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Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

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On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Hierarchy and Equality: The Essential Tension in Human Nature, Or: Was Marx Right?

Posted by Bill Benzon on 03/29/10 at 11:47 AM


When I first heard about evolutionary psychology I reacted as many did: Oh no! Not again! Not another attempt to toss culture out the window and reduce humans to a mere featherless biped! – with, albeit, a somewhat bloated brain and a high forehead to accommodate it.

Since then, however, I have calmed down a bit. On the one hand, the term itself, “evolutionary psychology,” doesn’t have a very precise extension; it’s a rather big and baggy tent, accommodating the needs of many. On the other hand, I’d been a follower of biologically-based psychology since Mary Ainsworth introduced me to primate ethology and the work of John Bowlby in my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins. Bowlby’s major work is a three-volume work, Attachment and Loss, in which he reconstructs psychoanalytic object relations theory (mostly the mother-infant relationship) using work in animal ethology, particularly imprinting in birds and, of course, infant-parent relations among primates. Bowlby is the one who coined the term “environment of evolutionary adaptedness,” or EEA as it is often acronymized in the literature. In short, I’ve been an evolutionary psychologist for my entire career, as I’ve been a cognitivist too (the two come together nicely in this theoretical piece I wrote with David Hays on “Principles and Development of Natural Intelligence”; I paint on a somewhat larger, and less technical, canvas in Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture, Basic Books, 2001).

* * * * *

The purpose of this essay, then, is to consider some recent developments in, shall we say, evolutionary psychology, and to suggest that these developments indicate that human nature contains within it an essential tension that may well be one of the drivers of history. I begin with the psychology and then move to literature, first Much Ado About Nothing, and then a comparison between Greene’s Pandosto and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I conclude with a small gesture toward Marx.

Bleg: I’d especially appreciate comments from those who actually know Marx’s work and Marxist literary criticism. All others, of course, are also invented to comment.

Egalitarianism and Hierarchy

Let us consider Christopher Boehm’s Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior (1999), which speaks to issues of class and equality. Boehm is interested in accounting for the apparent egalitarian behavior of hunter-gatherer bands, the most basic form of human social organization. While individuals can assume a leadership role for specific occasions, e.g. a hunt, there are no permanent leaders in such bands. Boehm does not argue that such bands are egalitarian utopias; on the contrary, primitive egalitarianism is uneasy and fraught with tension. But it is real.

Boehm finds this puzzling because, in all likelihood, our immediate primate ancestors had well-developed status hierarchies. Boehm ends up adopting the notion that the hierarchical behavioral patterns of our primate heritage are overlain, but not eradicated or replaced, by a more recent egalitarian social regime. Other than suggesting that this more recent regime is genetic Boehm has little to say about it.

Independently, Alan Fiske has been arguing that that humans have four different modes of social behavior (The Four Elementary Forms of Sociality: Framework for a Unified Theory of Social Relations. Psychological Review, 99, 689-723, 1992, PDF; here’s a briefer online presentation). In communal sharing, all members of a social group are treated as being equivalent. For example, if one member of a family is honored, the honor accrues to the whole family. Authority ranking is what the name implies; individual with different ranks in a hierarchy have different rights and obligations. In equality matching people work to maintain some kind of balance among them. Finally, there is market pricing, in which interactions are mediated by quantitative market mechanisms (p. 692) and which, on that account does not seem as basic as the other three (cf. Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, 2008, p. 409) and which will, accordingly, play no role in my analysis. In Fiske’s analysis not only are relationships between different people mediated by different modes, but different aspects of a relationship between two individuals can be mediated by different modes.

It is not entirely to me just how these two conceptions are aligned. Boehm’s phylogenetically older system seems to be Fiske’s authority ranking mode, while his newer system seems to encompass communal sharing and equality matching as well. Market pricing has no obvious place in Boehm’s analysis. In any event, this is not the place to examine the relationship between these two conceptions. What is important for our purposes is that both Boehm and Fiske argue that human social interaction is mediated by distinctly different behavioral systems and that there is at least an approximate alignment between their conceptions.

