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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Plot and Character Parallels
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0731  Monday, 11 March 2002

[1]     From:   Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Mar 2002 10:53:38 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels

[2]     From:   R. Schmeeckle <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Mar 2002 12:40:05 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Saturday, 9 Mar 2002 07:24:00 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Mar 2002 10:53:38 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels

W.L. Godshalk writes:

> Ed Taft calls our attention to Richard Levin
> (the elder, scourge of
> postmodernists, Marxists, and others) who wrote
> Multiple Plot in English
> Renaissance Drama (Chicago UP, 1971), a very
> good survey (I think) of
> the different forms of multiple plot, and, yes,
> Levin's detail analyses
> are more convincing than his theorizing.
>
> Almost 90 years ago, Allan Gilbert, "The
> Tempest: Parallelism in
> Character and Situations," JEGP 14 (1915)
> 63-74, noticed that Ferdinand
> and Caliban are parallel characters: both are
> enslaved by Prospero; both
> have the hots for Miranda; both are "woodmen"
> (see Gordon Williams's
> Glossary) -- or wish they were. In any case,
> they both carry wood for
> Prospero, and both are led around by Ariel at
> some point. Caliban is an
> orphan, and Ferdinand thinks he is -- and so
> on.
>
> But why this rather than something else? What
> are the possible
> interpretations of this parallel? Is Ferdinand
> merely an upper class
> Caliban, one acceptable to Prospero because he
> will inherit a kingdom
> and make Miranda a queen?
>
> Yours, Bill Godshalk

Bill --

I could be wrong, but my sense is that from about Richard II onward,
there are, in most of the plays, so many (clearly intentional) parallel
instances in plot and character that they form a sort of free-floating
cloud, with numerous valid pairs.

One of my favorite "unexpected" parallels is between Lear and Cordelia.
Bradley (yes, him again -- sorry) cites her as a kind of tragic heroine
drawn to a smaller scale than Lear.

She is, of course, deeply wronged by her father -- but that shouldn't
blind us to the fact that she is called upon, at a critical moment, to
do the one thing that she cannot do. ("Heave (her) heart into (her)
mouth," as she puts it.) If she HAD been able to do what Fate called
upon her to do, the nation and her family would have been spared a
holocaust. But she *couldn't* do what the situation demanded. This is
tragic-hero territory.

Desdemona, Bradley argues, would have been equal to Cordelia's task --
could have spoken "what she felt" without surrender and, at the same
time, have at least attempted to move toward making her father feel
loved at a moment that was vitally important to him. But Cordelia didn't
do that -- because she's Cordelia. And so the course of events was set
in motion that led to her own and her father's destruction, and to the
country's desolation...

Lear, on the other side, is called upon by the Fates patiently to
overlook Cordelia's failure to comply with his -- unreasonable --
demand for mouth-praise in a public setting. That's something *he* can't
do at this point in the play ... because he is who he is. The horrific
consequences of this pair of failures are, of course, out of all
proportion to the failures themselves. Welcome to Tragedyland.

Now: Note that there is, simultaneous with this parallel between Lear
and Cordelia,  an obvious parallel between Cordelia and Kent that's set
out in the very same scene. (Kent, like Cordelia, speaks his mind before
authority and suffers grievously for it.)
That these parallels were part of WS's (extraordinarily intricate)
design in KING LEAR, and are meant to be noticed, seem to me to be
demonstrated by these lines, almost the last ones spoken in the play:
The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what
we ought to say.

Brandon

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. Schmeeckle <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Mar 2002 12:40:05 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels

After reflecting on the responses, I have made a distinction between
parallels that contrast two characters on the basis of some quality(ies)
and parallels that involve contrasts of two or more characters on the
basis of similar relations.

In Lear there are contrasts of the second sort, contrasts of
parent-child relationship and servant-master(triss) relationship.  In
Hamlet there are three sets of dead father-son relationships.

Are there other examples of parallels based on relations?

Is it more appropriate to refer to these as relational parallels or plot
parallels?  Or are they both?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Saturday, 9 Mar 2002 07:24:00 -0500
Subject: 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0710 Re: Plot and Character Parallels

> But why this rather than something else? What are the possible
> interpretations of this parallel? Is Ferdinand merely an upper class
> Caliban, one acceptable to Prospero because he will inherit a kingdom
> and make Miranda a queen?

No of course not. By placing them in identical predicaments, Shakespeare
isolates the difference between them as a difference in inherent
character.  We should suppose that Sebastian or Antonio forced to chop
wood by Prospero would behave like Caliban rather than Ferdinand (and
likewise for Miranda's third suitor, Stephano).  Moreover, Shakespeare
shows us that Ferdinand's true noblesse consists of the purity of his
love for Miranda in contrast to the lustful rapine of Caliban. It is in
contemplating her virtue and beauty (in stunningly beautiful blank
verse) rather than nurturing dreams of destroying Prospero and raping
her that Ferdinand derives the strength to endure his servitude. But
even though Ferdinand's acceptibility as a son-in-law is a matter of
inherent character, his character must be nurtured by Prospero's art,
forcing him into servitude and hopelessness in order to endow him with
true nobility (remember he was the first one overboard when Ariel spread
a little St Elmo's fire that didn't even frighten the seamen and his
hopelessness, like that of his father, must move towards the optimistic
faith of Gonzalo and away from the cynicism of Sebastian and Antonio)

Clifford

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