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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet, Ophelia, and Characters (Part II)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0105.  Monday, 12 February 1996.

(1)     From:   John Lee <
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        Date:   Saturday, 10 Feb 1996 19:50:43 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0101 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(2)     From:   Martin J Wood <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 09:00:35 -0600
        Subj:   Hamlet, Ophelia, Sex

(3)     From:   Simon Malloch <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 22:11:21 +0800 (WST)
        Subj:   Re: Characters: Real, Fictive, or What?

(4)     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 15:12:51 GMT
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(5)     From:   Andrew Murphy <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 1996 09:52:57 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   SHK 7.0101: 'persons' in texts

(6)     From:   Peter Liggett <
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        Date:   Mon, 12 Feb 1996 00:26:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0101 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

(7)     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Sunday, 11 Feb 1996 18:27:40 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Characters: Fictive or Real?


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Lee <
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Date:           Saturday, 10 Feb 1996 19:50:43 GMT
Subject: 7.0101 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0101 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

> I fail to understand the need to treat Ophelia as a real person.  Whether she
> is pregnant or not is about as irrelevant as whether Gertrude and Claudius had
> a clandestine affair before the death of Old Hamlet, or whether Lady Macbeth
> had any children (and how many).
>
> The assumption is that when Ophelia speaks what is a disturbing series of
> verses, that it is the autonomous consciousness Ophelia who is speaking, and
> that she is referring to her own private history.  I see no reason to believe
> that she is.

Like John Drakakis I find the matter of whether or not Ophelia is pregnant
rather irrelevant (though it obviously wouldn't be irrelevant in a production).
However, I don't find whether or not Gertrude and Claudius had a clandestine
affair before the death of Old Hamlet at all irrelevant.  This is not because I
think these two are real persons, but because dramatic persons ask to be
treated as real persons.

Let's take a few examples.  John Drakakis seems to be saying that dramatic
persons cannot refer to their own private histories; presumably the play is in
the moment of the present production.  Yet Shakespearean persons work very hard
to create their own private histories (which sometimes include futures) --
often with details that have no 'relevance' to the situation at hand.  What
does it matter that Yorick used to give Hamlet piggy-backs?  It matters because
it insists that the audience regard the dramatic person Hamlet as possessed of
a past which predates the played action and that is acting on him at every
moment.  It matters because it asks that Hamlet's actions and utterances be
interpreted as a real person's.  The play insists on referring outside of
itself.

To follow this example on; Hamlet, possessed of a past and a future, cares
about whether or not Claudius and Gertrude had an affair before his father's
death.  He seems to accuse his mother of this:  'A bloody deed! almost as bad,
good mother, / As kill a king, and marry with his brother.'  Whether or not
Hamlet believes Claudius and Gertrude had an affair is a significant issue,
because it has relevance for our interpretation of his behaviour and words, and
is meant to have relevance. And if he is uncertain on this question (after all,
the Mousetrap has a Queen that seems to be attracted to her husband's brother
after the murder; or should her protests be read as hypocrisy?) that is also
relevant.  For meaning is in part the product of intention, and a postulated
intention is necessary to recover meaning -- but that pushes the discussion
into the realms of why a code model of language is insufficient.

So I'd argue that Shakespeare's dramatic persons insist on being treated as
real persons.  But I'd rather not use those terms.  For my real disagreement
with John Drakakis point of view on this matter is in the use of 'real persons'
as a divide; we, it seems, are real -- as our possession of autonomous
consciousnesses demonstrates, whereas Ophelia is not as she does not possess
such an autonomous consciousness.  But are we so different in this respect?

In fact, I doubt that John Drakakis would claim to have an autonomous
consciousness -- no person is wholly their own construction, an issue this
list discussed a little while ago.  I imagine both John Drakakis and I would
dislike any sense of a fixed unitary essence.  I'm not sure that he would be
willing to call subjectivity a construction as oppossed to a production (the
former allowing that there may be areas of self-constituted interiority), but
that is what I'd argue for. Part of that construction is literature; to quote
Hazlitt -- 'We are not (the meanest of us) a volume, but a whole library.'
(And _Hamlet_ is a particularly important volume in that library.)  Or Wilde:
'Art has made us myriad minded'.  I'm using those quotation to stand for
argument; the conclusion to which I aim is that there are areas of our
personality that are literally literary.

So, to me, the sentence 'I fail to understand the need to treat Ophelia as a
real person' is creating a divide between text and context that is, in this
matter, too distinct.  In the realm of interpretation, surely Ophelia and
Drakakis are to be treated as the same?  Take for example a politician.  How
does our interpretation of his words difffer from our interpretation of
Claudius's?  How is our sense of the politician's subjectivity different from
our sense of Claudius's?  Both are scripted, both are on stage.  Are the same
interpretative strategies at work?  I think so, and I'd argue that they are
similarly at work in all social interaction -- which is to say no more than
that aspects of life and subjectivity are theatrical, and that the theatre
deals with (and creates) these aspects particularly effectively.  Hence the
force and argument of the commonplaces along the lines of 'all the worlds a
stage'.

This is not to say that the theatre is no different from life, or that Drakakis
no different from Ophelia.  This would be silly!  But I'm not sure that that
difference can be found to lie in one subjectivity's greater grounding in the
'real' or 'consciousness' than the other.  Cicero, when he considered a similar
question, asked what was the difference between players and orators,  and
answered that orators were the players who acted life.