Much Ado about Hierarchy and Equality

Let’s look at Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which weaves two intertwined comic stories into a single, if a bit loose, complex plot (on the interlinking, see Richard Levin, Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama, 1971, pp. 90-93). The play gets its overall dramatic shape from the Claudio-Hero plot, in which Claudio wrongly suspects Hero of being unfaithful to him just as Leontes wrongly suspected Hermione. I have argued elsewhere that Claudio’s ambivalence stems from his difficulty in assimilating Hero to both to a behavioral system for attachment and one for sexuality (see my “At the Edge of the Modern, or Why is Prospero Shakespeare’s Greatest Creation?” for a complete argument).

The play’s other story, however, is quite different in texture. It involves Beatrice and Benedick and their virtuoso wit combats. Their relationship is quite different from that between Claudio and Hero. It is clear that, as the play opens, they have already established a relationship; they know one another and talk freely. In contrast Claudio and Hero barely interact, and when they do Claudio does all the talking. He has more lines in the play than Hero does, and most of hers are spoken to someone other than Claudio, such as her father, Leonato, or her attendants, Margaret and Ursula. Claudio initiates the relationship and she responds. But he does not initiate the relationship directly with her. Rather he calls on the authority relationships of aristocratic hierarchy and has his feudal lord and military commander, Don Pedro, make contact with her father, who is Don Pedro’s peer.

That is all we need to argue that the Claudio-Hero relationship embodies one mode of social interaction, a phylogenetically older (Boehm) authority ranking (Fiske) system while the Beatrice-Benedick relationship embodies a phylogenetically newer and uniquely human (Boehm) equality-matching (Fiske) system. Just as the Claudio-Hero relationship founders on the problem of establishing both an attachment and a sexual relationship with the same person, so does the Beatrice-Benedick relationship. Benedick regards cuckoldry as the inevitable fruit of marriage (Act I, scene 1, ll. 229-236 in the 1964 Signet edition):

That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise giver her most humble thanks. But that I will have a rechate winded in my forehead, or hand my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me. Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and the fine is (for the which I may go the finer), I will live a bachelor.

Beatrice is of a similar mind, as is clear from her exchange with Antonio and Leonato at the beginning of Act 2.

Thus, we have two parallel plots in which sexual ambivalence stands in the way of marriage. The two relationships are organized according to two different principles, one hierarchical, the other egalitarian. The play ends with the full expectation that both couples will be married. Shakespeare has intertwined the two plots in such a way that each one plays a significant causal role in advancing the other. The double plot thus insists that both modes of organization are important, that they support and complement one another. Yet neither relationship embodies both.

But, the theater-goer, or the reader, follows and imaginatively re-enacts both of these relationships, intertwined as Shakespeare has presented them. From that it follows that the reader’s experience brings, not only hierarch and equality together, but sexuality and attachment as well. Four for the price of one! And all within the relatively brief compass of a few hours in the library orat the theater. Could the theater-goer use this experience as a tool for psychological integration? (Cf. my recent remarks on Kenneth Burke)

From Greene to Shakespeare

Now let us consider two other texts, one by Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, and the other by one of his immediate predecessors, Richard Greene, Pandosto: The Triumph of Time. Shakespeare’s play follows Greene’s novella quite closely. there are, however, some critical differences, which I have detailed in a recent longish post (second section, “Family Problems”). These differences involve a father’s incestuous desire for his daughter, which is present in Greene, but not Shakespeare. Why did Shakespeare change that element of the story, and only that element?

Both stories are set in a world where there is a strong class difference between the nobility and the peasantry. One consequence of this difference is that marriage between the two classes is all but forbidden. Let us postulate that this class difference is a cultural expression of the older hierarchical system of primate social interaction. If that is so, then, it would seem that the attraction between the young adults, Perdita and Florizel in Shakespeare, Fawnia and Dorastus in Greene, is not being governed by that older system or that it is not being governed only by that system. Those young adults believe themselves to be of different classes and are prepared to leave their local society rather than give up their relationship. The fact that they are, in fact, social equals puts theater-goers readers at ease (otherwise known as defense) and authorizes their relationship when their identities become known, but has no bearing on how they originated their relationship or on why they want to maintain it. Theirs is a relationship that fuses the egalitarian mutuality of phylogenetically newer system with the sexual desire of the phylogenetically older system.

Or perhaps it uses the newer system to stabilize the relationship between the two phylogenetically older systems, attachment and sexuality. There’s no obvious way to tell from the text what the underlying neuro-physiological configuration might be. Nor is it clear that it makes much difference.

