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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Devil's Horn
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0497  Wednesday, 20 February 2002

From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 09:23:40 -0000
Subject:        The Devil's Crest

This is a copy of an email I sent to Bill Godshawlk concerning his
"devil's crest" post off-list. I post it on-list at his suggestion. In
the course of our exchange, however, Bill pointed out some weaknesses in
my argument, and so I include his comments as a corrective to my views
as expressed.  Ultimately, though I thought we disagreed about how to
interpret the lines, Bill has changed my mind.

Dear Bill,

I guess I misunderstood your initial post on this subject.
Unfortunately, it does appear that we may disagree (although I forget
the precise nature of the textual problem you alluded to - and my Folio
fax, and textual notes to editions reveal nothing). [Bill replied - "The
textual problem is 'not' which Jowett emends to 'now' and others emend
to 'yet.'" Clearly we agree hear, without any quibbles.]

It seems to me that Angelo is ideologically and temperamentally opposed
to the idea that anything should seem to be what it is not. Here is the
full text:

                                my gravity,
Wherein (let no man hear me) I take pride,
Could I, with boot, change for an idle plume,
Which the air beats for vain. O place, O form,
How often dost thou with thy case, thy habit,
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming! Blood, thou art blood.
Let?s write "good angel" on the devil?s horn,
?Tis not the devil?s crest.
                                          (Measure for Measure,
II.iv.7-17)

Angelo sees that people are duped by deceit, but he himself is baffled
by it - "Blood, thou art blood", he says, regardless of appearance. So,
I infer the following to mean, "Say we write 'good angel' on the devil's
horn, / That does not make 'good angel' the devil's crest". I suppose we
could read it as an ironic comment on people's gullibility - "Say we
write 'good angel' on the devil's horn, / It is no longer the devil's
crest" - if we imagine Angelo putting it into quote-unquote marks, for
example. This would be interesting, as it would involve him playing a
role in order to criticize the idea of playing roles. One needn't change
the text as it stands for this effect, but I remain sceptical that this
is what is meant by the lines. I don't think we really believe that
Angelo could change his "gravity" for a "plume" so easily - he is too
proud to do so - and his Puritanical disdain for the gullibility of the
dramatic audience, framed in suitably religious terms, seems to confirm
this. [Bill commented - "I would say that Angelo momentarily considers
this view -- and then moves on to the gullibity and stupidity of the
masses". I think he has a point.] This view is reinforced when, after
finding himself attracted to Isabel, he recognizes that he will not be
able to exercise, let alone feign, his normal self-control:

Why does my blood thus muster to my heart,
Making both it unable for itself,
And dispossessing all my other parts
Of necessary fitness?
So play the foolish throngs with one that swounds,
Come all to help him, and so stop the air
By which he should revive; and even so
The general subject to a well-wish?d king
Quit their own part, and in obsequious fondness
Crowd to his presence, where their untaught love
Must needs appear offence.
                                         (Measure for Measure,
II.iv.20-30)

The apparent recollection of the Duke?s speech about his dislike of
"staging" himself before the people - in a soliloquy before no audience
but the theatre

 

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