The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1812  Thursday, 19 July 2001

From:           Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 19 Jul 2001 00:21:36 -0400
Subject: 12.1796 Re: Misplaced Modifiers
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1796 Re: Misplaced Modifiers

John Velz and Paul Doniger help make my point by arguing for two
diametrically opposite constructions of "once," each being particularly
supported by the word's placement at the end of the line, distant from
"meditating."  Since I can see no dramatic point to the ambiguity, I
must assume that WS did not intend it to be confusing and, therefore,
confusion resulting from the placement of the modifier is inapt.

John, who is second to none in the depth of his knowledge of JC, says:

>  I have always
> taken "once" to mean in this context and syntax  "at one time or
> another" in which case the link between "once" and "now" is very
> strong.  If "once" modifies "meditating", it would mean that at one time
> he meditated on Portia's future death.  Brutus is too much the
> philosopher to meditate only once on such an important issue in his
> personal life.

John's construction of what is meant by "once" is plausible, but I don't
think it leaps to mind or as aptly serves the dramatic purpose of having
Brutus try to appear the unflappable stoic as the "once I contemplated"
interpretation.  And, indeed, I think that Brutus is trying to present
himself as such an orthodox stoic that a single contemplation of his
wife's death would be sufficient.  I suspect that John's view is
influenced by his opinion that this text was a first draft which WS
rejected but did not cancel adequately in his foul papers.  In my view,
this passage was written to show Brutus deliberately and cynically
taking advantage of his prior knowledge of Portia's death to appear
emotionally stronger than he is.  Whether or not we believe that Brutus
would actually think about such a thing but once, the character is
trying to appear to be such a person.  We are not intended to accept
Brutus's statements at this point as true.  Quite the contrary.

Paul Doniger, on the other hand, supports the appropriateness of placing
"once" at the end of the line by an interpretation which is inconsistent
with John's:

> The adverbial of time, 'once', is placed at the end of the line
> to emphasize that Brutus thought this entire thought at one time in the
> past and may, therefore, be stoic in his sorrow, now. The word is
> deliberately placed in the parallel position with the adverbial of time
> in the next line ('now').

I agree that this is what "once" means -- in fact, that is the point I
made in the original post -- but  the word's placement at the end of the
line, at a distance from the verb it modifies create an ambiguity which
allows for conflicting interpretations, especially in performance when
we only hear the speech.

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