When Pandosto is sexually attracted to Fawnia and, in consequence, proposes to her, his relationship to her is obviously regulated by the phylogenetically older sexual system, a fact the Greene fixes in our minds by devoting six paragraphs to it (see my earlier post). That he drops his pursuit when he learns the truth does not erase that association in reader’s minds. In contrast, Leontes hardly attends to Perdita’s sexual beauty, thus leaving us the option of interpreting his interaction with her, and her companion, as being regulated, not by any of the phylogenetically old (Boehm) authority ranking (Fiske) systems, but by the newer and more egalitarian (Boehm) equality-matching (Fiske) system. I further suggest that Leontes’ relationship to his wife, once she is revealed to be alive, is now under the auspices of this newer system as well. When he had believed her to be dead, he mourned her, and thus extirpated his old bond with her, a bond that required her strict subordination to his authority. Now that she is alive, he can forge a new bond with her, on a new psychological basis, one that no longer requires wifely subordination.

My argument about the difference between these two narratives, then, is that Shakespeare’s Leontes has become comfortable with the phylogenetically newer social system while Greene’s Pandosto has not. That is why, in terms of drama-craft, of how Shakespeare crafts his plot, Leontes doesn’t make any sexual overture to Perdita and that is why he can joyfully accept the emergence of his wife. Had Leontes made such an overture, the anxiety it would have created in his audience would have interfered with the particular happy ending that Shakespeare wanted for this play.

* * * * *

Do I really believe this argument? Frankly, I do not know. I fully acknowledge its speculative and tentative character. The question is whether or not such a speculative argument is worth making. I believe it is and I offer it in the hope that others will construct other arguments speaking to the strategic differences between Pandosto and The Winter’s Tale and that we can then examine the various proposals and learn something about how these texts work.

Given that these two modes of social organization are inherent in human nature—as both Boehm and Fiske argue — it is not surprising that we find both in these two Shakespeare plays, Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter’s Tale. One would expect to find them in many stories, if not all. It is thus heartening that a large-scale study of 19th Century British novels concludes that a tension between these two modes is central to those novels (Johnson et al., Hierarchy in the library: Egalitarian dynamics in Victorian novels, Evolutionary Psychology 2008 6(4): 715-738, PDF). What’s important for close textual analysis is how, specifically, the two modes are deployed, relationship by relationship.* Shakespeare has deployed them in these two plays in such a way that the final resolution of each play depends on the complementary interaction of the two modes.

A Pendant for Marx

I want to return to Boehm and Fiske, as I think their conceptualization has substantial implications for our understanding of history. If, as they argue, human nature contains within itself a tension between egalitarian and hierarchical modes of human interaction, could that tension not be one of the drivers of history? Where Marx located the engines of history in the boiler room of class struggle, Boehm and Fiske find very similar engines in human societies that predate the emergence of differentiated social class. Could there work be a means of reconstructing Marxist thought in contemporary terms, much like Bowlby has done for Freud?

And what does this suggest about the end of history? Marx, so I’m told, argued that the whole process would come to equilibrium when communism at last succeeded in establishing a classless society. But if the driver exists within our nature, then how will a “classless” society resolve that inherent tension? Or will we invent an endless stream of social forms most various as we wrestle with and through our inner demons and angels?

Finally, what does this overall conception imply about the role of literature in history? Shakespeare’s revision of Greene suggests a new way of integrating inherent behavioral systems. In general, is that what Shakespeare did with the legacy of his predecessors? In giving his peers and successors new ways of thinking about themselves and encountering the world, was Shakespeare nudging history in a new direction? Was he, thus, one of those unacknowledged legislators of the world? I think so, and said as much in “At the Edge of the Modern, or Why is Prospero Shakespeare’s Greatest Creation?,” and in the final two sections of “Literary Morphology: Nine Propositions in a Naturalist Theory of Form.”

Literature, and the other arts, does not merely reflect existing social and psychological formations. At its deepest it reinvents them and thereby helps us to change ourselves, our society, and our destiny.

* * * * *

*In the Summer of 2008 Rohan Maitzen hosted a discussion of Adam Bede. I introduced Fiske’s thinking into the comments on Chapters 22-26, and others responded. You can find that discussion here:



I can’t really speak to the literary component of this, but I do know Marx fairly well. And I think the claim that he believed history “would come to equilibrium” under communism is a bit tendentious. It’s possible to construct that reading but I don’t think it’s the most useful one. Certainly he believed that the end of capitalism meant the end of class struggle as we understand it, but that doesn’t imply the end of all conflict and historical change.

