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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: July ::
Re: Unwitnessed Events
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1244  Thursday, 8 July 1999.

[1]     From:   Yvonne Bruce <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Jul 1999 08:31:26 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 10.1214 Unwitnessed Events

[2]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Jul 1999 13:28:04 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1236 Re: Unwitnessed Events

[3]     From:   Richard Regan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Jul 1999 22:11:43 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1236 Re: Unwitnessed Events


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Yvonne Bruce <
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Date:           Tuesday, 06 Jul 1999 08:31:26 -0400
Subject: Unwitnessed Events
Comment:        SHK 10.1214 Unwitnessed Events

Mr. Ullyot might want to consider another moment in Julius Caesar, the
notorious "double revelation" of Portia's death in act 4. I know you are
primarily interested in offstage battles, but this unwitnessed event
seems interesting to me because it depends less on dramaturgical
exigencies. Shakespeare never holds back when it comes to individuals
dying onstage (tho I guess the "swallowing fire" part would be tough to
manage), and I think Portia's offstage death makes a nice contrast to
the onstage display of her self-inflicted wound back in act 2. Within
the context of the play's theme of stoicism, Portia's onstage displayal
is a less effective measure of her "constancy" than the offstage suicide
that is rather indifferently reported. Consider Brutus' contrasting
reactions, too. Portia's wound seems to touch him far more than anything
he reveals in (both) his acknowledgements of her death.

Yvonne Bruce

[2}-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Tuesday, 06 Jul 1999 13:28:04 +0000
Subject: 10.1236 Re: Unwitnessed Events
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1236 Re: Unwitnessed Events

A couple of people have referred to the "unwitnessed" reunion of Leontes
and Perdita in The Wiinter's Tale 5.2.  Lots has been written on this
scene and on why this reunion is only reported while Leontes' and
Perdita's reunion with Hermione is presented on stage.  My guess is that
Shakespeare wanted a simpler, clearer climax than he would have had if
both reunions had been presented.

Someone mentioned Pericles-but I think the big contrast is with
Cymbeline, where the final scene includes a long series of revelations
and reunions.  Perhaps in The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare wanted to avoid
the disjointed, roller-coaster feeling (not that he'd have called it
that) the end of Cymbeline gives a lot of people.  And perhaps he wanted
to focus on the mother-daughter (rather than the father-daughter)
reunion, thus further "feminizing" the play, and on the older generation
(Leontes and Hermione), thus contributing to what many have found to be
the "autumnal" feel of the last scene.

Pervez Rizvi  writes that, at the climactic moment and in contrast to
Marina at a similar moment in Pericles, "Perdita is not given a single
line."  I guess that's true.  But Perdita speaks through her actions.
Paulina tells Perdita to "kneel, / And pray your mother's blessing," the
gesture of kneeling being the standard gesture for a child requesting a
parent's blessing.  For me, the climactic moment in the scene is
Hermione's blessing of Perdita, and if it is done in standard early
modern English fashion, the blessing will be very memorable and
impressive.  Perdita will kneel while Hermione places her hands on her
daughter's head and calls upon the gods ("You gods, look down / And from
your sacred vials pour your graces / Upon my daughter's head!").   In
other words, though she doesn't say anything, Perdita is very much
present at this point in the play.

Hermione goes on to ask Perdita questions ("Tell me, mine own, / Where
hast thou been preserv'd? where liv'd? how  found / Thy father's
court?"), though-oddly-she doesn't wait for her to answer, but
immediately adds, "for thou shalt hear that I, / Knowing by Paulina that
the oracle / Gave hope thou wast in being, have preserv'd / Myself to
see the issue."  I think dramatic economy (to avoid lengthening the end
of the play and repeating details we already know) is the main reason we
never hear Perdita's answers.  This and other gaps we're left with are
covered more or less adequately by Leontes' lines inviting a more
leisurely discussion off stage ("Good Paulina, / Lead us from hence,
where we may leisurely / Each one demand, and answer to his part /
Perform'd in this wide gap of time").

Though Perdita's lack of words is certainly significant, I'm not sure it
means she's being neglected.  Only three characters speak in this last
part of the last scene-Hermione, Paulina, and Leontes.  Most of the
others are referred to-Perdita, Polixenes, Camiillo-but they don't
speak, even though they are vitally concerned in what happens in the
closing lines (Camillo especially) and indicate feelings or concerns
non-verbally ("What?  look upon my brother," etc.).  There may be all
sorts of reasons for the characters' lack of words; I suspect one is
that having only three characters speak as the play ends brings clarity,
simplicity, economy, and focus, and therefore a stronger sense of
closure and repose than a more complicated ending would have..

Another reason Perdita doesn't speak in the last part of the
scene-despite the fact that Paulina tells her to "pray [her] mother's
blessing"-may be that she's already said what she needs to earlier in
the scene.   Kneeling before what she thought was a statue  to "implore
[a] blessing", Perdita said, "Lady, / Dear queen, that ended when I but
began, / Give me that hand of yours to kiss"-more or less what she would
have said if she had spoken later in the scene.

By the way, the mother's blessing business is explained in two pieces
I've published-"Parental Blessings in Shakespeare's Plays," Studies in
Philology 89 (1992): 189-210, and "Ritual as an Instrument of Grace" in
True Rites and Maimed Rites, ed. Edward Berry and Linda Woodbridge.

The generalizations I'd draw from all of this are (1) that we can
account for much in terms of dramatic construction without having to
resort to more profound thematic or socioeconomic explanations, and (2)
that, when we talk about what we "witness" in witnessed (as opposed to
unwitnessed) scenes, we must attend to the actions performed as well as
the words spoken.

Bruce Young

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Regan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Jul 1999 22:11:43 EDT
Subject: 10.1236 Re: Unwitnessed Events
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1236 Re: Unwitnessed Events

The most interesting unwitnessed scenes signal that Shakespeare has
something up his sleeve. When a striking event is mediated through
narration, an audience reaction is preempted, as when we are not allowed
to mistake Hamlet's acting for madness in II.i. The church scene in
Shrew gives us a riotous but less despicable Petruchio by screening
Kate's humiliation. The crowd scene in Caesar is filtered through
Casca's narration, stressing the conspirators' manipulation of Brutus:
we cannot see Caesar's actions. A similar political filtering frames
Pierce Exton's short remarks about Bolingbroke's "wish" to have the king
dead. Exactly how Bolingbroke delivered this Oval Office hint is
unknown.

Richard Regan
Fairfield University
 

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