What did Shakespeare understand about the human mind?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.146  Monday, 25 April 2016


From:        Neema Parvini<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 23, 2016 at 5:45:17 AM EDT

Subject:    What did Shakespeare understand about the human mind?


Article for #Shakespeare400 in This View of Life (Evolution Institute):



What did Shakespeare understand about the human mind?




Shakespeare understood, implicitly, what modern psychology has found: that human beings have a habit of making decisions based more on their intuitions and emotions than on their cognitive reasoning.




Maria and Sebastian in Twelfth Night

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.145  Monday, 25 April 2016


From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 22, 2016 at 6:45:31 PM EDT

Subject:    Maria and Sebastian in Twelfth Night


John Briggs wrote: “Arnie Perlstein wrote (in the “Othello’s Clown” thread) something which I believe should have wider discussion:


‘In short, it’s no accident that Shakespeare wrote the entrance of Iago to immediately follow the Clown’s exit, with no gap but also no overlap - it’s a giant hint and invitation to a creative director.’


Is this even possible? Could an actor immediately re-enter in a different costume as a different character? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the consensus of conventional wisdom (if that’s not a tautology...) was that this was not possible and did not happen?”


Well, first off, I’m sure you recognize that I’m not merely suggesting that the Clown and Iago could be played by the same actor, I’m going much further, and claiming that the Clown is Iago in disguise, and therefore of course the same actor would play both roles (which, in my reading, is actually one role, which includes a role-within-the-role).


In any event, even as to your limited suggestion, what conventional wisdom are you referring to, which mandates that an actor cannot exit as one character and then promptly enter as another, when that actor is playing both roles? As I’ve explained twice, it would make perfect sense, in terms of dramatic pacing, if the same actor leaves the stage dressed as the Clown, and then returns 30 seconds dressed as Iago.


John also wrote: “That is the only reason why I have not so far suggested that the actor who played Maria in Twelfth Night doubled the part of Sebastian. (Maria mysteriously does not appear in Act 5. The two do not appear together in the same scene, but there are instances where one character exits and the other immediately makes an entrance in the next scene.)”


Interesting! For just a second there, I misread what you wrote, and thought you were also suggesting something analogous to my claims about Iago and the Clown (and, for that matter, about Iago as a woman) in Othello. I.e., I thought you were suggesting that Maria assumed a cross-dressed disguise as “Sebastian”…..but then I realized you meant exactly what you wrote, and you were only talking about the viability of doubling of the roles of Maria and Sebastian.


As to that limited suggestion, I see no reason why it could not be done, other than that it would be a big challenge to have one actor convincingly appear to the audience to be a man in one costume, but a woman in another. Given the four centuries of performance history for Shakespeare’s plays, I would not be surprised to hear that it has been pulled off a few times.


But, if you don’t mind, let me hijack your suggestion for another few minutes, and play around with the idea of Maria in cross-dressed disguise as Sebastian.


For starters, the absence of Maria in Act 5, after she has played a major role in the play up till then, raises a question, or, at least, is less than satisfying.


Second, this is especially so, since Sir Toby (with whom she is last seen onstage, as they jointly exit in 4.2) returns in Act 5 without her, at which point we hear from Fabian that they have in the interim gotten married, as Toby suggested he might earlier in the play. It feels like an anticlimax, given how powerfully Maria and Sir Toby have dominated the action at crucial moments up till then, for us to hear a third hand report of their marriage, and not to get to see or hear Maria react to the exposure of her plotting, the way we do get to hear Iago’s memorable reaction in a comparable moment at the end of Othello.


Third, you’re correct, there is a succession of three different pairings of entrances and exits by Maria and Sebastian, who indeed never appear on stage together. I wonder if there is any example in the rest of Shakespeare’s plays where that sort of symmetrical movement occurs between two characters in a Shakespeare play, where those two roles have not historically been doubled?