More generally, I think readings of Marx often go wrong when they try to cast his writings as a general theory of history or of human nature rather than a theory that is specifically about capitalism and therefore historically circumscribed in its scope. Certainly, there are parts of Marx and Engels’ own writing that suggest this kind of trans-historical generalization, I just think they tend to be the weakest parts.

Finally, I think that drawing a dichotomy between “egalitarian and hierarchical modes of human interaction” in human nature sits uncomfortably alongside a discussion of Marx. There is, again, a certain reading of Marx which has him contrasting bad, hierarchical capitalism with good, egalitarian communism. But again I think this is not helpful. What makes capitalism special is not that it contains social hierarchies but that it aligns all of those hierarchies and binds them to a single master hierarchy based on money. So you find that your position in the racial hierarchy, the academic status hierarchy, the physical attractiveness hierarchy, etc., are all strongly correlated with your position in the economic hierarchy. Abolishing capitalism would not abolish all these hierarchies, but it would de-align them from Capital and thus make them less individually pernicious.

By on 03/29/10 at 01:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, Peter, that’s helpful.

What makes capitalism special is not that it contains social hierarchies but that it aligns all of those hierarchies and binds them to a single master hierarchy based on money.

Via commodification & alienation?

By Bill Benzon on 03/29/10 at 01:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m teaching The Winter’s Tale now as it turns out, and I think there are other significant differences between it and Pandosto. The problem of Leontes’s jealousy in the first act, for example, cannot necessarily be explained away by compression of source material.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/29/10 at 01:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But is that so different, Jonathan, from what happens to Pandosto in his story:

This custome still continuing betwixt them, a certaine melancholy passion entring the minde of Pandosto, drave him into sundry and doubtfull thoughts. First, he called to minde the beauty of his wife Bellaria, the comelines and braverie of his friend Egistus, thinking that Love was above all Lawes, and therefore to be staied with no Law: that it was hard to put fire and flaxe together without burning; that their open pleasures might breede his secrete displeasures. He considered with himselfe that Egistus was a man, and must needes love: that his wife was a woman, and therefore subject unto love, and that where fancy forced, friendship was of no force.

These and such like doubtfull thoughtes a long time smoothering in his stomacke, beganne at last to kindle in his minde a secret mistrust, which increased by suspition, grewe at last to be a flaming Jealousie, that so tormented him as he could take no rest. He then began to measure all their actions, and to misconstrue of their too private familiaritie, judging that it was not for honest affection, but for disordinate fancy, so that hee began to watch them more narrowely, to see if hee coulde gette any true or certaine proofe to confirme his doubtfull suspition.

They’re both jealous, and mistakenly so. It’s the privacy between friend and wife that trips them up.

Note that my argument in the other post (at least I think I make the argument, or something close to it) is that these four items of difference between the two texts all reflect the same underlying factor, whatever that is:

1) Bellaria dies.
2) Pandosto doesn’t proposition Fawnia.
3) Pandosto is overcome with shame at having desired his daughter (though he gave up the pursuit when he knew who she was) and his shame drives him to suicide.
4) There is no happy reunion between husband and wife.

By Bill Benzon on 03/29/10 at 02:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The rapid onset of Leontes’s jealousy remains a problem in the play. It’s either an adaptation problem that Shakespeare chose not to address, or perhaps an ethical consideration of the problems of tyranny (and atavism, the tyrant is he who listens to [or obeys] the ancestral voices, etc.)

I think you also would want to consider Polixenes’s attitude in 4.4

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/29/10 at 03:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not saying Leontes’s jealousy isn’t a problem. It is, & it indicates that L is a freakin’ loon.

By Bill Benzon on 03/29/10 at 03:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t think Benedick or Beatrice really think cuckoldry is the inevitable result of marriage. 

Instead, Shakespeare makes it clear that men assume, irrationally, that women will make fools of them.  They are afraid of their lack of control over female sexuality.  Even deeper, I don’t even think they are afraid of this.  Instead, they are afraid of faith, of trust.  Without complete certainty, Benedick and Beatrice refuse to let down their guards.  It’s not until others attest to each of them of the other’s ardor that each is willing to trust, to let his/her guard down, and take the risk of love. 

