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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Senile Dementia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1180  Wednesday, 7 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 21:45:42 +0100
        Subj:   To be? Past or present

[2]     From:   David Shenk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 23:41:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 21:45:42 +0100
Subject:        To be? Past or present

Terence Hawkes wrote

> It's perfectly clear that 'Hamlet' in its own time is
> not in the least concerned with senile dementia.

I wonder if this sentence would have a different meaning were it recast
as ". . . 'Hamlet' in its own time was not in the least concerned with .
. ."

"In its own time" implies consideration of the historical specificity of
the work, presumably with respect to things like the conditions of its
construction, early performance, and reception. Can that construct (i.e.
the play in relation to the world which produced it) be said to exist in
the present, as implied by the use of the present tense of the verb "to
be"? It seems that "in its own time" offers an historicist perspective
which the sentence backs away from in using "is". Would it be unfair to
suggest that "in its own time" is drained of its positivism by "is"
(which denies that the past is a done deed), but only at the cost of
anachronism?

If it's really worth finding out about "'Hamlet' in its own time",
mightn't one attempt to recover contemporary ideas about religion,
medicine, governance, and all that? Then one might think it worth
reconstructing ways of printing, speaking, and gesturing. It's a short
step from there to reconstructing the original performance conditions,
which is of course a slippery slope to Globe-3.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Shenk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 23:41:11 -0500
Subject: 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1156 Re: Senile Dementia

Carol Barton writes:

> 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.

Scott Oldenburg has already rebutted this point beautifully. But to be
very specific: while the actual phrase "senile dementia" didn't come
into play until after Shakespeare's time, the precise observation that
very old people often lost their memories and then slipped into a
demented state goes back at least as far as the Pyramid Texts, 2800 B.C.
Plain references to the condition are also made by Aristophanes, Horace,
Cicero, Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, Chaucer, and on and on.
And is there any doubt what Shakespeare means by "second childishness
and mere oblivion" as the last stage of life in As You Like It?
 

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