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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
Much Ado Questions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0627  Monday, 8 March 2004

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Mar 2004 16:23:10 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

[2]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Mar 2004 13:16:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

[3]     From:   Michael Friedman <
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        Date:   Friday, 05 Mar 2004 13:42:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

[4]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Saturday, 6 Mar 2004 06:14:44 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Mar 2004 16:23:10 -0000
Subject: 15.0607 Much Ado Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

Alan Horn <
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 > writes,

 >If the obscene sense of "case" was popular enough at the time,

Beale's revision of Partridge gives for CASA the meaning "a house, a
brothel" in use from the mid-17thC on, and links this to CASE-KEEPER --
the owner of a brothel -- though this appears to be (documented) only
much later.

But I'd guess that "case" +did+ have a (possibly diffused) range of
sexual connotations in the late 16th/early 17th centuries.

             Hiatus ...

After writing the above, it occurred to me to pass-on the question to
Rictor Norton, who has a wide and deep knowledge of sexual slang in this
period.

This is what he said (quoted with permission):

 >I should think that Shakespeare is using "case" as a metaphor for
vagina or
 >sexual container, (e.g. sword and scabbard etc.), rather than the word
 >itself having a slang meaning.
 >
 >As you mention, "case" does have a slang meaning in the 17th cent. and
later
 >for a brothel, or more generally a disorderly house where thieves and
 >slatterns consort . . . ., but I don't think that's S's meaning.

Robin Hamilton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Mar 2004 13:16:43 -0500
Subject: 15.0607 Much Ado Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

I have always taken the pun on "jewel" to be a rather straightforward
and intentional shift of meanings, beginning with the observation of an
attractive woman as something precious, a jewel, and then shifting to
the alternative and lascivious connotation in the idea of "jewel case,"
as the same woman as receptacle for the speaker's lustful imaginings.

Shakespeare uses this rhetorical device often enough, as in the promise
by Sampson in "Romeo and Juliet," to cut off the heads of the maids, "Ay
the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads, take it in what sense thou
wilt." More subtle are Hamlet's rapid switches from one meaning of a
word to another,  a.go., answering Polonius's "This is too long (in the
sense of duration)" with "It shall to the barber's with your beard" (in
the dual senses of linear measure and also dignity).

The "inconsistency" in the two conjoined senses of the same word is not
a fault, but a well-loved rhetorical device called antanaclasis, one of
the many subsets of "repetitio".  The premise in employing it is, of
course, that the audience will not be so unimaginative and dull-witted
to take the meanings as presenting a choice of the either/or variety,
but will see each meaning simultaneously suggesting the other, sober and
lewd, literal and metaphoric, concrete and abstract, without apparent
effort on the part of the author.  The multiple explanations already
offered on this thread may all be legitimate without any need to be
exclusive.

Isn't it Shakespeare's lively ambiguity and joy of wordplay that makes
him fun rather than an increasingly incomprehensible old bore?

Tony Burton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Friedman <
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Date:           Friday, 05 Mar 2004 13:42:49 -0500
Subject: 15.0607 Much Ado Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

"To me the strange thing is that Hero, submissive girl that she is,
appears equally ready to accept Don Pedro or Claudio as a suitor, and
that Leonato feels no let down when he get Claudio for a presumptive
son-in-law rather than the Prince."

This issue has always seemed to me to be the point behind Shakespeare's
creation of confusion about who wants to marry Hero.  It doesn't matter
to Leonato who Hero's suitor is, as long as he's a nobleman, and Hero's
love or lack of love for the man don't carry much weight.  Productions
that want to see Much Ado as a romantic comedy feel the need to "remedy"
this problem through cuts and/or stage business to suggest that Hero and
Claudio are deeply and mutually in love (i.e. all the longing looks
between them in Branagh's film), but the text of the play includes a
significant amount of evidence to the contrary.

Michael D. Friedman
University of Scranton

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[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Saturday, 6 Mar 2004 06:14:44 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 15.0607 Much Ado Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0607 Much Ado Questions

Sorry Jennifer, if I misinterpreted your post in any way. Perhaps I
still hold too dear of an opinion of Benedick because I played him so
recently but I do not believe Benedick to be in love with himself. He
does seem to be projecting an image of himself that proudly boasts he
"will live a bachelor" (I. i. 235). But when we get him alone, he
modifies his previous comments: "When I said I would die a bachelor, I
did not think I should live till I were married" (II. iii. 238-240). I
tried to make it quite clear in my interpretation that underneath the
swagger and the verbosity, Benedick is an insecure man. Part of that
insecurity comes from the fact that he is a soldier and could die at any
time. He changes his own comments in a very important way. He tells Don
Pedro and Claudio that he will live a bachelor, but then acknowledges
that he actually never thought to live long enough to have an
opportunity to marry.

The question of his own mortality again emerges later in the play. In
the midst of his openly flirtatious scene with Beatrice, he exposes this
anxiety once again: "If a man do not erect in this age his own tomb ere
he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings and the
widow weeps" (V. ii. 72-75). Perhaps the change has come about by his
open love for Beatrice. But then again, that anxiety could have been
there all along. He admits here that he is like any other man and must
establish an image of himself in his children. He immediately qualifies
this statement under the mask of wit that he and Beatrice share:

"Therefore it is most expedient for the wise, if Don Worm, his
conscience, find no impediment to the contrary, to be the trumpet of his
own virtues, as I am to myself. So much for praising myself, who, I
myself will bear witness, is praiseworthy" (V. ii. 78-83).

I suppose this passage is probably strong evidence for a case of
Benedick's narcissism. But I read it in the light of previous statements
that Benedick has made about his own mortality, including the one made
just moments before. Both Beatrice and Benedick project that guise of
self sufficiency in public, and do it once again in the last scene of
the play. But it is Benedick who initiates the open discussion about
marriage at the end of the play, and who twice asks Beatrice about that
love in a public forum. She denies him twice, and the letters are
produced. If we believe the emendation to be correct, Benedick is also
the one who initiates the kiss. He also quite courageously declares his
wrong attitudes towards marriage, that "man is a giddy thing" and, at
least in my portrayal, that Beatrice "is my conclusion" (V. iv. 106-7).

I have often heard much of the commentary of this play focus on Beatrice
and declare her superior in wit to Benedick. I don't necessarily
disagree. And certainly, a case can be made for the flaws in Benedick's
character, even that he may be excessively in love with his own image.
But he easily has the most lines in the play and three soliloquies
(Beatrice and Claudio each have only one if I remember correctly). I
think that the trick of the play is Shakespeare's demonstration of how
to convert two people who are stubbornly against marriage, and the
comedy (in both senses - laughter and the dramatic convention) of seeing
them slowly admit that they have the need for it like everyone else.
This is juxtaposed against a marriage almost brought to ruin, involving
two people who fall in love at the start of the play. Benedick is the
furthest thing from James Bond. He has insecurities and needs beyond the
purely physical, and in breaking down and admitting them, he is human.

Brian Willis

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