Thursday, March 12, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing - Usages

Randall writes:


Fascinating distinction, this "pardon" vs. "forgive" thread. This may be picking nits ― looking closely at "pardon," one sees the French pardonner or par-donner, which my French dictionary reminds me is "for"-"to give." Or for-giving.

In terms of subtle connotative distinctions, I've always thought of pardoning as a public act whereas forgiveness is more of a private one. A governor does not forgive a felon; he/she pardons him. If I steal your wallet, get caught, and am forced to return it, I don't ask you to pardon me, I ask for your forgiveness. And while an individual can beg someone's pardon (a kind indulgence), pardoning seems more official than the personal nature of forgiving. Are these distinctions modern? Given Shakespeare's closeness to the French and Latin roots of English, do we play a semantic game here? We might look to John here for expansion on contemporary usages or distinctions.

Shakespeare uses "pardon" five times in Much Ado About Nothing, tellingly in the masque scene where Don Pedro is proposing to Beatrice. She puts him off, begging his pardon ("But, I beseech your grace, pardon me: I was born to speak all mirth and no matter."), and then takes her leave of him to do some tasks for her uncle ("By your grace's pardon."). These strike me as necessary formality. Beatrice is trying to maintain the distance between herself (woman, daughter of landowner) and Don Pedro (male, Prince) without offending him. There is a clear sense of the imbalance of power here. The word "pardon" supports this sense, at least in my reading, because pardons as I understand them come from the powerful toward the (temporarily) powerless.

Benedick also uses the term:

"That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she has brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks. But that I will have a recheat winded in my forehead or hang my bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me" (1.1.234-238).

But this is ironic; Benedick uses the term with sarcasm and disdain, coupled as it is with the suggestion that women are untrustworthy. In fact, his use of the term implies that women have power, while his resolution indicates that they have none. Later he will prove himself more malleable, but if we just focus on the term, "pardon" here provides a comment about power more than absolution.

A substantial usage comes from Claudio, in his ode to the dead Hero:

Now music, sound, and sing your solemn hymn.
Pardon, goddess of the night,
Those that slew your virgin knight;
For the which, with songs of woe,
Round about her tomb they go.

In Claudio's song, the goddess refers to Diana. And Claudio's plea for pardon again puts it on a path from powerful (goddess) to less powerful (mortal).

And "forgive"? It turns up only once ("forgiving" and "forgiveness" not at all), when Beatrice says, "Why, then, God forgive me" to Benedick's "I love thee" in Act 4. There's probably a lengthy argument to made about an attempt to establish the personal nature of the Christian God by aligning Him with forgiveness, but I'm not making it here. Beatrice's tone is enough to run her request to the blasphemous and undermine any conclusion I might want to draw about the usage of "forgive" and its personal/public nature. What's significant is that when it comes to pardoning or forgiveness, none comes from Hero. Instead we get only, as has been pointed out:

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. (5.4.61-66)

If either forgiveness or pardon inhabit these lines, they are only implied in Hero's acceptance of the marriage. One might wonder if she ever had any choice; she's blatantly silent on the matter. (Does someone want to account for Shakespeare's giving a major character involved in principal action so few lines??) Rather, her final lines turn not to absolution of Claudio but to self-restoration of virtue. If there's an edge here, it is her reminding Claudio of her virgin status, which he had doubted, but that's neither forgiveness nor pardon. It feels like rebuke, but the kind one might get away with.

Given her lack of self-determination regarding her union with Claudio (Ernst reminds us that this is about class), I wonder if she's capable of offering pardon. Claudio can ask it, but Hero cannot give it unless he does. Perhaps Claudio will ask her forgiveness in a more private setting.

Forgive me for making this lengthier than it needed to be,

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