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Home :: Archive :: 2011 :: August ::
Questions on Things Said by Jaques

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 22.0181  Monday, 1 August 2011

[1] From:         James McGuire < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
      Date:         July 30, 2011 12:32:38 PM EDT
      Subject:     Re: Jacques Questions

[2] From:         Justin Alexander < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:         July 31, 2011 4:48:08 PM EDT
     Subject:     Re: Jacques Question

[3] From:         Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:         July 31, 2011 1:48:54 AM EDT
     Subject:     Re: Q: Jacques


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         James McGuire < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 30, 2011 12:32:38 PM EDT
Subject:     Re: Jacques Questions

David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

>Philip Weller asks what Jaques may have meant when he commented
>on the singers in the forest, “I’ll go sleep, if I can; if I cannot, I’ll rail
>against all the first-born of Egypt.” I read a comment on this as an
>allusion to the comment of the “great wail” that was sounded in Egypt
>at the death of all the Egyptian first-born.

He also asks about Jaques
>comment concerning the jester, Touchstone, “A fool, a fool! I met a
>fool i’ the forest, / A motley fool; a miserable world!” Here, I think he
>could have meant that for such a “fool” to be on earth means we have
>a “miserable world.”


Re: Jaques' "miserable world", a simple interpretation could be that Jaques' melancholic and jaundiced mindset sees the world as a miserable place in general, especially here as a quite dull "foil" for the motley (colored) fool.

James McGuire

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Justin Alexander < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 31, 2011 4:48:08 PM EDT
Subject:     Re: Jacques Questions

David Basch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

>Philip Weller asks what Jaques may have meant when he commented
>on the singers in the forest, “I’ll go sleep, if I can; if I cannot, I’ll rail
>against all the first-born of Egypt.” I read a comment on this as an
>allusion to the comment of the “great wail” that was sounded in Egypt
>at the death of all the Egyptian first-born.


 
This seems most likely. Either to suggest this railing would compare to such a wail (to be set against it); or that his rail would be just like that great cry.

> . . . He also asks about Jaques
>comment concerning the jester, Touchstone, “A fool, a fool! I met a
>fool i’ the forest, / A motley fool; a miserable world!” Here, I think he
>could have meant that for such a “fool” to be on earth means we have
>a “miserable world.”


Quite likely, but there is another possibility. The original punctuation is:

   A fool, a fool: I met a fool i'th'forest,
   A motley fool (a miserable world):

The crux of the fool's parable that Jaques relates is:

   And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
   And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,

Which, to my mind, reads as an invocation of a "miserable world". It may be that both Jaques' "motley fool" and "miserable" world are his merrily enjoying the memory of the story he then settles down to relate.

Justin Alexander
American Shakespeare Repertory
(Performing Rape of Lucrece at the MN Fringe Festival)
http://www.american-shakespeare.com

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         July 31, 2011 1:48:54 AM EDT
Subject:     Re: Q: Jacques

Yes, it seems unarguable that the passage refers to the last and worst of the plagues that at last forced Pharaoh to let the Chosen People go (Exodus 11 and 12, and referred to frequently in both testaments). It is, of course, one of the most familiar of all Bible stories, and Shakespeare and all his audience would have known it well. But what on earth does it mean in this context?

The villain in the story is Pharaoh, not the first-born, which included his own son, who die so suddenly. So why would anyone rail against them, as opposed to Pharaoh? My only thought is that it represents the nearly-lost sense of "against" as meaning "toward" or "about" (as in "Good will towards men"). But it still leaves us with the question of why he would rail even about them. Pharaoh is a vain, arbitrary and pig-headed tyrant, so that the first-born are victims of his pig-headedness. Is this another dig at the Duke? But for what, exactly?

Mr. Weller's  second query ("a motley fool! a miserable world!") deals with a passage equally baffling. I have long wondered if one of the company had a particularly effective bit of shtick that involved sudden shifts of point. For a second Jaques is talking about the witty fool that amazes and amuses him so much. At another he's playing his role as classical cynic. The playwright wrote this (or wrote something) for the actor to play with, and this is what got transcribed.

I realize that this is essentially an incoherence theory -- that the playwright was not working with either a conscious (neo-classical) or intuitive (Romantic) concept in mind, but merely working to set up an effective piece of clowning for one of the troupe. This would mean that he was not thinking of himself or his work for their greatness, permanence and structural perfection, but as a hack (however brilliant) in the long tradition of Hollywood, Broadway, and the West End.

Cheers,
don

p.s. The iconic "Seven Ages" speech shows Jaques in formal declamation. We know from this and other passages that he's no idiot. But at times he either makes no sense, or falls over himself in trying to express his joy.

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