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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Re: A Very Drab
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0124.  Sunday, 26 January 1997.

(1)     From:   Tom Sullivan <
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        Date:   Friday, 24 Jan 1997 21:25:46 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0122  Q: A Very Drab

(2)     From:   David Knauer <
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        Date:   Saturday, 25 Jan 1997 09:23:02 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0122  Q: A Very Drab

(3)     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Saturday, 25 Jan 1997 16:46:42 -0800
        Subj:   Re : A Very Drab

(4)     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Saturday, 25 Jan 1997 12:40:50 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0122 Q: A Very Drab


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Sullivan <
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Date:           Friday, 24 Jan 1997 21:25:46 -0600
Subject: 8.0122  Q: A Very Drab
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0122  Q: A Very Drab

>From:           Diana E. Smith <
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>I wonder if someone could help me with Hamlet's lines "Prompted to my revenge
>by heaven and hell,/Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words/And fall
>a-cursing like a very drab,"
>
>Why the comparison to a whore exactly? How is his "unpacking" similar to a
>whore's? Are we supposed to consider the comparative "rightness" of their acts?
>Please help.

In the context of the scene, he seems to me to be upbraiding himself for his
failure to "fat all the region's kites."  He has mearly been yelling "Oh,
vengence" and (in some productions) playing with a wooden sword.  He is indeed
"an ass."  The soliloquy seems to me to be like the others where Hamlet
compares himself to someone recently observed -- to the actor in tears over
Hecuba, or to the army of Fortinbras on its way to Poland.  Here he compares
his ranting and raving to the curses of a whore.

Why a whore?  Because, as a woman, she would not have the same recourse to
action that a nobleman of the period would have.  A whore, wronged, could
probably not do much more than hurl curses.  Not a question of "rightness" but
of position, power, and obligation.  More is expected of him (and by him).
Just a guess.

Tom

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Knauer <
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Date:           Saturday, 25 Jan 1997 09:23:02 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0122  Q: A Very Drab
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0122  Q: A Very Drab

One interpretive possibility to consider here is the Renaissance association of
a woman's volubility with unchastity. A woman who talked a lot was usurping
male discursive power, hence one could extrapolate that she usurped other male
power, like sexual assertiveness. Peter Stallybrass writes that, "The
connection between speaking and wantonness was common to legal discourse and
conduct books" and cites Barbaro's _On Wifely Duties_: "It is proper . . . that
not only arms but indeed also the speech of women never be made public; for the
speech of a noble woman can be no less dangerous than the nakedness of her
limbs" ("Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed" in Margaret Ferguson's
_Rewriting the Renaissance_, 126-27). I'm reversing Hamlet's causal chain here,
but I think it can run both ways: if volubility is a sign of unchastity, then
whores must be most talky.

David Knauer

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Saturday, 25 Jan 1997 16:46:42 -0800
Subject:        Re : A Very Drab

Diana E. Smith asks if someone can explain the whore references in Hamlet's
lines "Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,/Must, like a whore, unpack my
heart with words/And fall a-cursing like a very drab".

I may very easily be wrong, but this makes me think of the scene in 2 Henry IV
when Doll Tearsheet (the whore) has a confrontation with Falstaff's ensign
Pistol.  Not only does Doll let loose a long string of vicious oaths and
invective - "Away, you bottle-ale rascal, you basket-hilt stale juggler you?
... God's light, with two points on your shoulder?  Much!" (is this "a-cursing
like a very drab"?) - but it soon becomes clear that this is the poor whore's
only possible response to the violent behaviour of armed males.  When Pistol
draws his sword, Doll falls suddenly silent - and in the end is forced to
appeal to Falstaff to throw Pistol out of the house.

So, on this basis, could it be that whores were not only reknowned for swearing
and cursing those who crossed them - but that this was all that they could do?
Since they lacked male strength, and (perhaps also) the social sanction of the
law?  So "cursing like a ... drab" is not only vulgarly expressed anger - but
impotent anger, without the power or strength to carry out any of the threats
made.

From this perspective, Hamlet is saying "I should be like a man, and seek my
own revenge with action.  Instead of standing like a wronged whore screaming
angry words about those who have crossed me, and doing nothing."

Can anybody provide any other support for this theory?  Or prove that it is
completely wrong?  I would be interested to know.

THOMAS LARQUE.

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Saturday, 25 Jan 1997 12:40:50 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0122 Q: A Very Drab
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0122 Q: A Very Drab

Diana Smith asks about "drab", and without reference to the Schmidt's my first
impulse is to say that it refers to the way prostitutes advertised themselves
in Southwark in those days.  If times were tough, they'd be more than willing
to sell their wares by pleading poverty, family tragedy, etc., to coax in
customers.  Not a pretty image, but then again Southwark was not a very pretty
place.

Rennaisance Faires in the U.S. usually feature roving women in period 'drab'
who cling to unsuspecting visitors, pleading child support among other things
-- 'where've you been, Charlie?', etc.  As amusing as this act is now, there
was a precedent that was a good bit more sad and true.

Andy White
Sunny, warm Arlington, VA
 

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