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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Re: Lady Macbeth; Portia; Caesar
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0081.  Saturday, 18 January 1997.

(1)     From:   Scott Shepherd <
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        Date:   Fri, 17 Jan 1997 14:45:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0078  Lady Macbeth fainting

(2)     From:   Thomas Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Jan 1997 11:43:31 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0070  Qs: Portia

(3)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Friday, 17 Jan 97 22:49:01 GMT
        Subj:   Re: A Great Caesar


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Shepherd <
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Date:           Fri, 17 Jan 1997 14:45:32 -0500
Subject: 8.0078  Lady Macbeth fainting
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0078  Lady Macbeth fainting

Fans of the nerves-of-steel Lady Macbeth are advised not to read too
attentively her anxious soliloquy in 2.1: "Hark! Peace, it was the owl that
shrieked, . . . Alack, I am afraid they have awaked . . . Hark!" etc. Those
praising her gumption for putting bloody knives in the hands of drugged
simpletons are better off forgetting how she fumbled her famous ruthlessness in
the main event and fobbed the real work off on somebody else, more daunted by
her own hallucination than her husband was by his ("Had he not resembled my
father as he slept, I had done't").

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Jan 1997 11:43:31 -0500
Subject: 8.0070  Qs: Portia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0070  Qs: Portia

Louis Swilley raises an interesting point about Brutus and Portia.

I'm not myself so sure that Portia's stabbing herself can be taken as evidence
of an unbalanced mind. It seems to me perfectly compatible with what else we
hear of her as a figure inheriting Stoicism both as a philosophy and a family
tradition (she was Cato's daughter after all). Her stabbing herself to show her
ability to exercize her will and endure suffering with resolve is consistent
with Stoic attitudes, though perhaps rather intense as rhetorical proof of
them. Brutus understands her gesture in that spirit. (One can compare her here
with Lady Percy in 1H4 who offers to break Hotspur's finger. Portia would
presumably have offered to break her own!) Her manner of death is also, while
gruesome, consistent with a kind of maddened Stoicism (we are told she is
"distract" when she dies). But I don't find the latter an invitation to import
"distraction" into the earlier scene. I think we have here part of a set of
questions in the play about the Elizabethan reception of the idea of
"Romanitas".

Brutus' feigning not to have heard of her death is another puzzle. To me it
seems to be connected to the play's concern with what one knows and what one
shows. Brutus' ruse here functions as an opportunity to show his generals how
imperturbable he really is, how resolved, how like his father-in-law (as he
will be in death also). But the play shows us this as a facade mounted for
rhetorical purposes in the midst of a life and death struggle for control of
the Roman state. Brutus is, in a way, "Antonized" into policy here, perhaps by
the urgent desperation of the moment. An actor has many choices at such a
moment. I note that Cassius backs the strategy up here, though there might well
be several kinds of irony playing within his lines.

Tom

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Friday, 17 Jan 97 22:49:01 GMT
Subject:        Re: A Great Caesar

Louis C Swilley writes

> Speaking to no one but himself in his soliloquy over "this
> bleeding piece of earth," Antony is certainly expressing his
> "true feelings." (What other interpretation is possible
> for a *soliloquy*?).

The word 'soliloquy' had no currency in the drama in the period. Subsequent
interpreters have invented this category of speech, and they might be mistaken
about its conventions.

The actor playing Antony might be addressing the corpse. He might be addressing
the audience. Or, as you say, he might be talking to himself.

Gabriel Egan
 

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