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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: November ::
Re: Fops
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2049  Wednesday, 8 November 2000.

From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Nov 2000 22:46:36 -0500
Subject: 11.2028 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2028 Re: Fops

I would like to thank Brian Vickers for his excellent exposition of
Kendall Walton's position. But I would like to qualify the following:

> . . . in Shakespeare, one might
>argue, falsehood or insincerity is rendered directly in the language.
>Consider, for example, Claudius's first speech to the assembled court on
>his brother's death and his own o'er-hasty marriage (Hamlet, 1.2.1-16),
>or his hypocritical rebuke to Hamlet for his prolonged mourning
>(87-112); or Lady Macbeth's welcome of Duncan:
>
>                                All our service
>        In every point twice done, and then done double,
>        Were poor and single business to contend
>        Against those honours deep and broad wherewith
>        Your Majesty loads our house. (1.6.14-18)
>
>For both speakers [Claudius and Lady Macbeth?] Shakespeare amasses a range of
>linguistic markers
>which alert us to their insincerity or lies.

The problem with linguistic markers (or codes and protocols, as other
scholars, like Norman Holland, call 'em) is that they have to be noted
and interpreted by individual readers or auditors.  First, not all
readers or auditors are going to notice these markers and codes. We
cannot count on uniformity of attention in readers and auditors. Second,
if they do notice them, they may (or, more likely, will) interpret these
markers and codes in various ways.  When I read Hamlet for the first
time as a teenager, I'm fairly certain that I did not interpret
Claudius's speech (alluded to above) as a pack of lies. Now that I've
read the play several times and seen it performed, I can hardly think
otherwise.

As for Lady Macbeth's speech (1.6.14-18), it sounds to my (tin) ear like
standard courtly hyperbole. Should we consider all such hyperbole as
lying?  For example, is Othello's final speech (5.2.348-66) essentially
a lie?  Is he telling the truth as he sees it?  Is he trying to cheer
himself up?  Or, take Othello's earlier speech (1.3.130-47), his
traveler's tale. Do you believe his story?  I don't think I do.

Or do you buy this one?

 That handkerchief
 Did an Egyptian to my mother give;
 She was a charmer, and could almost read
 The thoughts of people. . . .
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 . . . there's magic in the web of it.
 A sibyl, that had numbered in the world
 The sun to course two hundred compasses,
 In her prophetic fury sewed the work.

If you so, later Othello says: "It was a handkerchief, an antique
token/My father gave my mother."  Some of my students believe the first
description, and read the second without considering that it may
contradict the first.

Shakespeare's words may contain markers, codes, protocols, but these
aren't transparent for all readers and auditors.

David Schalkwyk writes: "The best treatment of the problem of fictional
characters I know is Vincent Descombes's _Objects of All Sorts_ (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1986)" -- now unfortunately out of print.  With regard to the
ontology of literary character,  the study I like is: Amie L. Thomasson,
Fiction and Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999).  She puts those
characters in their place!

Yours,
Bill Godshalk
 

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