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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: November ::
Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2632  Tuesday, 20 November 2001

[1]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Nov 2001 14:59:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[2]     From:   M. Yawney <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Nov 2001 14:57:09 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

[3]     From:   Dave Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 Nov 2001 18:38:38 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Nov 2001 14:59:23 -0500
Subject: 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

To talk about what the audience would see, feel or understand is a form
of argument, using as a hypothesis an ideal audience attentive and
attuned to the play--not drunk or caught up in pet theories which
distort their experience, or even misled by a production that seriously
changes the play.  That is a tall order, in a way. It's also implicitly
what is involved in an accurate "close reading". To read the play
accurately you have to weigh each line accurately in relation to the
others, which involves some sense of how they were meant to affect the
audience. If the play does tend to raise a doubt in some spectators
about the real means of Goneril's death, that may be a fault in the
play. But it would have to be a real doubt.

How does one distinguish a real doubt? If you think there is no way to
distinguish, logically, between waking and dreaming, and someone says,
by way of philosophical argument, "Right now I have doubts about whether
I'm awake", it might be reasonable to argue that that's not a real
doubt.  Stanley Cavell thinks Hamlet's father was not killed by having
poison poured in his ear. I would say that's wrong, and not a doubt that
really arises in watching the play. But what could I say to Cavell, if
he says that's how he feels? At some point it seems I have to leave it,
and say he doesn't know how to read Shakespeare.

In the case of Goneril, the case for suicide, it seems to me, is
clinched by a combination of factors: the gentleman's words, by pointing
to no other option, point to suicide, and what's left blank is filled in
by Edmund, who is dying and likely to be telling the truth. Goneril also
has come to the end of the line. The laws are not really hers but
Albany's. She "confesses" poisoning Regan. There is no point in raising
such a doubt now; it would only confuse matters. Doubts like this are
not raised in Shakespeare on purpose to be left unresolved. Suicide is a
satisfactory tying up of the loose end. But finally I have to say, read
the play as if you were watching it, and consult your own heart.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           M. Yawney <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Nov 2001 14:57:09 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

   W. L. Godshalk writes,

>Yes, of course, but still and at the same time, I am
> not happy when one
> of us brings in the "audience" -- as if the auditors
> and spectators were
> all listening and watching at the same level of
> attention or inattention
> -- to prove a point.  "The audience would NOT notice
> that Edmund could
> not possibly know that Goneril committed suicide."
> (I'm not really
> quoting anyone here.)  Well, it all depends who the
> auditor is.  If the
> auditor is David Bishop, he might very well notice
> the problem.  If it's
> my tired and somewhat inebriated groundling of circa
> 1608, he might not
> notice that Edmund has no way of knowing.
>
> I think we should rely on the script -- a close
> reading of the script --
> when we discuss problems in the plays, and not rely
> on what an auditor
> may or may not have understood or noticed at some
> point in history.
> Possibly David and I really don't have very much of
> a disagreement on
> this point.

No one ever suggested that an audience would not notice, so much as
would not be looking for loopholes and hidden meanings in an
entertainment--even if they bring a seriousness and high level of
observantness. Especially when the play is running for curtain. (Perhaps
in the first half hour an audience member who is not engaged by the
action might expend his or her energy that way, but certainly not in the
last half hour.)

Yes, if the play were reportage of actual events in a strictly logical
sense Edmund could not know what he reports. But in terms of
storytelling and emotional logic it makes enough sense that few care
about the strict realistic logic of that moment.

I assume that the original audience, like the modern one, would probably
be looking more at the larger themes and questions of the work, rather
than trying to play "gotcha" with Shakespeare or looking for details on
which to build highly idiosyncratic interpretations of writing.

This is starting to remind me of Treckies arguing over chronology and
technical specs for the Enterprise--somehow the real point is getting
lost in minutiae.

That a breach of realistic detail is seen as a "problem" requiring close
reading strikes me as insensitive to style and the changing face
theatrical conventions and fashions.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dave Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 19 Nov 2001 18:38:38 EST
Subject: 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2620 Re: Does Goneril Commit Suicide?

It occurs to me that the number of offstage deaths at the end of *Lr* is
striking: All three children on the Lear side, the father on the
Gloucester side.  It could be argued that the choice here maintains the
balance in a way that phenomenologically privileges sonhood over
daughterhood.  Or does the fuss that Lear makes over Cordelia's corpse
move the emphasis from unspent sperm toward unfertilized ova?  In any
case, the contrast with *Ham*, where the bodies pile up like cordwood,
is intriguing.

Corporally,
Dave Evett

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