1999

Re: Chooseth

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0862  Monday, 17 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 14 May 1999 11:26:10 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0860 Re: Suffering and Choosing

[2]     From:   Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 14 May 1999 12:45:37 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0823 Re: Chooseth

[3]     From:   Pete McCluskey <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Friday, 14 May 1999 11:37:50 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Where's the fancy bread?

[4]     From:   Ben Schneider <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 16 May 1999 12:27:23 +0000
        Subj:   Chooseth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 14 May 1999 11:26:10 -0400
Subject: 10.0860 Re: Suffering and Choosing
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0860 Re: Suffering and Choosing

Brian Haylett wrote:

>Please explain how this would work. If you assume - as I hope - that
>Bassanio would make the same choice unaided, then the point is a
>harmless one. But if you are claiming that he makes his choice guided by
>her, then you have undermined much of the play.
>
>1. The caskets scenes become either pointless or ironic.

True, but so what?  It could well be the point that Portia should try to
circumvent having her will thwarted by the will of a dead man.

>2. Seeing through superficial appearances is no longer an issue - it is
>who you know that counts.

In other words, Shakespeare was making a point about reality and not the
fairy kingdom.  How unusual.

>3. Bassanio is a hypocrite in his major speech, and we could reasonably
>look for some comeback on that later.

Isn't Bassanio's hypocrisy a recurring theme?

>4. Portia should have played songs to put off the suitors she did not
>like, instead of helping them with the 'hazard' clue.

She might not have know which was the correct casket until Morocco and
Aragon chose the wrong ones.

>5. Bassanio's earlier carefree attitude to money is no longer a
>meaningful clue to his eventual choice.

I never considered Bassanio to have a carefree attitude toward money-"In
Belmont is a lady richly left."  The fact that he isn't good at managing
money doesn't mean that it is of no consequence to him.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 14 May 1999 12:45:37 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.0823 Re: Chooseth
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0823 Re: Chooseth

>As for Clifford Stetner's ingenious allegorization of Jessica as Divine
>Grace producing the Elizabethan Settlement, it seems to me impossible to
>sustain through the images of the eloping lovers' profligacy (Leah's
>turquoise for a monkey is bad stewardship in any economy) and those
>curious dark allusions in the garden scene-Troilus and Cressida, Dido
>and Aeneas, Pyramus and Thisbe, Medea (5.1.1-14).

I agree that, if this is an example of Shakespearean allegory, it does
not follow the rules of the allegory of the Middle Ages.  I would argue
that the nature of allegorical narrative changed in the Renaissance in
ways analogous to changes in the visual arts and music (you can probably
tell that I'm fascinated by analogies and metaphors).   Medieval
allegory, such as the Divine Comedy, the Romance of the Rose, and
Morality plays pretended to the symmetry and consistency that was
believed to underlie the biblical narrative (as well as the natural
world), so that any character or event, if examined, should reveal a
coherent meaning on each of the four levels of signification.

We can see this same kind of obsession with structure over naturalistic
representation in medieval painting.  I believe this similarity is
pretty generally acknowledged as indicative of qualities of medieval
European culture and phenomenology, as is the change from a medieval
European art, based on iconography, to one based on naturalism, which
was believed to be a return to Classical purity and part of the whole
notion of "Renaissance" that was originally generated by the recovery of
the ancient texts.

At the risk of seeming reductionist (this is often the consequence of
trying to trace the reductionism in much Renaissance thought) a move in
poetry similar to the transformation of painting, can be seen as a move
from a Virgilian to an Ovidian mode of allegory, in which the naturalism
is emphasized defining the poem as an aesthetic object while allegorical
iconography is communicated largely through suggestion.

Shakespeare's allegory is conveyed by suggestion rather than consistent
one-to-one correspondences of sign to meaning.  Rather than placing the
dove at the center of the top of the painting, symbolizing the place of
the holy ghost in the divine architecture, the dove is placed on a
branch in the background where its symbolic connotation seems to come to
us by our own inspiration.

Jessica's behavior is certainly not consistent with her role as divine
grace passing from the Roman to the English church.  However, her
exchange of ring for monkey is described in the context of Shylock's
misfortunes, and in that context is a fitting metaphor for the loss of
grace he must suffer through his attempts to keep her through loveless
authority and law.

As Christ represented the principle of Love which fulfilled and rendered
obsolete the Mosaic law represented by the Pharisees, the Elizabethan
Anglicans, represented by Bassanio and Lorenzo, et al, draw her away
with love from the legalistic bond to the Romish Church represented by
Shylock.

