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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Hamlet and Ophelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0451.  Saturday, 12 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Jacqueline Strax <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Apr 1997 11:20:37 +0000
        Subj:   Hamlet/Ophelia.... and Gertrude (long)

[2]     From:   James Marino <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Apr 1997 08:23:14 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0434 Re: Hamlet and Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jacqueline Strax <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Apr 1997 11:20:37 +0000
Subject:        Hamlet/Ophelia.... and Gertrude (long)

Susan Keegan writes:  " I think everyone is missing the boat on Ophelia.
Consider the phrase, 'Frailty, they name is woman.'  We have already
seen Ophelia bow to pressure from both her brother and father, including
handing over her mail to Polonius."

Nick Clary responds: "Does it matter that Hamlet's remark is made in
1.2, before we have seen the bowings to pressure that you mention?"

Yes, it does.  And it connects with recent threads on Oedipus and
Hamlet's telling his mother not to do as he tells her to do-let Claudius
tempt her into bed.  Regarding this ("Not this, by no means, that I bid
you do") I'd recall how, commonly, grownups say"Do what I say, not what
I do."  Hamlet, frail son lecturing frail mother, won't acknowledge that
he himself has done *this.*

In 1.2. Hamlet uses _frailty_ in a specific sense in which bowing to
pressure arises out of weakness of what St. Paul calls the flesh.  In
1.2 Hamlet hasn't seen Ophelia bowing to pressure from brother and
father (nor, I would argue, does Ophelia cave totally in the scenes in
question-in her way she is resistant.  In IV.v, in her madness-"Say you?
Nay, pray you mark"-she asserts unyielded bits of her opinion, judgment,
and conscience).

Focusing on "frailty": if from the start Hamlet has made love with
Ophelia, or desired it, then his generalization "Frailty thy name is
woman" covers and is sparked by her as well as Gertrude. His views of
Ophelia and Gertrude are mutually reinforcing. Well. Oughtn't his blame
of Gertrude for falling for Claudius differ in quality (not just degree)
from any he directs toward Ophelia for falling (perhaps into bed)
for/with him?  If not, how can he blame/loathe Claudius so vehemently?

Claudius is a incestuous murderer.  Yet concerning frailty,
generalization won't stop at women.  And if Hamlet seems trapped in a
misogynism whereby women's flesh is frail because of Eve, in actuality,
he loathes not just his uncle's but his no less his own flesh.  Whence
his conviction of superiority to Claudius?  This line can be pursued to
a Freudian endpoint.  Hamlet can't forgive his kinship with Claudius
because he envies Claudius just as (unconsciously) he envied his father.

Further-a Freudian reading might benefit from how "Frailty thy name is
woman" applies as much to Gertrude's passion for Hamlet's father as for
Claudius: "Why, she would hang on him / As if increase of appetite had
grown / By what it fed on; and yet within a month-" (I.2.143-145).  The
Ghost  talks of how "lust" will "sate itself in a celestial bed"
(I.v.55).  Put material flesh, a body, on the Ghost's image of the male
partner as radiant angel, and Gertrude's satiation with her first
husband is a sweaty as in those later, incestuous sheets.  Indeed, the
earlier sheets probably got stained with the "dew" of ejaculation (if
Hamlet was conceived there).

Shakespeare was as much a worried Calvinist as a premature Freudian.
Hamlet lets himself be seduced (rather than reasoned) into dissolving
kinship between his flesh and Claudius's. The corrosive compound, a
contradictory ideology of election. Salvation as princely due.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Marino <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Apr 1997 08:23:14 -0600
Subject: 8.0434 Re: Hamlet and Ophelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0434 Re: Hamlet and Ophelia

Susan Keegan's reading of "Frailty, thy name is woman" receives support
from Viola's view at 2.2.30 of TN: "Alas, our frailty is the cause, not
we,/For such as we are made of such we be." And it demonstrates the
distance between that psychology and ours.
 

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