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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2599  Wednesday, 14 November 2001

[1]     From:   Bonnie Melchior <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Nov 2001 11:45:06 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[2]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tue, 13 Nov 2001 15:25:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2593 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bonnie Melchior <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 Nov 2001 11:45:06 -0600
Subject: 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2584 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

Bill Godshalk comments that, since deception is a major theme in *Lear*,
Edmund might well be deceived in his view that Goneril has committed
suicide:

> I might argue that deception is a major theme in King Lear.  Lear is
> deceived, in one way and another, by all this daughters, and
> Gloucester by both his sons.  Albany appears to be deceived by
> Goneril. Lear is deceived by Kent; Edgar is deceived by Edmund, and
> Edgar as Poor Tom deceives Lear et al. Lear appears to die deceived (I
> think, and the Folio addition seems to support such a reading).  Given
> this view of the play, I would not be surprised if Edmund is also
> deceived in the last scene.

In all the deceptions he mentions, however, the audience has been
apprised that there is deception (either by seeing actions that
contradict others or by having a character announce an intent to
deceive).  If there is no overt evidence of deception, it does not seem
valid to assume it.  If we do not assume that a text includes important
information on motive and character, it becomes a Rorschach inkblot that
means anything we want it to mean.  Character, then, would not
structured by information in the text, and it might well be important
how many children had Lady Macbeth.

Bonnie Melchior

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tue, 13 Nov 2001 15:25:47 -0500
Subject: 12.2593 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2593 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

"Reading versus viewing is a good distinction," writes David Bishop.

But we have to keep several things in mind.  We do not all watch a play
with the same amount of comprehension. A viewer or auditor who has seen
the play before (or, indeed, many times) will usually see and hear more
than the first timer. Of course, we also have to take into account the
abilities, proclivities, learning, intelligence, etc., of the viewers or
auditors.  Further, viewers/auditors will generally not be listening at
the same level of intensity throughout the play.  Some may have read the
play before coming to the theatre -- and this could have happened in
Shakespeare's time with King Lear (Q1 1608).

But let's assume that our hypothetical viewer in 1608 cannot read, and
beyond that is not the sharpest needle in the pack. He's also had a few
draughts of ale, and is pretty weary (he's standing far back in the pit)
by Act 5.  So he misses what Edmund says while lying on the stage.  But
he does see a bloody dagger, and on the little evidence he has, he
assumes that Regan has knifed Goneril, and while Goneril is dying of the
knife wound, she confesses that she has poisoned her sister.

It seems to me that this scenario is just as likely as one in which a
playgoer catches all the words, understands them, and assumes that
Edmund is telling the truth when he says that Goneril has committed
suicide.  Unfortunately, our dull viewer can't read, so he can't find a
copy of Q1 and read the scene -- as we can.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

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