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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: May ::
Re: Taming; Cordelia; Leontes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0521.  Friday, 2 May 1997.

[1]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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        Date:   Thursday, 01 May 1997 16:32:54 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: Taming

[2]     From:   Louis C Swilley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 May 1997 20:23:44 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0516 Re: Cordelia

[3]     From:   Syd Kasten <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 May 1997 09:58:51 +0200 (IST)
        Subj:   Leontes' Illness


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 May 1997 16:32:54 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Re: Taming

Dom Saliani might want to look at John Fletcher's _The Woman's Prize_,
c. 1611, which features 'Petruchio' being tamed by his new wife Maria.
It's quite a good play.  (It's in vol 4 of the Bowers ed. Beaumont and
Fletcher from CUP)

Jonathan Hope
Middlesex University

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis C Swilley <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 May 1997 20:23:44 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 8.0516 Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0516 Re: Cordelia

> Louis C Swilley wrote:
>
> >Cordelia could say - would be expected to say - that she loves
> >everything else because of him.  Not only would this be true, it is the
> >last step in the development of any true love (the sisters have given
> >the first two steps).
>
> It would not be true.  To love everyone else because of a person is
> appropriate language and theology for a Christian's love of God, and
> other persons because of God's love for them.  But Cordelia recognizes
> that Lear is not God; hence to love him as her sisters have professed,
> or to love other persons because of him, would be a form of idolatry.

If I say that I love a person, and because of that love see everything
else as lovable - and this seems to be what true lovers feel - am I
idolatrous in my love for that person? Surely not?

Cordelia's possible remarks would be based on the above phenomenon which
presumably is analogous to one's perfect love of God. My original point,
perhaps clumsily made, was that a Christian audience would be acutely
aware of the three *theological* steps and would expect to hear the
human *analogy* completed by Cordelia. Cordelia does not/need not
presume Lear to be God to make this point, and make it truthfully.

> There exists confusion because this is a very Christian play in a pagan
> context.  And pervasive in the pagan world was the divinization of
> rulers.  I do not know whether that was so understood and practiced in
> pagan Britain, or what Shakespeare might have known about that.  It is
> likely that he was familiar with the general custom of divinizing rulers
> before the Christian era.

Shakespeare does not present Lear as divine, nor Lear (or others in the
play) as supposing himself to be so.  As you say, this is a Christian
play.

> Cordelia does not confuse limited love due to
> a human father and worship due to God alone.

She needn't.  (See above)

> >Cordelia should

You mean "could" here?

> humour the old man and simply lie.  She shouldn't and
> >needn't. What does she do instead?  She "cannot heave her heart into
> >her mouth",  she says; but then she does.
>
> I suggest that to heave her heart into her mouth means to displace her
> heart, a figure for lying.  Truth requires that words and inner
> awareness coincide, that the heart be in its right place.
>
> It was asked in another post: "Is there a defense for Cordelia?"  The
> answer, perhaps not popular today, is simple: truth is preferable to
> lying.

You mean her "truth" that love is quantifiable, as both Lear and
Cordelia are saying? I think not.

I agree that Cordelia should tell the truth, and I have argued above and
earlier what that truth is.  It is Cordelia's love for the whole world
through her love for her father. If she loves him - and her subsequent
actions indicate that she does - that is available to her.  (This very
point, by the way, stresses the truth that love is not quantifiable,
divisable - as both are so stupidly maintaining - in fact, love
develops, grows by its being given to another).

L.  Swilley

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Syd Kasten <
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Date:           Friday, 2 May 1997 09:58:51 +0200 (IST)
Subject:        Leontes' Illness

A while back Gabriel Egan asked:

"Does anyone else find convincing the argument of B J Sokol (_Art and
Illusion in the Winter's Tale_, Manchester UP, 1995) that Leontes is
suffering from couvade syndrome?  This, you might recall, is a peculiar
malady which affects expectant fathers and causes symptoms ranging from
mild neurosis to raging paranoid delusions."

Gabriel has posed a loaded question: there exists a school of opinion
that psychiatric diagnosis exists to enable society, through its agents
the psychiatrists, to control original thinking of individuals; another
school holds that psychiatric diagnosis exists to allow transgressors to
avoid trial and punishment.  Some may say that imposing a diagnosis on
figure in a play is like speculating on how many children did the
Macbeth's have.  And related to this last argument is the injunction
under which a doctor should operate, that diagnosis is made only after
taking a history and examining the patient.  Against all this is my need
to defend those who have no speech to defend themselves.  Hence this
belated message.

