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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2439  Thursday, 19 December 2002

[1]     From:   Jadwiga Krupski <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Dec 2002 12:33:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Dec 2002 12:48:41 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.2424 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[3]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Dec 2002 18:34:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[4]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Thursday, 19 Dec 2002 00:03:14 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jadwiga Krupski <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Dec 2002 12:33:06 -0500
Subject: 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

Rather belatedly, I would like to voice my full agreement with Professor
Hawkes. Without diminishing the importance of action and
characterization, of course the plays speak to us and must be listened
to. I am of Polish origin, and the scene in which Lear partitions his
kingdom conjures op a vision of President Roosevelt, at Yalta, "leaning"
over a map of Europe, and - with one stoke of his pen - handing some of
Central and all of Eastern Europe to Stalin on a platter. This is what
that particular scene will always SAY to me. Jadwiga Krupski

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Dec 2002 12:48:41 -0500
Subject: Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        SHK 13.2424 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

Carol Barton's uncompromising statement  that 'the characters in any
Shakespeare play' are ' real, living, breathing, conflicted and
conflicting human beings' leaves little to be said. Of course, the news
that the Inland Revenue still wish to interview certain members of the
Lear household about a little matter of inheritance tax will be
unwelcome. And Lalage Lear, recently spotted near King's Cross, remains
a cause of concern. Her part in last year's unpleasantness at the
Macbeths has not been forgotten.

Terence Hawkes
The Bradley Lounge
The Critical Theory Workshop Experimental Studio Rehearsal Space

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Dec 2002 18:34:27 -0500
Subject: 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

Michael Shurgot takes me to task for having said that Shakespearean
characters are "not the two-dimensional creatures of the morality play,
nor the semi-allegorical stick figures of the fairy tale, but real,
living, breathing, conflicted and conflicting human beings who shock us
with their similarity to people 400 years their (supposed)'betters' . .
. ," but seems to have missed the point of the post entirely (as his
paraphrased reiteration of my comment that Lear and Falstaff can be
found in almost every neighborhood in the world, even today ("Surely she
is right that Shakespearean characters invite complex analysis by
readers and (especially) actors because WS created complex though (I
would argue) usually recognizably archetypal circumstances in which they
function") would suggest. Calling mine "an over-romanticized view of
'character'," he then makes the self-contradictory observation that
"characters are not 'real, living, breathing, conflicted and conflicting
human beings'"--my words--but are rather "words on a page, sounds in an
actor's voice, movements in an actor's body; we know of them only what
the playwright chooses to tell us, and s/he tells us just enough to
engage us in the theatrical circumstances in which actors encounter
other actors playing other characters." If what he says is true, why is
it then that actors presume to inflect those words written on the page?
How is it that, in one production, the Lear Fool is a young man, in
another an old one?  Why is Polonius sometimes a doddering old meddler,
and others a respected statement? What made the director at the Folger
Shakespeare Library have Laertes and Ophelia stand with their hands on
their hips, rolling their eyes in that annoyingly "tolerant" way
adolescents do when their parents are lecturing them on something
they've been told a hundred times before (the first time I had seen that
scene played that way, and very effective, too)?

Mr. Shurgot answers his own question, with virtually the same argument
that Rd and I have been making, somewhat contra Terry: "I have talked to
actors who have played Cordelia, and they speak of working very hard at
focusing on why Cordelia rejects her father's absurd game and being able
to communicate that clear idea both vocally and physically, so that the
inner conviction that she is right and her great fear of speaking what
she believes to be true and honest are communicated to spectators." How
is that any different from what Ed and I are doing (except that we
aren't getting up onstage and saying the lines with the tone and
attitude in which we envision her speaking them?  "What Cordelia says
and does in the words Shakespeare gave her is complex enough without
trying to create some 'pre-text,' a
pre-walking-out-on-stage-with-daddy-in 1.1 subtext that simply does not
exist," Mr. Shurgot continues---but he was the one who attempted to
ascribe some complex Freudian second parturition to what Lear is doing
when he divides up the kingdom, which is far more absurd than anything
Professor Taft or I tried to do. "The actors I have known who have
played Cordelia would not have had time to worry about some of the finer
points of Cordelia's motivation that were so laboriously discussed in
several previous posts," he writes---to which, having done some acting
myself, I respond "Precisely." Great actors intuit such things without
having to puzzle them out---that's what makes them great. *Every* actor
"invents fine points" about character and delivery, whether he writes
essays about it or not. And that, Mr. Shurgot, is what makes "such
deliberations . . . worthwhile, given all else that Shakespeare gives us
in this huge play that can so profoundly engage our imagination, as well
as our guts": it HELPS US TO SEE what Shakespeare has given us, and why
the Ghost dressed up like Colonel Sanders and lying on a table in the
first act of _Hamlet_, or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as a biker and
biker chick (both Folger contributions) doesn't work for us, while
having Hamlet, Sr. and Gertrude dancing lovingly onstage behind their
son when he utters the line, "How she did hang upon his neck" (also the
Folger production) *does.*

Finally, Mr. Shurgot argues that "characters are only words and gestures
in an actor's body; some characters demand more words and more gestures
than others. Thus we have many, many Lears, Cordelias, Festes, Macbeths,
etc. "  This argument follows a criticism of web-spinning scholars, to
whom clearly denies the right to interpret character---by what authority
do actors do that, then?

Ed is certainly right that "that map [of the kingdom] is [Lear] . . . ;
he IS Britain," a concept expressed in James I's frequent references to
himself as the "father of his country" (no, that was NOT invented by
George Washington, folks), and by Louis XIV's assertion that 'L'etat
c'est moi" --- "I AM the state." Lear does not OWN the nation---it is
not his to give away---but by the power of the people invested in
him---and that is an issue with James I as well (as it will be with his
son). A king's legitimate love for his people and his country causes him
to behave like a benevolent father; a king's perception that he is God,
or near-God, in that he can order people to love him in the manner in
which he demands that love, and apportion property he does not own to
the detriment of the people who do own it, is abusive . . . as is a
king's assumption that he can turn the homes of private citizens into
barracks for his troops, or tax people to fund his private agendas, etc.
etc. etc.

So you see, Terry---I agree with you, too. I just don't think your
argument and Ed's or mine are mutually exclusive--and I think Michael
Shurgot's supports rather than rebuts what Ed and I have been saying.

BUT I still want to know about Mrs. Gloucester!

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Thursday, 19 Dec 2002 00:03:14 -0000
Subject: 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

On Prof. Hawkes's exhortation that we "listen to the play" rather than
the "characters":

How odd that a rhetorical trope as simple as synecdoche should cause
such fevered scratching of heads! You'd think people used to reading
"Shakespeare" would be a bit more intuitive about such things.

martin

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