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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: July ::
Re: Hamlet and Characters
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0785.  Saturday, 26 July 1997.

[1]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Jul 1997 13:40:09 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 8.0782 Re: Hamlet and Characters

[2]     From:   Gilad Shapira <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Jul 97 22:22:34 PDT
        Subj:   Re: Various Hamlet

[3]     From:   Ed Pixley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jul 1997 12:30:54 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0751  Re: Various Re: Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Jul 1997 13:40:09 +0100
Subject: 8.0782 Re: Hamlet and Characters
Comment:        RE: SHK 8.0782 Re: Hamlet and Characters

Obviously, Simon Malloch has missed Terry Hawkes's point entirely.
Hamlet is neither a naturalistic play nor is it a soap opera.
Characters in Elizabethan plays don't "think", nor are they "human" in
the kind of transhistorical sense that Malloch seems to be suggesting.

Cheers
John Drakakis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gilad Shapira <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Jul 97 22:22:34 PDT
Subject:        Re: Various Hamlet

I want to emphasize the role of the artistic power of the playwright
building his characters. Instead of asking why Hamlet is doing
something, I rather ask why Shakespeare made him act in such a way and
what is the meaning of this artistic decision.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Pixley <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jul 1997 12:30:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 8.0751  Re: Various Re: Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0751  Re: Various Re: Hamlet

> One more Director's question:  does Hamlet really think Claudius is in
> Gertrude's room, behind the arras?  He's just left him behind in the
> chapel (which, at Elsinore, is near a spiral staircase leading to the
> Queen's chambers, I believe) and I've always wondered whether this meant
> his remarks after stabbing Polonius were meant as sarcasm.

Andy:  As you will note from the date, I am over a week behind in my
messages, so your question may already have been talked to death, but
I'll throw in my 2 cents anyway.

I like to think of Hamlet as an impulsive, even impetuous, character (I
think it was Frances Fergusson who called him improvisational).  He
himself uses the term "rash."  But this is a quality in himself that he
dislikes; he admires Horatio, "that man who is not passion's slave,"
whom he "will wear in [his] heart, ay, in [his] heart's core," and so
on. He does act rashly, when he follows the Ghost, when he interrupts
the Players, and, of course, when he kills Polonius.  But such rash
actions come only when he is so impassioned that he doesn't have time
for "thought" to intervene-when "the native hue of resolution

            Is sicklied o'er  with the pale cast of thought,
            And enterprises of great pitch and moment
            With this regard their currents turn awry,
            And lose the name of action."

He is, at this point in the play, a believer in consequential action,
and so he cannot act without knowing the consequences, and when he
thinks about the consequences, he becomes paralyzed-as when he doesn't
kill the king at prayer:  "and so 'a goes to heaven;

            And so I am revenged.  That would be scanned.

Only gradually does he move to a belief in existential, rather than
consequential action.  A key point for this change is in his soliloquy
about Fortinbras:

           "Rightly to be great,
           Is not to stir without great argument,
           But rightly to find quarrel in a straw
           When honor's at the stake."

The whole graveyard scene is devoted to the question of what comes of
the great actions of Yorick, Great Caesar, and Alexander.  And when
Hamlet describes to Horatio what he did on board ship in finding their
packet, he begins by observing:

             "Rashly---
          And praised be rashness for it; let us know,
          Our indiscretion sometime serves us well
          When our deep plots do pall."

And of course he ends that discussion with the "special providence in
the fall of a sparrow" speech.  "Since no man of aught he leaves knows,
what is't to leave betimes?  Let be."  That conclusion is the exact
opposite of what he said in the "To be or not to be" soliloquy."

So, if it has already been beaten to death, I apologize for the
intrusion, but, hey, I at least had a good time intruding.  So thanks
for the question.

Ed Pixley
 

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