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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
Touchstone and the Gods
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1126  Wednesday, 26 May 2004

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 25 May 2004 11:06:30 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1115 Touchstone and the Gods

[2]     From:   John Ramsay <
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 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 26 May 2004 01:12:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1115 Touchstone and the Gods


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 25 May 2004 11:06:30 -0500
Subject: 15.1115 Touchstone and the Gods
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1115 Touchstone and the Gods

Chris Whatmore suggests that the use of "the gods" in AYLI indicates the
pagan provenance of some situations, in particular the first
Touchstone-Audrey scene. I grant the possibility, though I'm not persuaded.

When he says, however,
"that [Malvolio's] 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 . . ." then I must protest. Astrology and Christianity coexisted
quite cheerfully for around a millennium and a half, and the only
proviso the Church made was that astrology not slip into determinism,
the denial of free will.

I guess I'll either have to look into this in a more scholarly way
(sigh) or let it go.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 26 May 2004 01:12:45 -0400
Subject: 15.1115 Touchstone and the Gods
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1115 Touchstone and the Gods

Chris Whatmore <
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 > writes,

 >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

I suggest SHAKSPERians have a look at King Lear for frequent appeals to
gods in general, various Roman deities, nature as god/goddess and god
singular.

Gloucester's 'As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods./ They kill us
for their sport.' (IV-1) has a distinct ring of ancient Greek tragedy.

John Ramsay

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