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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Fops
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1956  Friday, 20 October 2000.

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 19 Oct 2000 14:14:41 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1950 Re: Fops

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Oct 2000 01:13:37 -0400
        Subj:   Re: fops ???

[3]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Oct 2000 09:04:01 EDT
        Subj:   Re Fops


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 19 Oct 2000 14:14:41 -0500
Subject: 11.1950 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1950 Re: Fops

In response to Mr. Pixley's uncertainty: I have been persuading myself
for more decades than I care to admit that I am alive and real. To
paraphrase someone: "I grade term papers, therefore I am -- even if I
maybe wish I weren't." And I thank him for his support.

Mike Jensen's remark about not seeing mental pictures of persons and
events while reading suggests that there may be a serious difference of
psychological type here, perhaps as serious as that which separate math
from non-math people. I recall annoying one of my graduate-school
professors by asking a question about early readers' perceptions of
Beowulf (the man). When I read that Grendel could tear apart and eat up
on the spot several Viking warriors my mind conjured up an ogre of say
20-30 feet in height (rather like my mental picture of the Cyclops, but
with two eyes and a more hulking walk). When Grendel then has an arm
ripped out by Beowulf in a wrestling match, but Beowulf is not described
as being unusually large but merely immensely strong, I am at a loss.
Did contemporary listeners to this tale not notice this apparent
discrepancy?

Apparently not. But it continues to bother me just slightly every time I
teach the poem (in translation, I should add).

Finally, to drag (pun not originally intended) the discussion back to
fops -- as Marcus Dahl has done -- we still seem to be talking about
several different things at once, which the quote from Richard III
highlights.  Richard's older brother was a notorious womanizer, but
never accused (so far as I know) of being a fop, a homosexual, or a
coward. My sense of the passage he quotes ('Grim-visag'd Warre, hath
smooth'd his wrinkled Front: / And now, in stead of mounting Barbed
Steeds, / To fright the Soules of fearful Adversaries, / He capers
nimbly in a Ladies Chamber, / To the lascivious pleasing of a Lute) is
not an accusation of emasculation but a complaint based on the deformed
younger brother's jealousy of his handsome sibling.

We are dealing with at least two senses of fop: 1) dandy, male
fashion-plate or clothes-horse, with refined manners; 2) an excessively
over-dressed man with noticeably feminine mannerisms. We also have two
or more senses of effeminate: 1) cowardly (I take that to be Romeo's
meaning); 2) much the same as foppish (sense 2); 3) homosexual; 4)
womanizing.

This last sense troubles me because it seems to imply that the more a
man is interested in having sex with women the more homosexual he
becomes, at which point sense collapses. My guess is that -- accepting
the authority of those who have informed us about Elizabethan ideas on
the subject -- Romeo's sense of the word belongs to a part of the
anti-feminist tradition, still found in certain quarters, wherein any
contact with women, excepting only a violent sexual one, reduces one's
manhood and courage, herein seen mainly as a kind of wild ferocity. I
suspect that theory is also the basis of Gloucester's griping, done in
his deliciously sneering fashion: Edward is now much less of a man than
before because he is spending his time bedding court ladies rather than
butchering Lancastrians. But that doesn't make Edward queer, for obvious
reasons.

(And where does this leave the contrast of King Hamlet and his brother
Claudius that the prince makes so much of? But I've said enough
already.)

Cheers,
don bloom

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Oct 2000 01:13:37 -0400
Subject:        Re: fops ???

This deconstruction of what was a perfectly interesting discussion of
varying perceptions of dandies into a metaphysical debate about
semantics and the reality of words, or their ultimate futility,
depresses me unutterably.  This debate reminds me of nothing so much as
Fifth Century Greek colloquia questioning the ultimate reality of the
world in light of the Democritan view that the universe was noting but
atoms and empty space.  Twentieth Century scientific confirmation of
this speculation has not altered substantially the way we perceive the
universe or react to it.  We still seek pleasure and avoid pain, strive
to achieve wealth and power, make sexual bonds, beget children and fear
death.  Knowing that the pleasure of sexual arousal is due to a rush of
seratonin or that the calm feeling which follows is secondary to a flow
of released norepinephrine does nothing to mitigate the population
explosion or provide a new reading for Sonnet 129. Can't we drop this
unproductive nonsense and agree that words do have meanings; otherwise
don't bother responding to this post as you don't understand it and I
won't have the vaguest notion of what you are trying to say.

To be sure, the exact colour, nuance and emotional effect the words have
upon you vary from what they do to me, but that is not the result of the
words, but, rather, the consequence of the images evoked by the words,
which are likely to be quite similar.  When Shakespeare exhorts us to
let our imaginary powers work, to "think that when we speak of horses
you see them prancing their proud feet i' the receiving earth," the
audience will think of horses, not rabbits, and they will be prancing,
not singing madrigals.  The colour of the horse will depend on the
hearer, as will the effect it elicits... fear of the brutes,
anticipation of an exciting chase, the valor of brave men, etc.  But the
fundamental image which Shakespeare asks us to receive is clear enough
and likely to be shared by all the audience who are not on a day outing
from Bethlehem Hospital.

Larry Weiss

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Oct 2000 09:04:01 EDT
Subject:        Re Fops

In the John Cage "composition" titled 4'33" a pianist sits quietly for
four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  The theory behind the piece is
that the listener can mentally construct music from the surrounding
random sounds.  This piece has been around now for almost fifty years
and shows no sign of entering the standard repertoire.  Indeed, Cage's
influence began to wan long before his death in 1992.

Musical notations, like words on a page, are ink marks on paper until a
performer gives them life.  But they are hardly neutral.  4'33" is
unlikely to be found on the program with Chopin Ballades, Beethoven
Sonatas or Debussy Preludes because Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy were
far superior at organizing sounds into emotionally charged music that we
mere mortals.  Composers know that certain sounds joined together,
articulated in a certain way, at a certain volume and with a certain
rhythm will produced a desired effect.  Similarly, the writer knows that
words joined in a certain order can evoke ideas and emotions in the
reader.  It has been said that a great actor can enthrall an audience by
reading the New York City telephone directory.  But don't we get much
more out of watching Olivier's Hamlet.

True, the listener/reader is by no means a neutral receptacle of the
artist's product.  Fans of Rap or Hard Rock may well find Chopin,
Beethoven and Debussy boring, just as Classical fans often hear Rap or
Hard Rock as cacophony.  Those unfamiliar with the vocabulary and syntax
of Renaissance English will find Shakespeare confusing and tiresome.
Even when the readers or listeners are receptive to the art, the
concepts, perceptions and emotions will likely vary among them.  But the
Finale to the 9th Symphony of Beethoven is unlikely to produce sadness
in a normal person, nor is the Finale to the Tchaikovsky's 6th likely to
produce joy.  The composer is capable of manipulating the emotions of
the listener, and the writer can similarly control, to some degree, the
thoughts and emotions of the reader.

Bill Godshalk's graduate class may differ on Iago's sexuallity, but that
is not an issue overtly dealt with in the text.  I trust none of his
students feels that Iago is a noble character, or kind, good-natured or
fair-minded.  The ink stains Shakespeare marked on paper directs the
reader/audience to a certain perception of the character.  The near
universal appeal of Shakespeare, across cultures, class, generations,
etc., demonstrate how powerful those ink stains can be.

Philip Tomposki
 

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