Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 907. Tuesday, 7 December 1993.
From: Julie Traves <
Date: Monday, 06 Dec 1993 17:07:02 -0400
Subject: [Subjectivity in *Hamlet*]
I have recently finished a paper for my fourth year honours class and am
interested in some response! My topic was: the subjectivity of communicated
meaning in *Hamlet* and its representation through imposed and controlled
limitations of expression. In my opinion, *Hamlet* is a play about the
subjectivity of communicated meaning. As Hamlet struggles to distinguish
between "seems" and "is" he comes to realize that "nothing is either good or
bad but thinking makes it so." This "subjectivity" is underlined by
Shakespeare in two ways: imposed and controlled limitations of expression in
*Hamlet*. Imposed limitations of expression are unconscious. They are
externally imposed by forces such as death, gender (Ophelia) and social status
(Polonius). The characters' silence or speech unconsciously points the bias in
communication. Polonius' "orations" for example must constantly shift in
accordance with his social position. His "meaning" is always subordinate to
his "masters". Hamlet makes fun of Polonius' subjective speech in the
"cloud" scene. Polonius' artifice (like the silence of the Ghost) invites
misinterpretation. This misinterpretation underlines the subjectivity of
meaning's expression. Controlled limitations on speech, on the other hand,
consciously undermine the subjectivity of communicated meaning. They
consciously invite misinterpretation as means of acknowledging the limitations
of expression. The players', for example, create a dumb show which
consciously invites the misinterpretations of the play which follows it.
Hamlet's mad ramblings (unlike the unconscious madness of Ophelia) invites
Polonius' misinterpretations. Controlled and imposed limitations of expression
then, both work to show the subjectivity of meaning and its communication.
"Seems"/"is" distinctions, it suggests, can never be expressed. Whew! Any
questions or comments? Any gross gaps in this idea (from what one can tell of
this garbled representation)? Despite my failed attempt at communicated
meaning, any input would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks, Julie Traves.