Underneath all of this seems to be Shakespeare’s critique of empiricism.  Claudio trusts to the evidence of his senses without being aware of his own assumptions, of the way that his own attitudes toward women frame the sense data.  Meanwhile, Benedick and Beatrice can only love once they ignore what they see—the hostility of the other—and trust what they hear from others (and, at some level, intuit). 

In any case, I don’t think what Beatrice and Benedick establish is some more egalitarian relationship.  Beatrice manipulates Benedick to threaten Claudio by invoking classic courtly love and chivalric codes: if you really love me, you’ll kill Claudio.  Those codes are hierarchical, even if the woman gets some degree of power here.  (We see the same manipulation of the chivalry in *Sir Gawain and the Green Knight*, where Morgan Le Faye and Lady Bertilak can control Gawain precisely because of their subordinated status as women in a chivalric system.)

By on 03/29/10 at 09:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not sure that “hardly attends to it” is quite right."Would he do, I’d beg your precious mistress,/Which he counts but a trifle. . .” It’s not as extended, but couldn’t you argue that this is just a consequence of source compression, just like the irrational onset of jealousy?

I think you could also read their attraction (Florizel and Perdita) for one another as aristocratic fawning of the “blood tells” variety

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/29/10 at 10:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think that creates a distinction between fairness and hierarchical forms of human interaction in human nature uncomfortable next to a discussion of Marx. It’s still a certain reading of Marx, has a bad hand, good hierarchical capitalism, communism equal.

Check valve:http://www.bolev-hydraulics.com

* * * * * *

Every once in awhile our mechanical name attracts some spam that’s amusing though literal association with the name (no, we do not manufacture, require parts for, nor use, valves). I’ve decided to let this particular instance through, for 2 or 3 reasons.—BB

By suki on 03/30/10 at 04:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Ah, work to do. Jonathan, you first.

You’re right, “hardly attends” is off. He notices her beauty and, in comment to Paulina, he notes the resemblance to the younger Hermione:


Would he do so, I’ld beg your precious mistress,
Which he counts but a trifle.


Sir, my liege,
Your eye hath too much youth in’t: not a month
‘Fore your queen died, she was more worth such gazes
Than what you look on now.


I thought of her,
Even in these looks I made.

This is all in public view (Florizel is there as well), and this is as far as it goes. As for “source compression,” you mention it almost as if it were a quasi-mechanical process outside Shakespeare’s control. Obviously it is not. I think it’s fair to assume that he was quite deliberate in what he chose to use and what not. Just how he conceptualized his preferences to himself, of that we know nothing. I certainly don’t assume he conceptualized this business in the term’s I’m using and rather suspect it was mostly intuitive on his part. But of course I don’t know.

I think you could also read their attraction (Florizel and Perdita) for one another as aristocratic fawning of the “blood tells” variety.

Well you could, but neither of them know that Perdita is an aristocrat. We know that, of course, but they don’t. So they have to get past the apparent class difference.

* * * * *

Luther, You bring up some complicated matters. So I’m going to run-on a bit.

First, it’s interesting that you bring up Sir Gawain in this connection. Note first that in this post, obviously I’m not making any argument about that text. Secondly, the business you mention happens at Hautdesert, which is not the normal courtly world at all. As I argue at some length in this paper, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Semiotics of Ontology, it’s an “inverted” world where normal etiquette is reversed. The lady sits at the head of the table (Morgan) and the lady pursues the knight. I relate this to anthropological work on ritual and liminal space (Edmund Leach, van Gennup).

In an unpublished paper I make a similar argument about the section of Much Ado that extends from the point in 4.1 where Hero faints dead away and a small group allows all others to believe that she is dead to the final scene where she re-appears for a strange quasi-wedding to Claudio. In making that argument I’m simply extending to Much Ado the argument that Northrup Frye and C. L. Barber have made about Shakespearean comedy involving a “green space” or a “space of transformation” that is set apart from the world an in which conflicts can (at least begin to be) set aright. In this play there is no discrete green space to be found, no forest of Arden. So the “space of transformation” is not physically marked. But it is socially, behaviorally, distinct.

So, note some strange language from the end of the play:


Give me your hand: before this holy friar,
I am your husband, if you like of me.


And when I lived, I was your other wife:

And when you loved, you were my other husband.


