The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2111  Friday, 17 November 2000.

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 16 Nov 2000 10:49:25 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2102 Re: Fops

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 16 Nov 2000 13:07:01 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2102 Re: Fops

[3]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 16 Nov 2000 08:35:02 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.2102 Re: Fops

From:           Clifford Stetner <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 16 Nov 2000 10:49:25 -0500
Subject: 11.2102 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2102 Re: Fops

Bill Godshalk says:

>Dr. J.'s kicking the stone was an interesting comment on ontology, not
>epistemology. I agree that epistemologically be know literary characters
>and real people (like Sean Lawrence) in the same way.  But they surely
>have different ontological statuses.

I think it has been argued, perhaps by Wittgenstein, that the
ontological status of "other minds" is problematic.  Certainly, my own
mind has an ontological status different from the mind of Hamlet, but
the only existence it can possess for anyone else is one that they must
project from their own experience of themselves.  When they speak to me,
therefore, they can only address a projected image of their own minds,
continually modified by my responses, but never identical with my
experience of myself.  The only mind that has any ontology in my
ontological universe is therefore my own, and the ontological status of
the Other is something I must construct according to essentially
literary principles.  That is: I use a set of roles and statuses,
constructed and defined by my cultural environment, and put together a
Frankenstein's creature with whom I may discourse.  Furthermore, the
Other has no qualities for me, but those I can recognize according to
these predefined categories.

There is, therefore, as you say, no difference between the way we
construct real people from the sparse evidence of a dramatist's
dialogue, and the way we construct the real people that inhabit our
world.  The difference lies in the point that Sean reiterates concerning
the reason we do not come to the aid of Desdemona.  But even Sean
assumes that we would do so, if she were a "real" rather than a
"fictive" character.  Why, if this is so, do we not come to the aid of
all Others we find in distress?  Why do we come to the aid of a horse
whipped in the street and then calmly walk by a McDonald's?  We must
place the fictive characters that surround us in the world into literary
categories by which we decide whom we are compelled to aid and whom we
are not.

Tony Burton says:

>with respect to humans themselves, they come to
>our consciousness as inner experiences - as noumena - while the rocks
>and trees come to our consciousness through our outward-directed sense
>organs - as phenomena.  The noumenal and the phenomenal co-exist in the
>human being.

Humans come to our consciousness through phenomena, just as do the rocks
and trees.  We see someone crying, we hear their sobs, we feel the tears
are wet, we decode the text of their verbal complaints, we recognize the
similarity of these sensory images to our own outward phenomenal
expressions of particular inward emotions, and we therefore project our
memory of these emotions into an imagined inner realm of the human
before us.  It requires an epistemological intervention to remind
ourselves that the tears of an actor are "not real" in order to withdraw
our perception of his emotional state.  It is because the world we live
in is peopled with dramatic characters of our own construction, that
Shakespeare's characters have the power to become real people in our
perception.  It is the intervention of the third parties of player and
dramatist that creates the only ontological difference between real and
dramatic characters in the worlds we individually inhabit.  That any
other minds but our own exist in the world must remain a working

Don Bloom says:

>discussions of that sort
>always seem to disappear into an area that has nothing to do with
>literature -- that is, with the experience of other thoughts and
>emotions through fictions. But is there some other way of approaching
>literature as literature?
>With honest curiosity,

I suspect that there are a number of ways, but one I would like to
suggest is literature as literature according to its function.  The
function of literature can be approached from several different
directions: its function for the writer, for the reader, for the
culture, for the state, etc.  Why was Hamlet written?  Is it adequate to
reduce it to a lucrative property produced by a creative genius to the
end of producing beautiful art and making a killing for his partners and
himself?  Hamlet as dramatist clearly has other ends in view, and I find
a reading of Shakespeare the dramatist as Hamlet the dramatist the most
interesting approach.