The English Reformation began with the breaking of a bond: namely, the
marriage bond of Henry VIII to Aragon (note the name of the silver
prince).  Portia's defense of Antonio's release from his bond to Shylock
resembles arguments the lawyers of the English ecclesiastical law courts
might use to defend what is in itself a kind of real life allegory: the
simultaneous divorce of Henry from Katherine and of England from Pope.

This reading depends on an assumption that dramatists and audience were
obsessed with these issues when the play was staged and that that
obsession would have determined their interpretation of symbols like the
caskets.

Portia descends from her bel mount to Bassanio like Beatrice to Dante.
But she also resembles Elizabeth in her role as spiritual head of the
English Church. It is her father's will that she feels compelled to
uphold, and the rhyming clues she offers Bassanio represent the role of
God's mercy in the Protestant scheme of salvation, another of the many
incidents of less than strict adherence to bonds and laws.  The
protestants, of course, rejected the Catholic notion of the sufficiency
of works to attain salvation.  For the Calvinists, God, like Portia, had
to choose you, and for the Lutherans, He had to give you a little help.
I realize that, if Spain or Morocco had won, this logic would not hold,
but they don't. It is clear that what Bassanio achieves is salvation,
not so much of his body, in being transported to the paradise of
Belmont, but of his soul figured in his altruistic love for the
merchant.

In trying to discover overriding themes in Shakespeare's plays, I'm
always drawn to the clownish characters.  Like Autolycus in the Winter's
Tale, much of what Launcelot speaks seems like madness, yet I think
there's method in it.  Much of the audience would relate to the dilemma
of a good guy tied to a bad master more than to a dissolute courtier
seeking a marriage of advantage.  If we can forgive Launcelot for
breaking his bond, then may God forgive the English commoner for his
apostasy.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pete McCluskey <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 14 May 1999 11:37:50 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Where's the fancy bread?

Brian Haylett offers a generous two cent's worth in response to my
suggestion that Portia offers Bassanio several clues in the Fancy Bred
song.

>Please explain how this would work. If you assume - as I hope - that
>Bassanio would make the same choice unaided, then the point is a
>harmless one. But if you are claiming that he makes his choice guided by
>her, then you have undermined much of the play.

I agree that Bassanio would make the correct choice unaided.  In fact, I
doubt that the clues really register with him, unless subliminally.
Nevertheless, the idea that Portia is offering clues does not
necessarily undermine the play.

>1. The caskets scenes become either pointless or ironic.

What's wrong with irony?  As for being pointless, the game does fulfill
its intended purpose of selecting Portia's spouse.  What is interesting
about the idea of her coaching the suitor she desires is that Portia has
found a way to uphold the letter ofher father's law but not its spirit.
As I pointed out in my original post, she fulfills both her will and her
father's, thus resolving the tension introduced in her speech to Nerissa
about a living daughter's will curbed by that of a dead father.
Furthermore, this manipulation of the law offers an interesting parallel
to the courtroom scene, thus strengthening the connection between the
play's twin plots.

>2. Seeing through superficial appearances is no longer an issue - it is
>who you know that counts.

Just like in real life, I'm afraid.  Actually, it is worth noting that
Portia herself fails to see through Bassanio's counterfeit appearance of
wealth-he has to confess himself to her after he has claimed his prize.

>3. Bassanio is a hypocrite in his major speech, and we could reasonably
>look for some comeback on that later.

Bassanio is a prodigal and an imposter; why can't he also be a
hypocrite?  And the entire fifth act strikes me as a comeback to
Bassanio and Gratiano.

>4. Portia should have played songs to put off the suitors she did not
>like, instead of helping them with the 'hazard' clue.

Your statement is unclear-Portia doesn't help out the others with the
hazard song.  As for her trying to subvert the process, well, I don't
get the impression that she knows the correct casket until the first two
have been opened, so she couldn't use clues or red herrings to Morocco
and Arragon.  (As for Portia's willingness to subvert the process,
consider her desire to distract the drunken German suitor with a glass
of wine placed upon a losing casket.)

>5. Bassanio's earlier carefree attitude to money is no longer a
>meaningful clue to his eventual choice.

I don't understand.  Who uses this meaningful clue and what is its
function?  Is it for the audience?