Another Hero!


Nothing certainer:
One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
And surely as I live, I am a maid.

What’s this about “my other husband” and “one Hero died defiled.” This is ritual language. There is no other husband nor another Hero, not as physical bodies. But as social beings, yes. Socially, Hero was dead from the time she fainted in 4.1 to this point of re-emergence at the play’s end.

Beyond that, the whole world of the play undergoes an “inversion” in this interval. This is when the truth about Don John’s deception finally makes its way to the authorities. And this is when the benign deceptions of Beatrice and Benedick (acts 2 & 3) come to fruit. And it is in this liminal inteval where Beatrice orders Benedick to “Kill Claudio!” Most interesting is what happens to the way people speak. During this interval B & B drop their wit combats entirely; they aren’t inter-relating in their ordinary and accustomed ways. But others, Don Pedro and, I believe, Claudio, take a run at wit, which they’d never done prior to this interval. But, when we get to the very end, and Hero is brought out for that odd ceremony that is and isn’t a wedding, once we get to that scene, B & B are back to their old witty ways.

Now, when I argue, that B & B have an egalitarian relationship, I’m not asserting that they’ve gone off into some utopia where hierarchy has disappeared. They haven’t. But I return to linguistic decorum. During the first three acts they speak to one another as equals while Claudio and Hero do not. They hardly speak to one another at all. Claudio works that relationship through the hierarchical conventions of arranged marriage – though these particular arrangements are hardly typical of the practice as Claudio’s parents are nowhere to be found and it is they, normally, who would speak with Hero’s parents. I think that’s a dramatic difference and needs to be accounted for. Hierarchy vs. equality seems to me a decent way of going about it.

Instead, Shakespeare makes it clear that men assume, irrationally, that women will make fools of them.  They are afraid of their lack of control over female sexuality.  Even deeper, I don’t even think they are afraid of this.  Instead, they are afraid of faith, of trust.

I don’t see that this contradicts my argument. Trust is more or less associated with the attachment behavioral system while sexuality is associated with, well, the sexual behavioral system. I lay the psychology out in the paper I linked in the essay. But I don’t focus on B & B there, only Claudio and Hero (& Othello & Desdemona, Leontes & Hermione). But, I’d argue, the underlying psychology is the same. If you can’t buy the psychology I lay out in that paper, well, then you don’t buy it. In which case I wouldn’t expect you to buy my argument about the play.

Sure, Shakespeare’s critiquing empiricism, but he’s also using these men’s gullibility to do something. What they’re gullible about is important. & he’s certainly working the difference between what we know in the audience and what the characters themselves know.

By Bill Benzon on 03/30/10 at 08:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I meant on Shakespeare’s part, about the aristocratic fawning.

Given constraints on time for a stage play, etc., the compression necessary was outside of his control, though how he chose to do so was not.

There are also textual issues with the play, as I recall, particularly in the fourth act, fourth scene, which is the second longest in Shakespeare.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/30/10 at 09:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, there’s no compression at all. To the contrary, Shakespeare’s text is longer than Greene’s, roughly 25,900 words vs. 20,200.

By Bill Benzon on 03/30/10 at 10:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There’s no evidence that anything like a Shakespeare text was ever performed in his lifetime.  Some scholars suggest that they were hodge-podges of various staged versions, one running quite brief (one hour) others being dragged out longer.

Peter Ackroyd argues that the dialogue and speeches were delivered rapidly, with no “dramatic pauses,” and no stops at all between acts or scenes.  Audiences would not have caught half the material in the actual language of the play.

By on 03/31/10 at 01:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Nor did they have to stop the action to change sets. They didn’t have sets as we know them. They had (often elaborate) costumes, and props (tables, chairs, swords, etc.) but no scenery, walls, and windows, etc.

& who knows how much improv took place on stage, or how much, if any, of that got incorporated into successive performances and thence to the texts as we know them. Given the Shakespeare prepared scripts for his company, he knew who would be delivering the lines he wrote. It seems reasonable to assume that he wrote to their strengths and weakness, as Duke Ellington did for the musicians in his band. Did he take suggestions from them as well,—a common Ellington practice?

By Bill Benzon on 03/31/10 at 05:35 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Take a look at The Merry Wives of Windsor for another tie-in - purportedly Marx’s favorite Shakespeare play.

By on 04/02/10 at 04:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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