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Summer Quarter ’06

The Blackboard

I will be posting supplemental material to this site during the quarter. I don't expect to leave things up here indefinitely--so if you need it, read it or download it soon.


1. Project Statement for As You Like It

2. Passages for the Midterm

3. An afterword on Tonight’s class (July 20, 2006)

4. Truth and Language in 1 Henry 4

1. Project Statement for As You Like It

NOTE: "Project Statement" is my term for what many others would call a "thesis" or an "argument." I use the term project statement in order to ensure emphasis on the particular kind of work I intend this thesis/argument to do. I have suggested to you that it is very helpful to think of works of art--whether written, as Shakespeare's is, or visual--as human constructs that DO things. In this class I've asked that you think of Shakespeare's works in terms of the project they set for themselves, a project that the actual words and lines then set out to enact. From this point of view, every word, or line, or speech, or scene, has a particular function in the work of the whole play, and the best way to clarify to yourself the role any one part of the work plays is to be clear about the work's overall project.

For that reason we worked as a class last time to write a set of project statements for AYLI. As part of this process I also shared with you a project statement I myself wrote, along with its short form. The long form ran like this:

As psycho-drama the project of this play is to engineer the figurative rebirths in quasi-religious terms of a new Adam and a new Eve, via whose emergences the gractured symbgolic world of the family is which brother had turned against brother and father had divided against child is reintegrated, reordered, and finally returned to the world of action, new and effective again. All of this happens through a deepening of their understandings of their own selves and their own souls through art and love--art to represent life's confusions under conditons that open them to insprection, manipulations, and repair, and love as the human emotion that promotes social coherence by moving one outside one's own egocentricity to recognize the power and will of another.

That's a mouthful--I think it is helpful to write as full a statement as you can, as rich in claim as possible, for that makes the work of analyzing a play easier by getting very clear just exactly what you will have to show to warrant the claim you are making. Still, since that's a lot to keep in mind at once, here is my short form as something to help condense the MAIN IDEA of all that: The project of AYLI is to show how Art and Love can make you whole.

2. Passages for the Midterm:

English 323, Summer 2006  

Below are 9 passages from 1 Henry 4, Acts 3-5. For your midterm you will write about one of them; I will give you a choice of two. Your task will be to do as much towards a functional analysis of your chosen passage as you can manage. The instruction for your writing will be as follows:

As we have progressed through the quarter I've asked you to think about the words, lines, speeches, and scenes we read here in terms of their functions. "What," I've asked you to ask, "does this line, or this scene, or this act, DO?" and we've talked about the different sorts of function—the different registers—these elements of a play can have. One is simply that of plot: lines introduce new characters, describe settings, give background information. Other functions lines can serve include the creating of dramatic effect, the developing of character (as the character speaks we see new and different sides of the way they think, the motives they hold, the desires they have) and the introducing or developing of conversational themes (as the characters speak we are offered new or developing ways of thinking about topics the play has raised for reflection/conversation). In every case, when we think in this way we are effectively asking a key critical question of the given passage: What are the dramatic, characterological, or thematic functions of these lines? What do these lines DO, as drama and as art? You’ll do best if you begin with a claim about the passages chief functions, and then work your way through it beginning to end explain the steps it takes to get its work done.

For one of the two passages below, begin by first underlining on these pages the words and phrases that seem to you particularly important to what you see this passage doing. Then, write an essay in which you both describe what you think the passage does, in as many registers as you can, and explain as specifically as you can, by reference to words and phrases in the passage, how Shakespeare works to bring those effects about.

These promises are fair, the parties sure,
And our induction full of prosperous hope.

Lord Mortimer, and cousin Glendower,
Will you sit down?
And uncle Worcester: a plague upon it!
I have forgot the map.

No, here it is.
Sit, cousin Percy; sit, good cousin Hotspur,
For by that name as oft as Lancaster
Doth speak of you, his cheek looks pale and with
A rising sigh he wisheth you in heaven.

And you in hell, as oft as he hears Owen Glendower spoke of.

I cannot blame him: at my nativity

The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets; and at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shaked like a coward.

Why, so it would have done at the same season, if
your mother's cat had but kittened, though yourself
had never been born. (3.1.1ff)

I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?

