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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2456  Monday, 23 December 2002

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Dec 2002 09:57:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Dec 2002 18:22:02 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Dec 2002 13:41:41 -0500
        Subj:   Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[4]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Dec 2002 16:03:04 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2448  Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[5]     From:   Reg Grouse <
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        Date:   Saturday, 21 Dec 2002 08:48:51 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

[6]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 22 Dec 2002 19:20:57 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Dec 2002 09:57:55 -0500
Subject: 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

To Bill Godshalk's:

?But until a script is interpreted it is merely markings on a page (and
even that minimal description contains a good deal of interpretation).
Let us assume that we find a playscript. We cannot know that the
markings on the page are intended to be ?words written to be spoken by
actors.?  The author?s intention may be intuited, but it is not a matter
of fact. Perhaps the author thought of his script, not as a series of
speeches, but as one long poem?and actually thought that it would be
best read in the closet?as one long poem?

I can only say, "Yes--and if there were such a play, and such a
playwright, he would probably say as much, and call it _Samson
Agonistes_!"

:o)  Clever and subtle, Prof. Godshalk!

Merry Christmas/Happy holidays to all---

Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Dec 2002 18:22:02 -0000
Subject: 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

?Perhaps Martin would suggest how synecdoche works in this case.  Is
?listening to the play? the part for the whole, the whole for the part,
the specific for the general, or the general for the specific??

Aaaarrghhh! Caught being flippant again!

My answer would be ?the part for the whole?, I think. I suppose
synecdoche, strictly speaking, only applies to the former, anyway. Just
out of interest, what is the term for the latter - ?whole for the part??
does one exist? can one ever express the ?whole? of anything in with
single trope? One assumes not, if there?s anything to this synecdoche
lark.

The part for the whole: "the play" stands for all the ways in which the
words on the page have been written, interpreted, *acted*, read,
performed, thought of, argued about, criticized etc. from the time they
were written till now - the text-in-context(s). Although it might seem
to be "the whole", in fact "the play" is just a "part" of the thing thus
defined - it is one of the ways in which the text (ouch - another
synecdoche!) has been interpreted or defined or whatever. By "context" I
include performance context: as Bill himself wrote: "Perhaps the author
thought of his script, not as a series of speeches, but as one long poem
-- and actually thought that it would be best read in the closet -- as
one long poem." (Aha!  Macbeth! Silly Tolkien, to think that Birnam wood
was ever supposed to be staged!) In which case we might not use "the
play" as the defining part of our thing defined, we would probably use
"the poem".

Nobody says, "Last season Arsene Wenger, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp,
David Seaman, etc. etc. etc. won the FA Cup", they say "Last season
Arsenal won the FA Cup". In fact, the reason for my etceteras is that I
cannot name Arsenal Football Club's every team-member; I know that
"Arsenal won the FA Cup last season", and I use this synecdoche to avoid
offending those team-members whose names I don't know but who played a
vital role in that footballing success (as well as not knowing their
names, I don't really have a clear idea of the tactical approach of the
modern Arsenal Football Club, either, nor the ways in which those
tactics fit into the wider contexts of Premiership football in the years
2001/2, or the history and culture of Arsenal Football Club - my
knowledge really is quite limited). Proof that one can have knowledge of
a football team without having knowledge of its constituents (players
and all), just as one can have knowledge of "the play" and what it says
without knowing anything about its constituent characters or even words.
Anna Kamaralli warns that "caution is vital, because many people assume
they know what the play says, and so stop listening to what the lines of
the characters tell us about what the play says." Which is true enough,
but again, it only goes to show that such a thing is possible.

martin

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Dec 2002 13:41:41 -0500
Subject:        Cordelia and Listening to the Play

C. David Frankel wrote:

"I don't think you can listen to the play without listening to the
characters as if they were real people.  But I don't think you can
listen to a play without understanding that the characters are
constructs who say and do what the playwright wants them to say and do
-- and that they exist (on the page) enmeshed in a large net of
conventions and dramaturgical needs."

This is well said. We can't do good analysis without writing about
characters as if they were real people. But we also need to be
responsible about so doing. For example, wondering how Mrs.  Lear died
is stupid because we have no textual warrant for the question. On the
other hand, wondering why Shakespeare wants her dead is a question to be
asked, as Falstaff once put it.

Bill Godshalk wrote:

"The author's intention may be intuited, but it is not a matter of fact.
Perhaps the author thought of his script, not as a series of speeches,
but as one long poem -- and actually thought that it would be best read
in the closet -- as one long poem."

Or perhaps the author thought of his/her script as BOTH a play to be
performed AND a text to be read later?  Why not both?  After all, in the
case of _Lear_, at least, we have good evidence that the play was
carefully revised -- perhaps with an eye towards eventual publication.
If Ben Jonson thought of his plays as "Works," why not Shakespeare?

There is a narrow and misleading tendency among some to insist that
authors only have one intention at a time. This is nonsense. This
morning, for example, I went to the store (1) because my wife told me
to; (2) because I needed stuff of my own; (3) to get certain items my
wife wanted;
(4) to get them quickly; and (5) to get a check cashed.

