Stillness in Motion in the Seventeenth Century Theatre

By P. A. Skantze | Go to book overview

Introduction


Lovers and madmen have such seething brains
Such shaping fantasies that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends


The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V. i. 4-6, 16-18


The woods

Almost as oft-cited as Prospero’s retiring wand speech, these lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the happy dyads of lovers and madmen, of apprehension and comprehension, and the mixed collusion of the daily, “a name,” married to the undefinable, “airy nothing,” produce a concentrated meditation on the quality of reception between maker and receiver. Apprehension receives in the wake of the production of images: the horses of the imagination following the cart of shaping fantasies. But the common sense of the word apprehension also includes in its meanings a worrying, an uncertainty, an instinct often fearful. Only madmen and lovers, according to this famous couplet, use apprehension as a divining rod, finding water where the mind perceives dry ground. Comprehension, even in the sound of its saying, circles and settles. Its coolness contrasts with the necessary heat in a word like “seethe.”

These four lines of Shakespeare suggest a parable of learning by the senses. Comprehension brings with it the comfort of full knowledge, complete in itself - an end in seeking. While apprehension, by contrast, partakes in microcosmic wonder, expanding always at the almost not seen borders of a fantasy. The eyes strain, the ears open, the heart pounds in the effort, the mouth pants in anticipation, it is a sensuously participatory phenomenon never completed. And yet both words are poachers, their roots prehensile (to take); thus the plethora of words about capturing used for knowledge, to grasp something, to ‘get it.’ Apprehension takes coming

-1-

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