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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: January ::
"To be or not to be"; Melancholy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 32.  Tuesday, 19 January 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Timothy Pinnow <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jan 93 12:30:14 CST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0030  "To be or not to be" (con't)
 
(2)     From:   Nikki Parker <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jan 1993 13:42:06 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0030  "To be or not to be" (con't)
 
(3)     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jan 1993 13:16:47 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Melancholy
 
 
(1)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Timothy Pinnow <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jan 93 12:30:14 CST
Subject: 4.0030  "To be or not to be" (con't)
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0030  "To be or not to be" (con't)
 
I find Anthony Teague's argument quite interesting.  One of the problems
actors have always found with playing Hamlet is that it is just darn hard
to play something as passive as melancholia or indecisiveness for four and
a half hours and have an audience bother listening.  I agree that Hamlet
really isn't talking about suicide--he goes to awfully great lengths to
figure out his situation.  That doesn't sound to me like someone who is so
depressed that he is ready to give up on life.  Nor do I think that a
tragic hero in the definitional sense can be prone to giving up--we would
lose the blind passion that inevitably creates the tragic flaw.  What I
would suggest is that Hamlet is not wondering whether to live or die, or
whether to act or not, but HOW to act effectively.  And I use the word
"act" in its fullest theatrical sense.  What if Hamlet realized he was
being watched?  Could this not then be an instance of "putting an antic
disposition on"?  We also have the advice to the players to suggest that
Hamlet realizes the uses of good acting,  Hamlet as feigned melodrama in
"to be or not to be" would certainly seem plausible to me.  And, it is
eminently more playable for the actor.  Those who wish to delve into this
idea further may wish to consult David Ball's *Backwards and Forwards*  So.
Ill. Univ. Press. or my own article "Towards a new Hamlet:breathing new
life into an old character" In *Text and Presentation* vol. 11, 1991.
 
Timothy Pinnow
St. Olaf College
Northfield MN
 
(2)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nikki Parker <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jan 1993 13:42:06 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 4.0030  "To be or not to be" (con't)
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0030  "To be or not to be" (con't)
 
To all,
 
Just wanted to say how impressed and enlightened I have been from the
"To be or not to be" discussion, I think it would be benificial if students
in high school got this kind of information! I blush to remember how long it
first took me to realize that "wherefore" meant "why" and not "where" in
*Romeo & Juliet*
 
Warm wishes from a cold state! (must be at least 10 degrees today!)
 
Nikki Parker
St. Michael's College
Colchester, Vermont
"Aye, tis not what seems..." -Hamlet
 
(3)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jan 1993 13:16:47 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Melancholy
 
A few further thoughts on the Renaissance conception of melancholy:
 
Yes, it was a disease, with specific symptoms and cures.  And yes, it
was regarded as the particular province of the upper classes.  There's
a wonderful short scene in one of Lyly's plays in which a
working-class character claims to be melancholic, but is roundly
chewed out by a servant: working class people have the rheum, or
catarrh, etc.; nobles have melancholy.  I can look up the reference (I
think it's either _Gallathea_ or _Midas_) if anyone's interested.  A
modern parallel might be the term "eccentric", which tends to be
applied to rich folk; poor people who behave the same way are just
weird.
 
Also, there were a number of forms of melancholy.  The most common was
love melancholy, and male lovers were *expected* to show the symptoms:
dishevelment, lack of focus, loss of appetite, etc.  Shakespeare's
comedies abound with examples, Orlando being the one that
comes most readily to my mind at the moment.
 
On the other hand, there was also a more pathological form, which
generally manifested itself as jealousy or envy.  This form shows up
more often in the tragedies and histories (the Richards, for example).
In between is the sort of mainstream version, the one which afflicts
Hamlet (or, depending on the interpretation, which Hamlet affects).
 
There have been a couple of quite good books on the subject of
melancholy -- I don't have the references handy, but could look them
up pretty quickly if anyone is interested.
 
Rick Jones
Cornell College

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