Here's a simple act that has at least 5 different simultaneous
intentions.  If so, then why can't a Renaissance playwright intend to
write for BOTH the stage and the page? Why not?

There was no print culture yet established? But published materials
existed in England for decades by the time Shakespeare was writing his
plays!

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Dec 2002 16:03:04 EST
Subject: 13.2448  Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2448  Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

Bill Goshalk writes:

<<But until a script is interpreted it is merely markings on a page>>

This is the ultimate truth.  As we say at my theatre, the best thing
about working with Shakespeare is  that he's dead and we're not.  (I
stole that from someone, but don't remember whom.)  His scripts are ours
to do with as we please, for better or for worse.  Carol Barton gives
pertinent recent examples from the Folger of examples of interpretations
that succeeded and failed, and I'm sure we can all add our own to that
list.

The point is that it's all interpretation, and a good thing too.  Each
interpretation offers us something new; as Georges says in *Sunday in
the Park*, "Look, I made a hat/Where there never was a hat."  We are not
guaranteed a hat that works or a hat that we like.  But it's a new hat,
and it's the newness that's vital.

The alternative can easily been seen in the rise and fall of the
D'Oyly-Carte company: productions frozen in time, never changing, with
even the smallest gestures codified as the Masters had set them.
Mercy!  Aren't we grateful that every study, every production, every
reading of Shakespeare's work is a crapshoot?

Bill also writes that the author may have intended the script to be read
in one's closet--my experience has tended towards the opposite: the
author intends his script to be read on the stage, but alas, it will
only work in the closet, and usually only in his.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
http://newnantheatre.com

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Reg Grouse <
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Date:           Saturday, 21 Dec 2002 08:48:51 +1100
Subject: 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2430 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

I must admit that I have come but lately to this discussion and because
of that I am confused.  I cannot tell from the posts where the topic
originated. Am I right in assuming that the discussion hinges on whether
we should take a holistic or an atomistic view of Shakespeare criticism
or for that matter of any art criticism.  'The holistic philosophy is
characterized by understanding the parts of something to be intimately
interconnected and only explicable by reference to the whole', whereas
'Atomism is a theoretical approach that regards something as
interpretable through analysis into distinct, separable and independent,
elementary components' Although the atomistic view is convenient because
it is simple to manage.  (As when we take a characterisation and analyse
it without reference to the whole play.) There are inherent dangers
similar to when atoms of a particular substance are analysed separately
and afford no indication of what the substance is.  Water is like
neither hydrogen nor oxygen.

Nevertheless, because our management of complexities is somewhat
restricted, we usually require some subdivision of elements of the play
to forward any discussion, if that is what we want.  Some years ago I
sat alone at a performance of King Lear. Robert Stevens played the
protagonist and a cast of highly talented actors played the other
parts.  At interval I noticed that a young man was sitting beside me who
also was alone.  I asked if he was enjoying the play.  He said almost
with tears in his eyes:  O yes, I am so moved that I do not know if I
shall be able to sit through the second part.  We walked to the foyer
together, the old man and the young boy, and had a drink while he asked
me about the play and about the performance. Who was I to tell him about
it when he felt and knew the importance of it without my intervention.
We returned and saw the last acts.  I was then as drained of emotion as
he had been after the early acts.  As we were leaving the theatre he
desperately wanted to talk about it.  I had only a few minutes but had I
had more time I think that discussing the performance on no matter what
plane could only have belittled it.  I left him knowing that he had seen
one of the best productions of King Lear in modern times and that he had
had the best instruction in King Lear that it was possible to have. So
had I.

The interest in Shakespeare's characterizations has been evident in
criticism for many years. Even the psycho-analysts have used the
fictional character Hamlet as an example of their theories.  One must
question the efficacy of these studies as a means of extending our
understanding of Shakespeare.  Could it be more an attempt to understand
ourselves?

Cheers, Reg

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Sunday, 22 Dec 2002 19:20:57 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.2448 Re: Cordelia and Listening to the Play

Anna has hit upon a point which is very essential to this discussion and
many of the discussions we have on the listserv. The characters in the
plays say a lot of things, and the play tells us a lot about these
characters, but we sometimes forget to listen to what they are telling
us. When Cordelia says "Nothing", she is not refusing to play a game or
being rude to her father. To the contrary, her one word is the ultimate
expression of her love. She refuses to play the game by the rules her
sisters have set before her, and her nothing is her way of refusing to
flatter her father.  Indeed, Cordelia is even openly acknowledging that
her father is susceptible to flattery and excessive pride.  It's Lear's
journey (and perhaps ours as well) to see what that nothing truly means.
Cordelia is not merely saying that nothing alone. All of the characters
in the play must undergo a journey to "see" that sometimes less is more
and more is less. Cordelia is eventually reduced to that nothing and
Lear realizes she will "never, never, never, never, never" come again.
The characters, individually and in the totality of the play
interdependent on each other, equally have something to say to us.

Brian Willis

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