John Lee

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin J Wood <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 09:00:35 -0600
Subject:        Hamlet, Ophelia, Sex

Just like human beings, we want to have it all.  We would like Shakespeare's
play to be a text AND a dramatic production.  And should we be able to force
ourselves to make that choice--say, by looking at *Hamlet* only as text--then
we want to understand the actions from a critical perspective that privileges
mimesis AND to understand the themes from a perspective that privileges
coherence.

The final answer, of course, is It Depends.  My personal choice (when I am able
to make one) is to side with Shirley Kagan and view it as theater: anything not
explicitly forbidden in the text is fair game for the company.

But most of the time I want to have it all.

Marty Wood
UW - Eau Claire

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Simon Malloch <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 22:11:21 +0800 (WST)
Subject:        Re: Characters: Real, Fictive, or What?

On Sat, 10 Feb 1996, Hardy M. Cook wrote:

> Regarding the issue of character:
>
> I, as I am sure many do, teach that treating characters in plays as if they
> were "real" people is a practice that can be traced back at least to the
> English and German Romantics and that culminated in the work of Bradley and
> perhaps Granville-Barker (to whom I will return in a moment).

This is exactly how the Professor I had for Shakespeare viewed characters in
the play.  This was not entirely explicit in his lectures or tutorials,  but I
had just written an essay which viewed Hamlet as if he were "real" (the essay
was concerned with whether or not the prince was truly mad.  George Wilson
Knight was a great help here, some of the best "interpretation",  to use his
word, that I have read). I was duly cautioned about treating characters in such
a way, the technique being a little "out-dated".  I stand by my belief in
treating characters as real for the following reason:  when reading the play
(or a novel for that matter) I visualise in my mind (as Shakespeare must have
done) the characters, the action, the settings etc. This way,  understandably,
everything appears "real" and believable.  I do not mean that I believe Hamlet
existed in the real world,  but when I think of the prince,  I think of a real
person,  not just a word on the page, or a mask on an actor.  I don't think
there is any other way of conceiving of Hamlet,  if you really want to achieve
an effective understanding of the play's themes,  character psychology,  and
problems (etc.), than thinking of him as a real person,  surrounded by real
people,  in a real castle.  Its the only way I can visualise the play,  and it
makes the whole exercise,  in my opinion,  much more fruitful.

Furthermore,  I am also of the opinion that examining the historical and
biographical context is extremly rewarding,  Obviously,  in relation to
biography,  it is hard to do this with Shakespeare,  though it is obvious that
he or  his work was not immune to the historical context. Other writers,  as we
know,  are not exempt from biographical enquiry though.  One only has to look
at other artistic endeavours,  such as art and classical music,  to realise
that you cannot divorce the work from its creator.  I personally believe that a
work comes firstly from the authors mind,  which may be influenced by his
context.  If we divorce the author from the text,  why is it that some texts
are more popular or canonical than others?  Surely it must be as a result of
the man behind the pen, or the quill as the case may be.  But I stray...

Simon Malloch
Student at the University of Western Australia

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 15:12:51 GMT
Subject:        Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

The theory shared by a number of MY colleagues is that Hamlet and Ophelia had
textual relations.

T. Hawkes

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Murphy <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 1996 09:52:57 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 'persons' in texts
Comment:        SHK 7.0101: 'persons' in texts

I wholeheartedly agree with John Drakakis's response to the recent
Ophelia/Hamlet debate, which has had an air of bizarre unreality to it and
seems to have transported us all back to the days when A.C Bradley could ask
'Did Lady Macbeth really faint?'

I understand Hardy Cook's concerns, but surely Randy McLeod (in, among other
places, his disection of unitary identity in 'What's the Bastard's Name?'),
Annabel Patterson (in reading between Q1 and F1 _Henry V_ in _Shakespeare and
the Popular Voice_) and Leah Marcus (in _Puzzling Shakespeare_ and her recent
work on the texts of _Hamlet_) have demonstrated how it is possible to read
between early textualisations without reducing everything to the kind of
character criticism that Poststructuralists, Feminists, New Historicists,
Cultural Materialists and Queer Theorists have sought so much to challenge and
to move beyond.

Andrew Murphy

(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Liggett <
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Date:           Mon, 12 Feb 1996 00:26:20 -0500
Subject: 7.0101 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0101 Re: Hamlet & Ophelia: Sexual Relations?

>The assumption is that when Ophelia speaks what is a disturbing series of
>verses, that it is the autonomous consciousness Ophelia who is speaking, and
>that she is referring to her own private history.  I see no reason to believe
>that she is.
>
>John Drakakis

If you don't assume her reality, what do you assume? You have to pretend to
believe in her existence in order to enter into the play, don't you.

Peter

(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Sunday, 11 Feb 1996 18:27:40 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Characters: Fictive or Real?

I mainly teach undergraduates, some theatre majors, some not.  What I suggest
to them is that when we experience plays, novels, movies, tv show, etc., that
we examine them from two perspectives.  On the one hand, we explore the fictive
world in which we pretend that the characters behave as human beings.  Within
the fictive world the questions regardings characters cognitions, feelings, and
volitions are both important and pertinant.

On the other hand, we also explore the dramaturgical world, looking to what
uses the characters (and the scenes and other aspects of the play) are put.  At
the simplest level, if we see a character as hero or villain,  we responsd to
their dramaturgical role.

Although this twin perspective leaves out much, I find that it provides several
ways to connect specific works (and dramatic and narrative forms in general) to
the experience the students have when they encounter these works.  It also
provides them with some tools to expand their responses to works in the future.

C. David Frankel

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