And, fourth and finally, Maria is certainly a character who has already shown herself, several times over, to be ready, willing, and able to gull Malvolio with various forms of deception, including deploying the Clown as her agent, disguised as Sir Topas, as Malvolio’s exorcist/psychiatrist/torturer! So just as Iago in disguise as the Clown, and Iago as a woman disguised as a man, are both consistent with Iago’s character as otherwise seen onstage, so, too, would Maria in disguise as Sebastian be entirely consistent with Maria’s character as otherwise seen onstage.


However……how could Maria disguise herself as Sebastian, and then fool Viola, his fraternal twin who we know so closely resembles him, when they finally meet again, and speak to each other, at the end of the play? Unless Viola is in on the deception, and the two of them are performing a fictional scene of poignant reunion for an audience composed of the other characters, Maria-disguised-as-Sebastian falls apart at that crucial moment. Plus, there are Sebastian’s soliloquys, especially his last one, in which he expresses bewilderment at what is going on with Olivia, who has taken him for “Cesario”. No, that reading doesn’t work, as much as I would have loved it to.


As is evident, I love outside-the-box interpretations, but only when they cohere all the way down the line, and don’t break up on the rocks of an inconsistency. And, in the present thread, it’s Iago as the Clown, and also Iago as a woman disguised as a man, which both do cohere in that way.







Identity of the Clown in Othello

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.144  Friday, 22 April 2016


[1] From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         April 20, 2016 at 7:54:16 PM EDT

     Subject:    Othello's Clown 


[2] From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         April 21, 2016 at 10:58:13 AM EDT

     Subject:    SHAKSPER: Costume Changes and Exits (was Othello's Clown)




From:        Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 20, 2016 at 7:54:16 PM EDT

Subject:    Othello's Clown


Laurie, let me start by thanking you very much for your considered, respectful, and probing disagreements with my (admittedly radical and unprecedented) claim that Iago is disguised as the Clown in 3.1 and 3.4 of /Othello/. It’s exactly the kind of reply I hope to receive, whether in agreement or disagreement, because I must sharpen my argument to keep it viable.


Laurie wrote: “I recall that something very like this was posted in response to Larry Weiss. I admit at the time that I was in transit from Australia to New Orleans for SAA, so I skimmed it, but my memory served me well in thinking that you had not yet addressed 3.1, Arnie”


Laurie, as you discerned, in my early reply to Larry, I wrote “3.4” when I meant to write “3.1”, and I only became aware of the typo when reading, and responding to, your previous reply to me—hence my (silent) correction of that typo in that reply. I apologize for any confusion, and I’m glad you went on to reply to my claim as I originally intended it.


That confusion has an inadvertent silver lining, as it suggests to me another line of rebuttal to your critique of my argument re Iago’s wearing a disguise as a Clown that Iago could readily remove and re-don in a very short time period. I.e., while it appears that the situation in 3.4 is different from that in 3.1 in terms of time lapse, upon examination it is not materially different at all, as I’ll now explain:


On the one hand, in 3.4 there’s clearly plenty of time between the Clown’s exit and Iago’s entrance, to allow Iago to discreetly remove and stow away his disguise as Clown. I imagine that disguise to have consisted of a face-concealing beard—like the one Iago specifically directs Roderigo to wear while in Cyprus—together with some appropriate loose-fitting Clown garb, which Iago could’ve worn right on top of his usual clothing. Such a disguise would have been very easily and quickly removed, and would also have provided an additional benefit—it would’ve concealed Iago’s actual trim soldier’s body shape, making his build appear huskier. And the rest of Iago’s disguise, such as change of voice and gait, would obviously have been instantaneously shed.


In 3.1, on the other hand, it might seem at first glance that there’s not enough time for Iago to pull off the same quick-change, when we read this sequence:


CASSIO Prithee, keep up thy quillets. There's a poor piece of gold for thee: if the gentlewoman that attends the general's wife be stirring, tell her there's one Cassio entreats her a little favour of speech:

wilt thou do this?


CLOWN She is stirring, sir: if she will stir hither, I shall seem to notify unto her.


CASSIO Do, good my friend.


/Exit CLOWN/


/Enter IAGO/


In happy time, Iago.


IAGO You have not been a-bed, then?




