelia and the Fool
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0202  Re: Cordelia and the Fool

Thomas Larque wrote:

> >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.

Bill Goodshalk replies:

> Kent passes himself off as Caius.  My class pointed out today that Kent
> (razed, beardless) disguised as Caius is "unrealistic."  I asked them,
> "If I shaved, would you recognize me on Friday?"  "Sure," said Joe
> Voss, "we'd recognize your voice."

There are several problems with this point.  First, although it is fair to
guess that Kent means shaved when he says "Raz'd" this is quite likely to be a
pun rather than his main meaning.  He doesn't say that he "Raz'd" his face, but
that he has "raz'd my likeness" (1.4.4) - literally destroyed my image,
"obliterated my former appearance" (the first paraphrase mine, the second from
p.34 of the Arden edition edited by Kenneth Muir).  A part of this disguise may
have been shaving himself (perhaps the hair on his head as well or instead of
his beard) - but this is not the clear meaning of this piece of text, just a
subliminal pun.

Second Bill Goodshalk's student suggests that he would recognise his disguised
teacher by his voice.  Both Shakespeare and Kent have realised that this will
be a problem, and even before he mentions having altered his "likeness"
(physical appearance), Kent claims to have changed his voice - "If but as well
I other accents borrow, / That can my speech defuse" (1.4.1-2).

Since Kent claims to be poor, and is believed.  We must also assume that he has
stripped off his noble fineries, and disguised himself in the rags (and
smells?) of a humble peasant.

So the real question that Bill Goodshalk should have asked his class is "If I
was sacked, and some time later a supply teacher arrived with a shaved head and
no beard, speaking with an accent from the other end of the country and dressed
in a one piece rubber body-suit" (the one thing I can be reasonably certain
that Bill Goodshalk does not wear to teach his pupils) "would you recognise
me?".

The answer should be that if Bill Goodshalk was an excellent actor, a perfect
imitator of the other accent, and took on completely different physical and
vocal mannerisms to go with his changed appearance - it would certainly take
some time for anybody to recognise him, and it is quite possible that nobody
would - unless or until he made a mistake, and gave himself away.

To really make this example apply to Shakespeare's plays a couple more points
would have to be added.  If you were watching a play in which all of the actors
played more than one part (becoming different characters when they changed into
different costumes) would you naturally assume that an actor playing the
character Bill Goodshalk, was STILL playing the same character when they
returned in later scenes in a different costume pretending to be somebody else
- and saying nothing about disguise?

Anybody who would answer "Yes" to this would have serious problems with any
performance which uses doubling of actors.  "Hang on!  She was just playing
Lady Macbeth, now she's dressed up as a witch!  Hey, everybody ... one of the
witches must be Lady Macbeth in disguise!" - an interesting idea, but not one
which seems likely to have been intended by the playwright.

> In the later plays, Shakespeare recurrently violates the conventions he
> had helped to establish. That seems to have been the way he was as a
> playwright. ...
> In other words, Shakespeare liked to play with form and conventions.

True enough.  But this doesn't mean that you can assume this sort of convention
is being broken without any real textual evidence to support your claim.  To
suggest that a play which included a major disguise plot (Cordelia dressing as
the Fool) made no mention of this in the text, in the stage directions or (as
far as we know) anywhere else, would seem a very strange idea.  The original
audience, like all subsequent audiences, would have had no idea that these
disguises were being used.  Which would make the disguise plot rather
pointless.

Bill Goodshalk could argue rather more effectively for the idea that
Shakespeare ORIGINALLY intended to have Cordelia disguise herself as the Fool,
but changed his mind during editing (for whatever reason) and wrote out this
sub-plot.  Removing any signs of this plot from the scripts we have inherited,
but leaving scraps of evidence of his earlier intentions. (The parts of the
play that Bill Goodshalk has offered as proof of his theory).  In my opinion
there would still be no real evidence to support this argument, but it would be
much more plausible.

I hold to my original views.

THOMAS LARQUE
 

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