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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: November ::
Re: *Ham.* Qs
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0911.  Wednesday, 22 Nov.
1995.

(1)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Nov 1995 17:13:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0907  Qs: *Ham.* Qs

(2)     From:   Moray McConnachie <cerberus%sable.ox.ac.uk@ukacrl>
        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995 10:52:37 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: *Ham.* Qs

(3)     From:   Charles S. Ross <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995 07:34:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re:  SHK 6.0907  *Ham.* Qs

(4)     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Nov 95 08:31:54 EST
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet and the Kingship

(5)     From:   Clark Bowlen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995 16:05:23 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   SHK 6.0907 *Ham*

(6)     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Nov 95 16:34:09 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0907  *Ham.* Qs

(7)     From:   Peter L Groves <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 22 Nov 1995 16:37:14 GMT+1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0907  *Ham*


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Nov 1995 17:13:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0907  Qs: *Ham.* Qs
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0907  Qs: *Ham.* Qs

>1) Why doesn't Hamlet become king on his father's death?

In response to Christine Gray's first question, in the play it is
assumed that Denmark is an elective monarchy, and Claudius has slipped
in between the election and Hamlet's hopes to succeed his father.

>2) Can Ophelia overhear Hamlet in the "To be or not to be" speech?  I say no, >but several. of my students say there is no textual "proof" for that. I say the >tone change when he speaks to her in the nunnery passage is some sort of >"proof."

I don't think I understand this question. Why should Hamlet's tonal
change in the nunnery speech prove that Ophelia did or did not hear the
"2 B R 0 2 B" speech?

Yours, Bill Godshalk

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moray McConnachie <cerberus%sable.ox.ac.uk@ukacrl>
Date:           Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995 10:52:37 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Re: *Ham.* Qs

> 1) Wh doesn't Hamlet become king on his father's death?  ...

Dover Wilson, in his usual incorrigible way, as I remember, pointed out
that the kingdom of Denmark passed by election, i.e. the assent of the
people was required. He uses the obvious bits of Hamlet to suggest that
Claudius was submitted to the people's election and they agreed. There
is no evidence that Hamlet was not accepted by the people.

Of course, it has been pointed out by sceptics that it seems exceedingly
unlikely that Shakespeare knew much about the governance of Denmark -
particularly since I seem to remember that the practice had died out by
Shakespeare's time.

The other reason is a question of maturity/majority. If a Queen was to
hold power immediately after her husband's death before her son's
coronation, then anyone marrying her would have a good chance of seizing
power, would they not?  Wasn't Hamlet away when his father died?

Yours,
Moray McConnachie

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles S. Ross <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995 07:34:40 -0500
Subject: 6.0907  *Ham.* Qs
Comment:        Re:  SHK 6.0907  *Ham.* Qs

Reply to Christine Gray, who asks why Hamlet doesn't become king on his
father's death. The Italian Renaissance, for examples, provides many
instances of brothers succeeding brothers, usually because they are old
and have more power. The real point is that Shakespeare hides the custom
of transfer of power from us, as he does almost every other standard of
behavior in the play. I discuss this vagueness in my book The Custom of
the Castle from Malory to Macbeth, due out next year from Univ. of
California Press.

Charles Ross
Purdue University

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Nov 95 08:31:54 EST
Subject:        Re: Hamlet and the Kingship

To Christine Grey:

The literal answer to your question about why Hamlet doesn't become
king, which I suspect you will hear from several people, is because the
office is elective in the Denmark of the play.  This is not entirely
uncommon in the plays of Shakespeare, a similar situation is in place in
Scotland in *Macbeth*.  This, however, is only a part answer because
there is only one glancing reference made to this point, and it comes
rather late in the play, long after the emotional impact of Hamlet's
situation has made its impression on the audience.

An average audience will assume that Hamlet's place has been usurped
because he was out of the country attending school.  His uncle slipped
in and claimed the throne in his place.  (I have heard the argument that
an Elizabethan audience would have known better, but I doubt it.)  A
great deal of the undercurrent of suspense and intrigue in the early
part of the play depends on our feeling this way.

Your question is exactly the one that will be in play in audience
members' minds in a good production, and it is what leads to our belief
that something is rotten.

I propose, then, that though there is one brief reference in the play to
tell us that Claudius was "elected" to the throne, the answer to your
question is that Hamlet does not become king because he was
outmaneuvered and displaced.  He has been wronged.

The view from my place,

Kurt Daw

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clark Bowlen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Nov 1995 16:05:23 -0500 (EST)
Subject: *Ham*
Comment:        SHK 6.0907 *Ham*

As a theatre person, who is about to begin work on a spring production
of *Hamlet*, I would answer Christine Gray's posting this way:

1.If Hamlet becomes king there would be no play.Claudius's usurpation is
the crutial event from which all the action of the play springs. Before
our company gets too far into the script, we'll have to decide how
Claudius pulled the usurpation off, because the particular way he got
away with it will color the character's attitudes toward each
other,their interactions etc. But that is not information that the
audience needs, or for that matter, the arm-chair reader.  One of the
tricks of playwriting is to decided what not to include, what to leave
to the  actors. Shakespeare the novelist would include that
information.  Shakespeare  the playwright leaves it to us.

2. If you take Claudius's usurpation as the driving force of the play,
then I think Ophelia overhears Hamlet. What's more I think Hamlet knows
she is listening. I even think Hamlet knows Claudius is listening (and
once Ophelia's presence sinks in, that Polonius is listening as
well--"where is your father?").  "To be...." is not a genuine
contemplation of suicide. Hamlet is _acting_ suicidal for the benefit of
his listeners. He is doing that because this is a play about usurpation
and murder, not a play about a young man who can't make up his mind. At
least thats the way our production is headed.  Shakespeare has obviously
left room for other takes.

This is not new territory. I suggest David Ball's *Backwards and
Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays* both for its insights
into how plays work and for his ideas about *Hamlet* which he uses as an
example throughout.

(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Nov 95 16:34:09 EST
Subject: 6.0907  *Ham.* Qs
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0907  *Ham.* Qs

In answer to the first question about Hamlet, in Act V, he says that
Claudius has "popp'd between the election and his hopes" or words to
that effect. It sounds like Shakespeare invisioned a monarchy with an
electoral college of nobles, rather like in Macbeth. In fact, Hamlet
uses his dying voice to suggest the next king be Fortinbras.

The question of what Ophelia and the King and Polonius hear is a vexed
one and I can only suggest that any reading your students want to
propose has already been written up by someone somewhere.

                                     Annalisa Castaldo

(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter L Groves <
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Date:           Wednesday, 22 Nov 1995 16:37:14 GMT+1000
Subject: 6.0907  *Ham*
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0907  *Ham*

By convention soliloquies are not overheard, but there is no compelling
evidence either way--his change of tone towards Ophelia is motivated by
his suspicion that she is deceiving him--and as far as I can see the
question is irrelevant: I can't see that it makes much difference.
 

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