Why, I can teach you, cousin, to command
The devil.

And I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil
By telling truth: tell truth and shame the devil.
If thou have power to raise him, bring him hither,
And I'll be sworn I have power to shame him hence.
O, while you live, tell truth and shame the devil! (3.1.--)


Lords, give us leave; the Prince of Wales and I
Must have some private conference; but be near at hand,
For we shall presently have need of you. Exeunt Lords

I know not whether God will have it so,
For some displeasing service I have done,
That, in his secret doom, out of my blood
He'll breed revengement and a scourge for me;
But thou dost in thy passages of life
Make me believe that thou art only mark'd
For the hot vengeance and the rod of heaven
To punish my mistreadings. Tell me else,
Could such inordinate and low desires,
Such poor, such bare, such lewd, such mean attempts,
Such barren pleasures, rude society,
As thou art match'd withal and grafted to,
Accompany the greatness of thy blood
And hold their level with thy princely heart?


For all the world
As thou art to this hour was Richard then
When I from France set foot at Ravenspurgh,
And even as I was then is Percy now.
Now, by my sceptre and my soul to boot,
He hath more worthy interest to the state
Than thou the shadow of succession;
For of no right, nor colour like to right,
He doth fill fields with harness in the realm,
Turns head against the lion's armed jaws,
And, being no more in debt to years than thou,
Leads ancient lords and reverend bishops on
To bloody battles and to bruising arms.
What never-dying honour hath he got
Against renowned Douglas! whose high deeds,
Whose hot incursions and great name in arms
Holds from all soldiers chief majority
And military title capital
Through all the kingdoms that acknowledge Christ:
Thrice hath this Hotspur, Mars in swaddling clothes,
This infant warrior, in his enterprises
Discomfited great Douglas, ta'en him once,
Enlarged him and made a friend of him,
To fill the mouth of deep defiance up
And shake the peace and safety of our throne.
And what say you to this? Percy, Northumberland,
The Archbishop's grace of York, Douglas, Mortimer,
Capitulate against us and are up.
But wherefore do I tell these news to thee?
Why, Harry, do I tell thee of my foes,
Which art my near'st and dearest enemy?
Thou that art like enough, through vassal fear,
Base inclination and the start of spleen
To fight against me under Percy's pay,
To dog his heels and curtsy at his frowns,
To show how much thou art degenerate. (3.2.1ff)


Do not think so; you shall not find it so:
And God forgive them that so much have sway'd
Your majesty's good thoughts away from me!
I will redeem all this on Percy's head
And in the closing of some glorious day
Be bold to tell you that I am your son;
When I will wear a garment all of blood
And stain my favours in a bloody mask,
Which, wash'd away, shall scour my shame with it:
And that shall be the day, whene'er it lights,
That this same child of honour and renown,
This gallant Hotspur, this all-praised knight,
And your unthought-of Harry chance to meet.
For every honour sitting on his helm,
Would they were multitudes, and on my head
My shames redoubled! for the time will come,
That I shall make this northern youth exchange
His glorious deeds for my indignities. (3.2.--)


Your father's sickness is a maim to us.

A perilous gash, a very limb lopp'd off:
And yet, in faith, it is not; his present want
Seems more than we shall find it: were it good
To set the exact wealth of all our states
All at one cast? to set so rich a main
On the nice hazard of one doubtful hour?
It were not good; for therein should we read
The very bottom and the soul of hope,
The very list, the very utmost bound
Of all our fortunes.

'Faith, and so we should;
Where now remains a sweet reversion:
We may boldly spend upon the hope of what
Is to come in:
A comfort of retirement lives in this.

A rendezvous, a home to fly unto.
If that the devil and mischance look big
Upon the maidenhead of our affairs. (4.1.--)


7. KING HENRY IV: How bloodily the sun begins to peer
Above yon busky hill! the day looks pale
At his distemperature.

PRINCE HENRY: The southern wind
Doth play the trumpet to his purposes,
And by his hollow whistling in the leaves
Foretells a tempest and a blustering day.

KING HENRY IV: Then with the losers let it sympathize,
For nothing can seem foul to those that win.

