The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2123 Wednesday, 5 November 2003
Date: Tuesday, 4 Nov 2003 10:33:52 -0500
Subject: Palmers and Shadows, Spirits and Ghosts
Spirits and ghosts in Shakespeare might be better understood with more
attention to the great changes in religious sense in sixteenth-century
England. The battle over use of words and images in communication with
God was not an abstract theological argument. Highly popular shrines
that primarily featured sensuous images of Mary, the mother of Jesus,
were destroyed in spectacular ways in early sixteenth-century England.
On the other hand, the use of Mary as a given name in England rose from
less than 3% of females prior to 1535 to more than 15% after 1650.
Pilgrims ("palmers") had sought to make sense of Mary in the presence of
statues (shadows) of her in early sixteenth-century England. This could
no longer be done in late sixteenth-century England. Created in these
circumstances, Shakespeare's theatre was not just a cult of the dead.
It also reconstructed and celebrated a special experience of living
persons making sense.
Maria in Twelfth Night can be understood as a foil for Mary in history.
Maria is not just the usual lusty, spirited maid. She works like a
device, she's all will, and at the end of the play, she's absent. The
mad, suffering, passionate persons in the play are the ones that come to
life in the end. Why Olivia, Malvolio, Viola, and others do what they
do defies explanation. That, it seems to me, is part of the epiphany of
persons. Put differently, appreciating limits of representation is a
fundamental aspect of making sense of real persons in communication.
You can find discussion and relevant references to these aspects of
Shakespeare and sixteenth-century history in Section IV of "Sense in
Communication," freely available at www.galbithink.org . Table 2, p. 98,
and Appendix A, pp. 174-6 document long-term historical trends in
popularity of the name Mary. The discussion of Twelfth Night is in
Section IV.C, pp. 100-110.
I would welcome your thoughts and comments on this work and its
implications for understanding communication.
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