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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: February ::
Deceitful Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0026  Monday, 13 February 2006

From: 		David Evett <
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Date: 		Sunday, 12 Feb 2006 12:05:01 -0500
Subject: 17.0020 Deceitful Plays
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0020 Deceitful Plays

 >So, in exactly the same way [as cony-catching characters such as
 >Iago and Richard Gloucester], I believe that Shakespeare,
 >throughout all his plays, was continually doing exactly that,
 >putting out ambiguous information and letting the reader/audience
 >"fill in the blanks . . . ."

I won't comment on the places where Arnie Perlstein has taken this 
observation in previous posts. I will insist however, that in the plays 
he points to, we readers and spectators are engaged as co- conspirators, 
before, during, and after the fact: it remains the case that on very few 
occasions does Shakespeare withhold such crucial information about 
identity and situation and even motive as that Hermione, whose collapse 
at the news of her older child's death we witness and who is repeatedly 
said by Paulina to be dead, is still alive. The case of the Abbess in 
*Err* is far less deeply deceptive -- no positive misinformation, just 
the lack of information about her earlier identity for the disclosure of 
which no occasion has arisen -- and which is disclosed within 10 minutes 
or so of her first appearance in the play. The two episodes are deeply 
connected, to be sure, in ways Tom Bishop has beautifully analyzed in 
*Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder*.

Elsewhere, we see Julia, Portia, Rosalind, Kent, and Edgar disguising 
themselves. First Aaron then Titus give us all the details of their 
devilish schemes. We watch as Hubert spares Arthur, then as Hubert 
tells John first that Arthur is dead and then that he still lives,  then 
as Arthur jumps to his death, then as Hubert finds the dead boy  on the 
rocks. We are apprised of the Friar's trick with the potion. If we 
haven't seen or read *1H4*, we learn from Rumor at the  beginning of 
Part Two that Hotspur and Worcester are defeated and  dead before Lord 
Bardolph comes to give old Northumberland false news  that they are 
victorious and alive. We observe as Claudius states his  plans for 
Hamlet's death in England at the end of 4.3; our possible  uncertainty 
about the Prince's fate might, I suppose, last the length  of 4.5, 
Ophelia mad, which occupies some of the time intended for the  voyage to 
England. His providential escape is announced to Horatio and us early in 
4.6.  We know Thaisa and Marina are not really dead, and can anticipate 
their climactic reunion with each other and with Pericles.  None of 
these situations is truly "ambiguous" from the spectator/reader 
perspective, not does it require any special alertness to understand 
them and to respond to the ironies they produce--and, as Bishop argues, 
to feel the wonder such reunions arouse (and, by implication, the terror 
and pity aroused by those that are possible but not achieved) more, not 
less deeply because of what we know.

This is not to deny that Malvolio, Othello, Hastings, Orlando, 
Gloucester, and the others are not drawn into errors, comic or 
disastrous, because they lack knowledge we have; only to say that except 
in rare cases Shakespeare chooses to place us behind the scene of his 
magic show, not, as it were, on the stage.

David Evett

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