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Home :: Archive :: 2012 :: May ::
Hebrew Verbs

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0200  Wednesday, 23 May 2012

[Editor’s Note:

 

“I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down. And when it came my time to serve I knew better dead than Red. But when I got to my old draft board, Buddy, this is what I said. . . . ” Phil Ochs “Draft Dodger Rag” from I Ain’t Marching Any More

 

I have no problem with discussions of the JKV or Hebrew rendering in JKV or echoes of Biblical lines in Shakespeare; however, I do not think this is an appropriate forum for discussion of the existence of God or god or G-d, if you prefer. 

 

Disclaimer: I myself am a practicing, non-theistic western Buddhist in the Theravada (Insight Meditation) tradition and pacifist draft dodger. 

 

--Hardy Cook]

 

 

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

     Date:         May 22, 2012 11:25:48 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

[2] From:        David Frydrychowski < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         May 22, 2012 12:50:07 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and G-d

 

[3] From:        Hannibal Hamlin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         May 22, 2012 12:56:07 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

[4] From:        Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         May 22, 2012 4:43:27 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

[5] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         May 22, 2012 6:01:24 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

[6] From:        Arthur Lindley < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         May 23, 2012 3:55:54 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         May 22, 2012 11:25:48 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

Markus Marti wrote on May 21, 2012:

 

> Is not the existence of this god person nonsensical?

 

As Hamlet says to the scholar-skeptic, Horatio, after they have had that inexplicable experience involving a ghost—a kind of inexplicable experience of many varieties that many persons have from time to time reported experiencing—he gives the following thoughtful reaction:

 

   There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of

   in our philosophy.

 

I think it was Aldous Huxley that paraphrased this remark when he defined a philosopher as “someone who dreams of less things than there are in heaven and earth.”

 

Concerning the question of whether the paraphrase “I am not what I am,” as stated by Viola and by Iago, is related to the version in Exodus 3:14, how can any one think that Shakespeare did not have that biblical comment in mind?

 

In the case of Viola, it is a playful comment since she is posing as a young man and pointing to the unreality of her pose that complicates her love for Orsino. But the phrase takes on a more ominous and serious tone when stated by Iago, who poses as "honest Iago" and a friend of Othello. In the latter, it points to the world of his evil reality juxtaposed with a reality of God's goodness, which vastness it is meant to contrast.

 

David Basch

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

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

Date:         May 22, 2012 12:50:07 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and G-d

 

Perhaps it’s not entirely ludicrous to midrash on the tetragammatonic Iago and the quasi-tetragammatonic Viola’s “I am” (vel non). These resonances (however shallow) of greater things were around then just as much as they are in the air now. To a reader attempting to understand a pre-existing character, Viola’s declaration is in the present tense, duly mapped, as appropriate, to the present and future.  (“This is.”) To a witness in a crowded Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre who sees a costumed character flounce on from the wings, the speech becomes performative, creating the characterization in the present towards the future—not at all referring to what the character might have eaten for breakfast.  (“This is the way it’s a-gonna be.”)  Hence, the Bloomian tense.

 

I have Casca’s knowledge of Greek (which made for great verisimilitude when I played the part), but perhaps it parallels the distinction between the past/completed aorist and the tragic aorist. It’s rather simple and easy to say what the character is, but what she may be is much more interesting, and even perhaps more—dare I say it—true.

 

Or perhaps not. It’s all one.

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Hannibal Hamlin < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         May 22, 2012 12:56:07 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

I think my comment began with Iago, or at least mentioned him. His “I am not what I am” is a pointed, ironic biblical allusion, contrasting his absolute nullity with God’s plenitude (or perhaps his lack of fixed identity with God’s fixity?). It ties in with other allusions in the play to Iago as devil (“I look downwards towards his feet”). Viola’s use of the same phrase seems less complex, having more to do with her disguise than any more fundamental questions of identity, being, or essence, but perhaps one could press this farther. Might the difference in depth of resonance of the allusions have to do with the different genres, tragedy and comedy? I suppose one could argue that Iago’s statement is also just a confession of dissembling, but I have Coleridge’s remark in mind about his “motiveless malignity” which seems right—and there are the satanic allusions. Perhaps worth noting the use of the positive version of the phrase in Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella 45:

 

Then think, my dear, that you in me do read

Of lovers’ ruin some sad tragedy:

I am not I, pity the tale of me.

 

Shakespeare certainly knew Sidney, and Viola’s “I am not what I am” might have more to do with Astrophil than God—she is an unrequited lover (of Orsino) as well as petitioning on behalf of one (Orsino again, to Olivia). The matter of tragedy might also suggest Viola’s tale of “her father’s daughter” who “never told her love."

 

Hannibal

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Donald Bloom < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         May 22, 2012 4:43:27 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

Markus Marti: “Is not the existence of this god person nonsensical?”

 

That goes without saying—and perhaps best so. But since the author and nearly all of his audience believed in this god person, it clearly has some relevance. Why, even a few people do so today.

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         May 22, 2012 6:01:24 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

>Is not the existence of this god person nonsensical?

  

Of course, but what makes Jahweh unusual is not his absurdity (all gods are absurd), but his peculiar viciousness. It is easy to create a god, but why make him a whimsical sadist and then call him “compassionate.” See, e.g., Exodus 21:20-21. I suppose an evil god makes it easier to justify the random unfairness of the universe and thereby allow the priests to collect their fees without having to justify why they can’t actually do anything helpful.

 

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Arthur Lindley < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         May 23, 2012 3:55:54 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Hebrew Verbs--I am and God

 

I’m sorry, Larry, but the reverse of a well-known biblical positive has a great deal of importance. In Iago’s case, it identifies him with Satan and privative evil.  In Viola’s case, it identifies her, however playfully, with the traditional prejudice against theatrical performance as a manifestation of that same evil in order to subvert the equation.  Viola’s performance as Cesario manifests the inherent nature she shares with her brother and that both Orsino and Olivia fall in love with.  The problematic relation of acting to being is, of course, a pervasive problem in Shakespeare.  

 

Regards,

Arthur

 
 

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