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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2584  Monday, 12 November 2001

[1]     From:   M. Yawney <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 Nov 2001 08:07:34 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2569 Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 Nov 2001 11:24:33 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2574 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 Nov 2001 15:12:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2574 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           M. Yawney <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 Nov 2001 08:07:34 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.2569 Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2569 Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

> In King Lear 5.3, a Gentleman enters to announce:
> "O, she's dead!"
> Albany asks "Who dead?" And the Gentleman answers:
> "Your lady, sir, your
> lady; and his sister/By her is poisoned; she
> confesses it."  Edmund
> assumes that Goneril "slew herself" (Arden edition
> 5.3.223-240).
>
> However, several of my students doubt Edmund's
> assumption.  How does he
> know?  He's been onstage.  And they assume that
> Regan, when she realizes
> that she's been poisoned, stabs Goneril.  Rather
> than murder/suicide,
> there are two murders.  After all, Regan has already
> stabbed a
> rebellious servant. Why not do in her sister?
>
> I haven't done a search of all the literature, but
> Foakes doesn't
> entertain the idea, even to reject it.  Ditto G. K.
> Hunter.  Is there
> any good evidence that Goneril commits suicide?
> Albany says that "she's
> desperate" (159), but Goneril claims that "the laws
> are mine" (156), and
> asks who can arraign her.  That doesn't sound
> suicidal to my ear.
>
> Yours, Bill Godshalk

While I always look for new readings of familiar works and breaking our
assumptions of what things in a play mean (esp. when there is evidence
that the original audience saw them differently), this and the MV Leah
thread strike me as misguided--reading a play as if it were a novel.

In performance it would be very hard to convey Leah as anyone other than
Jessica's mother. Nor are audience members likely to question the
identity of a person refered to on the fly. We only have leisure to do
that when we read the play, which was certainly not the way the author
intended to have the play experienced.

The Lear question is more interesting, but again there seem to be little
means to convey an alternative to Goneril dying by suicide, and (also
little point to doing it). Usually toward the end of any Shakespearean
play there is some point like this that makes no realistic sense, (or
many points as in Twelfth Night) because the play is running for
curtain. We already know where the story is going so the author does not
want to bore us with in realistic detail that might delay the final
curtain. Rarely will a new issue be raised in an Act 5 (unless like
Sebastian's appearance it helps bring resolution) so the emergence of a
lie about Goneril's death, which is an issue that can go nowhere in the
performance time left, seems really unlikely.

This is one of those obvious questions that a reader might ask, but an
audience never does. The canon is full of them. (My favorite is "Why
doesn't Beatrice step forward in the church and give Hero an alibi?")

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 Nov 2001 11:24:33 -0800
Subject: 12.2574 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2574 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

Just to add to Clifford's response, it strikes me that this would not be
the only false imputation of suicides in the play.  Edmund's plan for to
"hand Cordelia in the prison, and / To lay the blame upon her own
despair / That she fordid herself".

R. W. Chambers, in a lecture delivered in November of 1939, discusses
this in some detail.

Cheers,
Se

 

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