Enter the Body: Women and Representation on Shakespeare's Stage

By Carol Chillington Rutter | Go to book overview

1

BODY PARTS OR PARTS FOR BODIES

Speculating on Cordelia

Gonerill and Regans bodies brought out.

Enter Lear with Cordelia in his armes

Folio Stage Direction

A dead body is an instructive object.

Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theatre, 1985

Death may usurp on nature many hours,

And yet the fire of life kindle again

The o’erpressed spirits. I have heard

Of an Egyptian nine hours dead,

Who was by good appliances recovered.

Pericles, Scene 12, 80-85


Dead Reckoning

When Cordelia makes her final entrance in Lear’s arms, Kent will not believe what he is seeing. ‘Is this the promised end?’ he asks. Cordelia plays her last scene dead. Or maybe she’s playing dead. For she isn’t meant to die. It wasn’t what audiences were expecting. The old King Leir, the True Chronicle which they had seen at Henslowe’s Rose playhouse in 1594 and (perhaps) again, revived, in 1605 before it went into print, had a happy ending. That ‘true’ story (which, clearly, had saturated Shakespeare’s mind, for memory traces of Leir turn up in Lear) ended in return, recognition, reconciliation. 1 So maybe Cordelia in Lear’s arms is only pretending, like Hero, Helena, Juliet, Thisbe in Peter Quince’s Pyramus and Thisbe, the Player Queen in Hamlet’s Mousetrap. Or, like Desdemona (momentarily) or Cleopatra (chronically)—and with Hermione, Thaisa, Imogen to come in plays not yet written—perhaps

-1-

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Enter the Body: Women and Representation on Shakespeare's Stage
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgements xix
  • 1 - Body Parts or Parts for Bodies 1
  • 2 - Snatched Bodies 27
  • 3 - Shadowing Cleopatra 57
  • 4 - Designs on Shakespeare 104
  • 5 - Remembering Emilia 142
  • Bibliography 202
  • Index 212
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