Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 5. Tuesday, 7 Jan 1992.
Date: Tuesday, January 7, 1992
Subject: The Death of Dame Judith Anderson
[Ed. Note: Doubtless many other SHAKSPEReans have already heard the
sad news of the death of Dame Judith Anderson at age 93, but as a small
tribute to the great actress I reproduce here (without permission)
the obituary from the *Los Angeles Times* (as reprinted in the local
*Hamilton Spectator*). -- k.s.]
Actress played classic and campy roles:
Dame Judith Anderson dead at 93
Dame Judith Anderson will be remembered as one of the last grande dames of
the world's stages and films. The Australian-born actress, whose potent
portrayals of complex and tormented women, died Friday. The quintessential
Medea, Lady Macbeth and the obsessively deranged Mrs. Danvers of *Rebecca*
The tragedienne, whose gifts vastly exceeded the handy Hollywood label of
"character actress," had been living near Santa Barbara, Calif. for
more than 20 years. It was one of her last roles -- as the camp, imperiously
dotty matriarch on the soap opera *Santa Barbara* -- that brought her
dominating presence and luxuriantly marbled voice to a generation who had never
seen her command the stage in the ardent, demanding roles she adored, from the
works of Eugene O'Neill and Euripides to Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare.
She died at home, said a spokesman. In August, she spent 18 days in a
hospital for an undisclosed ailment. No cause for death was disclosed.
With her signature interpretations of theatre's classic roles -- particularly
Medea -- she was first among the dwindling ranks of grande dames of the
stage. In her 70s, she even dared the role of Hamlet -- to no great reviews.
Her stagecraft earned her the extravagant tributes of theatre lovers.
In Berlin, they once strewed rose petals from her car to the stage door. In
London, she performed in only two plays, but that was enough to earn her
the title of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire from the Queen
Her hypnotically malevolent housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, in the 1940 Alfred
Hitchcock classic *Rebecca*, brought an Oscar nomination, and her two
television performances as Lady Macbeth earned her twin Emmys. One of
those shows alone played "to an audience that would have taken us 33 years to
reach on the stage," she sighed. Although she insisted she hated the "cold,
cold" eye of the camera, it was TV and movies that ultimately registered her
face and voice with vaster audiences.
In her 80s, Anderson cheerily signed on for her soap-opera role, several years
after her grand-nephew teamed with Leonard Nimoy and talked her into
playing a bat-eared Vulcan priestess in *Star Trek III*. But it was her
theatre roles like Medea and Lady Macbeth that left the enduring impression of
an actress forever stalking the stairs with bloodied daggers. "People
always think of me as playing these terrible, terrible women, but I've really
played very few of them -- Medea, Gertrude, Lady Macbeth... yes, Mrs. Danvers
in the movies... but no one remembers the pleasant people I've played --
Mary, the mother of Jesus, and so many others."
Still, it was as the stage's leading player of tragic, powerful villains that
she often excelled. Although she once remarked wistfully that she wished
she was beautiful, her features seemed custom-made for the onstage torments of
O'Neill and Williams, and endured in memory long after the milkmaid miens
of Hollywood faded. "There are so many strange, alluring, hateful, lovable,
weird, tender, ugly women of history and of life," Anderson once said.
"I want to delineate all of them."
In a career that began when she stepped onstage in 1915 in an Australian
touring company, she eventually performed opposite William Gillette,
Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Errol Flynn, Raymond Massey, Tyrone
Power and Ronald Reagan in the film *King's Row*, as the wife of the
doctor who amputates Reagan's legs.
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 3. Monday, 6 Jan 1992.
Date: Sun, 5 Jan 1992 16:20 CST
Subject: Sonnet 116
I have been thinking about sonnet 116 since Geoffrey
Hargreaves asked the following question a few weeks ago:
"Is there a definitive (or even confident) interpretation of the
lines in Sonnet 116:
It is the star to every wandering bark
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. ?
Is the metaphor fractured? That is to say, you can take the
height of a star, if you have a problem navigating, but no
mariner has ever considered the worth of stars."
I am not sure what is meant by a 'fractured' metaphor. I have
never heard the expression before. If a metaphor is fractured,
is that an imperfection? Should we be bothered by the fact that
it 'says' two different things at the same time? On the one
hand, love is like a star because you can steer by it; you always
know where you are, no matter how storm-tossed or confused
you may be in other respects; on the other, we don't understand
it any better than we do the stars. We can 'take the height' of a
star, which gives us a number that we can use, but that fact
tells us nothing about its qualitative importance in what was for
Shakespeare (in all liklihood) a ptolemaic universe where height
had a moral value. So: while the true value of love may be as
mysterious as that of the stars, we can use it to steer by as we
do the stars; provided love is, as the poem's central conceit
would have us believe, as unchanging as the fixed stars. Which
brings us to the word that Shakespeare actually uses here which
is 'worth' not 'value.' "Worth' was and is a word with a very
wide range of social and moral applications, one of which
pertains to character. The character of the person, man or
woman, addressed in these sonnets is often in question which
gives the line a particular poignance--especially if we
remember that the man, at least, is socially higher and worthier
than the poet.
All this is pretty clear it seems to me; the real problems are
elsewhere, beginning with the first lines-- "Let me not to the
marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments"--which in the
very act of firmly slamming the door on possible impediments
to such marriages, effectively acknowledges that there are
plenty of them out there. Similar stresses and strains are
evident in what follows:
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! . . .
oh yeah? that "O, no!" tacitly admits that it happens all the
time. Things change, alter over time. Alterations bring on
alterations; removals, removals. when people lose their
youthful good looks--or their money--friends or lovers who
once proclaimed eternal fidelity remove themselves and look
elsewhere. As Bessie Smith sings, "No one knows you when
you're down and out." Love, like everything else, is subject to
time, is "Time's fool." Such knowledge is implicit in the
straining, struggling language of these lines. And that brings us
back to the matter of the poem's central conceit, which bravely
proclaims the opposite: love is the one fixed point in a turning
world. Well, yes. That's what everyone says and there are a
few people who really believe it and behave accordingly;
including the poet who knows, however, that he is virtually
alone in this. And that, it seems to me, is why the final couplet,
with its studied non-sequiturs, has such an air of empty
bravado, whistling in the wind.
Does this sonnet offer us an example of a poem 'deconstructing'
itself, rhetorically subverting its own rehetoric, as De Man says
all poetry and all literature must? Or is it merely imperfect?