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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Fops
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1979  Saturday, 28 October 2000.

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 12:54:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1971 Re: Fops

[2]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 16:20:28 EDT
        Subj:   RE: Fops

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Oct 2000 08:39:12 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1971 Re: Fops


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 12:54:25 -0400
Subject: 11.1971 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1971 Re: Fops

>Brian Vickers, in his book Appropriating Shakespeare pointed out,
>brilliantly I think, that we can tell when Iago is lying. . .   And we can
>tell.  Not, Terry, that Iago
>is real.  He is ink on a page.  Still, we can tell when the character is
>lying, and I find that significant.

writes Mike Jensen.

I liked Brian Vickers' book in general, and thought that the weakest
part of the book was his reading of Othello (the play).  How can anyone
tell when ink stains are lying?  Iago says that Cassio is a great
arithmetician, a Florentine.  He says that he himself has fought at
Rhodes, Cyprus, and other grounds both Christian and heathen.

Using this example, please, tell me how you know (for sure and for
certain) whether or not this is the truth or a lie -- in the context of
the play.  Obviously in the real world, Iago the literary character
never fought any place, and Cassio never existed.

Yours, Bill Godshalk, the skeptic

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 16:20:28 EDT
Subject:        RE: Fops

"Philip Tomposki dredges up that weariest of fantasies:

'The near universal appeal of Shakespeare, across cultures, class,
generations, etc. . . .'

Of course, I cannot speak for those millions of Bedouin tribesmen,
Brazilian Indians, Chinese peasants or Mongolian nomads who nightly pore
over Folio and Quarto. However, I am aware of populous areas of London,
Birmingham, Cardiff, and even Stratford upon Avon, where the Bard's
capacity to enthrall and delight is not a truth universally
acknowledged, or even mentioned if one wishes to avoid the possibility
of physical unpleasantness.  Do words like 'out', 'get' and 'more',
drift into minds other than my own?

T. Hawkes"

I though my posting made clear that I do not believe everyone adored
Shakespeare, simply that he appealed to a broad spectrum of people
across cultures, classes and generations.  Nevertheless, the offending
statement was an egregious case of rhetorical excess . . .  mea cupa.

"My point is that ink stains do not direct to a "certain perception."
It is very uncertain what a reader will come up with.  For example, Iago
says that he fears that Othello has been sleeping with his wife,
Emilia.  Is he telling the truth or is he lying? Is he motivated by
jealousy or not?  I assume that different readers come up with
difference answers.

And I can only interpret the stains if I know the language of the
stains.

Yours, Bill Godshalk"

But how does this differ from real life?  Have you never misinterpreted
what you been told?  Have you never been misinterpreted?  If you try
speaking English to someone unfamiliar with the language, will they not
be as confused and frustrated as if they were trying to read English?

You mentioned in an earlier posting that your graduate students differed
as to Iago's sexual orientation.  There was once a rumor circulating
within the theater group that I belonged to that I was gay.  I'm not,
and I don't regard myself as particularly fey!  This was among people
who I had known for several years and with whom I frequently socialized.

Miscommunication and varying perceptions are as likely to turn up in
real life as it is in fiction.  That's the point.  Art imitates real
life, and even though we understand that one is reality and the other is
not, we react to art AS IF it were real.  In my theater group we were
forbidden to speak of our characters in the third person under the
theory we could not play the reality of the character unless we
identified with them.  Similarly we as the reader/audience speak of
characters in a book or play as feeling or thinking because we must
learn to react to them as thinking, feeling humans to viscerally grasp
the authors meaning.  Otherwise, a dry essay on human behavior would do
just as well.

I'll make one last attempt to illustrate my point.  Adults, whether
Bedouins, Mongolians, London slum dwellers or SHAKSPERians, will look at
Rodin's "The Kiss" and see a naked man and woman in a clearly erotic
embrace.  How they react to that image will depend on all the personal
and cultural variables we've discussed, but their reaction will not be
dissimilar to watching a flesh and blood couple in the same position.
Even though we know we're looking at chipped stone, Rodin has captured
the essential sexuality of that image.  We would not get that same
universality of reaction with a piece of unchipped stone.  The
difference is art, and it is not neutral.

Philip Tomposki

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 26 Oct 2000 08:39:12 -0400
Subject: 11.1971 Re: Fops
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1971 Re: Fops

> > Iago
> > says that he fears that Othello has been sleeping with his wife, Emilia.
> > Is he telling the truth or is he lying? Is he motivated by jealousy or
> > not?  I assume that different readers come up with difference answers.
>
> Yes, yes, yes - but...
>
> Brian Vickers, in his book Appropriating Shakespeare pointed out,
> brilliantly I think, that we can tell when Iago is lying

Pardon me for interjecting, but I cannot tell whether Iago is lying in
this case.  As usual, I am made to think immediately of Chaucer who
points out so frequently in the Canterbury Tales that faith in the
fidelity of one's wife is analogous to religious faith that it must have
been a medieval commonplace (Wife of Bath's Prologue, Franklin's Tale,
etc.).

I think the problem can better be seen in the question as to whether
Hamlet slept with Ophelia and the way that their relationship in
Shakespeare's play diverges from the sources in which the assignation
between the analogous characters takes place in the bushes out of sight
of the Claudius/Polonius analogues who set it up to test Hamlet's
sanity.

If I were to write a Hamlet and Ophelia to go with Gertrude and
Claudius, I would indicate that the matter in Ophelia's mad ravings
implies that her suicide is the consequence of unresolvable unconscious
trauma resulting from her father being killed by the man she has slept
with.  But, because Shakespeare has this act (implied at least by the
sources, if not by Ophelia's ravings) occur in the extratextual bushes,
out of our sight (as Iago's cuckolding), it may be another of many
examples in this play of Shakespearean psychoanalysis, revealing his
pre-Freudian understanding that conflicts in the realm of fantasy carry
the force of actual deeds.  What better way to convey our inability to
separate the guilt resulting from our impermissible fantasies from that
resulting from our manifest actions then to leave the deed in the
bushes?

It seems to me that there are certain narrative 'facts' that Shakespeare
feels the need to leave unambiguous, as when wrapping up all the loose
ends (informing us that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, for
example) and that it usually takes no more than a single line in the
mouth of the right character to clear it up for us.  If he declines to
provide an answer, therefore, we should ask whether indeterminacy in the
case is thematically significant.  This principle would especially apply
to matters of sexual fidelity (and especially in a tragedy of misplaced
jealousy).  Do we even know that Othello's head was horn free?

The nature of Shakespeare's drama, in which characters frequently enter
engaged in an ongoing dialogue, always seduces us to write the
extratextual matter in ourselves, and the nature of the offstage portion
of the conversation is usually strongly implied in the part we hear.  A
familiarity with Belleforest's Hamblet, leads us to go searching in the
bushes for evidence of a sex act, but all we find are some crushed grass
and a couple of empty beer cans.  Shakespeare then turns us into
Othellos, faced with a great deal of empirical evidence, but a maddening
indeterminacy which works on our imaginations.

I am, therefore, aligned with those who claim that theories about
whether she did or she didn't, be it Ophelia or Emilia, or even
Desdemona, are no more than thought experiments which contradict, not
only the nature of narrative texts, but one of the active principles of
Shakespeare's dramatic art.

Clifford
 

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