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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
Characters
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0373  Monday, 1 May 2006

[1] 	From: 	Peter Goldman <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Apr 2006 11:32:20 -0600
	Subj: 	Are characters persons?

[2] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Friday, 28 Apr 2006 16:09:26 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0368 Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE 
Meanings

[3] 	From: 	Will Sharpe <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 29 Apr 2006 11:09:16 +0100
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0368 Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE 
Meanings


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Peter Goldman <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Apr 2006 11:32:20 -0600
Subject: 	Are characters persons?

Jeffrey Jordan writes: "Claudius is a "person" only in that S gave him 
certain things to say in the playtext, and that's it.  Claudius, 
himself, has no psychology, none at all.  It's impossible, since 
Claudius the person isn't really there. Trying to analyze Claudius's 
psychology runs into the basic problem that there's nobody on the couch, 
and the psychoanalyst is only talking to himself."

This has become a truism of Shakespeare criticism in the last twenty 
years, and indeed is commonly repeated now in editors' introductions to 
individual plays. And of course, the idea has a long history, going back 
at least to L.C. Knights' famous essay "How many children had Lady Macbeth?"

I have always found this claim annoying, because the only way one can 
make any coherent sense out of a dramatic work is precisely on the 
presupposition (a "willing suspension of disbelief") that the fictional 
characters ARE persons (even if not "real" persons). In fact, I would 
claim that all interpretation of Shakespeare's plays as dramatic works 
is based on precisely this presupposition. In his plays, Shakespeare 
creates a fictional world which includes persons with thoughts, 
feelings, motivations, and psychology.

That said, there are legitimate questions and non-legitimate questions 
to ask about a character's psychology. For example, we can legitimately 
ask about Claudius's remorse over the murder of Hamlet because the play 
itself raises this as an issue. On the other hand, one cannot 
legitimately speculate about Claudius' childhood because nowhere does 
the play raise this as an issue. Shakespeare's great achievement in the 
creation of Hamlet is the illusion of a character with a virtually 
limitless depth of personality, indeed seemingly greater than many real 
people.

Peter

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Friday, 28 Apr 2006 16:09:26 -0600
Subject: 17.0368 Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE 
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0368 Characters, Motivations, Themes, and ULTIMATE 
Meanings

Perhaps providentially, a message I sent several days ago in response to 
Hardy's editorial comments on "characters, motivations, themes, and 
meanings" was lost in cyberspace and never posted.

I now offer a revised version, necessarily revised because much 
discussion has taken place in the meantime.  And I can now respond with 
less feigned puzzlement because Hardy has clarified the intent of his 
original notes, which I think he would acknowledge to have overstated or 
oversimplified his position, even if we take into account the satirical 
exaggerations.

Hardy has indicated that the problem is not with character in general 
but with treating characters as if they are real people, and that it's 
not with meaning in general but with opinions offered as "the ULTIMATE 
meaning" of a play.

Yet, even with these qualifications, I wonder if Hardy's proposed 
restrictions are too severe. Characters (in any of several possible 
understandings of that word) are still a legitimate subject of academic 
discussion.  In fact, a resurgence of interest in characters seems to be 
taking place.  Michael Bristol gave an address on "the discovery of 
character" at the Shakespeare Association meetings in Bermuda last year, 
persuasively (for me at least) showing the relevance of the topic, and 
there is a seminar on "Shakespeare and Character" at the World 
Shakespeare Congress in Brisbane this summer.

I am well aware of the danger of na

 

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