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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
Re: Major Clerical Characters
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2005  Wednesday, 2 October 2002

[1]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Sep 2002 11:37:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

[2]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Sep 2002 12:36:07 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

[3]     From:   Ann Carrigan <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Sep 2002 14:48:23 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

[4]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Saturday, 28 Sep 2002 09:19:32 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Sep 2002 11:37:25 -0400
Subject: 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

>Friar Laurence has been known to evoke laughs. The Archbishop of
>Canterbury ("So that, as clear as is the summer's sun" ) is almost
>certainly meant to stir laughter in the court. The more I rehearse King
>John, the more I believe that some of the words of Pandulph (especially
>the ridiculously contradictory and obtuse "all form is formless, order
>orderless, Save that that is opposite to England's love" speech in II.
>i.) are meant to be laughed at and scorned at times. If one believes
>Malvolio to truly and literally be a Puritan as Maria claims, then he
>could be argued as another clerical character for us to laugh at. What
>is so funny about religion? Could it have anything to do with the
>dichotomy between the clergy and the lewdness at the theatres of the
>time?

What's so funny about religion?  Ask Chaucer.  Seriously, there's always
comic potential in (1) authority figures, (2) people who live their
lives "differently" than most people, (3) people who are supposed to
live differently and yet are worse than most people, and (4) people who
are obsessed with the trappings and paraphernalia of their profession.
Add that to the fact that many clerical types want to shut down the
theaters, and you have perfect candidates for ridicule on stage.

It has been noted, however, that Shakespeare's clericals are about the
most positively-portrayed of the period.  Friar Laurence (R&J) and Friar
Francis (Much Ado) both bend the rules for the greater good of
reconciliation, with admittedly mixed results.  Nevertheless, they lack
the rigidity, cluelessness, fire-and-brimstone fervor, and flagrant
hypocrisy of many stage clerics.  Duke Vincentio (MM) is not a real
friar but he has basically the same goals as the others, though his
attempts also seem like an easy way to consolidate his power in the name
of reconciliation.

John-Paul Spiro
CUNY Graduate Center

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Sep 2002 12:36:07 -0400
Subject: 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

From:           Brian Willis <
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>What
>is so funny about religion? Could it have anything to do with the
>dichotomy between the clergy and the lewdness at the theatres of the
>time?

Say rather that, serious religious discussion being quite out of the
question, there isn't much else for clergy to be except for clowns and
confidants, apart from in the histories, where certain clerical
individuals appear in their non-clerical roles.

(As late as the 1880's, when Arrigo Boito's "Mefistofele" appeared in
London, the "Prologue in Heaven" had to be relocated to "the heavens",
and there were loud protests from the public during WW2 when the BBC --
which did not answer to the Lord Chamberlain's office -- presented
Dorothy L. Sayers' utterly orthodox life of Christ, "The Man Born to be
King".)

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ann Carrigan <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Sep 2002 14:48:23 -0400
Subject: 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

>Back to the topic of major clerical characters in Shakespeare:
>
>Why do so many of them have the potential for comedy? (for those who
>believe in authorial intentions).  :)

I think Friar Lawrence, in particular, has the gift of observation and
the merit of accessibility. He's practically the only "wise" character
in the play, and the only wise character who seems to know the two young
people up close.

This thread made me revisit a discussion of Much Ado in another forum,
at which time I was struck by Friar Francis, yet another meddling man of
the cloth. I had written, "Like Friar Laurence and the pretend Friar
Lodowick, he uses deception to effect an ending. [...] I wish I had a
grasp of what Shakespeare's perspective is here -- these holy men seemed
to work a lot from intuition and invention.  It seems odd given the
structure of both the Catholic Church and the Church of England...though
it'

I realize I should have added, "from intuition and invention and
frequently outside the 'rules.'" Three years later I feel I am no
clearer as to *why* Shakespeare chose clerics to be these types. I think
one of the reasons is that they represented a sphere outside the one in
which the main characters lived -- yet held positions of relative
respect and intimacy. One might say the same of the court fools.

The friars also echo the idea of God-as-trickster, being his earthly
henchmen, creating ruses to get to the desired conclusion.

Brian, your other two examples seem to me, if funny, then wholly
unrelated in their humor. Pandulph in King John and Malvolio in Twelfth
Night are more to be laughed at than laughed with. If KJ was successful
partly because it depicted an earlier England standing up to the Roman
church, I think that makes Pandulph a specifically Catholic figure to be
held in contempt. Besides, it's not the same environment as one of the
comedies.

In my view, Malvolio fails as a "clerical" character, and I've never
seen him as such. I think Feste rules that out for us when he, not
Malvolio, "catechises" Olivia for her excessive rituals of grief.

--Ann

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Saturday, 28 Sep 2002 09:19:32 +0100
Subject: Re: Major Clerical Characters
Comment:        SHK 13.1996 Re: Major Clerical Characters

"What is so funny about religion?" asks Brian Willis, having noticed
that many of Shakespeare's clerical characters are the butts of comedy.
"Could it have anything to do with the dichotomy between the clergy and
the lewdness at the theatres of the time?"

One might ask, What ISN'T funny about religion, and especially its
practitioners (at both extremes of the confessional spectrum)?  Perhaps
we should all reread The Canterbury Tales (always a worthwhile way to
spend a couple of days).

m

PS - This is not the scorn of a wanton atheist. I have spent the last
six weeks ploughing through umpteen works of Jacobean and Caroline
theological literature, and the conflicts they rehearse, as well as the
terms in which they rehearse them, though very interesting for someone
of my persuasions, did not fail to yield also to up some hearty
laughter.

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