The trumpet sounds


How now, my Lord of Worcester! 'tis not well
That you and I should meet upon such terms
As now we meet. You have deceived our trust,
And made us doff our easy robes of peace,
To crush our old limbs in ungentle steel:
This is not well, my lord, this is not well.

What say you to it? will you again unknit
This curlish knot of all-abhorred war?
And move in that obedient orb again
Where you did give a fair and natural light,
And be no more an exhaled meteor,
A prodigy of fear and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times? (5.1.1ff)


I can no longer brook thy vanities.

They fight Enter FALSTAFF

Well said, Hal! to it Hal! Nay, you shall find no boy's play here, I can tell you.

Re-enter DOUGLAS; he fights with FALSTAFF, who falls down as if he were dead, and exit DOUGLAS. HOTSPUR is wounded, and falls

O, Harry, thou hast robb'd me of my youth!
I better brook the loss of brittle life
Than those proud titles thou hast won of me;
They wound my thoughts worse than sword my flesh:
But thought's the slave of life, and life time's fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop. O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust
And food for--


For worms, brave Percy: fare thee well, great heart!
Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk!
When that this body did contain a spirit,
A kingdom for it was too small a bound;
But now two paces of the vilest earth
Is room enough: this earth that bears thee dead
Bears not alive so stout a gentleman.
If thou wert sensible of courtesy,
I should not make so dear a show of zeal:
But let my favours hide thy mangled face;
And, even in thy behalf, I'll thank myself
For doing these fair rites of tenderness.
Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven!
Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave,
But not remember'd in thy epitaph!

He spieth FALSTAFF on the ground

What, old acquaintance! could not all this flesh
Keep in a little life? Poor Jack, farewell!
I could have better spared a better man:
O, I should have a heavy miss of thee,
If I were much in love with vanity!
Death hath not struck so fat a deer to-day,
Though many dearer, in this bloody fray.
Embowell'd will I see thee by and by:
Till then in blood by noble Percy lie. (5.2.--)


Come, brother John; full bravely hast thou flesh'd
Thy maiden sword.

But, soft! whom have we here?
Did you not tell me this fat man was dead?

I did; I saw him dead,
Breathless and bleeding on the ground. Art thou alive?
Or is it fantasy that plays upon our eyesight?
I prithee, speak; we will not trust our eyes
Without our ears: thou art not what thou seem'st.

No, that's certain; I am not a double man: but if I be not Jack Falstaff, then am I a Jack. There is Percy: (throwing the body down) if your father will do me any honour, so; if not, let him kill the next Percy himself. I look to be either earl or duke, I can assure you.

Why, Percy I killed myself and saw thee dead.

Didst thou? Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying! I grant you I was down and out of breath; and so was he: but we rose both at an instant and fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock. If I may be believed, so; if not, let them that should reward valour bear the sin upon their own heads. I'll take it upon my death, I gave him this wound in the thigh: if the man were alive and would deny it, 'zounds, I would make him eat a piece of my sword.

This is the strangest tale that ever I heard.

This is the strangest fellow, brother John.
Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back:
For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,
I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have.


3. Posted July 20, 2006

An afterword on Tonight’s class:

Plato imagined an ideal educational conversation as a “symposium”—a coming together over a drink together. Tonight I think I would have liked that. I myself was as melancholy as a lugged bear. So I shall sit here in the half hour after class and write a sort of coda—describing the place I wanted us to get, but to which we didn’t quite arrive (though we really did get close)

I really wanted to do two things tonight. First I want to give you some sense of how various, complicated, resourceful, funny, dramatic, and thematically resonant this play is. That makes me want to lay it out for you, cite key passages, do a little micro-analysis to get you nearer the genius of this play—a genius that happens word by word even more than it happens in the large scale narrative or structural dimensions. That part of me would have gone even slower with Henry’s opening speech than we in fact went. I would have pointed to the way Shakespeare gives Henry “gravitas”—or seriousness, but giving him syntax and diction of seriousness. Look again at those opening lines—No more shall…. No more… No more. All that repetition is the result of a special kind of syntactic structure—parallel clauses whose “feel” to us as hearers is usually that of weight, of seriousness, of reason and power. At the same time, and as you folks yourselves commented, in spite of the way that language connotes power and control and confidence, other things arise in these lines that undercut that, and suggest fear and a certain lack of confidence or surety. And that is the conflict in Henry himself. He’s come to being king by deposing Richard, and for that reason some can say of him that he stole the crown. He himself will talk about this in Act 3, explaining to Hal how he worked to overcome the people’s distrust of him and to create a sense of himself as powerful and legitimate.

