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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Welsh etc.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0413  Wednesday, 21 February 2001

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 09:21:01 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 11:39:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 13:47:44 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

[4]     From:   Simon Malloch <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Feb 2001 12:12:37 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 09:21:01 -0600
Subject: 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

Curse Terence Hawkes. He so often sends me scrambling around to try and
find what I base my points on. In the case of touring Bedlam, I can only
fadge up the following (I haven't time for more). From Hazleton
Spencer's introductory note to "The Changeling": "[It] is sadly marred,
to a modern taste, by the lunatic divertissements which were always
acceptable to Elizabethan audiences." My recollection is that I did a
bit of background reading on the treatment of lunatics when I was in
graduate school, but any notes I took are long gone. They were still
doing this (giving tours of Bedlam) into the 18th Century, as a variety
of references could show.

Surely there have been books written on the subject. I would welcome
some good references either to reassure me of my point or (even) to
correct a misapprehension.

With regard to Ed's response, I would only ask him to use caution in
using the Holocaust. It carries too much emotional weight to be bandied
about with hockey games.

The larger question, though, is his inference that because I stated an
opinion that the Elizabethans had a higher tolerance for cruelty than we
that I thought they were less moral than we in general. I said no such
thing and I would be extremely reluctant to make such a generalization.
He seems to think that I am subscriber to the Myth of Progress, which I
am not, any more than I am in believer in the Myth of the Golden Age.
But I do think that facts have to be looked at squarely, and where
values can be kept clear, judgments applied. What I see of the facts of
Elizabethan culture leads me to the judgment that I expressed above. If
the facts are true, then a judgment based on a condemnation of cruelty
is valid.

Ed assumes that, in my headlong attempt to sneer at the Elizabethans, I
simply forgot counter-examples. But the counter-examples don't represent
what decent people think. God knows, I am well aware of the large-scale
crimes perpetrated in the last century. I sometimes shock my students by
suggesting that future ages may identify the 20th Century as the Age of
Mass Murder. But this is not the same thing as legalized torture and
public execution (and sometimes, oh goody!, both). There is little I can
do to stop some vicious dictator from decimating his own people or some
designated enemy. I can, on the other hand, support the abolition of
capital punishment. I see no evidence of a widespread movement for that
in Shakespeare's time -- nor, indeed, in any period up till fairly
recent memory.

Some interesting work might be done in that regard (and probably has):
social pressure for more "humane" methods of execution (such as the
trap-door method of hanging) leading eventually to a movement to abolish
it altogether. If this is progress (and I think it is) then it needs to
be recognized as such. But it is a mistake to generalize from one
example of progress to an assumption that decent  people today are more
moral than their equivalents four hundred years ago, and I made no such
assumption.

(Ironic post script: About thirty-five years ago, it was a joke that
when Swedish movie came to America, we cut out the sex, but when
American movies went to Sweden, they cut out the violence. I don't know
whether they're still censoring our movies for their violence, but we
certainly aren't cutting the sex out of anything any more. Is this
progress? We are freer (from censorship) than we were, but the freedom
is being mainly used to produce larger quantities of more graphic
garbage. No. I don't believe in the Myth of Progress.)

(Second ironic post script: when I originally wrote my first paragraph,
I used the phrase "background reading of the treatment of lunatics in
graduate school." Perhaps I shouldn't have corrected it.)

don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 11:39:42 -0500
Subject: 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

Ed Taft says,

> All I can say is that the case can be
> made for scientific and technical progress much more easily than it can
> be made for moral, ethical, or any other kind of progress.  It seems to
> me that Don uses cultural differences to argue for the superiority of
> one culture (our own) over another (Shakespeare's).  Any anthropologist
> can tell you that that type of argument is specious.  Differences in
> cultures tell us only that cultures are different -- period.

I suspect that some anthropologists would agree with this while others
would not.  Cultural relativism is merely a different species of moral
relativism, and both are profoundly unsatisfying.

There is a stone age tribe in the New Guinea jungle which considers it
the pinnacle of social achievement to offer hospitality to sojourners
and then cut their heads off.   Macbeth does something similar, but he
(and we) do not applaud the murder as an act of high culture.  Can we
not say that our culture is better than, not just different from, the
stone age New Guinea tribe's?

A few years ago a public school board in Florida forbade its teachers
from teaching that the U.S.'s form of government is superior to other
systems.  I suppose an argument can be made (although I would not make
it) that parliamentary democracy has certain advantages, but is it
bigoted to prefer both over despotism?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 13:47:44 -0500
Subject: 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

Werner Broennimann aptly reminds us that

>Hal's practical joking belongs to the general and generic practice of
>knocking other professions (as I keep reminding my lawyer friends), in
>particular tapsters, whose slowness and inability to compute the bill
>was a permanent butt of satirical comments.  David Bevington, in his
>Oxford Sh compares Nashe's "Summer's Last Will and Testament": "Why,
>friend, I am no tapster to say anon, anon, sir."

I think an important phrase here is "general and generic."  Let me give
an example:  What do you call 1000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
Answer?  "A good start."  But what happens to the joke if we substitute
"Frank" for the generic "lawyers" and Frank happens to be our "sworn
brother" (2.4.6-7 Riverside)?  For me, Hal's joke is not palatable
because Francis is presented as more than a generic tapster; he is
someone with whom Hal has recently been drinking, and about whom Hal has
some intimate knowledge. And Francis is not in on the joke.

With Francis, I would compare Hotspur, whom Hal describes as his "factor
.  . ./To engross up glorious deeds on my behalf" (3.2.147-8). And when
Hal is finished playing with his factor, he will destroy him -- as he
will later destroy Falstaff -- another one of his playthings.

As for Progress, Smith & Wesson has recently developed a .32 H&R Magnum
AirLite, tauted as possibly the "ultimate concealed carry revolver."
How many people on this list have greeted this handgun as a step forward
on the Progress road?  And if not, why not?  It's certainly an example
of Western technology at its best.

Before we talk about Progress in any field, we have to define the word.
Is "progress" merely the reification of certain trends?  Certainly we
can't go to the zoo and see Nineteenth Century Progress.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Malloch <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Feb 2001 12:12:37 +0800
Subject: 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0397 Re: Welsh etc.

Terence Hawkes asks:

> Don Bloom mentions what he takes to be the early modern practice of
> 'visiting the inmates of Bedlam to have a good laugh'. Is there any hard
> evidence that this took place?

This may not be quite 'early modern' enough, but Boswell records that he
and Johnson visited Bedlam (8 May 1775).  The Hill-Powell edition of the
Life provides a footnote noting a few other earlier 18th-century visits;
Boswell and Johnson's visit was not a fun and happy affair - but note
_The World_ June 7, 1753: a Londoner writes,  'I found a hundred people
at least... were suffered unattended to run rioting up and down the
wards, making sport... of the miserable inhabitants. ... I saw the
spectators in a loud laugh of triumph at the ravings they occasioned.'
The scene is  repeated in 'a young lady's' description in a letter to
Richardson of her visit to Bedlam.  Interestingly, both narratives
betray the necessity of provoking the inmates to gain a laugh.

But perhaps the past-time had become well and truly entrenched by the
18th-century?

Simon Malloch.
 

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