The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0300 Wednesday, 10 June 2009
From: Val McDaniel <
Date: Wednesday, 10 Jun 2009 06:42:53 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Affection's Intensity Stabbing Centers and Communicating
A question to the list. I'm curious what people have to say about the
following old crux in Leontes Act I descent into madness.
This section, along with the trial scene's haunting "Your actions are my
dreams," seems to carry a clue to Leontes central misunderstanding of
the relationship between the world of imagination and the world of reality.
From the Folio text of I.i
214: Affection? thy Intention stabs the Center.
215: Thou do'st make possible things not so held,
216: Communicat'st with Dreames (how can this be?)
217: With what's vnreall: thou coactiue art,
218: And fellow'st nothing. Then 'tis very credent,
219: Thou may'st co-ioyne with something, and thou do'st,
220: (And that beyond Commission)
The one thing that seems sure to me about this is that by "intention"
Shakespeare means, as with his one other use of the word (in MWW),
intensity. ("Intent" or "intendiment" is his standard word for the
modern "intention.") But otherwise, I can only ask with Polixenes, "What
Yet at the same time I don't like the agnostic approach to this passage
along the lines of "We know Leontes is working himself up into a frenzy
but we can't follow his line of reasoning because he's not sane."
Madness has a logic of its own, even if it's a mistaken logic and any
actor, as well as the actor who would have created Leontes under
Shakespeare's guidance, has to have his own idea of what Leontes is at
least trying to say. (Whether that idea could have ever been precisely
conveyed to an audience is another question.)
If we follow the standard emendation and assume the question mark after
"affection" is misplaced, the next question is whether with "affection"
Leontes is referring to his own jealous suspicion or Hermione's presumed
passion for Polixenes. Lines 215 to 218 clearly favor the former
interpretation but lines 219 and 220 favor the latter. To say Leontes is
speaking of "passion" in general seems extremely unlikely - in his
overwrought state he, even if he is indulging in philosophizing, he must
have a very specific passion in mind here. A fourth possibility, that
Polixenes presumed passion for Hermione is meant, seems like a very dark
horse but if someone can make a coherent interpretation of the whole
passage based on that starting point I would be glad to hear it.
Does Leontes try to talk himself off the ledge with "thou dost make
possible things not so held," i.e. "jealous passion often imagines
things that aren't real," only to push himself right over the edge by a
comic application of Mad-Tea-Party logic with "...then tis very credent
thou mayst cojoin with something."
Or is our text hopelessly corrupt?
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