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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: August ::
Helens and Helenas
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0506  Wednesday, 27 August 2008

[1] From:   Jack Heller <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 26 Aug 2008 11:30:20 -0400 (EDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 19.0482 Helens and Helenas

[2] From:   Joseph Egert <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 27 Aug 2008 08:20:05 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   SHK 19.0482 Helens and Helenas


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Jack Heller <
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Date:       Tuesday, 26 Aug 2008 11:30:20 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 19.0482 Helens and Helenas
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0482 Helens and Helenas

I have been intending to reply to some of the comments on the Helens and 
Helenas, but the beginning of the semester has delayed my purposes. First, 
thanks to Bill Liston for the book recommendation and to Hardy for the comments 
on the text of All's Well that Ends Well.

Abigail Quart had some questions on my first comments:

 >I have no idea how "sexually-motivated" makes either Helena the "opposite"
 >of Angelo. Angelo's downfall is entirely the result of action motivated by
 >sexual desire.

I think they are opposites in their own awareness and acceptance of their own 
sexual desires. Angelo seems surprised that he has libidinal impulses.  Helena 
seems more straightforward about her libido.

 >The relationship between Angelo and the Helenas is a similarity in that
 >they are all named ironically. Angelo ain't no angel. Because of Helen
 >of Troy, the
 >name Helen has a connotation of The Most Desired. Which is exactly what the
 >Helenas are not.

This seems to be an additional point about the Helenas, rather than a 
contradictory point. Could we say that they are most desiring, least desired?

 >Since I steadfastly refuse to believe that Shakespeare considered the
 >desire to get laid to be unusual or weird in women (after all, I had to learn
 >Juliet's serenade by heart: Come Night...), I feel I must direct
 >attention toward a likelier reason for the names: Shakespeare's
 >passionate interest in perception, most particularly the perception
 >of lovers. Take note, the women don't change. At the end of the
 >plays, they are the same as before, loving exactly as they did before.
 >The difference is in the perception of their men. Where before
 >they looked upon the Helenas and felt nothing, now their perception is
 >utterly and permanently altered. Now each sees His Beloved.

There are several issues to be explored further here. First, I wonder how we can 
approach Shakespeare's consideration of a woman's sexual desired.  What would it 
mean for him to think that a woman desires to have sex?  Would he conceive of 
that desire as being the same thing as a man's desire, or would he think of the 
desire as a different experience from a man's, or, another question, does he 
really have knowledge of a woman's desires at all-i.e., by using the name Helena 
(or Helen), is he using standard conceits, or is there something more than the 
tricks of language?  I don't know if we will have the answers to these various 
questions. But I do think the changes in the male perceptions of Shakespeare's 
Helenas are rather more problematic than are acknowledge above. Demetrius's 
perceptions are utterly and permanently altered-but thanks to Puck and Oberon. 
Bertram-even more of a question. His last lines, "If she, my liege, can make me 
know this clearly, I'll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly." That seems to be a 
significant "if."

 >Helen of Troy herself was kidnapped. She was the object of Paris' lust. It
 >was HIS sexual motivation that caused the Trojan War (we're using the myth,
 >not historical logic here), not hers. When the Trojans are given the ultimatum
 >"Cry! Cry! Troy burns or else let Helen go," Shakespeare doesn't make the
 >Trojans hurry to Helen and say, "Pack up, girl, you're outta here." They don't ask
 >her what she wants, either. The men confer. The men decide. This is all about
 >the men. Paris is willing to fight all of Greece for Helen, because HE is
 >sexually motivated. I don't recall Helen lifting a finger.

This seems largely right about Troilus and Cressida. I would note, however, a 
counter-example, Helen in Euripides's Trojan Women, who is blamed for staying 
with Paris for her own advantages.

Jack Heller

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <
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Date:       Wednesday, 27 Aug 2008 08:20:05 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Helens and Helenas
Comment:    SHK 19.0482 Helens and Helenas

Abigail Quart writes: "Angelo ain't no angel."

Ah, but he is, Abigail, a counterfeit one, linked perhaps to the counterfeit 
Angel coins of Shakespeare's time, as well as to the fallen Angel of Bible lore.

Joe Egert

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