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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2593  Tuesday, 13 November 2001

[1]     From:   Juliette Cunico <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Nov 2001 09:14:25 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Nov 2001 15:24:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Nov 2001 16:00:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Juliette Cunico <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Nov 2001 09:14:25 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

While my dissertation "Audience Attitudes Toward Suicide in
Shakespeare's Tragedies" focuses on onstage suicides, students and list
members might find it interesting material for the argument as to
whether Goneril commits suicide.  If the laws are indeed hers, and
natural law certainly does not prohibit suicide, then her doing so
appears likely.

However, here's another item for discussion:  In Q1 Lear, the
speech-prefix assigns the line "Ask me not what I know" to Goneril; F1
assigns the line to Edmund (Bast).  How does this discrepancy play into
the suicide argument?

Juliette Cunico
Department of English
University of New Mexico

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Nov 2001 15:24:35 -0500
Subject: 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

I was glad to read M. Yawney's sensible remarks on Leah and Goneril,
though I'm not sure the difference between reading and viewing entirely
accounts for the problem. We might all agree that there are certain
assumptions we make, whether reading or viewing a play, which might be
called default assumptions. As Yawney says, in the absence of any other
information, the default assumption is that Leah was Shylock's wife.
This assumption is not quite bare: it is reinforced by the mention of
his bachelorhood, which suggests his engagement. The point about its
being a default assumption is perhaps that in context any other
assumption has no point.

In the case of Goneril, the gentleman who brings in the bloody knife has
time to say Regan killed Goneril, but he doesn't. He says Goneril
confessed killing Regan, and confessions conventionally precede
suicides. Edmund mentions love for him as a motive, and that has also
been established. In the absence of any other suggestion, it serves.
Altogether, it seems to me that Goneril's suicide is the default
assumption.

So why do so many people, expert in Shakespeare, seem so determined to
make another assumption? Reading versus viewing is a good distinction.
It helps.  But even in a novel it is possible for the author to suggest
motives and plot points which they do not spell out, but lead the
attentive and attuned reader to infer. How can we be sure when an
inference is intended by the author, or not--and is there an in between?
Perhaps the author is not conscious of all their themes. I can't answer
this question, which seems to come up over and over again, of how
usefully to express, in general, the difference between logical
possibility and justified inference. Beyond the advice to stand back and
remember what it's like to see the play, perhaps to see it for the first
time, or in some way as if you don't know the ending, what can be said?
Is there any advice, or method, that can help students, and teachers, to
steer a secure course between the Scylla of literal-mindedness and the
Charybdis of baroque inference? Maybe we just have to keep scraping the
rocks to find where the channel runs.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Nov 2001 16:00:42 -0500
Subject: 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

M. Yawney writes,

>In performance it would be very hard to convey Leah as anyone other than
>Jessica's mother.

We've already had this discussion, but how can an actor convey the idea
that Leah is Jessica's ma? Some auditors obviously think that she's
Shylock's premarital lover. In truth, we have no idea who Leah is in the
script or on the stage. We, of course, know who she is in the Bible.

>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).

Perhaps the point is little, but one might make the case that, until the
last scene, Goneril, Regan, and Edmund are the clear sighted ones.  They
are not deceived by others, and their emotions do not color the way they
see the world.  Regan may be jealous of Goneril, but she is not
deceived.  She knows exactly what Goneril and Edmund have been up to.

One could make the case that Regan is deceived when Goneril gives her
poison, and Goneril is deceived when (hypothetically) Regan stabs her.
Perhaps Edmund is thrice deceived: first, when he assumes that he was
"belov'd," and, second, when he assumes that Goneril has committed
suicide.  One might also make the case that Edmund is deceived by his
disguised brother.

When I was a young boy, teachers were recurrently telling me that I was
"not supposed" to see what I saw.  I say, "Let seeing thrive!"

Yours, Bill Godshalk

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