Bertrand Russel says:

>When you have taken account of all the feelings roused by Napoleon in
writers and
>readers of history, you have not touched the actual man; but in the case
>of Hamlet you have come to the end of him. If no one thought about
>Hamlet, there would be nothing left of him;

In fact, you have not come to the end of him, as Hamlet was already a
commonly recognized mythological character when Shakespeare wrote his
version of the myth, and would have remained so with or without
Shakespeare.  As a mythological, rather than a dramatic character, he
already stood as a cultural icon, linking the Elizabethan English to
their Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian heritage.  Shakespeare did not
breathe life into him like Adam, but merely co-opted the life that he
already possessed in the collective consciousness of his audience.

>. A robust sense of reality is very necessary in framing a
>correct analysis of propositions about unicorns, golden mountains, round
>squares, and other pseudo-objects."

It's interesting that Russel had to resort to round squares as the
analogy for unicorns.  What about square squares?  As none such exists
in nature, is not a square of any stripe a "pseudo-object?"

Brian Vickers says:

>.the reason why one can state that Iago is lying - not only
>in what he allows Othello to infer from his own insinuation, but in his
>self-presentations to Roderigo and to the audience - is derived not from
>some reader's intuition but from noticing changes in the language he
>uses, which becomes blustering or evasive.

These linguistic markers lead us to the supposition that Iago is lying,
but they can not lead us past supposition to certainty.  Why should I
not conclude that the sense of uncertainty as to the honesty of honest
Iago is encoded in the text in order that I might more completely share
Othello's world shattering loss of certainty?  Could not Shakespeare
have removed this pronounced indeterminacy had he wished?  Is not Iago
as capable as the actor that portrays him of faking evasiveness, to
enlist our sympathy perhaps or simply out of motiveless malignancy?

>Of course, dramatists have
>many ways of signalling when characters' utterances are not to be
>trusted, including gesture and movement, but 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),

I could (and have) argued that Shakespeare constructs a subjective
reading of the events of the play that mirrors Hamlet's, who, of course,
despises Claudius as his Oedipal rival, and so hears nothing from him
but lies and deceit, but perhaps Claudius is innocent?  Perhaps the play
only presents us with the delusional perceptions of a paranoid or a
severe neurotic unable to overcome his own Oedipal conflicts.  Perhaps
it is the ghost that is lying concerned only with his own jealousy or as
a disguised evil spirit.  Is the evidence of Claudius' chapel confession
clear enough to remove all doubt?  Is Claudius' reaction to the
Mousetrap conclusive evidence of his guilt, or is it perhaps true that
he is deeply offended at what he recognizes as an affront to himself and
to Gertrude?  Is there any way to absolutely dismiss any possibilities
that the text supports?  Can even the events onstage  (let alone
offstage) not be read as the momentary lapse of the viewer into the
delusional state of the protagonist?  How could a stage full of lying
actors in deceptive disguises ever tell the truth about anything?  Was
not Shakespeare obsessed with this very idea of noumenal versus
phenomenal indeterminacy as evidenced in his dressing boys as girls as

>or his hypocritical rebuke to Hamlet for his prolonged mourning

No possibility that we are coerced into sharing Hamlet's paranoiac
misreading of sincere filial affection and concern?

Bill Godshalk again:

>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. . . .

Being a product of cynical post Machiavellian modernism, I am
skeptical.  I find it more credible that he is trying to scare D by
hinting that he can read her thoughts.  I also suspect that it is the
impossibility of doing so: on the part of Othello, of Cassio, of
Roderigo, of Emilia, and of the audience that creates the tragic theme
that makes the play so powerful.
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 . . . 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.

But who is lying here, Othello or his mother or the sibyl?

>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.

I am sorry that they are deceived in him.

Sean again:

>But more importantly, the question of volition seems indicative of the
>wrong way to go about the problem in the first place, since it's a
>matter that can only be answered from an internal point of view.  We
>can't tell that other people have volition--we can only tell that we
>ourselves do, by a process of introspection.

