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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: April ::
Re: Lear; Cordelia; Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0477.  Saturday, 19 April 1997.

[1]     From:   David Dyal <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Apr 1997 11:03:00 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 8.0472 Distressed by Lear

[2]     From:   JoAnna Koskinen <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Apr 1997 11:23:52 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0471  Re: Cordelia

[3]     From:   Ed Pixley <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Apr 1997 17:07:35 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0459  Hamlet: A Question and Other Responses

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Dyal <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Apr 1997 11:03:00 -0700
Subject: Distressed by Lear
Comment:        SHK 8.0472 Distressed by Lear

I can identify with the student who is having trouble with _Lear_.  I've
heard all my intellectual life that _Lear_ is Shakespeare's most
powerful tragedy.  I wonder if the nature of the theme prevents
identification?  For me, the theme finally comes down to, Is that all
there is?, like the Peggy Lee song.  Yes, he's an old fool, believing
that he can control the consequences of his actions.  The utter
uselessness of it all is the whole point, isn't it?  If often wonder why
I "like" the character Macbeth better than either Hamlet or Lear.
Perhaps because Hamlet won't act, and Lear is impotent.  Macbeth, at
least, acts decisively against the forces that oppose him.  Of course,
the fact that I like Macbeth says much about me, but I have a feeling
that many people feel the same way.  I don't want to like Lear because I
don't want to believe that's all there is.

David Dyal
University of Florida

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           JoAnna Koskinen <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Apr 1997 11:23:52 -0700
Subject: 8.0471  Re: Cordelia
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0471  Re: Cordelia

I apologize for sending a response without adding what I was responding
to!  Someone on the board suggested that Cordelia was not being stubborn
and willful, but that she was merely presenting herself as one ready for
marriage (paraphrase). I agree with this, because of the line I
mentioned in the last letter that goes, "Why have my sisters husbands if
they say/They love you all? (1.1.97)."

There was no reason for France or Burgundy to assume that had Cordelia
appeased her father, it would not threaten their standing with her. If
taken in the biblical and social context of the times, when a woman
marries a man, she cleaves unto him, setting aside-not only her love-but
her loyalty to her family (to what extent I do not know). Reading
Goneril and Regan's replies to Lear question, it is not only clear that
they are deceptive, but that their husbands are in on it as well.
Cordelia does not have the advantage of a husband; she is on the auction
block, and if nothing else, must  maintain the appearance of being
available. When Burgundy rejects her, it's not because of her
presentation as one who will be a wife in the "fullest" sense, but
because of her lost dowry. France then says, "Thee and thy virtues here
I seize upon (1.1.252)," then, after chastizing Burgundy and Lear, he
ends with, "Thou losest here, a better where to find (1.1.261)."
Cordelia is neither stupid, stubborn, or rude, folks. If anything, she
was smart enough to remember the rule of survival as a woman of the
time.  Security-whether emotional, financial, or social-seems to play a
big part in the makeup of women in Shakespeare's works. I believe this
is all that is happening here.

JoAnna

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Pixley <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Apr 1997 17:07:35 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0459  Hamlet: A Question and Other Responses
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0459  Hamlet: A Question and Other Responses

On 12 Apr 1997, Andrew Walker White wrote:

> 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.

Dear Andy:

Thanks for reminding me that Granville-Barker was my source for the
perception of Hamlet contemplating action in "To be, or not to be."
Allow me to take this idea a few steps further-into its relevance to
other parts of the play.  At least with the standard scene arrangement
deriving from the First Folio, this reading makes it a culmination of a
dramatic problem established in I.5, where Hamlet vowed to sweep to his
revenge on "wings as swift as meditation," though, by the end of the
scene, he has also hinted at some kind of "antic disposition" he may put
on.  Nevertheless, an audience who approaches Act II expecting sweeping
revenge must indeed be puzzled with the gradual realization of the
amount of time that has passed since Hamlet made that vow, with no
apparent results, except the antic disposition.  1) Ophelia has
apparently barred Hamlet's access to her long enough to interpret that
as the cause of his distress; Laertes has been in Paris long enough for
Polonius to send Reyaldo to spy on him; 3) Cornelius and Voltimand have
gone to Norway and returned with their mission complete; 4) Hamlet's
weird behavior has prompted Claudius to send to Wittenberg for R & G,
who have already arrived at their behest.  When we finally do see
Hamlet, he is reading (hardly a sweeping activity) and playing mind
games with Polonius.  He goes on to play more mind games with R & G and
play some scenes with the Players.

Only after the Players leave, in his final soliloquy of the act, does he
suddenly ask the same question an audience might have been asking
throughout.  Why haven't I done it?  Look at this player . . . moved to
tears . . . by a fiction.  Had he my cause. . .etc.  He answers the
question first by deciding he must be a coward and then rants awhile
over that.  Suddenly recognizing the folowing of such ranting-like a
very drab-he calls himself an "ass," and says "about my brains."  That
is when he comes up with the second answer.  He doesn't trust the
Ghost.

(By the way, recognizing Hamlet as a character who frequently acts
impulsively and by intuition, this reading assumes that when he asks the
Player to do THE MURDER OF GONZAGO, and even to add some 12 or 16 lines,
he has not yet planned how he intends to use all that.)

And so the play's the thing wherein he'll catch the conscience . . .

This brings him back to the same position he was in at the end of his
I.2, where he needs to act on his suspicions.  But at least he now has a
direct plan, and a means in place to follow through.

   Question:  Why haven't I done it?
   Answer:    I'm a coward --   Rejection.
   Answer 2:  I don't trust the Ghost  --  Plan:  use the play.

Now, ten minutes later he's back on stage:

   To be or not to be -- that is the question (Answer # 3)

I haven't done it because I know that by taking revenge I'm going to
die. "To be" is to suffer the slings and arrows-that is, do nothing.
"Not to be" is to take arms against a sea of troubles (to act). That
would result in death-to sleep-no more-tis a consumation devoutly to be
wished   To sleep -- perchance to dream -- ay, there's the rub.  Thus
deeds of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn
awry and lose the name of action.

Not until Hamlet reconciles himself with his own intuitive and impulsive
nature can he commit himself to the action.  He loathes the
impulsiveness in himself, thinking he must never act until he has worked
through in his mind to the final consequences of that action.  Thus he
so admires Horatio who is not "passion's slave."  And every time he
allows thought to intervene between his desire and his action, he is
paralyzed-as at the prayer scene:  "that would be scanned."

He goes through several stages in working that out, most notably, of
course, watching Fortinbras, where he arrives at a new sense of
greatness:  "rightly to be great" is "greatly to find quarrel in a straw
when honor's at the stake";  then in the graveyard, with a new sense of
destiny, contemplating great Caesar and Alexander-and of course Yorick;
then with Horatio at the beginning of V.2, recognizing the "divinity
that shapes our ends" and the "providence in the fall of a sparrow."
"Let be."  Only now can he let go of his own need to control and predict
his own behavior, something that he has resisted from everyone else
throughout the play.

Unquestionably this reading is strongly influenced by 20th-century
existentialism, but, as Otto Brahm said 100 years ago, all art can only
be modern art.

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to get that off my chest.

Ed Pixley
SUNY-Oneonta
 

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