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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Living Characters
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1940  Wednesday, 23 November 2005

[1] 	From: 	Martin Steward <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 22 Nov 2005 19:19:48 -0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1926 Living Characters

[2] 	From: 	Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 22 Nov 2005 12:33:36 -0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1926 Living Characters

[3] 	From: 	John V. Knapp <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 22 Nov 2005 21:37:23 -0600 (CST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1930 Dead Horses and Closing Threads, change to 
Dramatic Character


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Martin Steward <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 22 Nov 2005 19:19:48 -0000
Subject: 16.1926 Living Characters
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1926 Living Characters

"One way in which characters resemble people comes out in the criticism 
that a play became unrealistic, or that characters acted out of 
character," says David Bishop.

But surely that would be an example of the sort of criticism that we 
would call invalid if we agreed that thinking about literary characters 
as if they were real human beings was wrongheaded...?

One can't say, "Evidence that the world is flat is provided by the fact 
that people have said that the world is flat."

I suppose one can say, "Evidence that the world resembles a flat thing 
is provided by the fact that people have said that the world is flat."

But what is the point of such an observation, except to commence a 
discussion about how and why these conceptual and perceptual errors come 
about?

m

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 22 Nov 2005 12:33:36 -0800
Subject: 16.1926 Living Characters
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1926 Living Characters

I would like to add to David Bishop's post about "living characters" 
that this notion of "they're not real" has always seemed odd to me too. 
I especially find this to be absurd when we are discussing characters 
who are based on historical figures. Clearly the history plays-and plays 
based on non-British history-are loaded with "real" people. Comparisons 
between Shakespeare's interpretation of the person as a "character" and 
the evidence that survives from the historical person are often quite 
useful and add insight to the drama. I think it's also a fair argument 
to say that artistic interpretations of history also influence 
(sometimes quite highly) our view of history itself (as a body of 
evidence, facts, etc. etc.). I would dare say that Shakespeare's 
interpretation of a character gets more to the essence of a real person 
than the historical evidence ever could. But maybe there's the rub. 
Shakespeare is all essence and soul, and history is all fact and body. 
(I am speaking of our notion of history-not necessarily Renaissance 
historiography, which I think leans more toward monumentalizing rather 
than facticity).

Marcia Eppich-Harris

P.S. If I could choose between Shakespeare and a historian to write the 
story of my life, I know who I would choose to "get it right"! And I'm 
somewhat sure that I am a real person.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John V. Knapp <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 22 Nov 2005 21:37:23 -0600 (CST)
Subject: 16.1930 Dead Horses and Closing Threads, change to 
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1930 Dead Horses and Closing Threads, change to 
Dramatic Character

 >Okay, I've kept out of this attempt to turn the list into a graduate
 >school bulletin board, but this from Stuart Manger simply horrified me,
 >and I'm trying ever so hard not to take it as a personal insult:
 >>
 >"Like Holger Syme, one of my major aversions is for those who write as
 >if the characters in plays were real, with back stories or forward
 >stories.  That seems to suggest so fundamental a misunderstanding of how
 >drama / theatre is made as to render most of what they then go on to say
 >as worthless, for they are reducing Shakespeare to an interactive soap
 >opera. That has to be seriously worrying in a forum which was intended
 >to be an exchange of scholarly or near scholarly opinion, hasn't it?"
 >>
 >Clearly, poets and playwrights need not apply.
 >>
 >Would Mr. Manger really teach a young writer that dramatic characters
 >are not meant to have any reality and therefore imagining backstory or
 >future life or current life for them is irrelevant?
 >>
 >I apologize for having intruded my worthless opinions on a serious
 >scholarly exchange.

Abigail et al., --

Actually, Profs. Syme & Manger have taken merely one position in a VERY 
old debate about character as a literary construct.  Depending upon 
which critic or thinker one follows, one could argue that a character in 
a Shakespearean play may be any of the following: a) a grammatical 
position (a noun phrase, a pronoun, etc); b) a speech position-a 
focalizer or narrator;  c) an element in some thematic issue-Iago as the 
representation of evil;  d) a synthetic element, a minor plot function, 
like the messenger who brings info to Hotspur that his father is 
"grievous ill';  e) an actant as a element in the story structure, f) a 
mimetic figure, a representation of a "real" person, or what Uri 
Margolin calls a non-actual individual.  This is all old hat to those 
who work with "character" as a theoretical problem.

However, in all of these, the critic's focus is usually on an singular 
entity, but one could argue (and I have) that this last category also 
includes quite often and at the same time an intimate collective, a 
family.  These characters belong (pardon my jargon here) to a 
co-evolutionary ecosystem and are as much a part of the group to which 
they (representationally) derive as they are individualistic.  That is, 
for example, that Hamlet cannot be conceptually separated very easily 
from King Hamlet, Gertrude, & Claudius-not only as interactive plot 
elements but also as members of a (represented) family system in which 
each responds to a previous move by another, and each one's speech is in 
great part responsive to and generated by both spoken and unspoken 
elements of another that could go back many years.  This is hardly the 
stuff of soap-opera, but representative of eons of behavior in homo sapiens!

JVK


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