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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0272  Thursday, 13 February 2003

From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Feb 2003 15:51:16 -0500
Subject:        Chance

Romeo and Juliet



 Alack, alack, what blood is this, which stains
 The stony entrance of this sepulchre?
 What mean these masterless and gory swords
 To lie discolour'd by this place of peace?

 [Enters the tomb]

 Romeo! O, pale! Who else? what, Paris too?
 And steep'd in blood? Ah, what an unkind hour
 Is guilty of this lamentable chance!
 The lady stirs.

King Henry VI, Part ii
Act 1, Scene 1

WARWICK Unto the main! O father, Maine is lost;
 That Maine which by main force Warwick did win,
 And would have kept so long as breath did last!
 Main chance, father, you meant; but I meant Maine,
 Which I will win from France, or else be slain,

King John
Act 1, Scene 1

BASTARD Madam, by chance but not by truth; what though?
 Something about, a little from the right,
 In at the window, or else o'er the hatch:
 Who dares not stir by day must walk by night,
 And have is have, however men do catch:
 Near or far off, well won is still well shot,
 And I am I, howe'er I was begot.

Troilus and Cressida

Chorus In Troy, there lies the scene. From isles of Greece
 The princes orgulous, their high blood chafed,
 Have to the port of Athens sent their ships,
 Fraught with the ministers and instruments
 Of cruel war: sixty and nine, that wore
 Their crownets regal, from the Athenian bay
 Put forth toward Phrygia; and their vow is made
 To ransack Troy, within whose strong immures
 The ravish'd Helen, Menelaus' queen,
 With wanton Paris sleeps; and that's the quarrel.
 To Tenedos they come;
 And the deep-drawing barks do there disgorge
 Their warlike fraughtage: now on Dardan plains
 The fresh and yet unbruised Greeks do pitch
 Their brave pavilions: Priam's six-gated city,
 Dardan, and Tymbria, Helias, Chetas, Troien,
 And Antenorides, with massy staples
 And corresponsive and fulfilling bolts,
 Sperr up the sons of Troy.
 Now expectation, tickling skittish spirits,
 On one and other side, Trojan and Greek,
 Sets all on hazard: and hither am I come
 A prologue arm'd, but not in confidence
 Of author's pen or actor's voice, but suited
 In like conditions as our argument,
 To tell you, fair beholders, that our play
 Leaps o'er the vaunt and firstlings of those broils,
 Beginning in the middle, starting thence away
 To what may be digested in a play.
 Like or find fault; do as your pleasures are:
 Now good or bad, 'tis but the chance of war.

Act 1, Scene 3

NESTOR With due observance of thy godlike seat,
 Great Agamemnon, Nestor shall apply
 Thy latest words. In the reproof of chance
 Lies the true proof of men: the sea being smooth,
 How many shallow bauble boats dare sail
 Upon her patient breast, making their way
 With those of nobler bulk!
 But let the ruffian Boreas once enrage
 The gentle Thetis, and anon behold
 The strong-ribb'd bark through liquid mountains cut,
 Bounding between the two moist elements,
 Like Perseus' horse: where's then the saucy boat
 Whose weak untimber'd sides but even now
 Co-rivall'd greatness? Either to harbour fled,
 Or made a toast for Neptune. Even so
 Doth valour's show and valour's worth divide
 In storms of fortune; for in her ray and brightness
 The herd hath more annoyance by the breeze
 Than by the tiger; but when the splitting wind
 Makes flexible the knees of knotted oaks,
 And flies fled under shade, why, then the thing of courage
 As roused with rage with rage doth sympathize,
 And with an accent tuned in selfsame key
 Retorts to chiding fortune.

Act 3, Scene 3

ULYSSES I do not strain at the position,--
 It is familiar,--but at the author's drift;
 Who, in his circumstance, expressly proves
 That no man is the lord of any thing,
 Though in and of him there be much consisting,
 Till he communicate his parts to others:
 Nor doth he of himself know them for aught
 Till he behold them form'd in the applause
 Where they're extended; who, like an arch, reverberates
 The voice again, or, like a gate of steel
 Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
 His figure and his heat.  I was much wrapt in this;
 And apprehended here immediately
 The unknown Ajax.
 Heavens, what a man is there! a very horse,
 That has he knows not what. Nature, what things there are
 Most abject in regard and dear in use!
 What things again most dear in the esteem
 And poor in worth! Now shall we see to-morrow--
 An act that very chance doth throw upon him--
 Ajax renown'd. O heavens, what some men do,
 While some men leave to do!
 How some men creep in skittish fortune's hall,
 Whiles others play the idiots in her eyes!
 How one man eats into another's pride,
 While pride is fasting in his wantonness!
 To see these Grecian lords!--why, even already
 They clap the lubber Ajax on the shoulder,
 As if his foot were on brave Hector's breast
 And great Troy shrieking.

