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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Purses
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0115  Thursday, 15 January 2004

[1]     From:   Alan Dessen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Jan 2004 09:30:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Purses

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Jan 2004 12:09:49 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0102 Psychology of Gertrude now Purse

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Jan 2004 12:04:41 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0102 Psychology of Gertrude

[4]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Jan 2004 13:52:19 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0090 Psychology of Gertrude


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Dessen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Jan 2004 09:30:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Purses

As to the number of purses carried by an individual, in Acts 2 and 3 of
Jonson's *Bartholomew Fair* the foolish Bartholomew Cokes loses in
succession not one but two purses.

Alan Dessen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Jan 2004 12:09:49 -0500
Subject: 15.0102 Psychology of Gertrude now Purse
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0102 Psychology of Gertrude now Purse

The Elizabethan purse didn't have what an American wallet has: a few
bills and coins and tons of plastic with various intensities of
identification, but...when Antonio gives away his purse, his identity
seemingly goes with it, and he can't recover it until he recovers the
purse. Kent gives away his purse when he is through with his life and
therefore his own identity. It will not turn the beggar into Kent, but...

Has anybody else noted a link between identity and purse in Shakespeare?
It's specifically denied by the liar Iago, which alone makes me suspicious:

   Iago.  Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,  180
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name  184
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Goodness! I didn't recall this, but the first words in Othello are about
a purse:

   Rod.  Tush! Never tell me; I take it much unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.
   Iago.  'Sblood, but you will not hear me:
If ever I did dream of such a matter,
Abhor me.
   Rod.  Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.
   Iago.  Despise me if I do not.

My previous interest in the passage was in the way Shakespeare
introduces Iago by having him say, "Abhor me." "Despise me." Thus,
anyone who steals Iago's own purse, his own identity, is indeed stealing
trash.

But how does this Roderigo, "this young quat," end, who has given his
purse so freely to Iago?

   Iago.        O murderous slave! O villain!  [Stabs RODERIGO.
   Rod.  O damn'd Iago! O inhuman dog!
   Iago.  Kill men i' the dark! Where be these bloody thieves?

Roderigo has utterly lost his identity.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Jan 2004 12:04:41 -0600
Subject: 15.0102 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0102 Psychology of Gertrude

 >>What was the value of the "purse" so often flung from one person to
 >>another in the plays, as in "Here, take my purse."
 >
 >I'm not sure that I understand the question.  What's the value of a
 >wallet, as in, "Here, take my wallet"?
 >
 >Yrs,
 >Sean.

The wallet analogy doesn't work, since wallets contain much more
important things than money (perhaps some $10 bills or maybe some $20s),
such as the means to pay for something (blank checks, credit cards),
indications of personal identity (driver's licence; medicare card, voter
registration, etc.), personal items (e.g., family photos), and other
stuff.  One would never say, "Here, take my wallet," unless one were
psychotic or if one were in dire circumstances as was (proverbially)
Jack Benny, confronted by a mugger- "Your wallet or your life . . . .
well?" . . . . "I'm thinking!"  Well, okay, the bad guy "really" said,
"Your money or your life," which makes Benny's joke even funnier, but
you get my point.  One would surely rather toss the money than all the
other contents of the wallet. My question was about the money: the
content, form, and value of the contents of the purse(s) and whether
this was a device invented by WS or a cultural commonplace that that he
so charmingly exploited.

David Cohen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Jan 2004 13:52:19 EST
Subject: 15.0090 Psychology of Gertrude
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0090 Psychology of Gertrude

David Cohen wonders about the value of a purse's content. In 2Henry IV,
Sir John is told the exact amount in his purse by his page, who either
carries it for him or saves him the effort required to reach it. "Seven
groats and two pence." Not a hint of gold.

Jay Feldman

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