>How much easier to conclude that the song is meant for the audience, who
>now know what casket should be chosen and whose desires for Bassanio can
>be echoed by the opening rhyme. The song marks the culmination of the
>whole casket sequence, and here the audience are told that Fancy
>(fantasy, superficiality, false love) is being replaced by reality,
>depth of feeling, true love. Any more ironic approach would have to
>explain the discrepancy with the appearance-reality arguments in so many
>other Shakespeare plays.  When I directed this play for a school some
>thirty years ago, I had the song played from offstage, and no one -
>audience or cast - ever suggested it was a tip-off. I had heard the
>claim, of course, but it comes from the study, not the stage.

Hmm...the audience desires Bassanio?  I hope Portia doesn't find out.

As for the dismissive study/stage remark, I would like to hear from
other listmembers about how the song functions in other productions.
Has it ever been played as a tip-off?

In any case, there's no need to privilege the stage over the study (or
vice versa); both are important to our collective understanding and
appreciation of Shakespeare.

From my study,
Pete McCluskey

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ben Schneider <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 16 May 1999 12:27:23 +0000
Subject:        Chooseth

Dear Bill Godshalk,

Are you joking?  I don't think there is a shred of evidence, internal or
external, to support your claim that Bassanio is gay.  The play takes
great pains in the early scenes to show that dealing with a classical
Damon and Pythias relationship.   Portia herself praises the institution
in act 3.   External evidence abounds (see www.stoics.com) that such
friendships are admired specifically because they don't involve the
distraction of  sex.   See especially Montaigne on Friendship.  But you
know all this, so you must be pulling our legs.

 Yours ever to command,
     BEN

Taming of the Shrew and Cross-casting

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0861  Friday, 14 May 1999.

From:           Harry Teplitz <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 23:33:36 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:        Taming of the Shrew and Cross-casting

Hi all,

I was very interested to read the comments on the Washington Shakespeare
Company all-female Taming of the Shrew.  I have just directed a
completely cross-cast version of the play in Los Angeles, which we have
called "Kiss Me Nate".  (Our Petruchio is "Patricia" and our Katherine
is "Nathaniel", etc.)

I have always felt that the play as written presents very complex
problems for a modern audience.  Altering the gender of the characters,
to me, makes the play much easier to take.  "Taming" a woman is not
something I can readily accept at the end of the 20th century, but
strangely taming a man is fine with me.  I can imagine that an
all-female approach would also solve some problems.

And now for the shameless plug:

        Kiss Me Nate
        Sundays May 16,23,30 at 8pm
        Rose Alley Theater
        318 Lincoln Blvd
        Los Angeles
        call (310) 208-3701 for more information

Cheers,
        -- Harry Teplitz

Re: Names

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0859  Friday, 14 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:28:02 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0857 Various Responses

[2]     From:   Dana Shilling <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:47:40 -0400
        Subj:   Smiting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:28:02 -0400
Subject: 10.0857 Various Responses
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0857 Various Responses

Anthony Burton wrote:

>I haven't seen a discussion of the name "Polonius" that's worth passing
>along, or that "explains" anything.

I guess he didn't see my post on the subject.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:47:40 -0400
Subject:        Smiting

Michael Pennington's wonderful "Hamlet: A User's Guide" refers in
passing to some articles on Polonius' name. Maybe Corambis is his
personal name and Polonius is a title, like Coriolanus, awarded when the
old guy helped "smite the sledded Polacks on the ice." So no matter how
sententious he is in the play, he was military hot stuff once.

Dana Shilling
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Re: Suffering and Choosing

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0860  Friday, 14 May 1999.

[1]     From:   David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 11:04:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0844 Re: Lear and Suffering

[2]     From:   Brian Haylett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 19:08:51 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Fancy Bred - two cents' worth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 11:04:03 -0400
Subject: 10.0844 Re: Lear and Suffering
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0844 Re: Lear and Suffering

A propos the suffering in Lear: I guess the single most memorable moment
in my fairly considerable experience of Shakespearean play-going was the
final moment of Peter Brook's very dark take on the play: everybody else
having exited, Edgar dragged the body of Edmund off the stage, as the
lights (for the first time during the performance), fell-in the silent
house, the only sound was shhhhhh, shhhhhh, shhhhhhh . . . .

Existentially,
Dave Evett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 19:08:51 +0100
Subject:        Re: Fancy Bred - two cents' worth

Peter M. McCluskey writes: 'I think the evidence supporting the notion
Portia helps out Bassanio is pretty strong ...'

