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"Condemning Shadows Quite": Antony and Cleopatra
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Graham Cullum "CONDEMNING SHADOWS QUITE" ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA Some years ago, S. L. Goldberg wondered how one could justly talk about Shakespeare's importanœ—as he put it, his "centrality"—when Shakespeare has partly shaped the ideas and language we bring to him. He wondered how one could decide "how much it is a cause of his hold on the English mind, and how much an effect, that, as [Shakespeare] sees it, life can never be wholly ordered, society never wholly fixed, values never wholly codified?"1 The difficulty is a real one and it stems, I suppose, from something contradictory at the heart of our experience of Shakespeare's plays. On the one hand we feel that the plays, somehow , take us into themselves, and, in doing that, reveal our selves. On the other hand, we know that they are only plays—things made and acted—about which it is the business of any critic to make judgments. As a consequence of this we feel rather dizzy: unsure about how we might talk about them and somehow unable to sum them up, or say what they really do (and do not) mean. Now, to try and say that, of course, we would have to suppose that we were really "outside" the plays, whereas, in fact, they are with us. Yet that very proximity leads to a real difficulty. The critic rightly observed that "the real effect of [Shakespeare's] art is not to tell us what to think, but to give us something substantial and important to think about . . . ."But this still leaves us wondering how we might think about that; and it still leaves me wondering whether we can really objectify the plays—suppose that they are, or give us, things to talk about—in quite that way. To think of them as things seems to belie the very intimacy and familiarity with which they spoke to us in the first place; but the alternative seems to be silence or a posture of studied genuflection. Someone, of course, might respond to my puzzlement by saying that the plays have their existence in a common, public world, which is where we all meet them. And so, in a sense, they do. But that is hardly the most interesting thing about them. It merely enables the kinds of 186 Graham Cullum187 significance and value they have for us, and, of course, contributes to some of the embarrassment critics feel when they recognize how great art is neither merely public nor merely private. The feeling, of course, accompanies a critic's realization that he is not—nor can anyone be— merely public or merely private either; which perhaps occasioned Bradley 's doubt that the lectern was the appropriate place from which to address Cleopatra. Perhaps it is the distinction of Shakespeare's art that his characters are persons and that they, in their worlds, are neither merely public nor merely private: not entirely present to our forensicjudgments, but not absent or vacant either. That is one of the things I want to explore in this article. It could hardly be said that Shakespeare had a theory, or model of what was public or private. A quick scan of the concordance indicates that there is little conceptual complexity in his use of those words. Says Antony of Caesar, in real and feigned anger: "He hath . . . made his will, and read it/To public ear" (III.iv.5), which suggests that he has simply broadcast or advertised "his will": his plans and intentions have been made known.2 There are, too, other uses of the word, but again they carry little conceptual interest. The dramatic interest lies elsewhere. An embryonic liberal, the Earl of Salisbury in II Henry VI ventures this: Join we together for the public good, In what we can to bridle and suppress The pride of Suffolk and the Cardinal With Somerset's and Buckingham's ambition. (I.i.198) Not surprisingly, it turns out that the "public good" is what Salisbury thinks will be good for him and it. More importantly, we come to feel how the public world—the commonwealth— provides the occasion and the pretext for Salisbury...