Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: December ::
Re: Tone of "Madam"
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0946.  Saturday, 14 December 1996.

(1)     From:   Tad Davis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 13 Dec 1996 09:53:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0936  Q: Tone of "Madam"

(2)     From:   Margaret Brockland-Nease <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 13 Dec 1996 10:17:21 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0936 Q: Tone of "Madam"

(3)     From:   Andrew Walker White <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 13 Dec 1996 13:36:40 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Tone of "Seems, Madam"

(4)     From:   John Velz <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 13 Dec 1996 19:05:43 +0200
        Subj:   Madam


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tad Davis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 13 Dec 1996 09:53:23 -0500
Subject: 7.0936  Q: Tone of "Madam"
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0936  Q: Tone of "Madam"

Ron Dwelle writes:

>My students think that Hamlet's use of the term "Madam" to his mother is a form
>of sneering condescension. I'm more inclined to think it is a language/cultural
>change, then to now.

That may be, but the speech as a whole certainly sounds like a criticism of her
shallowness: "SEEMS, madam? Nay, it IS. I know not SEEMS." It may be that your
students' perception of the word "madam" is colored by Hamlet's overall
attitude of withdrawal and rebuke in this scene. "Sneeing" seems a bit strong,
but there is certainly condescension in the way Hamlet views others at court.

Which reminds me of the night I went to see Zefferelli's "Hamlet" with a
17-year-old. Each time Hamlet dared his elders to a verbal combat, the young
man let out a low gasp of admiration: "Wow." I believe the current term for
being bested in this kind of verbal encounter is "salty biscuits."

Tad Davis

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Margaret Brockland-Nease <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 13 Dec 1996 10:17:21 -0500
Subject: 7.0936 Q: Tone of "Madam"
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0936 Q: Tone of "Madam"

The question about the tone of "madam" reminds me of something one of my
graduate school professors, Sidney Homan, once suggested--I don't recall
whether it was from his own reading or something he had gotten from someone
else.  In the same passage, Hamlet plays off of his mother's remark "Thou
knowst 'tis common, all that lives must die..." with "Ay, madam, 'tis common."
My professor suggested that this use of "common" by Hamlet might be a sneer at
his mother's lusty behavior in her second marriage--she has become a "common
woman," or prostitute.  My OED is not at hand on my Christmas break (nor is my
*Hamlet* text, so my quotations are approximate), but I wonder whether "madam"
had its connotation of manager of prostitutes in the 16th century.  The line of
thinking is certainly not foreign to the play, with Hamlet's accusation later
that Polonius is a fishmonger.

Margaret Brockland-Nease

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 13 Dec 1996 13:36:40 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Tone of "Seems, Madam"

There are two things going on, from what I can tell; one, that Hamlet as a
Prince has been raised separately from his parents, both mum and dad, and has
been taught to address them in public in a formal manner.

Two, that Hamlet is directly, and perhaps passionately, responding to his
mother's use of the word "seems".  She's accusing him of putting on an act of
grief.  He, far from putting on an act, is sincere in it.  And he proceeds to
list all the things his mother did when she (as far as he's concerned) merely
pretended to be sad at his father's death.  Note the emphasis on "Fruitful
river of the eye" and his reference to "Niobe" later on.

I read particular sarcasm in his Madam, in that he has to address her as madam
and yet is very angry at her insinuation that he's acting.  When I performed
the "inky cloak" speech, I found my anger rising in spite of efforts to control
it.  My own mother (Hamlet's speaking here) is humiliating me in public, and my
inclination is to give as good as I get.  That's why Claudius intervenes, IMHO,
since it's obvious that Gertrude can't control the passion of her son.

Just my two ducats' worth.

Andy White
Urbana, IL

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 13 Dec 1996 19:05:43 +0200
Subject:        Madam

About seventeenth-century modes of address to parents by children.  It is a
mark of the social conservatism of Texas that traditional families of all
social ranks in modernday Texas preserve the decorum of the seventeenth
century:  Boys and girls often call their parents "Sir" and "Ma'am".  If I am
not mistaken, the mark of deferential courtesy is fading at this late date,
less common now than when I first came to live in Texas in 1963, but very much
alive, still, particularly in rural areas.  My students, male and female alike,
used to call me "Sir" even when I protested, and apologized saying "Sorry Sir;
it's an old habit with me; only way to address my father, or any other man
older than me."

John Velz
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.