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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: October ::
Heroes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0602  Thursday, 16 October 2008

[1] From:   Alan Pierpoint <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 14 Oct 2008 16:37:08 -0400
     Subt:   Re: SHK 19.0594 Heroes

[2] From:   Dan Venning <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 14 Oct 2008 23:30:42 -0400
     Subt:   Re: SHK 19.0594 Heroes

[3] From:   Conrad Cook <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 15 Oct 2008 10:27:15 -0400
     Subt:   Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 12 Oct 2008 to 14 Oct 2008 (#2008-105)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Alan Pierpoint <
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Date:       Tuesday, 14 Oct 2008 16:37:08 -0400
Subject: 19.0594 Heroes
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0594 Heroes

Great questions! As an aside, NPR this morning featured a Hemingway character, 
Robert Jordan from _For Whom the Bell Tolls_, as a favorite of both Presidential 
candidates, and as a modernist hero. Identified heroic qualities were courage, 
stoicism, the ability to create and live by one's own value system without the 
consolations of religion, the active desire to do good in the world, and the 
calm acceptance of inevitable defeat. You know you're doomed, but you do your 
duty anyway, even if nobody cares.

 From among the Shakespearean gallery of flawed heroes, Brutus comes first to my 
mind as meeting the Hemingway test.

Alan Pierpoint / Southwestern Academy

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Dan Venning <
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Date:       Tuesday, 14 Oct 2008 23:30:42 -0400
Subject: 19.0594 Heroes
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0594 Heroes

Don:

I think this is a fascinating question, especially because Shakespeare clearly 
has some obvious villains. We all know he's drawn upon the vice figures from 
Medieval drama, but he seems to have tossed the (somewhat dull) virtue figures 
by the wayside.

I do think, however that there are a few genuinely heroic characters in 
Shakespeare, who it's hard to portray otherwise. Young Siward in MACBETH is a 
perfect image of the doomed young war hero, courageous and unmotivated by 
revenge, although perhaps by a desire for glory somewhat common in the heroic 
type. Cornwall's Servant in LEAR is one of the most genuinely noble figures I 
can think of in the plays, as is Lance in TWO GENTLEMEN -- a play in which the 
noblemen behave badly but the comic character, named after the Arthurian hero, 
is willing to be unjustly beaten on behalf of someone he loves dearly, even if 
that someone is a dog.

When I saw the topic, I imagined (rather fearfully) that someone was trying to 
tie together Shakespeare and the rather trashy but imaginative television show 
currently running (which is an occasional vice of mine). A television show 
ostensibly about "heroes" -- self-sacrificing and powerful individuals 
determined to aid the world and its inhabitants -- seems now to be committed to 
tearing down the most sympathetic, exposing the potential for a rotten moral 
core in even the best of us. I bring this up because it shows that even in 
mass-marketed, dumbed-down popular entertainment, our (liberal) culture seems to 
distrust moral absolutes, the idea of a genuine hero. Well, at least everyone 
but George W. Bush does.

I think your first paragraph is very sensible: perhaps Hamlet, Romeo, Hal, 
Richmond, or other figures were once consistently seen as heroes in their plays, 
but now no longer can be. The Humanist in me, though, would want to argue that 
Shakespeare was too subtle for this, too interested in creating what we'd now 
call rounded, multi-layered characters, and thus wasn't interested in ever 
depicting the purely heroic.

As a scholar of theatre, not literature, however, I'd like to suggest that there 
certainly are heroes in Shakespeare's plays -- if the plays are directed that 
way. Directors can (and have) conceived of Hamlet as a doubting but heroic force 
purging Denmark of its rottenness, or the Duke of MEASURE FOR MEASURE as a 
saintly figure righting the wrongs from the shadows (although I see this as a 
really terrible directorial choice). I've seen productions that do both of 
these, as well as a fairly bizarre MERCHANT OF VENICE where Antonio was 
thoroughly heroic: his self-sacrifice for the scoundrel Bassanio in this 
production was depicted as genuinely good and truly loving (while the rest of 
the Christians in Venice, and at Belmont, were depicted as back-biting louts, 
even Portia). I think directors have the power to make Shakespearean characters 
into heroes, we just see it far less often than we might have in past centuries, 
or in unexpected places.

Dan Venning

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Conrad Cook <
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Date:       Wednesday, 15 Oct 2008 10:27:15 -0400
Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER Digest - 12 Oct 2008 to 14 Oct 2008 (#2008-105)

Donald Bloom <
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 > writes,

	Are there no heroic figures at all?
	
	If not, why not?
	
	If there are, who are they and why are they heroic?

	Is the same process of denigration now being applied to
	previously admired female heroic figures? (It seems to me
	it is.)

	Is this absolute (there are no heroes and never have been)
	or merely a temporary cultural phenomenon (we have lost
	the capacity to admire other people or something)?

	I am not interested in comments in defense of the detestation
	of Hal, Hamlet, Romeo, and company, because I've heard plenty
	of them. But I would like to know what other people think about
	the general questions I've proposed. Are there any heroes worthy
	of the name to be found in Shakespeare?

I think Shakespeare was just doing what he does best:  creating full, complex 
characters. In addition to flawed heroes, you'll find sympathetic villains, 
people doing problematically good things for sympathetically evil reasons, such 
as Hamlet sparing Claudius in the chapel, in order to kill him later when he is 
in the depth of sin, in order to work his damnation.

As to the other half of your question-well, I'm not sure people do see Hamlet, 
Hal or Romeo as bad people. That message might be coming through stronger in the 
literature; but who's going to publish a paper with a stupid thesis like, "Romeo 
was a hero."--?

There's probably something in there about academia fueling a perverse incentive 
to produce sophisticated defenses of patently bogus claims, if anyone wants to 
chase it down; the trick would be to not sound bitter.

Conrad.

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