Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2412  Thursday, 12 December 2002

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 08:39:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 13:43:34 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

[3]     From:   Kezia Vanmeter Sproat <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 15:42:57 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

[4]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 12 Dec 2002 05:44:47 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

[5]     From:   David Schalkwyk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 12 Dec 2002 10:31:02 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

[6]     From:   C. David Frankel <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 12 Dec 2002 08:57:59 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.2396 Listening to the Play

[7]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 12 Dec 2002 08:59:34 -0500
        Subj:   Cordelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 08:39:13 -0500
Subject: 13.2396 Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

I have responded to Mr. Shurgot privately. Though there was nothing "ad
hominem" in my post, there was, as he recognized, a *conscious* attempt
to belittle his condescending proclamation of THE TRUTH about Cordelia,
and to silence those who would dare to discuss it after he and others
had permanently resolved the matter this past spring---in the tradition
of Martin and Margery Marprelate, and John Milton (see, for example
_Colasterion_), and hundreds of others. I attacked the argument, not the
man; the tone, not the "scholarship."

I do, however, heartily suggest that he who does not wish to be stoned
refrain from casting the first pebble.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 13:43:34 -0600
Subject: 13.2396 Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

The Estimable Hawkes scarcely needs my defence, but I think his comment
(or koan) about listening to plays as well as (or more than) listening
to characters deserves a better look than several of the equally
estimable list-members have given it.

When I first read his comment, I reacted in much the same way as others.
And then I thought about it. Yes, it flies in the face of logic (most of
what a play consists of is what the characters say). Moreover, it goes
against what I keep trying to hammer into my composition students (read
closely -- what does the text really say -- what does it mean.).

But if it's so illogical, why would he say it? Just to be provocative?
Or does he mean something that I'm missing? And I decided he did. I
asked myself this: Do we figure out what a play means (that is, why it
has power to move us) by looking at what the characters say, or do we
figure out what they have said by understanding what the play means?

I concluded that the latter was just as important as the former, and
TH's point (if I have heard him correctly) is that it is (or may be)
*more* important.

I would say (and perhaps he would, too) that a great deal of weak
criticism comes from over-reading what the characters say and then
justifying the inconsistency with what gives the play its power on
grounds of irony.  Shakespeare, we are told, really wanted to make a lot
of points that destroy his plays' structural and moral integrity, and we
are childish to want to maintain that integrity.

In the case of *Lear*, I was puzzled enough by some of the comments that
I hauled out the play and re-read the opening with more care than I've
applied to it in many years. But what I found there was what I had found
before: a foolish old man (first cousin to Capulet and the Egeus of
MSND) who inflicts on his daughters a public test of their affection;
two daughters who are obviously cynical and self-serving; and one
daughter who has the character to refuse this emotional strip-tease. As
might be expected, the foolish old man gets furious at this refusal and
curses her. She remains loyal to her principles, however, which she
won't sacrifice no matter how much she loves the old buzzard. It is her
tragedy that she should die trying to save her father from the results
of his own vicious folly, and his that he should carry in his arms the
corpse of the daughter whom he wronged so stupidly.

To a certain kind of mind this view is so simple and so well-known that
it must be wrong. Certain passages, then, can be read and puzzled over
until they contradict it. But that's only because those readers have
stopped listening to what the play is saying.

The play is telling us that an irascible and egotistical old man may do
something cruel and vicious to a child who really loves him, and he may
pay for it with the death of that child who tried to help him in spite
of all, and he may further pay with the anguish of knowing that he can
never get her back and never make up for his stupidity.

Good directors, I submit, start with that. They know that they can have
an audience of highly educated, highly sophisticated New Yorkers or
Londoners bawling their eyes out if they can stage that last scene right
-- even though the audience knows what's going to happen! But to get
that response every scene, every character, every line has to work
toward that supreme moment, or else it will be weakened, even destroyed.

If you find some lines that don't seem to fit (and this happens), then
you have to work around them. If instead you simply ignore them, or have
the actor interpret them in a way that contradicts this larger vision,
you make it incoherent, contradictory, and dull. Individual scenes or
confrontations may still have impact, but the play as a whole will
suffer. And the plays, alas, have suffered.

This may not be what TH had in mind when he sent his typically brief,
koan-like riposte. It is only what I came up with -- an ill-favoured
thing, sir, but mine own.

Cheers,
don

PS: I did not like Ben Kingsley as Feste. I thought the character as
done was grim and weird. While it might be interesting in a different
context, I found that kind of Feste badly out of synch with Twelfth
Night, and thus a very apt example of the foregoing. (Also, I thought
the movie of 12N with Kingsley as Feste was directed by Trevor Nunn.)

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kezia Vanmeter Sproat <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002 15:42:57 EST
Subject: 13.2396 Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

Re. the much-disputed Terence Hawkes statement about what plays "say": I
too contend that plays "say" things, but keep in mind that intelligent
readers can differ about what they "say" just as intelligent readers for
generations have not agreed on what Cordelia "says."

Beethoven's Fifth "says" something, King Lear "says" something.  Coming
out of the academic forest and climbing a hill and looking back can help
"read."

I've not read this list for nearly a year, during which my native nation
has "said" quite a lot. We could use a good writer of history plays
right now, couldn't we?

Best to all,
Kezia Vanmeter Sproat

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 12 Dec 2002 05:44:47 -0000
Subject: 13.2396 Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2396 Re: Cordelia

>T. Hawkes asks:
>
>>Why do people persist in paying more attention to what the characters
>>say than to what the play says?

I think I have may just have gone barking mad.

The (five?) challenges to what Professor Hawkes asks are ludicrous.

They miss the point.

Professor Hawkes is simply right, and everyone else is wrong.

:-(

Robin Hamilton.

{I could uncrumple this much-crumpled thing, but who cares?

I'm sure, if he wished, Prof Hawkes could defend his koan, but if he
wishes to keep schtum, well ... }

The "problem" with Terrence Hawkes's observation isn't that it's wrong,
but that it's a clich

 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.