The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0638 Sunday, 9 November 2008
From: Steve Roth <
Date: Saturday, 8 Nov 2008 09:59:57 -0700
Subject: 19.0580 All-Male Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre
Comment: Re: SHK 19.0580 All-Male Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre
Hardy: "_Rom._ is not a psychological treatise or a record of real people in
real situations but a play"
G. Wilson Knight's old argument has a fundamental flaw: it ignores the use of
psychological plausibility (and lack of same) as a dramatic, theatrical,
literary, and narrative tool.
Human beings have a "theory of mind" through which they evaluate other people's
words and actions, seeking to deduce what's going on inside their heads. This
facility is not switched off when watching or reading about fictional
characters--quite the contrary. Shakespeare makes uses of that human reality
If a character's words or actions are implausible or inscrutable, it foregrounds
those words and actions, casting colored light across the play. If Lady Macbeth
has "given suck"--had one or more children--we must surmise a different "mind"
within her, and interpret her other words and actions differently.
So Juliet's failure to abscond with Romeo--an obvious possibility that must
arise and lurk in many readers'/auditors' minds--causes us to see Juliet's mind
and motivations in a certain way. It illuminates her character, her position in
her society, and that society itself. Pretending that this possibility does not
exist, is not obvious, or is immaterial, ignores the way humans (in this case,
readers and auditors) interpret the human world they're perceiving. It likewise
ignores Shakespeare's fiendish manipulation of that human penchant for mind-reading.
There's no doubt Shakespeare in some cases simply punts--sacrifices
psychological plausibility for some other narrative, literary, or dramatic ends
(or--dare I suggest it?--out of sheer laziness). But I would suggest that the
default interpretive position should be that he is using psychological
(im)plausibility explicitly *for* those ends.
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