The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1276 Thursday, 15 July 1999.
Date: Wednesday, 14 Jul 1999 23:39:07 -0400
Subject: 10.1265 Re: Unwitnessed Events
Comment: Re: SHK 10.1265 Re: Unwitnessed Events
The unwitnessed event about which I gave a paper last year was the
description of the death of Antigonus and all hands on his ship in The
Winter'sTale. Antigonus exits the stage with the famous direction
"pursued by bear," and we only learn of his fate when the Clown
describes it to his father the Shepherd (a relationship evoking for me
that between Gobbo and son in Merchant).
My reading of the bear (for reasons too numerous to enumerate here
(again: paper at website)) is that he is a representative of State
terror. Antigonus's bloody death, along with the mass death of his
crew, therefore figure a public execution such as that of Guy Fawkes in
1605 or the French regicide Revaillac in 1610.
I find the Clown's reference to the tearing out of the shoulder bone by
the bear evokative of a quartering, and the screams of the drowning
sailors (who just happen to go down in earshot and at the same time as
their leader is torn to pieces and consumed on shore) of contemporary
descriptions of the horrific mass executions that were coming to an end
in the early Stuart years.
Antigonus and company's deaths are described after the fact, not only
because the training of bears had probably not got beyond learning them
how to be torn to pieces by a pack of savage dogs for an afternoon's
entertainment, or because it is a dramatic convention, dating back to
Sophocles, to do the eye plucking off stage, but because the nature of
State terror is tied up with its effects on the culture of the
underclasses represented here by the shepherds. (my paper associates
this phenomenon with the discussion of torture in Nietzsche's Genealogy