From an internal point of view, we have an actor who we assume is not
speaking his true thoughts.  Moreover, how certain are we that what
appears to us as our own volition is not an illusion projected after the
fact?  Is this not the question that vexed Sophocles and returned to vex
the Calvinists?

Bill Godshalk again, quoting Sean:

>"as people approached in the second person"?
>Does this mean that "I" have to call myself "he"?

I think the Lacanian model of the ego implies that "I" is already a
third person pronoun.

>. And the way I understand or try to understand Sean Lawrence is the same
>way I try to make sense of literary characters or historical figures.
>But that does not mean that people, literary characters, and historical
>figures should be lumped willy-nilly into the same ontological

Perhaps they should not be, but to make distinctions is an
epistemological phenomenological process.  We must write a script
distinguishing between the various ontological statuses of the
characters that people our world.  When we talk about our friend dying
of AIDS, we construct a different ontology than when we talk about "a
third of the population of Africa" dying of AIDS.  We may acknowledge
that there is no ontological difference, but both are purely literary
constructions the "appropriate" response to which depends upon the
ontological status we choose to project on them.

>From Shroedinger's box


From:           W. L. Godshalk <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 16 Nov 2000 13:07:01 -0500
Subject: 11.2102 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2102 Re: Fops

Sean Lawrence writes:

>And my point is precisely that he doesn't have to have agency to make a
>claim upon us.  Lavinia's claim upon those around her is strongest when
>her agency is weakest.

And I think that Sean is misusing the word "claim."  When I make a
claim, I actively make a claim. I work with my students helping them to
word their claims more precisely and carefully.

I think Sean means something like "sympathize" or "empathize."  We and
"those around her" may sympathize with Lavinia's plight -- raped and
mutilated.  Or some of us may laugh -- one of the recorded responses to
a performance.  In any case, Lavinia cannot actively step from the pages
of the script and actively make any claim upon ME.  You, maybe, but not

Paul Doniger, I think, misunderstands my point.  WITHIN the fiction,
Hamlet makes many decisions, but Hamlet cannot make a different decision
every time you read the same script (though you could read a different
script, e.g., Q1).  Shakespeare the playwright has made all the
decisions for Hamlet.

I think David Schalkwyk is raising the problem of persons (like
Napoleon) who are used as literary characters as in Kundera's
Immortality, wherein Napoleon stops to give nonexistent photographers a
photo op. Kundera, it would seem, relies on his readers' knowing
something about the historical figure.  But I would make a firm
distinction between Napoleon as historical figure and Napoleon as a
literary character in Immortality -- wherein Goethe and Hemingway are

Yours, Bill Godshalk

From:           Stephanie Hughes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 16 Nov 2000 08:35:02 +0000
Subject: 11.2102 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.2102 Re: Fops

> Well, I assume that dead persons did (in the past) exist materially in
> the world, and, if they were not disabled in some way, had agency.
> Fictive characters like Hamlet do not and did not have independent
> agency. (One might argue that they have some kind of fictive agency.)
> For example, Hamlet has never and will never defecate in Shakespeare's
> play.
> Yours, Bill Godshalk

Nor will Abraham Lincoln in any of the dozens of books we read about
him. No doubt he did in life, but we don't know any more about it than
we know about Hamlet (thank God!). The two beings occupy the same kind
of place in our minds, the only difference being that one is labeled
"fictional" while the other is labeled "real." But these labels can be
overlooked by a mind in search of facts about human nature.

When I ponder the reasons for the Vietnam War, more than any history of
the war the document that has meaning is the novel, "The Ugly American."
In his sensitive portraits of the two primary fictional characters,
Graham Greene came closer to explaining the war than anything else I've
ever read about it. Gatsby, so romantised that he has hardly any
substance ( he was based on a real figure with whom he seems to have
nothing at all in common), yet even so he is far more likely to
"explain" the roaring twenties than any of the real figures we can
conjure up.

Stephanie Hughes

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