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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Holinshed Anecdote
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1968  Tuesday, 24 October 2000.

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Oct 2000 10:29:51 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1955 Re: Holinshed Anecdote

[2]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Monday, 23 Oct 2000 04:24:23 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1955 Re: Holinshed Anecdote


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Oct 2000 10:29:51 -0700
Subject: 11.1955 Re: Holinshed Anecdote
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1955 Re: Holinshed Anecdote

Terence writes:

>The scene takes place (we assume) in Wales. Glendower and Lady Mortimer
>are Welsh. They speak to each other on their native soil and in their
>native language. If anyone is 'voiceless', or denied the capacity for
>'meaning things' in this context, it is the hapless, unmanned Mortimer.

Not necessarily.  Leaving aside the fact that the scene could take place
elsewhere, in a border district say, Mortimer means things to everyone
around him except Lady Mortimer, whose effectively isolated from
everyone except her father.  Even within the onstage community of
conspirators, the Welsh are a distinct minority, and English is the
lingua franca.

>As a result, Lady Mortimer's appeal immediately becomes less aesthetic
>than political.  When she utters, the callow presumption that English is
>the sole language of Britain is incisively probed and exposed, and her
>words shed thereafter their own intensely ironic light on the whole
>steamrollering colonialist English project.

But to both the play and the original audience English is normative.  No
one is actually given lines in Welsh, only the stage direction "speaks
in Welsh".  For all we know, the actors could have just made a
meaningless jabber, used to indicate that they were speaking in Welsh,
and to make them even more the butt of humour.  The real question is
whether we're expected to participate in "the whole steamrollering
colonialist English project".  Fetishizing Lady Mortimer into an exotic
beauty could be very much of a piece with this project.

A similar technique, incidentally, was used in a recent Canadian movie
about contact between white officials and plains native people, where
the native actors spoke to each other in English, while the
'English-speaking' white characters spoke to each other in a language
invented by someone at the CBC for the nonce, referred to as
'Jabberwocky', with English subtitles.  The ironies in this would be
marvellous to unravel.

>Their meaning lies in our incomprehension of them.

I don't think this actually gives her a voice.  Her being a sign, within
a semiotic economy, doesn't actually make her a communicator,
'signifying' as an act.  Just because she's spoken doesn't mean that she
speaks.

> Our ignorance is that to which they refer. Henry's brash dismissal of the
> French language at the end of Henry V echoes the same design. These plays
> are to a large extent precisely about the ways in which one culture
> overwhelms others.

It always seems to me to be something of a sub-theme.  In any case, just
recognizing that these issues are in play isn't to say that we're
actually asked to reflect on them.  We might just be expected to join in
the colonialist project, where our gaze is conscripted into the
colonizing gaze that treats Lady Mortimer as beautiful, or at least as
the producer of beautiful singing.

Cheers,
Se

 

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