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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Hamlet: A Question and Other Responses
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0459.  Monday, 14 April 1997.

[1]     From:   Deborah Dale <
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        Date:   Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 14:38:24 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: Shakespearean Actress

[2]     From:   Laurie E. Osborne <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:28:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0451  Re: Hamlet and Frailty

[3]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 13:59:48 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Advice on Hamlet

[4]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 14:54:13 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Hamlet, Oedipus & Ophelia (long, sorry)

[5]     From:   John Boni <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 14:31:59 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0446 Re: Hamlet/Ophelia; Plea for Advice on Hamlet

[6]     From:   Norm Holland <
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        Date:   Sun, 13 Apr 97 14:33    :03
        Subj:   Hamlet in New York


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Deborah Dale <
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Date:           Sunday, 13 Apr 1997 14:38:24 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Re: Shakespearean Actress

This is a question perhaps for theatrical historians:  I'm seeking
references regarding first hand accounts by people who may have seen
Mary Robinson's portrayal of Ophelia in the late 18th c at the
Drury-lane theater, then under David Garrick (others are welcome--
she was most famous for her role as Perdita, though she also played
Cordelia and Rosiland, and Lady Macbeth I believe).  Accounts, such as,
for example, Wallace Stevens' informative perception of Sarah Bernhardt
as a female Hamlet.

Private responses would be preferable.  Thank you.

Deborah Dale
University of Washington

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laurie E. Osborne <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 08:28:56 -0400
Subject: 8.0451  Re: Hamlet and Frailty
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0451  Re: Hamlet and Frailty

Hello, all,

> James Marino <
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>> 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.<<

This is all well and good except that the lines do NOT read that way in
the Folio text. This version is the product of 18th century editing; the
original Folio text reads:

Alas, O frailty is the cause not we,
For such as we are made, if such we be.

My forthcoming essay, "Editing Frailty in Twelfth Night: 'Where lies
your Text?" argues that the identification of frailty as definitively
female in this speech was an 18th ideological choice, especially since
frailty is more often identified as a first a masculine trait throughout
the Folio. See Measure for Measure and especially Emilia's speech in
Othello. The comments exchanged between Jaqueline Strax and Susan Keegan
shed foreground the frailty of the flesh which I noticed throughout the
Folio as identified with men as much as (or even more) than women.

Cheers,
Laurie Osborne

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[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 13:59:48 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Advice on Hamlet

Having directed Hamlet twice within the past two years out in Illinois,
and being by all my friends' accounts obsessed with the bloody play, I'd
of course be more than willing to put in my two cents on the 'activist'
approach to Hamlet someone has proposed here.

I believe it was Granville-Barker who revived the notion that "to be or
not to be" was a contemplation of action, not a contemplation of
suicide; the 'enterprises of great pith and moment' he refers to involve
taking revenge for his father, very likely, an act which would certainly
involve risking his own life in the process.  To which I can only add
that the last word of this famous speech is "action", not "death" or
"suicide".

Have your Hamlet begin the scene as written, 'reading a book', and show
the audience a thoughtful man, reading out loud and commenting on what
he reads.  It's up to the actor to decide what's read and what's his own
commentary, but I find this approach to be far more fruitful an exercise
than the set-piece, mirror-gazing, cliffs-contemplating stuff that has
been regarded as de rigeur (sic) for so many years.  The prince thinks
out loud, he doesn't whine or moan out loud, that's the key I think to
discovering the activist in the Dane.

As for Ophelia, well, I'll simply ask if there is anyone on this list
who has insights similar to those recently offered on Desdemona.  I have
offered my Ophelias my own ideas, but would much rather hear from some
others before I jump in again.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 14:54:13 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Hamlet, Oedipus & Ophelia (long, sorry)

Ms. Straxx's comments have drawn me out, on the Ophelia and Oedipus
question.  I must confess right here that Freud's appropriation of Greek
myth to explain a certain dysfynction he may have seen in one or two
patients (more likely, read into the rantings of his patients) does not
move me, either as an actor or director.

As far as I am concerned the only legitimate Oedipal Hamlet was John
Barrymore, for the simple reason that he was seduced by his own
stepmother (admittedly, just a few years his senior) when he was a
teenager.  After sleeping with your father's wife, jumping Gertrude on
stage while fully clothed must seem a bit dull ...

If Hamlet has, as Ophelia says, courted her "in honorable fashion", and
if we see Ophelia-like Hamlet-to be a fundamentally honest character,
then we cannot attribute a sexual relationship to them.  If she in fact
lies to her father, and has had a fling or two, her death by
accident/suicide (remember, the bough breaks, she just doesn't sense it)
has precious little dramatic impact.  A lying teenage girl who sleeps
with guys who say they love her-what's to sympathize with?  What's so
poignant about a girl who has been around the bend, and who suffers from
her own little lies and intrigues?  If we assume the sexual
relationship, we assume she is far less honest and deserving of sympathy
than Shakespeare apparently would like.

As for Hamlet's advice to his mother-he clearly can't stand the thought
of his mother with any man other than his father, much less a worthless
creep like his Uncle.  This is not proto-Oedipalism, this is human
nature which any number of children with step-parents male or female can
readily attest to.  In the Saxo Grammaticus version of the story, he
lights into his mother with all the grotesque barnyard imagery he can
muster-Shakespeare lets her off easy by comparison.  She is unfaithful
to her husband's memory by marrying a lesser man, and particularly by
marrying less than two months after his death.  Again, these are things
which many human beings can relate to quite easily, and Freud's bizarre
attempts to make simple human nature into a negative, predatory sexual
dysfunction leave me cold.

Freud was born 300 years after the author we discuss here, and he didn't
understand people very well.  His misuse of Greek myth is bad enough,
his abuse of Hamlet, which has plagued the stage for over 4-score years,
is ten times worse.  Saying it's subconscious doesn't cut it.  Saying
it's not there, this Oedipal complex, comes closer to the mark.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Boni <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Apr 1997 14:31:59 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 8.0446 Re: Hamlet/Ophelia; Plea for Advice on Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0446 Re: Hamlet/Ophelia; Plea for Advice on Hamlet

Nick Clary's rhetorical question in response to Susan Keegan asks if if
matters that Hamlet's generalization on women's frailty matters if it is
prior to Ophelia's bowings.  To me, it matters in that it helps
construct Hamalet's frame of mind-given to generalization,
impressionable-in a word, youthful.  Thus, the generalization on women
uttered earlier provides an interpretative frame or (if you wish, is
confirmed by) for Ophelias' behavior.

John Boni

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norm Holland <
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Date:           Sun, 13 Apr 97 14:33:03 EDT
Subject:        Hamlet in New York

SHAKSPERians might be amused by this item in "Metropolitan Diary" in the
New York Times, Regional Edition, 4/13/97:

Dear Diary:

Overheard between two 30-something women as they were leaving a matinee
of the new film version of "Hamlet":
  Woman No. 1:  So what did you think?
  Woman No. 2:  Everytime he opened his mouth he made a speech.
  Woman No. 1:  That's Shakespeare for you.
                                        Michael Stinchcombe

One might add, that's New York for you.  Luvvit.  --Best, Norm
 

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