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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Plain Dealers
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0501.  Monday, 28 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Michael Pantaleoni <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Apr 1997 13:37:08 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 8.0475  Re: Plain Dealing

[2]     From:   Ben Schneider <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Apr 1997 20:11:03 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Plain Dealers


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Pantaleoni <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Apr 1997 13:37:08 -0400
Subject: Re: Plain Dealing
Comment:        SHK 8.0475  Re: Plain Dealing

Rick Jones says that plain dealers appear only sparingly in WS.  He
suggests only Enobarbus as a possible addition to the characters in Lear
noted by Ben Schneider.  A number of others occur to me.  Interestingly,
the first three that came to mind are all in the same play-Antonio,
Bassanio and Gratiano.  Does this suggest a theme in M/V contrasting
plain dealing with duplicity.  If so, where does Portia fit in?

Larry Weiss

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Schneider <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Apr 1997 20:11:03 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Plain Dealers

Dear Rick Jones

You say my case for Cordelia being a Plain Dealer (PD) is either
overstated or you aren't getting my point (you're certainly not
"dim-witted").  The case is overstated, and maybe I have spread the PD
too thin.  A Plain Dealer is really what we might call a "true
gentleman," but "gentleman" has too many bad connotations.

You could call him the "good man" of Stoic moral philosophy, but that
sounds prissy.  It's not that he goes out of his way to be surly; anyone
who tells the truth runs the risk of being thought rude in shallow
company.  That's Cordelia's problem.

You think of the PD as performing the raisonneur in Moliere, but though
that character is a very good example of the type, he by no means
exhausts the possibilities.  I would define the PD by his honesty rather
than his function.

Here's a whole string of PD's I've been collecting.  They pervade
history because there's always a demand for them and they are hard to
find in real life.  They crop up randomly throughout arts and letters,
in bitter and in sweet versions:  in Durer's weather beaten knight who
rides deliberately straight ahead past death and the devil; in Chaucer's
knight who is "as meke as is a mayde;" in his Parson who first "wrought"
and then "taught;" in Jonathan Swift, who wrote "Honesty [is] a pair of
shoes worn out in the dirt"; in Wycherley's _Plain Dealer_, whose hero
was Manly; in almost every Restoration comedy, under names like Blunt,
Careless, Wildair, Easy, Truman, Worthy , Hardy, and Constant; in
Conrad's Axel Heyst, for whom death was the _Victory_ foretold in the
title; in Yeats's "Friend whose work has come to nothing" who is "Bred
to a harder thing than triumph;" in Hemingway's Lady Brett, who gave up
the first man she ever loved because she wasn't good enough for him; in
Hemingway himself who blew out his brains rather than become a
vegetable; in the unpressed George Smiley, who, wondering "Why do we do
this dangerous work?" answers, "I rather think it's because it gives us
a chance to pay" (_Honorable Schoolboy_); in Faulkner's upright judge;
in Faulkner himself, who wrote to a colleague of mine, I have been
writing all the time about honor, truth, pity, consideration, the
capacity to endure well grief and misfortune and injustice and then
endure again, in terms of individuals who observed and adhered to them
not merely for reward but for virtue's own sake, not even merely because
they are admirable in themselves, but in order to live with oneself and
die peacefully when the time comes.

Except when Don John of _Much Ado_ calls himself a "Plain Dealing
Villain," which he is (and so is Edmund), Shakespeare did not use the
term to designate a character type,  though he frequently uses the word
"plain" in the context of honesty (eleven times in _Lear_), and Lear
"deal[s] plainly" (4.7.61) with Cordelia during their reconciliation.
But the type is recognizable throughout the canon.  Sir Walter Blunt of
_1 Henry IV_, whose "grinning honor" Falstaff "like[d] not," is one of
many dead plain dealers in history and literature, and Enobarbus is
another.  Hal, Hotspur, Timon of Athens, Othello, Brutus, Cleopatra's
Antony, and Antonio of _The Merchant of Venice_ are other Shakespearean
varieties.

I've tried to compile a list of the PD's virtues: CONSTANCY (the same
today and tomorrow), comprehending integrity (the same inside and out),
responsibility, loyalty, keeping promises.

GENEROSITY, comprehending graciousness, the capacity to "love" and to
feel gratitude, to be mindful of obligations, to have a good memory for
favors received and in haste to reciprocate them.

PLAINNESS, comprehending honesty, frankness, reticence, diffidence,
modesty, lack of pretense, amateurism, easiness in manners, --eschewing
all formality and precision as attributes of a fop.

COURAGE, comprehending patience, endurance, fortitude-a willingness to
undergo any amount of suffering or loss, including death, rather than
fail in any of the above.

Cordelia couldn't be more than this because she gets good marks for
everything, nor less than this without being worse.  No, I don't think
she changed in the course of the play.

Yours ever, BEN
 

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