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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: July ::
Re: Characters and Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0764.  Thursday, 17 July 1997.

[1]     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 09:51:40 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0760  The Can of Worms: Characters

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 07:52:13 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 8.0760  The Can of Worms: Characters

[3]     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 10:32:51 CST6CDT
        Subj:   Hamlet questions

[4]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 14:55:17 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0759 Re: Various Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 09:51:40 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 8.0760  The Can of Worms: Characters
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0760  The Can of Worms: Characters

Milla Riggio is of course correct that 1) the number of scenes of
deception *of the audience* in Shakespeare for which there is absolute
textual authority for the "sarcasm" or other performance-based tip-off
to the deception is zero, 2) any line can be read ironically, 3) it is a
truism of Shakespearean acting that, except in the cases of
pre-confessed manipulators (Iago, Richard III), characters say what they
mean and mean what they say.  On the other hand, there are accretions in
the form of production traditions: it is still considered "innovative,"
for example, to play Shylock's introduction of the "merry bond" as if it
were indeed "merry."

Continuity is, indeed, a modern concept, and the "real" architecture of
Elsinore is irrelevant to the fictive world of the play.  Hell, I can't
remember where the staircases are in the university library, and I've
been there a few hundred more times than the average London theatre-goer
had been to Elsinore.  But _Hamlet_ becomes a different kind of play *to
a modern audience* if plausibility is breached.  Not lesser, but
different: in the way that Aeschylus' _Choephoroi_, with its a-logical
recognition scene, is different from Euripides' _Electra_, which deftly
satirizes the Aeschylean version.  To be honest, it never occurred to me
that Hamlet might believe the person behind the arras to be other than
Claudius-but Andy White's musings that Hamlet must believe Claudius to
have teleported into Gertrude's chamber (my phrasing, not his) have
merit... if, of course, we accept the notion that fictional characters
"think."

Actually, I have a better solution.  What are Hamlet's words?  "How
now?  A rat?".  Given the fact that Shakespeare's characters always mean
what they say, it must be that Hamlet thought he was killing a rat.  The
scene in which he was appointed Royal Exterminator was inexplicably cut
from Quarto and Folio alike...

Rick Jones

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 07:52:13 -0700
Subject: 8.0760  The Can of Worms: Characters
Comment:        RE: SHK 8.0760  The Can of Worms: Characters

>But a reading like the one below presumes
>some "textual" foundation for the assumption that Hamlet intentionally
>killed Polonius; that "textual" authority is in this case the
>application of a modern concept of continuity (Hamlet has just left
>Claudius; this cannot be Claudius.  WHY NOT?)

Besides an assumption of continuity, doesn't it also assume one or two
things about Wittenberg's architecture?  I mean, what's to keep Claudius
from getting to the confessional to the queen's bedchamber more quickly
than Hamlet, by an alternate route?

Cheers,
Sean.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 10:32:51 CST6CDT
Subject:        Hamlet questions

Hamlet's murder of Polonius is one of the more intriguing scenes of the
play: if we assume that Hamlet just dashed to Gertrude's room after
leaving Claudius at prayer, it does seem odd that he thinks it was
Claudius behind the arras. Since we don't know either the logistics of
the castle, or whether Hamlet made any other stops enroute, however, we
can certainly allow for the possibility that Claudius could have made it
there before Hamlet (Branagh's recent film, with all the secret
passages, made this seem very feasible).  The most persuasive argument
for me, in terms of believing Hamlet's suspicion/hope that it is
Claudius he has slain, has more to do with his state of mind. He is
coming to Gertrude following the moments of exhilaration after the play,
then the crucial decision not to kill Claudius at his prayers; he has,
he thinks, succeeded in catching Claudius out and is probably more ready
to act than he has been until this point: his impulse is allowed to play
itself out, and the final movement of the tragedy begins.

Chris Gordon

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jul 1997 14:55:17 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0759 Re: Various Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0759 Re: Various Hamlet

Terence Hawkes' sometimes justifiable-depending-on-the-discussion
insistence on the non-reality of characters reminds me of the way
beginning actors struggle with S's texts: "Just tell me how you want me
to say it.  Why do I have to figure out why the character says it?"

Why, indeed?

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company
 

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