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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
Determined to Be a Villain
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1847  Wednesday, 24 September 2003

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003 06:42:31 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1838 Determined to Be a Villain

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003 14:24:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1838 Determined to Be a Villain

[3]     From:   Kenneth Campbell <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003 22:37:50 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1827 Determined to Be a Villain


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003 06:42:31 -0500
Subject: 14.1838 Determined to Be a Villain
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1838 Determined to Be a Villain

I hope we can all agree that a full-blown psychopath must be
distinguished from a person with psychopathic "tendencies".   If a
character is a true psychopath, he has no conscience, has no moral
responsibility, and becomes as innocent of wrongdoing as Ophelia in her
peculiar madness; he becomes a static "problem" in the play, and the
play's character-center moves to some other who knows and appreciates
the moral quality of his acts or failure to act.

L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003 14:24:54 -0500
Subject: 14.1838 Determined to Be a Villain
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1838 Determined to Be a Villain

A comment regarding Hall (
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 ; Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003
08:30:06 +0000) on Small.  Mr. Hall notes that, "Mr Small's
philosophical meanderings (14.1827) about the psychopathology of Richard
the Third are confused and erroneous."  This seems as gratuitously
arrogant as it is ironic, given that Hall, in this and in what follows,
seems to illustrate the general rule that the arrogance of one's
argument is generally inversely correlated with its validity, in this
case, an understanding of psychopathy and, I fear, Shakespeare.  Okay, I
admit to being a rank amateur, a mere buff, so if what follows is mostly
all wet-if my wind is mostly north-north-west-I trust I will shortly be
disabused.

>Hall is correct enough, to point out psychopaths' inability to be
>influenced by moral or social inhibition and their disengagement
>from remorse that distinguishes them." he is also correct that
>Richard cannot be '[...]an ambitious, psychotic killer [...], but
>then he gets just about all the rest wrong.  Actually, I don't even
>know if I am following his train of his thought because he seems to
>confound in one cobbled sentence three things: psychoticism,
>psychopathy, and free will, to wit: "Furthermore, Richard cannot be
>"[...]an ambitious, psychotic killer [...]" and have the luxury to
>chose the moment when "[...] he was determined to be a villain
>[...]."

Whaaat?

>First, Richard IS an ambitious killer, all right, and he is most
>definitely not psychotic, but not because he has "the luxury to
>chose the moment when "[...] he was determined to be a villain
>[...]," whatever that means.   For one thing, from a strictly
>descriptive (clinical) perspective, psychosis refers to a severe
>mental illness specifiable by a certain combination of key criteria
>including, e.g., hallucination, delusion, confused thinking)
>produced by a brain disorder of some kind-schizophrenia,
>manic-depression, delusional disease (genetically distinct from the
>other two), or other brain abnormality, none of which Richard has.
>For another thing, some psychotics (those with delusional disorder)
>may seem to have what Hall perceives as "the luxury to choose the
>moment," so such choice is not definitive for determining any
>diagnosis.  Moreover, "the luxury to choose the moment" is no
>exclusionary criterion to rule out psychosis in any classification
>system I have ever seen.   And  another thing, mustn't one  assume
>free will to assume that anyone has such a "luxury"?  Just because
>someone announces his decision to choose doesn't mean he has any
>insight into how that choice actually comes about.  Okay, forget the
>fee will business.   My first point is this: Richard isn't psychotic
>simply because he is not (symptomatically) psychotic, not because of
>any "luxury" of choice.   There are many people we might call
>"crazy," but who are not psychotic, that is, not if words mean
>something rather than whatever one feels like they should mean.
>Otherwise, we wind up gabbling past each other.

Second, speaking of "a tedious thread developing about opinionated views
on psychopathology!" is poor trick to inhibit useful discussion that can
lead to real insights.   This trick makes the false assumption that any
discussion of psychopathology cannot rise above mere opinionated views,
which suggests that no facts or valid conclusions are possible and
worse, that no one in the discussion knows what he is talking about,
which I cannot believe is true.  The trick also denies that
psychopathology is in fact damned interesting to most humans.  Finally,
it denies that Shakespeare, who is clesarly interested in the abnormal
as well as the normal qualities of human behavior, wrote a lot about
psychopathology in many of its luxuriant forms-melancholic, neurotic,
psychosis, characterological, etc.  To say that "none [of the
characters] ultimately exhibit [sic] psychopathic tendencies" is either
a poor attempt at paradoxical leg-pulling or genuine expression of
ignorance, the latter of which would explain the gratuitous arrogance in
Hall's response to Small.

