"You may remember that Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen was ordered to
break off all action. His reply was to place his telescope to his blind eye
and report that he could see no signal. Whereupon he proceeded to win the
battle of Copenhagen.These events are reported to the audience by Vivien
Leigh as Emma Hamilton, but they have a powerful effect on the audience.
The film makes Nelson's disability an heroic and military virtue, not just
an unfortunate circumstance to be overcome.
Is this a fair assessment, and if so, is this use of disability unique?"
I think it's a fair assessment of the use of Nelson's image. The Hero of
Trafalgar, after all, stands atop one of the most notable and famous monuments
in London. I think the *use* of the story as a kind of folklore and in the
context of that particular film is suggestive, though. THAT HAMILTON WOMAN
is from 1941, starring the most famous stage couple of England, during the
height of the Battle of Britain. It is obviously meant to appeal to patriotic
themes (as Olivier's production of HENRY V was, as well) and in the figure
of Nelson to suggest that "disability" is no impediment to success and can
even be a tool towards that success. This reinforces the image of Britain
as isolated and beleagured but heroic in the face of huge odds.
At the same time, there's a certain mythic continuity in this story. One could
look at folktales such as THE FOOL OF THE WORLD, where it is the simpleton son
who triumphs with the help of associates who might otherwise seem disadvantaged
(the men who can see farther, hear farther, walk faster, eat more, etc. can be
seen as "disadvantaged" by their abilities--context is everything!).
On the other hand, you have the pop culture portrayal of characters with
disabilities who in some ways seem to have an advantage over "normally abled"
people. Consider Helen Keller as emblematic--she "sees" more because it
took so much more effort to learn to "see" and communicate in her own way.
On TV, that notion is often seen in characters associated with the law--
the spate of disabled detectives in the 1970s (IRONSIDE, LONGSTREET) or even
Marlee Matlin in REASONABLE DOUBTS or PICKET FENCES.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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