And that’s why that first scene is so stage-managed. I called it a press conference. It begins with lines that declare H’s confidence and power, and are then followed by news of news from the north that says things are not in control at all. But then those lines are next (and watch how Henry orchestrates Westmoreland’s narration) replaced by a the description of Sir Walter Blunt’s arrival and a sense of control again is reestablished. All of that then gives way to Henry’s reflection on Hal and Hotspur, and you rightly pointed out how this parallels Henry’s fears of his own illegitimacy as a ruler—he sees Hal as figuratively if not actually an illegitimate son, just as he is aware that in many ways he is an illegitimate king.. Hotspur in this sense is (he thinks) his “true” son. After this sort of digression about the two Henrys--Henry Percy, called Hotspur, and Henry Plantagenet, called "Hal"--the scene then works itself to a kind of formulaic conclusion. Now that we know (because I said so) all is under control, the king seems to say, we’ll meet again in a couple of weeks for an update.

In fact we don’t know at this point how out of control in fact everything actually is. That is revealed to us in 1.3. And we don’t go there right away, either. Instead we go to a scene inserted between the two high plot scenes (high plot here I use to name the plot about the state, the war, the nobility and its struggle to find and cement an order for this world—low plot I use to mean that of the drinkers and stealers that hang out with Hal). This scene features Hal and Falstaff—and thereby our introduction to each. We see each as a character, ironic, clever, witty—fun loving. And those are all characteristics that surely Henry didn’t show in 1.1. They jest with each other, rail a bit. They indulge themselves in language games--seem to show a great intimacy (which is, by the way, crushed later on in 2.4!).

Here I wanted mostly only to work through the lines mid scene—"I’m as melancholy as a gib cat, or a lugged bear." And what follows. The wit there continues—and with it the cut-low, or one-upping game. They are each one-upping each other, engaging in a kind of friendly wit duel. Both are clever, both have great facility in using language. And that’s a big part of the point here. Each is a language master, and they are having a kind of playful contest to see who is best. It is during this play that they get into that skirmish about how melancholy Jack feels.

And that, I wanted to suggest as time ran out on us, introduced a new dimension to all this. What you go into there is a kind of cascade of similes, and with it an introduction to the limits of language. What do you do as a master user of language when you don't know exactly how to say something? Answer: use a simile or metaphor. And then you try things out--gib cat, lugged bear, an old lion, Moorditch.... That’s what we see these guys doing in a comic vein, and though it is hard for a modern reader to follow all the plays on words, it is funny enough. But the serious part, later on, will come as they continue their skirmish in increasingly serious contexts. The most serious will be in the play’s last scene, when Hal and Falstaff stage their last wit battle (watch for that as you read this weekend). But there are several others along the way—2.4 is the longest and most obvious. In all, though, the thing to keep your eye on is the viruosity of language use. In a real way, in the end this play argues that the best king is that person who can best control and use language. As the essay that follows this note explains, Shakespeare sees truth and language as keys to politics and power. He who can speak best in any and all situations has a great advantage of those who cannot. Again, as you look at the play as a whole, ask yourselves about who is best able to use language, and in what situations. (You might even look for the single most brilliant use of language you can find--who is speaking? and what make it so brilliant?)

That’s as far as we got on the thematics and dramatics of the play.

But what I also wanted to do (and again, we made some, but not I think fully satisfactory, progress towards achieving it) was to get you to do some active constructing of a reading of all this for yourself. That was why we did the exercise on scene 1—though I didn’t do a good enough job of getting you to connect your three words with the function description you gave.

So we're going to work harder to get us farther on this score. None of this is worth a thing if you don’t leave knowing how to do a functional analysis of a scene yourself. That’s going to be the goal of next time—no matter what.


