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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Shakespeare and Sex
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0565  Tuesday, 26 February 2002

[1]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Feb 2002 18:13:07 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[2]     From:   Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Feb 2002 10:33:07 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[3]     From:   Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Feb 2002 10:40:37 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Feb 2002 14:17:01 -0500
        Subj:   Shakespeare and Sex

[5]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Feb 2002 21:29:22 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[6]     From:   Anna Kamaralli <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 Feb 2002 14:11:00 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

[7]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 25 Feb 2002 22:28:17 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Feb 2002 18:13:07 -0000
Subject: 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Sam Small rightly chides me for preferring one adultery over several. I
guess I just wanted to humanize poor old Will, rather than offering
"quaint justification".

More substantially, Sam writes of the "second best bed": "the bed in
question was not a referring to Shakespeare's preference for his
mistress over his wife but that the bed was a certain piece of
furniture, rather like a best guest bed, put in a certain room.  So no
warmth there, Martin, unless you were sharing it with Anne".

I would have thought that one's "second best bed" would be the marriage
bed, as one's "best bed" would be the one reserved for the guest room
(as Sam calls it, "a best guest bed", not "a second-best guest bed"). So
it's rather a nice little joke on WS's part, to his "second best" woman
who was really his "best". Maybe sharing that bed with Anne was not such
a bad memory, after all (although I would not want to do it, as it would
involve me committing adultery - according to the common meaning [thanks
to Robin for his learned sally into this area]).

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Feb 2002 10:33:07 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Adrian writes,

> But, since Cassio is a fictional character in a play

> rather than a human being, I'm equally happy to
> regard him as having options which are
> wider than ours, and which defy any logic or
> consistency. In this way he can easily be married
> in Act I and never married in Act III, just as
> Antonio can have a son (and Miranda a cousin)
> in The Tempest in 1.2 ("...the Duke of Milan and
> his brave son being twain") but at no other point
> in the play.

This is an extremely important point, one well worth bearing in mind
whenever we are tempted to analyze theatrical characters as though they
were flesh-and-blood individuals on the therapist's couch.  They are,
instead, hypothetical creations designed for the express purpose of
eliciting an emotional response from an audience (when properly
performed).

OTHELLO, of course, is a great play to use as an example of some of
Shakespeare's most inspired "illogical" pragmatism. ("Illogical" that
is, to close readers of the text.) Perhaps, in addition to Short Time
and Long Time, the play also features, for Cassio, Short Fidelity and
Long Fidelity.

I once had the chance once to talk to an actress who had played
Desdemona (quite successfully!) during a New York production of Othello.
I asked her how she'd personally dealt with the short time/long time
problem, thinking that it must have been an obstacle for an intelligent
actress, which she certainly was.

Not only had she never noticed the "problem" before, she couldn't quite
believe that it existed until I pulled out a copy of the play and
pointed to specific contradictions in the text.

For her, and for the audience, following the emotional (rather than
logical) through-line was quite sufficient...

Brandon

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Feb 2002 10:40:37 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Sophie writes,

Why should poetry be taken as being any more autobiographical than a
novel or a play? I know poets who have written about love affairs
they've never had, and adventures they've only imagined--and also things
that they wrote for other people. We assume now that poetry must be
confessional. But it can be every bit a mask, every bit as much a
fiction, as any other kind of writing. The Lover in the sonnets can be
every bit as much a role as Hamlet, or Rosalind, or any character you
care to name. I don't think we can gauge WS' attitude to sex by the
sonnets, or the plays, really, we can only get little flashes which may
or may not be his real feelings, or may be part of his 'radio-set'
function as a writer.

People make this sort of observation about the Sonnets all the time, and
it all seems to make sense in the abstract. But when you think of
certain specific poems....

I'm sorry -- when I read Sonnet 129 ("Th'expense of spirit in a waste of
shame..."), I feel comfortable assuming that I can gauge Shakespeare's
attitude to sex. In that case, the attitude is one of utter disgust.
Similarly, given that we know WS was married, that same poem serves as a
clear indicator (to me) that he committed adultery on more than one
occasion, and that he loathed himself for doing so.

Brandon

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Feb 2002 14:17:01 -0500
Subject:        Shakespeare and Sex

David Bishop argues,

"Later in the play, as he calms down, and begins to mature--to come of
age-- he no longer demands that his mother not go to her husband's bed.
She apparently hasn't stopped sleeping with Claudius, even hopes for a
reconciliation, yet Hamlet by the end seems perfectly friendly toward
her. A literally adulterous Gertrude could not be as sympathetic a
character as she is, by the end, either to Hamlet or to the audience."

Two points: (1) Gertrude could be -- and perhaps is -- a sympathetic
character inspite of having committed adultery with Claudius.  Cleopatra
is a sympathetic character, and so is Cressida (to some, anyway).  Mary
Magdeline is a sympathetic character in the Gospel Story, and so.  It
seems to me that the question of Gertrude's adultery is simply kept up
in the air by Shakespeare, a rather maddening habit of his in many of
his plays. In this play, her "adultery," like the real character of
Hamlet, Sr., is part of a past that we long to know but is purpose-fully
denied us by the playwright.

(2) Seeing Hamlet as "maturing" later in the play is possible, but it
loads the dice. If we examine  some of Hamlet's actions, both those we
see and those that are reported from 4.4 on, it's very hard to call them
in any sense "mature": baiting Laertes at Ophelia's interment;
unnecessarily having R&G killed; jumping onto a Pirate ship; and so on.

In Hamlet's calm moods, as when he discusses Providence with Horatio,
the prince may be seen to be "maturing," but in other instances just the
opposite appears to be true.

--Ed Taft

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Feb 2002 21:29:22 -0000
Subject: 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

> From:           David Bishop <
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> As Martin Steward points out, the word "adultery" used to be
> considerably more flexible, as was "incestuous." The OED includes, for
> the latter, "Loosely or more vaguely: Adulterous." It finds "adultery"
> "by various theologians opprobriously used of any marriage of which they
> disapproved." And from 1753: "A kind of second marriage, which was
> esteemed a degree of adultery."

To my knowledge, the only literary text which equates a widow's
remarriage with adultery is Oliver Goldsmith's _The Vicar of Wakefield_.

And it's pretty much of a joke there.

Robin Hamilton

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anna Kamaralli <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 Feb 2002 14:11:00 +1100
Subject: 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Sam Small writes,

> the bed was a certain piece of furniture, rather like a best guest
> bed, put in a certain room.  So no warmth there, Martin, unless you were
> sharing it with Anne.

Disappointing as it must be to Mr Small, the second best bed WAS the
marriage bed, and he was sharing it with Anne.  The best bed was the
guest bed: if he'd wanted to express any coldness to his wife that would
have been the one to leave her.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 25 Feb 2002 22:28:17 -0800
Subject: 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0545 Re: Shakespeare and Sex

Sam Small asks, apparently rhetorically, "why is there almost no way to
identify anything or anybody if the whole [sonnet sequence] was pure
fiction?"

Surely this question answers itself.  There's no way to identify
anything or anybody because all of the characters are fictional, never
existed, and are not there to be identified.

Cheers,
Se

 

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