Titus Andronicus
Act 1, Scene 1

MARCUS ANDRONICUS And welcome, nephews, from successful wars,
 You that survive, and you that sleep in fame!
 Fair lords, your fortunes are alike in all,
 That in your country's service drew your swords:
 But safer triumph is this funeral pomp,
 That hath aspired to Solon's happiness
 And triumphs over chance in honour's bed.
 Titus Andronicus, the people of Rome,
 Whose friend in justice thou hast ever been,
 Send thee by me, their tribune and their trust,
 This palliament of white and spotless hue;
 And name thee in election for the empire,
 With these our late-deceased emperor's sons:
 Be candidatus then, and put it on,
 And help to set a head on headless Rome.

Act 1, Scene 3

MACBETH [Aside]  If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me,
 Without my stir.


Act 2, Scene 3

MACBETH Had I but died an hour before this chance,
 I had lived a blessed time; for, from this instant,
 There 's nothing serious in mortality:
 All is but toys: renown and grace is dead;
 The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
 Is left this vault to brag of.


Act 3, Scene 1

First Murderer And I another
 So weary with disasters, tugg'd with fortune,
 That I would set my lie on any chance,
 To mend it, or be rid on't.


Act 4, Scene 3

MALCOLM Macduff, this noble passion,
 Child of integrity, hath from my soul
 Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts
 To thy good truth and honour. Devilish Macbeth
 By many of these trains hath sought to win me
 Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me
 From over-credulous haste: but God above
 Deal between thee and me! for even now
 I put myself to thy direction, and
 Unspeak mine own detraction, here abjure
 The taints and blames I laid upon myself,
 For strangers to my nature. I am yet
 Unknown to woman, never was forsworn,
 Scarcely have coveted what was mine own,
 At no time broke my faith, would not betray
 The devil to his fellow and delight
 No less in truth than life: my first false speaking
 Was this upon myself: what I am truly,
 Is thine and my poor country's to command:
 Whither indeed, before thy here-approach,
 Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men,
 Already at a point, was setting forth.
 Now we'll together; and the chance of goodness
 Be like our warranted quarrel! Why are you silent?


Act 4, Scene 4

CORIOLANUS Thank you, sir: farewell.

 [Exit Citizen]

 O world, thy slippery turns! Friends now fast sworn,
 Whose double bosoms seem to wear one heart,
 Whose house, whose bed, whose meal, and exercise,
 Are still together, who twin, as 'twere, in love
 Unseparable, shall within this hour,
 On a dissension of a doit, break out
 To bitterest enmity: so, fellest foes,
 Whose passions and whose plots have broke their sleep,
 To take the one the other, by some chance,
 Some trick not worth an egg, shall grow dear friends
 And interjoin their issues. So with me:
 My birth-place hate I, and my love's upon
 This enemy town. I'll enter: if he slay me,
 He does fair justice; if he give me way,
 I'll do his country service

Sonnet 18


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
  So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
  So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

I hope I am not abusing anyone by assembling, for grins, [above] a
number of passages in which the word "chance" is used suggestively.

I am of the party that sees a difference between what Shakespeare meant
by tragedy & how the ancient Greeks founded it, as formulated by
Aristotle. [In actuality, even the Greeks are hard put to fit
comfortably into Aristotle's formulation, especially his best example,
Oedipus, as many have pointed out, as good & important as it is.] But,
keeping our focus on Shakespeare, consider this:  In Romeo & Juliet,
they die, really, only because, by chance, there is a delay in the
letter reaching Romeo- if it had arrived, whatever else might have
happened, there would be no tragedy. Chance here is what is tragic in
human affairs.  This would have been incomprehensible for the Greeks.
There is no Necessity that fated R&J to end this way, however ironic the
Greeks could play with its unfolding.

That said, I just read Harry Jaffa's essay, "The Unity of Tragedy,
Comedy, & History: an Interpretation of the Shakespeare Universe," in
the new edition of "Shakespeare as 'Political Thinker." For those who
don't know Jaffa, he is a formidable scholar of American History and
political philosopher aligned with the thought of Leo Strauss. Though I
do not subscribe to his overriding assumptions or conclusions, one often
feels as if they are reading by lightning, one illuminating & brilliant
insight following another. He observes that ".it is chance. [leaving out
something you may feel prejudices my argument]. which proves decisive at
Philippi. Brutus and Cassius both commit suicide, each thinking the
other has been defeated, when he has not... They might then have
discovered their errors and gone on to victory."

Well, I wonder if anyone knows of any treatment comparing these two sets
of "accidental" suicides, R&J & JC. For me, this is an important

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