Fortunately, Shakespeare has provided us both with a premorbid history,
a view of the progression of the illness and observational data.
Although the signs and symptoms of illness are subtle, they have
definitely been engraved into the text. And it seems to me that if a
play like Hamlet is typified by doubt The Winters Tale is typified by
certainty.  I can't remember when a Delphic oracle has been as clear cut
and precise in conveying meaning as the one that declared Hermione's
purity. Leontes is not merely suspicious; he is certain that his wife
and his friend have been unfaithful.  We are certain that they have
not.  Antigonus doesn't just disappear, like Lear's Fool, we see him
eaten and his clothes survive as witness.

My first acquaintance with the play was through reading.  My unequivocal
impression as I read the first scene was that Leontes was undergoing a
conjugal paranoid reaction and I was impressed - well, that is too mild
a word and "amazed" is too extreme-  let's say I experienced awe (an
aesthetic rush) at the accuracy of the portrayal.

Shakespeare has provided us with enough background details to establish
that the behaviour under question did not reflect Leontes' normal
character.  First of all, we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of
the courtier's statement of the love of his subjects for their king that
opens the play.  Later on Paulina has enough faith in Leontes'
benevolent character to risk telling him off.  And at the height of her
invective she asserts that he is no tyrant!  Although the action is
taking place in pagan, monarchic times there is none of the fear one
might expect of absolutism gone mad.  From Polixenes, we learn that up
to the time of his marriage Leontes was capable of a reciprocal, happy
and fast friendship.  He was able to earn the love and admiration of his
wife, over and above the duty she owed him as her husband and king.
There is no hint of fear in the attitude to him of his son.  His
premorbid personality seems to have been without blemish.

His affliction develops before our eyes (I am reading now, not watching
a performance) even as it is compacted in time.  First we have the
seemingly normal importuning of his friend, who has been a "guest in the
city" for an already long visit, to stay longer, and which quickly
becomes excessive and unreasonable, perhaps petulant.  This is followed
by Leontes' placing undue emphasis in the acquiescence of his friend to
Hermione's cajoling.  By the time of his interview with Camillo he is
suffering from ideas of reference:

"Already they are whispering that Sicily is a soforth". By the time of
Paulina's intrusion he has an overt sleep disturbance.  He also develops
difficulty in making decisions: With Camillo his intent was decisive and
deadly, but he now allows himself to be persuaded not to kill the
newborn baby. Nevertheless, the reserve that prevented him earlier from
using a stronger word than "soforth", even in his mind, is weakened and
we see him using unseemly language, somewhat short of incoherence.
Whereas Camillo had no recourse but to flee from the king who at the
time appeared in control of his faculties, the courtiers later recognize
his incapacity.

Conjugal Paranoia is generally chronic and not particularly amenable to
psychotherapy.  Chronic cases may even be refractory to medication.
From the fact that the shock of his punishment for blasphemy at the
hands of Apollo brought him back to himself I conclude that he was
suffering from an acute condition.  We might surmise, though, that had
he not suffered the shock of his son's and his wife's death, Leontes
might have become become more fixed in his delusional state, and the
story would have ended here as a tragedy. The subsequent course is not
characterized by deterioration or by recurrences over a period of
fifteen years, so we are not dealing with schizophrenia.

Joseph "Chepe" Lockett makes the very intersting observation that

> I.ii shows an *obvious* {emphasis added} verbal (and, perhaps, social)
>facility on the part of Hermione-and, indeed, Polixenes-which Leontes is
>almost totally lacking.

What we know of Leontes from the courtier, from Polixenes and from the
loyalty and expectations of just about everyone in the play, is not
congruent with the idea of an inherent or characteristic absence of
social and verbal facility. And yet we learn that this lack, which to
most of us in the audience is subliminal, is written into the play.
These, along with disturbance of sleep and appetite, are among the basic
attributes of clinical depression, which in itself may be an underlying
factor in paranoia. Depression, as opposed to mourning and sadness,
involves despair, which is connected among other things to the inability
to mobilize as heretofore ones intelligence, social resources, faith,
and habitual reactions to combat the feeling tone and the course of ones
thoughts all part of depression.

