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This report is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Touch and Mourning
Part 3: Seeing Voices
Anthony Vahni Capildeo
You can stage this scene at school, with almost nothing. ‘Wall’ stands with arms out. Wall wears a paper poncho. The lines drawn on the paper represent brickwork. Wall makes a chink with the fingers of one hand. The lovers Pyramus and Thisbe rush to either side of Wall. They wait for each other to whisper through the chink. This is the play-within-the-play, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bottom, the workman, playing the classical tragic hero Pyramus, exclaims: ‘I see a voice!’ Seeing a voice: that is a Shakespearean joke... It is also, now, the title of Jonathan Rée’s I See a Voice: Deafness, Language and the Senses – A Philosophical History (1999).

Leaving aside any question of synæsthesia, however, and sticking with the playwright’s joke, to ‘see a voice’, and then – as Bottom/Pyramus exclaims – to ‘hear’ a face, is funny because it is heart-wrenchingly true. Separated lovers who can speak, whether through a wall or by WhatsApp, build up a sense of togetherness from the intimately known timbre of each other’s words, voiceless cries and rhythm of breathing. There is another dimension to the truth of the joke, for an actor in a play-within-a-play. Embodying two very different characters (Pyramus, Bottom) happens via a third body, their own. We see and hear the actor via their body, which can become an instrument of the dramatic truth of their role. We see a name, or two, or three. We agree to hear a face, through voice and movement.

What does this have to do with touch and mourning? I would argue that we ...

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