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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: January ::
Purses
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0165  Thursday, 22 January 2004

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 07:46:40 -0600
        Subj:   Purses

[2]     From:   Kris McDermott <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 10:51:36 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0149  Purses

[3]     From:   Patrick Dolan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Jan 2004 05:21:14 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 20 Jan 2004 to 21 Jan 2004 (#2004-15)



[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 07:46:40 -0600
Subject:        Purses

Cigar or no cigar, one other seed for the force of the purse as
sometimes having a sexual loading is Chaucer's extraordinary use of it
in the epilogue to the Pardoner's Tale (quoted from the LION text):

920        I have relikes and pardon in my male,
921        As faire as any man in Engelond,

941        I rede that our hoste heer shal biginne,
942        For he is most envoluped in sinne.
943        Com forth, sir hoste, and offre first anon,
944        And thou shalt kisse the reliks everichon,
945        Ye, for a grote! unbokel anon thy purs.'

946        'Nay, nay,' quod he, 'than have I Cristes curs!
947        Lat be,' quod he, 'it shal nat be, so theech!
948        Thou woldest make me kisse thyn old breech,
949        And swere it were a relik of a seint,
950        Thogh it were with thy fundement depeint!
951        But by the croys which that seint Eleyne fond,
952        I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond
953        In stede of relikes or of seintuarie;
954        Lat cutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie;
955        They shul be shryned in an hogges tord.'

For many Chaucerians this passage is unmistakably about the Pardoner's
heterodox sexuality.

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kris McDermott <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jan 2004 10:51:36 EST
Subject: 15.0149  Purses
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0149  Purses

Lauri Perkins rightly interrogates the purse-metaphor:

 >An interesting thread, but what about Desdemona's reference to her
 >purse?  When she's searching for the handkerchief, she says she had
 >rather lose her purse full of crusados than misplace her husband's gift.

OK, I'll bite -- a gender critic would say that the Early Modern Galenic
same-sex model (which supposes that the male and female genitalia are
inside-out versions of one another) would equate the uterus and scrotum.
  Therefore, if the chief locus of anxiety in "Othello" (and in Othello)
is cuckoldry (= fear that one's children are not one's own), Desdemona
is participating, wittingly or unwittingly, in the dominant metaphor.
In other words, she'd rather be barren (lose or empty her purse/uterus)
than risk Othello's questioning of her fidelity (symbolized by the
handkerchief, which bears red strawberries that, according to long
tradition, symbolize the virginal stains on the marriage sheets), which
translates to the loss of HIS purse/virility/control over his own progeny.

A psychoanalytical critic (and I don't claim to be one) would go
further, and say that the sexualized purse-image reflects BOTH Othello's
and Desdemona's disordered sense of sexual identity; they are two halves
of the same coin (Othello feminized by his race and/or passion and
Desdemona masculinized by her disobedience) and share the same fate,
which is to have Iago attempt (probably successfully) to obliterate
their identities ("Nobody, I myself," "That's he that was Othello").
That's a gross oversimplification of an argument made much more
elegantly by various critics, but I still think it's fair to say that,
in the proper context, Shakespeare as well as other playwrights might
occasionally have exploited the image of a purse to create sexual irony.
  A cigar (pace Prof. Cohen) is indeed often just a cigar, but when
someone like Iago is controlling the metaphors, it's safe to assume that
duplicity abounds.

Laurie notes that the metaphor is less stable in Shakespeare's comedies,
and that's probably so.  But there's a lot of critical work done on the
way Early Modern drama equates external containers (purses, houses, even
books -- Hamlet's tables for instance) with attempts to define or
control identity -- Ian Donaldson examines this in "Jonson's Magic
Houses," for one.  It remains for the taste of the reader to determine
whether any bag or box that appears on stage might also have a bawdy
connotation.

Kris McDermott
Central Michigan University

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patrick Dolan <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Jan 2004 05:21:14 -0600
Subject:        Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 20 Jan 2004 to 21 Jan 2004 (#2004-15)

On Jan 21, 2004, at 11:00 PM, David Cohen wrote:

 >Could we not say, Occam-wise, that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?

We could say it. Occam couldn't have, since they didn't have cigars
then. Freud may have said it. On the other hand, Freud died, I believe,
of oral cancer. In his case, the cigars were also the cause of his
death. I don't know if that adds anything to the discussion of purses.

Cheers,
Pat

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