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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0375  Monday, 1 May 2006

From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Saturday, 29 Apr 2006 11:02:25 +0800
Subject: 17.0371 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0371 Dumbshows?

Jeffrey Jordan writes:

 >"the world of drama is, by definition, artificial, and not the
 >natural world of typical human behavior.  The psychology
 >of any fiction is "abnormal" in the sense that fiction is a
 >departure from reality.  It's dubious that a scientifically
 >rigorous, real world theory of psychology is going to apply
 >to a fictional work, which was intentionally written to be
 >different from everyday reality."

Jeffrey Jordan also writes:

 >All that is required is that we consider Claudius as a person ...
 >Except, Mr. Cook has just posted not to do that. :)    It is, indeed,
 >not a valid point of view.
 >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."

I believe this is a gross misunderstanding of what is meant by the 
statement that we should not treat "fictional characters as if they were 
real." What is meant by that statement is that we are not to treat the 
characters the same way we would treat real people in an historical 
account of an event that actually happened. In analyzing such an 
historical account, we are justified in speculating on motives and 
factors that the historian might have missed. We should not, however, do 
this in a fictional drama, because there is nothing that the author has 
missed. We should instead be guided by what the author suggests in the 
text, since it is not an actual historical account.

By the phrase "not treating fictional characters as if they were real," 
I seriously doubt anyone means to say that Shakespeare did not attempt 
to create characters that behave as real people would. To quote Hamlet 
himself: "the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, 
was and is to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her 
feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his 
form and pressure."

If we are now required to assume that Shakespeare himself went against 
this principle, I can only throw up my hands in despair. Surely our 
ability to think critically has not degenerated to this extent. Surely 
we are not required to hold it as a principle that Shakespeare's 
characters deliberately (to borrow Hamlet's words) "imitated humanity so 
abominably!"

Jeffrey Jordan writes:

 >>Recall here that W. W. Greg, J. Dover Wilson, and
 >>Terence Hawkes all considered Claudius's
 >>nonreaction to the dumb show as a problem that
 >>threatened the consistency of the play. This is a
 >>serious charge, ...
 >It may be a serious charge, but were they right in making it? ...
 >They weren't really talking about Hamlet, itself, but rather
 >their own understanding of it.  Hamlet, and a person's
 >understanding of Hamlet, are two different things. ... even
 >if one achieves a goal of persuading others, in the contemporary
 >world, that doesn't make one right about Hamlet."

The choice we are faced with here is simply this: Are we to continue 
believing that Shakespeare deliberately made his own play inconsistent 
when there are no actual grounds for believing that he did so? Of 
course, you can still insist that Shakespeare deliberately planted an 
inconsistency if you want to; you are free to believe that. I seriously 
wonder, though, how many people would find that conclusion acceptable.

Kenneth Chan

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