4. Posted July 19, 2006

Truth and Language in 1 Henry 4

(The essay below focuses on one of the cultural conversations developed in 1Henry4. It will be central to our focus in each of our days talking about the play, and to your work both on response papers and on the first midterm. That will be assigned on Thursday, July 27.)

Critics often describe Shakespeare’s plays as dramatic renderings of ethical debates, where the actions and speeches of various characters constitute in effect the presenting of competing positions on controversial questions. One such claim would suggest that 1Henry4 isn’t so much meant to declare a position about Hal’s right to the throne as to enable reflection on (conversation about) the relations between politics, power, truth and language. I see Shakespeare using narrative, character and (of course) language to raise these issues, and, what is particularly characteristic of Shakespeare, raising them in such a way as to allow multiple points of view.

Thus it is clear enough that the play represents life as rewarding those whose grasp of language as a tool to describe the world accurately and constructively is strongest; it is also clear that Hal’s acquisition of power and eventual establishing of the legitimacy of the Lancastrian line owes much to just such a control of words. But what is not clear is Shakespeare’s own view of all this, for there is irony built into the very conception of the play. If Hal legitimates himself in the eyes of his country, he is less successfully legitimated in our eyes because Shakespeare shows us the manipulative skills by which Hal produces his false (and therefore apparently hypocritical) transformation. Because manipulation and hypocrisy seem amoral at best, the Hal we see seems Machiavellian, scheming, undeserving of the public adulation he manages to acquire. He seems, in short, a particularly hollow moral center for a kingdom.

Yet at the same time, if Hal has flaws, the alternatives Shakespeare offers us have drawbacks as well. Chief among the alternatives is Hotspur, with one foot in the epic-honor tradition, yet himself (unlike Hal) unable to control language or, through language, the world. His romantic conceptions of honor interfere with his ability to calculate successfully, and he is similarly ungifted, or incomplete, maybe, when it comes either to accurate or constructive description. Hotspur acts not out of calculation, but out of moral indignation: he comes to believe that his cousin Mortimer has been wronged, that he himself has been wronged. He decides he deserves better, and he will therefore act to require better. To be sure, the play’s representation of these issues is murky at best, and it is by no means obvious that the moral offense Hotspur takes against Henry is actually justified. This whole group, after all, was—as they themselves say in 1.3--among Henry’s earliest and strongest supporters. One wouldn’t think, then, that they would have much of a moral leg to stand on concerning “loyalty” to Richard and to Richard’s choice for a successor”!

But suppose we grant (i.e., take as “true”) what is by no means obvious, that the rebels have a “just” complaint, that Henry has no legitimacy as king, that Mortimer does have such legitimacy, and, therefore, that the truly “moral” thing to do here is to replace Henry with Mortimer. The question still remains as to whether the “moral” thing to do is also—from the point of view of the kingdom’s health—the “right” thing to do. It is through Hotspur that the rebels’ moral outrage is most powerfully expressed—particularly in the second half of Act 1, scene 3.

Yet as persuasive as Hotspur may seem on this issue, his very moral indignation so colors his speech, and gets so interwrapped with his own sense of heroic self promotion, that he also becomes a most ineffective leader. Consider how Hotspur uses language to urge himself and his army into war even after a series of defections and non-arrivals has reduced his forces’ size and made much more doubtful his ability to win. It is as if to say that in cases where the morality is (as it often is) less than fully clear, mere conviction of the rightness of any one moral position does not guarantee that the best solution for the kingdom is also what seems to be the most moral one. That, indeed, is a major issue in Richard II: though undeniably the legitimate heir to the throne, Richard seems in practice a most imperfect king. The state with him as king is in chaos, the kingdom-garden filled with weeds and much in need of pruning.

And of course the other principal model opposed to Hal is Henry IV himself—apparently superior to King Richard in that he is able to create a national sense of order, and if he is also a “counterfeit” king and a robber (like Falstaff and the rest of the thieves) of kingly “crowns” along the way to London, nevertheless he is an effective one. And politically astute, too. Certainly King Henry’s explanation in 3.2 of his own strategies in his campaign against Richard are testimony to the father’s manipulative skills no less than Hal’s soliloquy (in 1.2) and subsequent performance are to the son’s.

