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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Seizures
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0644  Monday, 13 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 Jul 1998 14:49:15 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Caesar's Seizure

[2]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 Jul 1998 22:11:27 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Epilepsy & Othello

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Saturday, 11 Jul 1998 18:27:38 -0400
        Subj:   Seizures, etc


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Jul 1998 14:49:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Caesar's Seizure

Steve Sohmer's detailed description of the latter half of *JC* 1.2
provides an insightful link to the history plays that Shakespeare had
just finished writing. In the Henriad, one major theme is mythic memory
and the recall of an ideal past that never in truth existed. It could be
argued that in *JC* Shakespeare turns to an exploration of the origins
of mythic belief. As Steve implies, Caesar's "swoon" could be
interpreted as an "angel's kiss" or it could be seen, as Casca does, as
the result of "bad air."  Caesar is beginning to think of himself as a
God in JC, and it is hard-no, it's impossible-from the text to tell if
he is more than humanly insightful or if he is a vain, self-centered
fool. He seems to be both at different times. Caesar's death is a
"sacrifice" (for Rome?), and it is engineered by Brutus, who, like
Pontius Pilate, can see no reason to kill Caesar but kills him anyway.
And, as countless commentators point out, Caesar's spirit seems to
dominate the rest of the play, even though he himself is dead.  Or is
he, since his spirit visits Brutus just before battle?

I guess what I want to suggest is that this high school play that we
think we've got pretty well figured out and that no longer receives
nearly as much critical attention as many other Shakespeare plays, might
be worth another look. The play *may* suggest that Shakespeare was fully
aware of Christianity as a myth, in the (post)modern sense of the word,
an interpretation that receives at least some force from *A Funeral
Elegy*, lines 561-568, which seem to say that belief in an afterlife is
"the weak comfort of the hapless"(!)

--Ed Taft

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Jul 1998 22:11:27 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Epilepsy & Othello

This may be a late submission, but there are several unflattering
references to Caesar's epilepsy in _Julius Caesar_, which indicates that
for some, at least, it was regarded as a weakness, and even a sign of
effeminacy.  At least that's how Caesar seems to come off when the
conspirators recall fits past.

See how that fits in with Iago's seeming ability to know when Othello
will have a fit, how to bring one on, and how he views Othello as a man
vulnerable to base emotions.  Might be a good tack, among others.

Cheers,
Andy White
Arlington, Va

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Saturday, 11 Jul 1998 18:27:38 -0400
Subject:        Seizures, etc

Steve Sohmer's observation that Caesar's "angry spot" could be nevus
flammeus reminded me that the description of Bardolph's nose in HenIV
and HenV looks a lot like rhinophyma, which Dorland's defines as "a form
of rosacea characterized by redness, sebaceous hyperplasia and nodular
swelling and congestion of the skin of the nose."  I wonder if WS had a
special interest in dermatology.

However, I disagree with Steve's diagnosis of nevus flammeus, which is a
chronic, not a recurring, condition (usually a birth mark), also called
capillary hemangioma and, more commonly, "strawberry mark" (Dorland's
again).  I believe that the mark on M.S. Gorbachev's forehead is an
example.  I think it highly improbable that nevus flammeus would be a
sign of epileptic seizure.
 

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