Saturday, April 17, 2010
Shakespeare and the ¨That-Was-No-Lady¨ Syndrome
Orson Wells as Falstaff. Image from http://emsworth.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/falstaff-orson-wells.jpg
A well known framework for humor is to take one thing on the nonverbal level and then talk about it using two different but appropriate names that appear to be mutually exclusive. This is the basis for the classic line. ¨That was no lady, that was my wife,¨ and for unintentional humor, as when one says, ¨He´s not my friend, he´s my brother.¨ Shakespeare employed the same technique in Henry IV, Part I, where Falstaff swears off his thieving ways. ¨I must give over this life, and I will give it over,¨ Falstaff states to his friends. When Hal immediately proposes another theft, Falstaff enthusiastically assents. Asked why the inconsistency, Falstaff answers, ¨Why, Hal, ´tis my vocation, Hal. ´Tis no sin for a man to labor in his vocation.¨ In other words, ¨That was no sin, that was my vocation.¨ Not all applications of the same principle result in humor.
John C. Condon Jr. Semantics and Communication. USA, 1985