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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Misplaced Modifiers
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1772  Tuesday, 17 July 2001

From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Saturday, 14 Jul 2001 01:11:29 -0400
Subject:        Misplaced Modifiers

In JC, IV.iii.190-92 Brutus asserts this unconvincing stoic posturing in
response to Messala's redundant disclosure of Portia's death:  (Pace
John Velz, who still remains convinced that this is an uncanceled draft,
not a deliberate revelation of Brutus as a political creature.)

    Why, farewell Portia.  We must die Messala.
    With meditating that she must die once,
    I have the patience to endure it now.

Wouldn't most of the high school teachers on the List mark down a
freshman composition student for the offense of misplacing "once,"
especially so ambiguously.  It is clear that Brutus means that he once
contemplated that Portia would die so he is now fortified against the
reality.  He doesn't mean that he was thinking that Portia would die
only once. but the speech allows that construction, especially in light
of Caesar's speech about cowards dying thousands of times and the
valiant only once.

The meter is just as good if the line read:

    With meditating once that she must die

The only thing lost is the end-of-line appositions of "once" and "now";
but it seems to me that the meaning is just as strong if the opposed
words don't scan in the same places, and the risks of mishearing or
misconstruing are far less.

Was the Bard nodding?  Can we think of any other instances of
Shakespeare misplacing a modifier for poetic purposes and creating a
conflict in sense?

Larry Weiss

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