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“I See a Voice” Thomas B. Stroup We have tom away the mental fancies to get at the reality beneath, only to find that the reality of that which is beneath is bound up with its potentiality of awakening these fancies. It is because the mind, the weaver of illusion, is also the only guarantor of reality that reality is always to be sought at the base of illusion. (Sir Arthur Eddington, Nature of the Physical World) Bottom sometimes gets his sensory perceptions confused, especially after he has been “translated” into the world of Faerie.1 That experience was a considerable jolt to his percep­ tions, the most literal-minded character in the play. When he says that he sees a voice, he is speaking in the character of Pyramus—and wiser than he knows. Earlier he had spoken in the person of a disillusioned ass of how “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen. . . .” The world of make-believe must indeed allow the sensory perceptions to be somewhat confused, substituted one for another. (Suddenly caught off-guard by an impulsive and unseemly confession from Father Mulcahy, Hawkeye bursts out with, “Say that again. The sun got in my ear”—or—we may also remember the melodious tear wept for Lycidas by the uncouth swain.) Thus in which­ ever person he speaks, in his own proper play-world of Bottom the weaver of Athens, which is to his audience a world of make-believe, or in his world of make-believe in the play of Pyramus and Thisby, which is to us, the audience, a makebelieve within a make-believe, he is not speaking such nonsense as it may seem. We will remember, after the play is over (read or seen), that Bottom is not only Bottom the weaver, but he has been unawares a jackass in Fairyland, and just as unawares, Pyramus the lorn lover of Thisby. Before these, he is an actor among the Lord Chamberlain’s men, perhaps Kempe or Annin. Within the two hours traffic, he has lived on four separate levels of reality—to be 30 Thomas B. Stroup 31 Bottom and not to be him at the same time is no mean accom­ plishment. To complicate it all he emerges from the reality of the audience to that of Bottom, to that of an ass, to that of Pyramus; and yet without the least difficulty he recedes to that of Bottom and after the play is done, to that of the actor. Withal, as Bottom he has to be always Bottom so recognized by the audience and reader. He subsumes all. And all these various roles constitute various levels of reality. If one is to understand and enjoy the play fully, one must sort them out. Bottom speaks in several voices. To understand them all is to recognize a fancy new term—metadrama. Another aspect of this metadramatic art lies, I believe, in the fact that the Elizabethan stage-world is mostly a world of words. Stage Scenes were not presented in full physical detail. At most they were merely suggested and stylized. They were fleshed out in words, created in the imagination of the audience by the word-craft of the dramatist. Plays designed for this stageworld frequently, if not usually, range from a domestic center, outward to the city, to the state, to realms remote, even to the realm of the spirit. Places presented were numerous and far apart. Indeed whatever happens in the play really often happens everywhere. The action is like a pebble dropped into the very center of a pool, setting its wavelets rippling out and out to infinity which is the verge, giving universality to its action. The means for creating the scenes as well as the action are the lines of the play, the voices of actors. And no one was better able to create that seeing voice than Shakespeare. He tells us as much in the Prologue to Henry V. He calls upon our “imaginary forces” to “Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them/ Planting their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth.” And if one does...


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pp. 30-36
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