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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Senile Dementia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1161  Tuesday, 6 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jun 2000 17:06:13 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 11.1141 Re: Senile Dementia

[2]     From:   Scott Oldenburg <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Jun 2000 16:44:22 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia

[3]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Jun 2000 11:41:42 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Senile Dementia

[4]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Tuesday, June 06, 2000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jun 2000 17:06:13 -0400
Subject: 11.1141 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        RE: SHK 11.1141 Re: Senile Dementia

>Sean: If Polonius is some sort of KGB
>agent, then the play is 'about' politics, state control, and all those
>other New Historicist hobbyhorses, normally described in terms which are
>not the play's own.

I object to the reduction of the issue of "state control" to a mere
"hobbyhorse."  No historian of any stripe I think would argue that the
Elizabethan state was an innovator par excellence in this practice.  The
people who were racked and manacled in the Tower and hanged and drawn
and quartered for questioning the actions of their rulers were not
riding hobbyhorses, and those of us who believe that the lessons learned
by the proponents of state power during this period have become
institutionalized in our own, a kinder and gentler totalitarianism,
believe in the dictum that to forget history is to ask for a rerun.  The
prospect of "art tongue-tied by authority," was among the ills of his
society that made the poet of the sonnet 66 long for "restful death."
Is he also riding a hobbyhorse?

Clifford Stetner
CUNY Graduate Center
http://phoenix.liu.edu/~cstetner/cds.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scott Oldenburg <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Jun 2000 16:44:22 -0700
Subject: 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia

"Oedipus did not suffer from the "Oedipus Complex," nor does Polonius or
Lear suffer from senile dementia: neither of those labels had been
invented yet."

Surely things sometimes exist (and are observed) before they are named.
Lacking the term "oxygen" didn't prevent anyone from breathing it in.
People didn't float off into space before the term "gravity" came into
use.  Likewise, people acted unconsciously long before the term
"unconscious" became flushed out by psychoanalysts.  It is, then, valid
to speak of  a 17th century subject's Oedipus Complex.  This is not to
say that we can apply 20th century concepts to early modern cultures
without some in depth understanding of those cultures, but that there is
no pure perception of the past.  Our analyses of history are always
inescapably influenced by the present.

Best,
Scott Oldenburg

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Jun 2000 11:41:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Senile Dementia

Carol Barton is surely right about Lear: whatever the origins of his
foolish actions, he is not senile.  Polonius is a harder case.  I think
I agree with Cliff Stetner that Shakespeare is concerned with senility
here in SOME way. And I also agree that pretending to be an "old man" is
a way to hide the patriarchal viciousness that is part of Polonius's
real character.

I'd add two quick observations: first, there is an old legend (from
Aubrey? Cliff probably knows) that Shakespeare specialized in playing
old men-hence, he may have played Old Adam in AYLT and the Duke of York
in R2. If so, then he surely played Shallow in 2H4 -- and this is
clearly a character well into senile dementia and designed to display
characteristics of what used to be called senility.

It seems to me that Polonius is just one step away from the condition of
Shallow. He's on the verge, so to speak. Or he's acting like he's on the
verge. Take your pick. Hamlet is a play, after all, about acting, isn't
it?

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Tuesday, June 06, 2000
Subject: 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia

As a peripheral comment, John Updike's Corambis/Polonius of *Claudius
and Gertude* is probably the most astute character in the novel.
 

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