Why, no; the day had broke

Before we parted. I have made bold, Iago,

To send in to your wife: my suit to her

Is, that she will to virtuous Desdemona

Procure me some access.


It’s easy to take the path of least resistance, and read “Exit Clown Enter Iago”, as if only a few seconds elapse between these two stage events. However, I suggest that would be an assumption based on no actual evidence. Going further, if we study the above passage, I say it’s more plausible and realistic if there’s a gap of about 30 seconds between that exit and entry. Why?


On the upper side, a gap of more than 30 seconds without spoken dialog or significant action would begin to feel like dead air on the radio—but for 30 seconds, I think it would be dramatically quite effective if, after the Clown enters the castle, we watch Cassio nervously pacing back and forth a half dozen times. Cassio would not expect Emilia to appear instantaneously, because it would take time minutes for the Clown to get to her, to speak to her, and then for her to make her way down to the castle entrance. But Cassio would be very agitated, and every second would feel like a minute to him. That would make good theater, don’t you think? The absence of dialog for 30 seconds would work perfectly.


And then, when Iago suddenly shows up after only 30 seconds, instead of a few minutes, Cassio would be pleasantly surprised, which neatly explains why he says “In happy time, Iago”. This would translate today into “Even quicker than I expected, and just the guy I needed to talk to as well.”


And, in the same vein, there’s nothing in Iago’s “You have not been a-bed, then?” that suggests that Iago, who presumably emerged from Othello’s castle the same way the Clown entered, has encountered the Clown, or that suggests that Iago has any idea that Cassio was going to be there when he walked outside. Yet if Iago and the Clown had bumped into each other, you’d think that the Clown would’ve immediately passed Cassio’s message on to Iago, to in turn pass on to Iago’s own wife, Emilia, right?


And, getting to my main point, if 30 seconds have elapsed between the Clown’s exit and Iago’s entrance, that gives Iago plenty of time to shed his Clown disguise and stow it away safely in a dark hall corner near the castle entrance, where he can quickly get at it again (which he will need to do so after he leaves Othello’s room at the castle at the end of 3.3). And so Iago can then bolster his disguise as the Clown by speaking to Cassio as if he did not bump into the (imaginary) Clown in the hall inside.


Laurie also wrote: “You begin the revised comment with “What if…,” which always concerns me when it is offered for an explanation of what is supposed to be true for the play (in this case, that the Clown’s true identity /is/ Iago). The moment we have to supplement the explicit content of the play with a “what if” explanation to cover what isn’t there, we are moving away from the play, I suggest.”


As I think I’ve already made clear in the first part of this reply, above, when I wrote “What if”, I wasn’t suggesting a departure from what is written in the text of the play, so much as I’m suggesting a departure from reading the stage directions too passively, and assuming Shakespeare always wrote them to be as complete and clear as possible.


I’d also like to answer by presenting my specific claim in larger context.


First, apropos my claim that it’s a normal part of Shakespearean stagecraft for performers to have to answer questions like “how much time to leave between exits and entrances”, correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t believe it was common for Shakespeare to micromanage so closely, as to specify time lapses between the exit of one character followed without intervening event by the exit of another character. My recollection is that Shakespeare did not do this, not because it is unimportant, but because he expected the performer to examine the context of the scene, and to determine what sort of time lapse would make sense. Just as the greatest musical composers left a great deal to the interpretive imagination of the performer in their musical notations.


Second, think about all the careful analysis that any actor must engage in, in order to determine how to deliver lines – again, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe there are many speeches in the Shakespeare canon in which he micromanages by, e.g., telling actors which lines are meant to be delivered ironically, and which are to be delivered straight. Why is that silence any different from the silence I see regarding time lapses and other similar issues pertaining to entrances and exits?


While it’s beyond the scope of this thread of posts, my research over the past decade has repeatedly suggested to me that, in some very significant aspects, Shakespeare /deliberately /wrote his stage directions with “significant silences”. By this I mean, he didn’t explicitly say there was an implicit gap in those directions to be filled in, but he was (like Iago at the end of /Othello/) going “to never speak word” about that, one way or the other. That leaves it up to the reader of the play to discern what is implicit.


