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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Senile Dementia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1128  Thursday, 1 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Anthony Haigh <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 May 2000 10:26:46 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1120 Re: Senile Dementia

[2]     From:   Graciela Di Rocco <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 May 2000 23:57:04 -0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 11.1120 Re: Senile Dementia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony Haigh <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 May 2000 10:26:46 -0400
Subject: 11.1120 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1120 Re: Senile Dementia

It may be that this remembrance has already been posted - I have not
been following this thread as closely as I might.  Apologies in advance
if this is a duplication.

Does anyone remember Donald Sinden's Polonius in Peter Hall's "nude"
Hamlet in London?  I may have the details wrong and don't have the time
right now to look them up, but there was one moment when Polonius was
alone on stage with another character - giving him instructions about
how to keep watch on Laertes.  In the middle of the speech he stopped
and looked for all the world like an elderly actor who had lost his
lines.  In panic he looked to the other actor for help who mutely
responded that he couldn't.  In panic Sinden looked to the wings, then
the audience.  Seconds ticked by.  My stomach knotted in sympathy.  The
actor in me knew the moment.  Terror mounted.  I broke out in a sweat.
Here was the greatest English, classical comic actor of his generation
dead on the stage.  After what seemed an age, out of somewhere he pulled
out a mumbled line, then, like a train picking up speed he resumed the
speech.  The audience, who had collectively been holding their breath,
let out an audible sigh of relief.

When I got home I looked up the speech and realised, to my horror, that
all the mumblings of "what was I saying" etc. were there!  The lines
were Shakespeare's. The cunning old bugger was playing with me.  He had
faked forgetting his lines (or had he?).  Sinden had brilliantly played
with the boundaries of our disbelief.  The space between actor and
character had been blurred as had the distance between that old man on
the stage (actor and character) and the audience.  I was dragged from my
fearsomely raked seat in the upper, upper balcony to stand with the
actor on the stage and look back at the audience.

Does anyone else recall this moment?  Was I, as an actor, the only one
who felt the panic?   Did the general audience notice the pause that
went on and one?  I would welcome comment from anyone else who saw this
production.

Cheers,
Tony

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graciela Di Rocco <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 May 2000 23:57:04 -0300
Subject: 11.1120 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1120 Re: Senile Dementia

I do agree with Terence Hawkes on the issue of domestication with regard
to viewing Polonius as demented. Moreover, wouldn't that approach excuse
the character from any kind of moral responsibility in the play? Hamlet
pretends madness. Polonius may be just pretending as well. The whole
court pretends, except Ophelia. Lear seems to me a better candidate for
Alzheimer's disease.  By the way, dementia is the resulting state. What
produces it is Alzheimer's disease in fifty per cent of the cases. With
respect to Irigaray's book, I want to thank Yvonne Bruce for the info as
I am very interested in the subject. What I know about it I have
gathered through reading, but mostly through observation of two
patients: my mother and her roommate at the geriatric home. I have been
through the Alzheimer's disease experience twice in my life: first my
gran when I was little, and then my mum. I lived for five years with my
mum, and what I noticed was a complete divorce between signifier and
signifier at the lexical level. However, till very recently, when she
entered the final phase of the disease and began to utter plain
gibberish, sentence structure remained unaltered. Verb tense
transformations remained intact, which I found surprising. She now
utters noises mostly and once in a while you can isolate a word or
phrase that makes sense, to which one may be ascribing a totally
different semantic value from hers, which remains unknown. I have
noticed her talk makes more sense when she can establish eye-contact or
when I hold her hand. Because there are so many sub-types of AD
(Alzheimer's Disease), language deterioration in patients, like
attitudes, does not always exhibit the same characteristics. In the
other lady's case as well as in my gran's, the tendency was to repeat
the same phrase all the time and to use offensive language very
frequently.  Patients can still hold conversations between them till the
final phase which, of course, remain meaningless to their listeners and
most probably to them as well, because each one takes it to mean
something different.  Although AD has always existed and was only
identified as such around 1910 by Alois Alzheimer, in Shakespeare's time
demented patients and lunatics were exactly the same. I don't think it
is profitable to pursue that kind of analysis in Shakespeare studies.
With regard to AD, to know about it one should not only have read about
it but gone through it as well. Let's stop trying to update William's
plays in superficial ways.

Graciela di Rocco
 

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