The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0375 Monday, 1 May 2006
From: Kenneth Chan <
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
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.
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
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