This is the very same methodology that Iago often used, where, like the devil he was, he was happy to avoid outright lying if he could achieve his deceptions by letting his victims make their own false assumptions about what he was telling them. And it’s also the same methodology as is employed by many other Shakespearean characters, like Viola, who, while still in disguise as a man, speaks truthfully but cryptically to Olivia and Duke Orsino about her gender.


In other words, I see myself as extending an old and rich strand of Shakespearean criticism that has seen Shakespeare engaging in metafictional games with his readers. By this I mean, Shakespeare conceived the relationship between himself as playwright, and his readers, as involving the same Machiavellian manipulations of point of view as are employed by a number of his most memorable characters. And there is no character more that way than Iago, so therefore it is particularly fitting that Shakespeare should engage in such subtle misleading in the way Iago is presented to the audience.


In short, then, I attribute to Shakespeare a didactic motive in leaving silences and gaps in his play texts which invite the sort of inquiry I’ve made in this case, and which provide a great payoff in discovering major, surprising aspects of his greatest characters.


Laurie also wrote: “Yet let us go further. The explanation goes on to say that upon the direction to “exit,” the actor playing the Clown/Iago would not leave the stage, but would still be seen “at the extreme side of the stage, behind some sort of wall …” – I’d be curious to find out where else in the early modern dramatic canon a stage direction to “exit” was expected to be a direction to _not_ leave the stage. This would seem to be a significant departure from the practice of entrances and exits as they have been understood. Even where there have been debates about where an entrance or exit is to be made (Fitzpatrick vs Gurr and Ichikawa, for example), I’ve never heard it said that an exit was actually not an exit at all. I’m also unsure that “some sort of wall” might be built to erect on the Globe stage, or the Blackfriars’ stage, or at court, for the sole purpose of allowing this switch to be made on-stage: does the play offer other situations in which this set element would be used?”


I would guess that there have been such stagings and usage of props, and I ask anyone else reading this with knowledge of stage history (that I lack) to chime in if you know of any.


But let’s assume for purposes of argument that you are correct, Laurie, that my suggestion regarding an exit not being a full exit vis a vis the audience would be unprecedented in the staging of /Othello. /That doesn’t make it incorrect, it may just mean that no one who has previously staged /Othello /has read the stage directions of the Clown’s exit followed by Iago’s entrance from the metafictional perspective I put forward, above. I.e., perhaps my interpretation has always been implicit in the text, but has been hiding patiently in plain sight for four centuries, waiting to be recognized.


But, as I think about it further, my interpretation does not depend upon an exit of the Clown being a partial exit – I can also readily imagine, instead, that Iago (disguised as the Clown) makes his exit, then discards the disguise entirely offstage, and then enters within 30 seconds, appearing as himself. I believe that the actor playing Iago/Clown could easily do things gesturally that would clue the audience into that disguise. For example (and I imagine an experienced actor could think of several ways of pulling this off), Iago, while disguised as the Clown, might have walked with a limp (a fitting idea, given Othello’s later imagining he sees Iago’s hooves!) in order to further distance the Clown’s appearance from Iago’s. But then, as the Clown exits, and Cassio is not looking at him, he might instantly stop limping and give a significant look at the audience as he walks off.


But….I /still/ prefer the idea of the exit that is not entirely an exit, because I still believe it would be more dramatic.Speaking of which….


Laurie also wrote: “I’m sorry, Arnie, but I don’t think that the pause required for the shedding of a disguise (since nothing else happens on stage while this is supposed to take place) lends itself to an electrifying dramatic moment, but that’s a difference of opinion.”


Yes we do disagree, But I guess neither of us will really know unless and until my version is enacted before a real audience, and we observe their reaction!;)


Laurie also wrote: “Of more interpretive importance, I think, is the suggestion that a costume or at least mask and prop change constitutes the “same sort of duping” Iago inflicts on others. I simply don’t see this as anything like the sort of duping to which he subjects other characters in the play, where his arsenal is routinely verbal.”