Finally, the question of jealousy.  Chris Stroffolino makes the point
that "possessive and suspicious" are more appropriate descriptions of
Leontes' character than "jealous".  (I would prefer "present mental
status" rather than "character".)  Even more interesting in this regard
is Harry Hill's account of the class that included a blind student  (SHK
8.0444 Re: Subtext):

 >One of students in a Shakespeare class this year is blind. He joined
me
>and some of the rest of the class at a recent production of *The
>Winter's Tale*, and was unable to feel Leontes' jealousy in any aural
>way at all as the actor had insufficient vocal equipment and gift; the
>sighted students could *see* it while finding something indefinably
>"wrong with his voice". The actor's father had died on day of the first
>dress rehearsal and was naturally bringing his filial rage and grief to
>his role; this had become part of his subtext, inaudible and largely
>invisible. He was even less able to respond to the physical demands of
>the particular words.

Without trying to deny that the subjective emotional state influences
performance in any field, I would submit for the sake of the discussion
that the blind student couldn't feel Leontes' jealousy because it isn't
in the text, or to the extent that it is there it is not a primary
emotion.  And this might explain why what seems so clear to me on
reading the script, seemed much less so in the performance I saw where
Leontes was played by Jeremy Irons in Stratford England. He may have
been putting too much jealousy into the act and not enough depression. I
found Jeremy Kemp in a production for BBC TV by Jonathan Miller was
somewhat more successful, and I found especially authentic his
development of the depression.  One might envision a control experiment
in which blindfolded or sightless auditors listened to a performance by
players who hadn't suffered a recent bereavement.

A problem in understanding paranoia is that in this condition the
jealousy or suspicion is secondary and the source of the distress is
primarily from within. Classical psycho-analytical theory has it that
paranoia originates in fear of unconscious homosexual feelings that
threaten to break through into consciousness.  The threat is handled by
the mechanism of projection, and the subject experiences the threat as
originating from outside himself.  Shakespeare, writing three hundred
years before Freud provided us with a background of closeness between
Leontes and Polyxenes such that their marriages could be construed as
infidelities one toward the other.  So to the extent that Leontes is
"jealous" at the time of the play, one can see him as having regressed
(I would say because of the depression identified by Lockett and his
group) to a preadolescent stage in his life and the important distress
is not that Hermione likes Polixenes better than she does Leontes, but
that Hermione has replaced Leontes as the object of Polixenes
affection.  Painful as such feelings are as experienced by young
children, they are experienced as innocent.  During and after
adolescence they might arouse the question "Am I a 'soforth'?".  I'm not
aware of Freud's having given Shakespeare credit, nor am I versed in
xvith century views on psychodynamics.  Perhaps Burton makes reference
to this theoretical connection?  Otherwise, either Shakespeare indeed
had an uncanny feel for human nature or I am left with the existence of
an enigmatic coincidence.

The diagnostic problem with paranoid reactions is that unlike frank
depressions or schizophrenic reactions there is generally no disturbance
in the form or rate of thought.  There are no hallucinations, and, aside
from the particular focus, no delusions.  Thus these reactions are hard
to diagnose, and the subjects thought processes are adequate to deal
with any attempts to treat the delusion with logic.  Treatment is
therefore delayed until there is a threat to life and limb, when
treatment can be imposed, or the patient decompensates into frank
depression, whose symptoms may then justify in his eyes the idea of
treatment.

It goes without saying that such an illness is not the prerogative of
men or of kings.  It is especially tragic when it strikes a wife and
mother around whom the household revolves.

As much as the patient may feel guilt, once he has recovered, for his
accusations and actions, the spouse may feel guilt for having imposed
treatment: medication or committal to a closed ward.  (Paulina's
handling of the situation takes on meaning when seen in this light: He
looks OK but has he really recovered?  What test is there that will let
us know that it's safe to reveal the truth?)  I agree that the better
term for the relationship between the characters at the end is
reconciliation.  Patients shouldn't have to ask forgiveness for the
results of illness any more than responsible relatives for imposing
treatment.

I'm grateful to Egan for bringing the couvade syndrome to my attention,
but I don't see how it can be applied to Leontes.  My Psychiatric
Dictionary (Hinsie & Campbell, Oxford University Press) states under
"couvade"  that "Among many primitive races, it is a custom, *after* the
birth of his child, for the father to take to his bed, as if he had
actually given birth to the child".  The compilers cite Freud who cites
at second hand a case that is indeed postpartum.

So the diagnosis I am left with is Acute Paranoid Reaction on the basis
of an underlying depression of undetermined etiology.  Leontes knew the
nature and quality of his actions, but did not appreciate that they were
wrong.  He achieved insight and was probably left with a mild  chronic
depression.

And finally and parenthetically, with regard to aesthetic response in
the closing scene, the line that overwhelms me with an emotional surge
is Paulina's instructing Perdita to "kneel and pray your mother's
blessing".  Each to his own susceptibility.

Sorry for the length of this brief.

Syd Kasten
 

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