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ROBERT A. FOTHERGILL The Perfect Image of Life: Counterfeit Death in the Plays of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries The culmination of any counterfeiting of death is a well-managed resurrection. When the supposition of your death has worked its effects, on the bereaved and the relieved both, and when the satisfactions of a posthumousexistence have been exhausted, it is time to rise from the dead and savour the joy, the contrition, and the dismay of those who have been accommodating themselves to your demise. However, like disguise, of which it is a rather extreme form, the counterfeit death can be a wickedness , whereby the deceased can be served with an unlooked-for and more or less ghastly comeuppance. When the ploy has been mischievous or malicious, poetic justice calls for just such an ironic outcome - though the call may not always be heeded. The counterfeit death can be regarded as two kinds of ploy. On the one hand, it is a ploy deliberately adopted by a character, or group of characters, to achieve certain ends within the plot. One may thus speakof the use of the ploy by Falstaff, or by the family and friends of Hero in Much Ado. Some of these uses are guileless or unavoidable; some are illintentioned . Some are simply successful; others go awry, with consequences ironic or tragic. On the other hand, it is also a ploy adopted by the dramatist, as part of the construction of his play. In most cases, of course, he does not freely and arbitrarily invent the situation; rather, he inherits it with the rest of the plot, and must make something of it - a coup de theiitre, an integral metaphor, or merely a complication of the story. All the same, a dramatist has his own ways of handling the ploys that come to hand, so that one may speakofShakespeare's treatment ofthe counterfeitdeath, as distinct from Marston's. Furthermore, no writer is obliged to dramatize any particular story, and one may note that Shakespeare stays away almost entirely from plots to which certain variants of the counterfeit death are nearly endemic. While subject to a good many variations, a dramatic convention cannot be modified indiscriminately. Ithas a structure ofits own, laws of its own, which to disregard is to introduce a discordance into the play. Handled judiciously and with a sensitive imagination, the faked death and subsequent resurrection can yield a rich return upon investment. A highly economical ploy, it can reverse the currents offeeling over a whole network of relationships. It can create or precipitate complex and testing UNJVERSrrY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 52, NUMBER 2, WINTER 198213 0042-D24718)/0200-0155.o{)l7B$ol .50/o © UNlVE.R5lTI OF TORONTO PRESS situations. And it can lay the groundwork for an intriguing butfinite array of denouements. But there are also uses of the device which go against its grain and subvert its possibilities. Comparative analysis can distinguish between the successfully integrated, and variously careless, inappropriate , and imaginatively unintegrated uses of the ploy. My focus in these pages is Shakespeare, and the variations of the ploy in his work. Other dramatists exploit it in ways of their own, which serve to highlight those ofShakespeare, and to clarify the terms by which its use is evaluated. It is not my intention to make an exhaustive catalogue of its appearances up to 1642 but only to consider some interesting and significant modifications. The following discussion takes note of the pretended deaths of twenty-one characters in eighteen plays, including one character in each of nine plays by Shakespeare. No prizes will be awarded for recalling the Shakespearean exemplars; most will spring to mind at once. Their counterparts in plays by Marston, Chapman, Webster, Jonson, Middleton, and Beaumont are perhaps not so familiar. When assembled, they form a curious company. I Surely a na"ive audience should believe that Falstaff is really dead when Hal bids farewell to his 'old acquaintance: He has fallen to the sword of the Douglas. Honour has come unlooked-for, and he lies in blood beside Harry Hotspur. The Prince of Wales has redeemed his own honour from the pair of them and gone forward into a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 155-178
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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