But you forget—Iago deploys Roderigo in physical disguise as his secret agent! Doesn’t that totally rebut your point, since it shows that Iago’s “toolkit” of deception /does /include physical disguise? And then, it’s a distinction without a difference between Roderigo in disguise at Iago’s direction, and Iago in disguise at his own direction.


And even if it weren’t for that, I’d still aver that knowing Iago to be a master of deception in verbal ways does make it more likely that he’d also achieve deception in nonverbal ways as well.


Laurie also wrote: “The final concern I have relates to the added comment in response to my query: “it’s a giant hint to a creative director” = first, this suggests Shakespeare foresaw the advent of the director as a focus for creative oversight of a production….”


And I reply: that’s another distinction without a difference! In every staging of a Shakespeare play, going back to his own, someone, whether Shakespeare himself, or a director, or an actor, has to decide how to make performance questions like this one. So whether you want to think of it as a hint to a director, or to an actor, or to whomever else you like, it’s a hint. Sometimes silences can be deafening.


Laurie concluded with: “As I say, then, I’m yet to be convinced.”


If you will favor me with another substantive reply, addressing my further arguments, above, I will be honored. Perhaps I will nudge you a step or two closer to convincing. ;)






From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 21, 2016 at 10:58:13 AM EDT

Subject:    SHAKSPER: Costume Changes and Exits (was Othello's Clown)


Arnie Perlstein wrote (in the "Othello's Clown" thread) something which I believe should have wider discussion:

In short, it’s no accident that Shakespeare wrote the entrance of Iago to immediately follow the Clown’s exit, with no gap but also no overlap - it’s a giant hint and invitation to a creative director.


Is this even possible? Could an actor immediately re-enter in a different costume as a different character? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the consensus of conventional wisdom (if that’s not a tautology...) was that this was not possible and did not happen?

That is the only reason why I have not so far suggested that the actor who played Maria in Twelfth Night doubled the part of Sebastian. (Maria mysteriously does not appear in Act 5. The two do not appear together in the same scene, but there are instances where one character exits and the other immediately makes an entrance in the next scene.)


John Briggs




Vickers One King Lear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.143  Friday, 22 April 2016


From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 22, 2016 at 2:10:11 AM EDT

Subject:    Re: Vickers One King Lear


The cornerstone of Sir Brian Vickers’s The One King Lear, Richard Knowles’s variorum Lear, and many other studies of Shakespeare’s text is the “foul papers construct,” whereby corruption is subsumed by the author’s careless origination of his plays in rough drafts just crappy enough to account for each play’s idiosyncrasies but marketable enough for a first publication—if the texts had been corrupted by anyone besides Shakespeare (in their creation) or printing-house agents, they could not have served (happily?) as printer’s copy for the 1623 Folio. (I use the term foul papers as a plural in reference to single or multiple texts. As a term, it’s singular; the adjective, probably foul-paper. Whether I’m right or consistent, I don’t know; when in doubt I reword to “rough draft,” or some such, but not to avoid the concept.) 


Historically, recognizing Q1 Lear as a memorial reconstruction or shorthand report threatened F authority unless perceived Q1 anomalies were accommodated in the reprinting of a very good report, either by correction of Q1 or contamination of F, as instances may be. As these Kinds of reporting are not likely to be accurate, the fact that F does reprint Q1 is hard to reconcile to a tradition (with too many exceptions already) that F is faithful to authorial texts: F and Q are too different and too much alike.


The “foul papers” concept allows differences between texts to be laid to an author whose habit was to dash off masterpieces “in the heat of composition,” to perfect them later, but who had the bad luck (posterity-wise) to let the rough drafts get to print. Hypothetical foul-paper texts have an uncanny knack of matching or causing the printed anomalies, as needed.


The decades-old notion that Q1 Lear derived from foul papers got a shot in the arm when PWM Blayney announced his intention to argue as much in a sequel to his bibliographical study. One result was to encourage Two-Versions-By-Shakespeare, culminating in editorial acceptance that Q1 printer’s copy had previously served as the basis of Shakespeare’s revision for the company playbook—which became F’s manuscript printer’s copy. This important sequence removed the necessity of postulating Shakespeare’s annotation or revision of an exemplar of Q1 to further explain an otherwise obvious reprint (F) of a late (1608), corrupt publication.


