The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0091 Monday, 17 January 2000.
Date: Saturday, 15 Jan 2000 09:15:21 +1000
Subject: 11.0082 Banquo etc.
Comment: Re: SHK 11.0082 Banquo etc.
David Evett writes:
>Karen Peterson-Krantz may be right in thinking that "individuals who
>have no concept of play-acting have existed, and do exist,
>everywhere." But such people are not mostly the simpletons she presents
>the rude mechanicals of Athens as being, who categorically cannot
>distinguish between make believe and whatever it is that we usually call
I think David Evett misunderstands my posting, which goes more to my
haste in writing than to his skills in decoding. Let me try to be more
I did not mean to present the mechanicals as "simpletons." (And I
extend my sincere apologies to Nick Bottom, Snug and Co., characters
whom I greatly admire!) What I was trying to get at was that MSND plays
with ideas of representation, including concepts of representation
associated with social class, at a number of different levels. The play
at first lures the audience into perceiving the mechanicals as
"simpletons." One way in which this lure is set involves the matter of
the mechanicals' concerns for frightening the ladies. And David Evett
is entirely right: their concern derives from "an excess of imagination,
not a deficiency of it." In my view, the play lets the audience discern
this "excess of imagination" for themselves: sensitive, observant
playgoers would notice that this is a hint that there is much more to
the mechanicals' characters than might have first appeared;
conventional, class-bound playgoers would feel reassured in their
judgment of the mechanicals as "simpletons." The play is content to
leave the matter at this point for the time being.
As the story unfolds in the forest, more and more audience members would
perceive that it is not only the mechanicals who may find themselves
lost in layers of representation. The two well-born couples, Titania,
and even Puck (mistakenly applying the potion to Lysander) are taken in
by magic, representation, and appearances. By the time the mechanicals'
play is presented at Theseus' and Hyppolita's wedding feast, both
audiences (on and off stage) have much more experience with, and respect
for, the slipperyness of representation, dramatic or otherwise. The
play's initial lure of inviting the audience to feel superior to the
mechanicals is revealed as just what it is-a bit of dramatic magic that
ultimately leads to a more complex understanding of representation and
"reality"-whatever that might be!
So much for my not terribly original reading of MSND. One final comment
on David Evett's posting. He writes"
>A great deal of evidence suggests that the ability to image
>internally and then to speak and otherwise enact fictive roles and
>situations is utterly essential to normal human social and linguistic
>development and activity; only our ability to conceive and say the thing
>that is not so permits us, for instance, to understand that the person
>who just left the room may soon return, or to follow up the memory of
>those sweet, cold plums in the refrigerator with a trip down the stairs
>to get and eat them. Various kinds of mental illness, from autism to
>multiple personality disorder, seem to involve incomplete or improper
>functioning of these complex mental abilities.
I used to believe this. In some situations I believe it is true.
However, my years of teaching high school and college students have
taught me that there are a LOT of people, not (apparently) suffering
from severe mental illness, and (apparently) able to function in
society, who don't understand the difference between dramatic
representation and reality. I have had to explain more often than I
care to recall such items as..."no, Dustin Hoffman isn't really a
doctor" (to students who saw the film "Outbreak"); "no, Mel Gibson
wasn't really being tortured in "Brave Heart"; "no, men leaving their
wives and families to become drag queens isn't a major cause of divorce
in the US (to a student who watched too much Ricki Lake). And more, and
more...and no, I am not making any of this up. Perhaps even more
disturbing is that more and more of the students with whom I work do not
have the ability to "image internally." Probably half of my students
just look at me blankly when I ask them to "picture in their minds"
something that we are reading. I think this may be a result of too much
Anyhow, I am flattered by David Evett's notice of my posting. I hope
this clarifies some of what he questioned.
Karen Peterson-Kranz (not "Krantz"!)
University of Guam