Please explain how this would work. If you assume - as I hope - that
Bassanio would make the same choice unaided, then the point is a
harmless one. But if you are claiming that he makes his choice guided by
her, then you have undermined much of the play.

1. The caskets scenes become either pointless or ironic.

2. Seeing through superficial appearances is no longer an issue - it is
who you know that counts.

3. Bassanio is a hypocrite in his major speech, and we could reasonably
look for some comeback on that later.

4. Portia should have played songs to put off the suitors she did not
like, instead of helping them with the 'hazard' clue.

5. Bassanio's earlier carefree attitude to money is no longer a
meaningful clue to his eventual choice.

How much easier to conclude that the song is meant for the audience, who
now know what casket should be chosen and whose desires for Bassanio can
be echoed by the opening rhyme. The song marks the culmination of the
whole casket sequence, and here the audience are told that Fancy
(fantasy, superficiality, false love) is being replaced by reality,
depth of feeling, true love. Any more ironic approach would have to
explain the discrepancy with the appearance-reality arguments in so many
other Shakespeare plays.  When I directed this play for a school some
thirty years ago, I had the song played from offstage, and no one -
audience or cast - ever suggested it was a tip-off. I had heard the
claim, of course, but it comes from the study, not the stage.

Re: Ophelia

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0858  Friday, 14 May 1999.

[1]     From:   Andy White <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 10:29:04 -0400
        Subj:   What Did Ophelia Know, and When Did She Know it?

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:50:23 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 10:29:04 -0400
Subject:        What Did Ophelia Know, and When Did She Know it?

As my heading implies, one fruitful avenue is to take the actor's
journey with the character: read only the scenes in which she appears,
and assume that for Shakespeare's purposes this is all she knows.

You seem to be on the right track-it is my belief she is acting at her
father's behest, and has been told this scenario with the letters, etc.,
should work like a charm.  One question for you, for the "nunnery"
scene, is how much of her lines are truthful and how much are lines fed
to her by Polonius.  "Rich gifts wax poor" sounds too aphoristic to be
Ophelia's own words, for instance.

Another question; how good an actor/spy is Ophelia?  Every time I see
this scene, the actress and director treat her as if she were
professional at this; I question that assumption, particularly since
Hamlet's first reaction is to laugh and question her honesty.

And keeping her limited knowledge in mind, her madness might come from
an impression few have really treated on-stage.  Lately we have seen
angry Ophelias, sexy Ophelias, etc.-but if we understand the madness as
springing from her lack of understanding, the madness takes on a more
interesting form, it seems to me.  She's been told Hamlet's health and
future lie in her ability to bring him back-she fails, gets insulted by
Hamlet, and then Hamlet kills her father.

Whose fault is it?  That depends on who was expected to cure Hamlet of
his madness.  If it's Ophelia, then her failure to bring Hamlet back to
his senses is the cause for all that follows ...

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 13 May 1999 13:50:23 -0400
Subject:        Re: Ophelia

Steve Urkowitz makes an interesting point about the variations between
Q1 and Q2.  I wonder if he, or anyone else, sees a difference in these
formulations in terms of Hamlet's discovery of Ophelia's duplicity.

I have never been a fan of the "shoes under the arras" or "unseen
eavesdropper" in II.ii theories.  They are too melodramatic and
sophomoric for my tastes-not to mention unsupported by anything in the
text.  Therefore, I searched for a textual solution and think I found it
at the beginning of this scene:

Hamlet greets Ophelia courteously enough and responds politely (if
redundantly) to her greeting.  When she offers to return his gifts he
protests that they really were nothing.  She persists and Hamlet reacts
only after she says "... for to the noble mind/ Rich gifts wax poor when
givers prove unkind."  Hamlet's response-"Ha, ha!"-is suggestive.  I do
not think he was laughing; rather, this is an exclamation of awakening,
an "Ah, ha" moment.  And what inspired this is not Ophelia's words?  Do
the quoted words sound like typical Ophelia to anyone, or more like
something Polonius would teach her?  If the actress speaks the lines
haltingly as if she is conjuring them from  memory, the point can't be
missed, and her last three unmetrical words ("There my lord") give
Hamlet a beat or two in which to register realization.  The rest of the
Nunnery scene follows logically from this, including, for example, the
double meaning of "honest" in the "Ha, ha!" line.

I think Theobald reached the same conclusion, but I have not seen anyone
else suggest this reading.

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