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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Purses
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0130  Monday, 19 January 2004

[1]     From:   Alan Dessen <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 10:01:02 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0115 Purses

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 00:12:04 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0115 Purses

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Jan 2004 20:32:35 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0115 Purses

[4]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 Jan 2004 00:13:52 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0115 Purses


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Dessen <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 10:01:02 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.0115 Purses
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0115 Purses

If anyone wants to follow up the purse outside the Shakespeare canon, I
include below the entry from our *Dictionary of Stage Directions in
English Drama, 1580-1642* (1999). The list, of course, is not complete
but does represent the purses cited in the s.d.s found in our database
of over 500 plays.

Alan Dessen

purse:  widely used (seventy examples) in a variety of actions; most
common is to give/deliver a purse (Three Lords of London, H4v; Quarto
Richard III, F4v, [3.2.106]; Sir John Oldcastle, 2697 8; King Leir,
1327; 2 Edward IV, 174; Malcontent, 3.3.78; Ram Alley, D1v; Devil's
Charter, E4r; Two Noble Kinsmen, M3r, 5.4.35; Wife for a Month, 44; Four
Plays in One, 321; Fatal Contract, E2r; City Match, 237; Launching of
the Mary, 906, 2628), but figures also offer (Sir John Oldcastle, 197),
shake (Royal King, 47; Princess, A4r), pull out (Mad Lover, 67; Bashful
Lover, 3.3.188), throw/cast/fling (Folio Richard III, 1910, 3.2.106;
Death of Huntingdon, 411; King Leir, 1018; 2 Edward IV, 123, 169; Lady's
Trial, 1253; Brennoralt, 2.4.89; Just Italian, 265; Wits, 128), enter
with purses (Wise Woman of Hogsdon, 286; Lovers' Progress, 85, 95;
Bashful Lover, 5.1.0; Launching of the Mary, 1257 8; Sparagus Garden,
214); see also Captain Thomas Stukeley, 1268; King Leir, 1350, 1521; Old
Fortunatus, 3.1.356; Woman Is a Weathercock, 4.3.2; Honest Man's
Fortune, 204; Guardian, 2.2.0; City Wit, 295; Jovial Crew, 381; Soddered
Citizen, 2198 9; several plays display the theft of a purse (Dutch
Courtesan, 5.3.16; Bartholomew Fair, 2.6.58; Honest Lawyer, B3v);
actions include "Throws meal in his face, takes his purse" (Hengist,
5.1.319), "Hold a purse ready" (Custom of the Country, 331/455), "shows
his purse boastingly" (Bartholomew Fair, 3.5.36, 115, 137); along with
the sword, scepter, and mace the purse can be part of a royal
procession: "Sussex bearing the crown, Howard bearing the Scepter, the
Constable the Mace, Tame the purse, Shandoyse the sword" (1 If You Know
Not Me, 239, also 195, 244); see also Downfall of Huntingdon, 42, 59 60;
Sir Thomas Wyatt, 1.2.40; Henry VIII, 1337, 2.4.0; atypical is "Unpurses
the gold" (Atheist's Tragedy, 5.1.21).

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 00:12:04 -0600
Subject: 15.0115 Purses
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0115 Purses

 >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

Well, yes, but surely we can't generalize from this one anecdote about a
chronically impoverished character to other better adjusted characters
or to live Elizabethan ones -incidentally, chronically impoverished
because, like others with strong alcoholic and psychopathic qualities,
he wastes his considerable intellective resources in, among other
things, excessive drinking and antisocial scheming.

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Jan 2004 20:32:35 -0800
Subject: 15.0115 Purses
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0115 Purses

David Cohen writes,

 >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.

Actually, I would say 'take my wallet'.  I recall leaving it for
security purposes at the front desk of the Y, for instance.  I might
also hand it to someone that I particularly trust, as with the purse
that contains all Antonio's readily-available capital.

As for containing something more important than money, it seems that
most of the things you've mentioned are just more rarefied forms of
capital.  Sure, it'll be hard to get another picture of my wife, but I
do live with her after all.

The answer, in other words, seems to be strictly local.  One generally
carries a local currency, whatever other means of payment are locally
accepted (Falstaff has IOUs, I believe), in whatever demoninations are
most useful in one's chosen lifestyle.  Antonio's trust in giving
Sebastian his wallet seems rather dissipated if he also has a
bank-account in town, could draw upon a credit card by merely mentioning
the number, or was known as a good credit risk by all the local inn-keepers.

Yours,
Sean.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Friday, 16 Jan 2004 00:13:52 -0600
Subject: 15.0115 Purses
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0115 Purses

 >. . . when Antonio gives away his purse, his identity
 >seemingly goes with it, and he can't recover it until he recovers the
 >purse.

Abigail, I don't get it.  How does giving up all your money to a loved
one make your identity disappear?  Antonio's identity is, if anything,
tied up in his loyalty to Sebastian, not in his coins. Rather it is when
he is later disavowed by "Sebastian" (Viola/Cesario) that, perhaps you
could say, his identity is threatened.

 >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.

 >. . . 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.

I don't get this argument either.  It seems to me that the simplest and
most obvious explanation of Iago's talk of purse stealing is not that
his trashy identity is tied up with this purse-psychopathic individuals
are, if anything, ego-manics-but rather that, in principle, a few coins
("trash" = "filthy lucre") are of no consequence compared to reputation.
  It is only when, as in the case of Roderigo, one is acutely conscious
that one's purses have been spent repeatedly for no purpose other than
to enrich a psychopath-when one is acutely conscious that one has been
had-that one's identity and self-confidence might be threatened or
destroyed.

David Cohen

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