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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
Touchstone and the Gods
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1115  Tuesday, 25 May 2004

From:           Chris Whatmore <
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Date:           Tuesday, 25 May 2004 11:50:17 +0100
Subject: 15.1099 Touchstone and the Gods
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1099 Touchstone and the Gods

Don Bloom wonders whether WS (or perhaps others connected with the
performance or publication of his plays) might, as an exercise in
self-censorship, have revised certain passages in AYLI and 12N by
substituting 'God' with references to pagan deities. He points in
particular to Touchstone's use of 'the gods' while seducing Audrey and
Malvolio's use of 'Jove' in his soliloquies, suggesting that the use of
God's name in these circumstances might have caused serious offence even
before such profanities were officially banned.

While nothing in the text necessarily contradicts this suggestion, there
is something about it that doesn't feel very Shakespearean. For one
thing, the juxtaposition of 'God' with overtly sexual references,
although rare, is not unknown elsewhere in the canon. In The Comedy of
Errors, for example, we have Dromio of Syracuse berating the Courtesan
with "And thereof comes that the wenches say 'God damn me' - that's as
much to say, 'God make me a light wench'..." which doesn't seem that
much different from Touchstone praising God/the gods for Audrey's
"foulness" and wishing that "sluttishness may come hereafter".

But on a more general level, it just seems more likely that WS would
have chosen to use 'God' or 'gods' for dramatic rather than purely
legal/religious reasons (before 1606, anyway). In the case of AYLI, one
could for example suggest that the characters' use of 'God' or 'gods' is
simply a tool to help define their identities as citizens of either the
quasi-mythological Forest or the more 'mainstream' (Christian) court.
The exiles therefore use 'God' because even though they happen to be
physically displaced, 'God' defines their spiritual provenance. Audrey
(and Phebe, in her letter), in referring to the pagan gods, identify
themselves fully as creatures of the forest. Touchstone, being the
chameleon that he is, uses both depending on who he is talking to. And
William, in choosing 'God', identifies himself as something else again -
a contemporary rustic from the Warwickshire Forest of Arden, much in the
same way as the Mechanicals' anachronistic use of 'God' in A Midsummer
Nights Dream marks them out from their pagan compatriots.

In the case of Malvolio, I would guess a similar case could be made -
although I'm less certain as to what it might be! Certainly, it could be
argued that his invocation of Jove and the stars betrays a lapse into an
atavistic, superstitious, pre-Christian value system that would be
familiar to anyone who has believed (even for a second) what they read
in their horoscope. When contrasted with his outward persona as a
'puritan', this 'pagan' sensibility would underline the hypocrisy of the
man and would give Sir Toby and the others ample basis for their taunts
of possession by the devil. Perhaps there were other reasons why WS
would wish to portray a Puritan as a closet pagan - I don't know enough
about the theology to judge that. All I'm suggesting is that the reasons
WS would have chosen one word over another are more likely to be
dramatically motivated than simply a matter of self-censorship.

chris

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