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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: July ::
Re: Recent Editions; Feste's Songs; Hamlet's Madness
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0732.  Wednesday, 2 July 1997.

[1]     From:   Susan Brock <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 1 Jul 1997 13:13:39 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 8.0724 Recent Editions

[2]     From:   Jimmy Jung <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Jun 1997 12:03 -0500
        Subj:   RE, Re: Terror and Magnificence

[3]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Jun 1997 20:49:37 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Hamlet's Madness


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan Brock <
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Date:           Tuesday, 1 Jul 1997 13:13:39 +0100
Subject: Recent Editions
Comment:        SHK 8.0724 Recent Editions

Dr Marder is thinking of Which Shakespeare: A User's Guide to Editions,
edited by Ann Thompson and others (Milton Keynes: Open University Press,
1992)

Larry Champion's Essential Shakespeare: An Annotated Bibliography of
Major Modern Studies, 2nd ed. (Boston MA: G.K.Hall, 1993) also lists and
assesses editions.

Susan Brock
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jimmy Jung <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Jun 1997 12:03 -0500
Subject:        RE, Re: Terror and Magnificence

Carl Fortunato, who asked "Why just that one song? Feste sings *all* the
songs."

We only had to do one scene for a class (thank god).

As I recall, I tried using the melody from "In the still of the night"
(Five Satins 1956?).  It was close enough for class, but I still have my
day job.

jimmy


[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Jun 1997 20:49:37 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Hamlet's Madness

The responses to the question on Hamlet's mental state have been a bit
too much in the either/or category.  Couldn't it be the case, instead,
that Shakespeare wanted Hamlet to be afflicted with melancholy, but that
he didn't classify this as pure madness?

The Earl of Essex, himself quite friendly with the company, is a prime
example of an admirable character who was nevertheless afflicted with
melancholy.  It was not regarded as a crippling disease, some even
considered it to be a virtue, driving men to thoughts and feats beyond
those they would have otherwise been capable of.

Hamlet's pretended madness is, indeed, central to the original Danish
legend.  Shakespeare's innovation is to add the contemporary detail of
melancholy, to render the Dane more recognizable to his audience.

And it is this melancholy which forces him to be cautious in dealing
with Claudius.  Any civilized person would prefer to see 'ocular proof'
of a man's guilt before executing him.  And Hamlet only has the
testimony of a ghost. It makes perfect sense, then, for the Prince to
demand "grounds more relative than this" before he finally resolves to
kill Claudius.  Knowing he is prone to emotional outbursts and hence
mentally vulnerable to suggestion, he knows himself well enough to
demand proof positive of his father's murder.

His pretended madness is completely apart from his melancholy, and is a
way of keeping Claudius unaware of Hamlet's suspicions that he is a
regicide.  Shakespeare deliberately works on multiple levels in this
script, and our attempts to simplify the question of Hamlet's character
are unwittingly condescending.  We assume that the Elizabethan mind was
incapable of dealing with complexities of character, in spite of the
evidence that it was one of the very things that drew audiences to the
Globe in the first place.

As for why Ophelia gets such rotten treatment from Hamlet, keep in mind
that he knows she is there to spy on him, and she refuses to admit that
she's working for Polonius and Claudius.  Moreover, in her speech to
Hamlet she accuses him of dropping her, which is clearly a lie-she has
refused him for well on two months.  Hamlet's rage is perfectly
understandable, just as it is understandable when he corners his mother
later on.  Ophelia has betrayed him in deepest trust, and refuses to be
truthful with him.

As Maximilian Schell pointed out, all she has to say in response to
"where's your father?" is "behind the arras-I'll explain everything
later", and the scene would turn out completely differently.

Andy White
Arlington, VA
 

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