Hall suggests that what looks like psychopathy is really a nasty outward
expression of inner softness.  If I have got him right, he's offering
yet another version of the tired old Rouseauean notion vivified by
psychoanalysis that all children are born good yet, alas, are made bad
by their environment or other unfair and demoralizing circumstances out
of their control (e.g., foul undigested lumps).  Says Hall: "It is the
fact that Shakespeare occasionally teases us or characters in the play
into suspecting that they do [have psychopathic tendencies]- but
eventually exposes their frailties - that makes them so riveting.  No,
it is not a fact.

Richard and Aaron and Goneril, for instance, are interesting for their
psychopathy, per se, for what's not interesting about the expression of
evil?  Any "frailty" a psychopathic expresses may add "depth" and
interest, but is not necessary.  Scratch the surface of a free-wheeling
psychopath and you find not a fearful child, not some psychoanalytic
soft-center, but more psychopathy.  Look  at a cornered psychopathic and
you may find "frailty," but only under certain circumstances.  Moreover,
that "frailty" is not the trembly anticipative neurotic kind that's
always there; rather it is the psychopathic that's there ONLY when the
person is cornered.

So, for example, Richard's rattling dream infested with all those whom
he killed does add an interesting element to his character.  Just about
any psychopath, like an animal, when cornered as Richard knows his is,
and never mind his bravado, will show some signs of "decompensation."
But this doesn't gainsay his psychopathy.  Ironically, Richard is all
about just what Hall says psychopaths are all about: it's their
"inability to be influenced by moral or social inhibition and their
disengagement from remorse that distinguishes them.  Anything resembling
remorse or moral feeling in Richard is ACTINIG!, drama, and pure
baloney, like copious tearfulness that psychopaths are so good at
achieving.   One must distinguish among the tears of grief,
self-delusional fakery, and onions.

>Psychopaths are so good at faking good-they are so good at fooling
>their social workers and therapists-because they aren't distracted
>by a consciousness of their own flapdoodle when they are promoting
>themselves in the social arena.  When alone, say at 3 AM in the
>dark, gnawing at their knuckles-well that's a different story.  But
>again, gnawed knuckles are no sign of nonpsychoathy.  In my opinion,
>Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard is ingenious for illuminating
>deep truths about psychopathy; he has got it exactly right.  Hall
>has missed the boat.  He might want to think about spending less
>time behind the bathtub arras.
>
>Incidentally, Hall's comment about Shakjespeare's
>characters-"Possible exceptions [to the "fact" that none ultimately
>exhibit psychopathic tendencies] are Banquo's third murderer and
>those of the Macduff family . . . Titus comes close."

-is just silly.   So I can only hope that this and all the rest is mere
leg pulling, and that I have been tilting at a windmill.

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Campbell <
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Date:           Tuesday, 23 Sep 2003 22:37:50 -0700
Subject: 14.1827 Determined to Be a Villain
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1827 Determined to Be a Villain

The words that seem the most insightful regarding Richard's
understanding of himself  are.

     Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
     Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer it.
     I have no brother, I am like no brother;
     And this word 'love,' which graybeards call divine,
     Be resident in men like one another
     And not in me: I am myself alone.

Here again is the cause and effect that might suggest Richard believes
he is predestined or predetermined to be a villain and psychologically
it is this isolation of self that brings Richard down.

I have always experienced the play as a dark comedy until he sits in the
chair. Getting to the throne is where the dream ends.  Nixon like
paranoia sets in.  He pushes all his friends and allies away and finally
realizes

I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die no soul will pity me:
And wherefore should they,--since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?

This black comedy of self realization becomes a tragedy of self
condemnation.

J. Kenneth Campbell

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