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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Fencing; Stoicism
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0646  Monday, 13 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 Jul 1998 15:54:54 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Fencing

[2]     From:   Ben R. Schneider <
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        Date:   Mondayy, 13 Jul 1998 08:04:46 +0000
        Subj:   Stoic Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 Jul 1998 15:54:54 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Fencing

Jay Minnix, via Sean Lawrence, tells us, "The montante was definitely a
groin cut. It was not a fair blow." Aha! I infer that Beatrice's comment
about Benedick refers literally to the wars he is returning from, but
metaphorically, and most directly, to his wit (full of low blows?). If I
am not mistaken, a *cut* was also a *cutting remark* in EME.  Also,
Beatrice may be alluding to why she broke up with Benedick: it could be
his wit, or it could be that the last part of his name got him into
trouble.

Thanks, Sean and Jay.

--Ed Taft

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben R. Schneider <
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Date:           Mondayy, 13 Jul 1998 08:04:46 +0000
Subject:        Stoic Hamlet

David Crosby (SHAKSPER 9.0623) agrees with Carol Barton that Hamlet must
be read in the light of "the general breakdown of conventional sources
of religious and civic certitude."   Of course,  but this doesn't rule
out Stoicism as a basis for judging Hamlet's indecision. Stoicism
doesn't require (though it allows) a belief in God or anything else
except one's duty to one's fellow men. Far from backing any established
form of government,, it preaches death to tyrants (like Julius Caesar).
In other words, when all else fails, Stoicism is still there.

Claudius, to judge from his methods (usurpation, regicide, spying) is a
tyrant, and he should be eradicated for that reason alone. Once he knows
that Claudius is guilty of murder.   Hamlet errs in thinking about his
personal  revenge, instead of the welfare of the state.   At least
that's what the Stoics would say.

Ed Taft (also 9.0623)  thinks of Stoicism in terms of Marcus Aurelius,
who is "a far cry from Shakespeare."    It appears  that Marcus was
translated too late to have influenced Shakespeare's plays, and
Shakespeare didn't read much Latin.    Yes,  the Stoic "calm of soul"
which Marcus advocates does not  loom very large in Shakespeare.   But
Marcus also advocates lots of other  Stoic virtues, like rulers putting
their countries'  needs above their personal wishes.

Ed favors Christian Humanism over Stoicism as an influence on
Shakespeare.    Can he list any Christian Humanists living and breathing
in Shakespeare's time?  I don't know any, but  I haven't studied the
matter.    I can list plenty of  Stoics:   Spenser, Sidney,  Jonson,
James I, Elizabeth (translated some of  Seneca's moral epistles) ,
Montaigne,  Castiglione.    Scratch a gentleman and scratch a Stoic.

Ed wonders why, if as I say, Hamlet had a revelation when he saw
Fortinbras on the march, he didn't kill Claudius right away. I would
argue that he was resolved to do so at this point, but was lying in wait
for a good chance. Maybe what came to him in that speech was that if the
deed was to cost him his life, he was ready to die.  Stoics don't worry
about  death; only what posterity will think of them.   Hence Hamlet's
dying request that Horatio tell his story.

Melissa Aaron  (still  9.0623)  is a bit concerned about the way I use
the word "Puritan," when I say "Shakespeare certainly wasn't a Puritan.
"   I mean a common, ordinary, garden-variety "Puritan:"  a person who
frowns on frivolity, sex  and theatres,  who doesn't want any stained
glass,  statues, or crucifixes in church, who wears grey clothes with
white collars and black broad-brimmed hats with truncated cones on top,
like the ones our children dress up as  for Thanksgiving.    Puritan
sects had many names, but they had these idiosyncrasies in common.

It is true that in Shakespeare's time the term was applied  to a great
variety of people, even people like Sir Philip Sidney who opposed the
Queen's kindnesses to papist nations.   I n other respects he was a
typical  upperclass hedonist. Christopher Hill  (_Society  Puritanism in
Pre-Revoltionary England_, 1964) after considering all the various
contexts in which the Elizabethans used the word "Puritan" comes down
hard on what  he considers the dominant meaning, which is the one I use.
Puritanism, Hill  maintains,  is a distinct cultural movement composed
of tradesmen, craftsmen, and small independent farmers who believe in
three "cardinal virtues:  thrift, accumulation and industry.  "I imagine
that Puritans were easily discernible in the city of London because of
their drab costumes.  Shakespeare ridicules Puritans, thus defined ,in
Shylock, who can't stand music, parties, or idleness; in Malvolio, who
wants there to be no more cakes and ale; and in Falstaff, who says it's
no sin to labor in one's vocation. Jonson ridicules Puritans in
Zeal-of-the Land Busy.

Yours ever,
BEN SCHNEIDER
 

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