But unlike Hal, Henry has no effective larger “vision” within which he can insert the story of his kingship, no sense of a master narrative he can appropriate to the task of legitimating his rule. That kind of larger vision, along with the political and language skills to re-write the world into the thing he needs it to be, seems Hal’s alone. That matters a great deal, I’d argue, because what really distinguishes Hal from his father is his ability to cast himself in the role of sun/son/Son who will emerge from behind the clouds to reveal himself as the new prince, bright against a sullen ground, a kind of King Richard reborn, and thereby one who can figuratively unite the legitimacy of the murdered Richard on the one hand with the pragmatic efficiency of the usurper Henry on the other.

As our own presidential politics demonstrates, the ability to cast oneself as the hero in the play one’s constituents wish to view is central to political success, and Hal understands this clearly. We see enough of Hal’s plotting to see precisely how he both understands the power of that master narrative—the order, disorder, reorder story, told in Christian terms, of a metaphorical fall and spiritual death followed by a kind of resurrection, a rebirth of the king and kingdom—and how he actively works throughout the play to make his private vision become the public mythos to support his coming kingship. He is perhaps cynical in this, yet at the same time it certainly isn’t all smoke and mirrors: Hal must actually perform on the battlefield. In the end, Hal (quite pointedly unlike Falstaff here) does defeat Percy; his victory isn’t merely a matter of talk and artificial manipulation. And Falstaff’s robbery of glory at play’s end, by contrast, is just that: a stealing of honor, not an earning of it. Is this what Hal’s victory would have been without his active participation in the defeat of the opposition?

But the question remains: is this play then a scathing denunciation of Hal’s methods in re-establishing the legitimacy of the English kingship? an uncovering of a view of tyranny in which individuals scheme and counterscheme for great power and wealth, cynically invoking whatever edge they can to establish for themselves a position at the top of the hill? Maybe so, maybe no. Certainly we also get glimpses of the costs others—the play’s non-royal denizens—pay in order than the nobility may carry on their high level struggles. Act 2 opens by representing the driver and his horse—lamentably poor, suffering under burdens, robbed by “Diana’s foresters” (as Falstaff describes himself and his thieving friends), used cynically for Hal’s and Poins’ prank. Later the driver is repaid—but we see just enough that we can imagine some of the pain that these high-jinks cause.

And the brutal price others pay to enable Hal’s final victory is shown again, but with even greater cynicism, through Falstaff’s pressing of men into service. With “scarcely two shirts between them” they are naked to the view, their misery and miserableness obvious to any who look. And there is also a painfulness to the Francis scene in 2.4, where Hal and Poins conspire to ridicule the intellectually-challenged (and, like the others who suffer as a result of these schemes, lower class) drawer. And all of that is the backdrop against which Hal’s self-promoting and life-constructing is going on. So when Falstaff “jumps” Hal’s honor-booty at play’s end, just as Hal had (as he planned and predicted) jumped Hotspur’s, both of these honor-hijackings recall and reconfigure for us the gold-hijacking at Gadshill at play’s opening, which itself recalls Henry’s hijacking of Richard’s crown in the preceding play. In all this there is much irony; and where there is irony, we reader-watchers will have trouble accepting the play’s final solution without wondering about its legitimacy.

Whatever Shakespeare may himself have thought, then, in the end the ironic handling of his play’s historical materials hides his point of view. Should we be disappointed with this? Annoyed that we can’t finally know “what Shakespeare meant”? Not at all. The work of a drama like this one isn’t to preach to us or tell us “the truth”; rather it is to start conversations by putting ideas into play, by raising questions and offering conversational lines through which to pursue them. In this sense Shakespeare’s best work is interpretively open-ended—there is no final answer. Instead we have only a great series of provocative formulations, word pictures of what characters might say or do under a given set of circumstances. Indeed, many would suggest that it is just this interpretive open-endedness that constitutes his art’s greatest strength. For so long as there is no final answer to the question “what did Shakespeare mean,” the plays themselves can never be replaced by a capsule summary of their meaning. Without the words themselves, and without our knowing how to give careful attention to the work that specific lines, scenes and acts do, the great power of Shakespeare’s art simply vanishes.


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