Prior scholarship had “conflated” editions by supplementing F with extensive Q-only text and preferred variants while accepting F as the more authoritative (though heavily edited) of the two. Few were comfortable with a finalized text dependent on a bad quarto for the additions and the apparent fact that F was itself largely printed from quarto copy. Too much agreement between non- and authorized texts risks F’s authority. The worse a bad quarto is, the easier to accept an actor’s recollection (MR), which excuses Shakespeare’s “non-continuing presence” (until safely back under the Folio jurisdiction.) But it’s hard (for Shakespearians of most stripes) to grant a probability that F reprints a ‘gooder’ bad quarto, which discontinues his subscription.


As it happens, Peter Stone concluded (1980) not only that F (in effect) reprints Q1 (a theatrical report) but that F changes are non-Shakespearean. “The whole congregation was adulterated!” Peter Blayney independently disallowed Shakespearean revision. However, the already budding “Two Versions” movement welcomed only Blayney’s Q1/foul-paper opinion, which would seem to be essential to authorial revision; luckily, they were relieved of a need to “prove” foul papers behind Q1, as Taylor and Wells affirmed, even though Blayney never made a case.


Howard-Hill described long ago how Two-texters also made use of Stone’s meticulous analysis. As for his conclusions: what safe, and nicely they might well disdain, they spurn. Conflationists (one-text “reactionaries”) were reduced in influence by editorial acquiescence in Q1’s “rough draft” and revision as the basis of the players’ “book,” from which F was putatively partially and (ongoingly) authorially derived. Q1 evidence didn’t have much to do with these considerations.


Reactionary or not, defenses of conflation (despite their distance in time and a lack of current interest) presented the stronger cases. As Vickers reports, authorial revision by cutting is not much of a foundation. Nevertheless, the opponents agree that foul-paper proveniences feel better than reported text; Knowles accepts foul papers whole-heartedly and they are essential to Vickers’s case that Q1 omissions are recovered from the company playbook. That brings the two early texts together even more, especially when Sir Brian acknowledges hands of meddling editors in F’s production. He also takes the position that King Lear in each version was too long to be played, which (only if true) precludes memorial transmission.


Before proceeding to Vickers’s treatment of foul papers, I’ll review a few of my current guesses. Defense of conflation primarily defends Q1 itself, where most of the text comes from in the first place; F adds very little of consequence. I’m not opposed to the hypothesis that F restores some Q1 omissions. I suspect the Q1 printer’s copy survived long enough to enable a fuller redaction of the text than has been supposed, though I follow Stone. Vickers merely asserts that Q1 copy was destroyed but alternative explanations are essential to inquiry. The F text is so beholden to Q1 and Q2 that its alterations could not escape their influence. Q1 is a stenographic report of performance, which makes a Shakespearian revision unthinkable. F Ms. printer’s copy derives from Q1 by redaction, probably in stages beginning with the Q1 publisher’s agency and ending with F’s stated resolve to “cure” stolen texts. Q1 and its copy-text were all the printers ever had by transmission. There was no company playbook available, but F would be meant to resemble one in any case.


The foregoing and following notwithstanding, I dislike to write or think about foul-paper printer’s copy. But the “biographical imperative” demands it to block inquiry right at square one. It’s not quite a chicken-or-egg thing; those items are documented. Vickers’s One Lear theories depend on foul papers, whether hypotheses came first, or not. One cannot grant the basis of his argument for argument’s sake if it ignores alternative solutions to Q1 at the outset.


Gerald E. Downs




Podcast about Shakespeare and Cognition

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.142  Friday, 22 April 2016


From:        Neema Parvini <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 21, 2016 at 10:14:18 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Podcast about Shakespeare and Cognition


A follow-up on last week’s podcast:




Neema delves deeper into the topic of cognition with Laurie Johnson from the University of Southern Queensland, who explains the distinction between “embodied cognition” and “distributed cognition” and how these terms relate to Shakespeare and the early modern theatre.




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