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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: June ::
Re: Various Questions Related to *Ham.*
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0715.  Thursday, 26 June 1997.

[1]     From:   Chris Clark <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Jun 1997 16:15:31 -0400
        Subj:   Hamlet's madness

[2]     From:   Chris Clark <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Jun 1997 16:15:41 -0400
        Subj:   Various Questions Related to *Ham.*


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Clark <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Jun 1997 16:15:31 -0400
Subject:        Hamlet's madness

In John Dover Wilson's book on Hamlet, he seems to suggest that Hamlet's
madness is involuntary, the result of his fierce emotional reaction to
seeing the ghost, and aware of this he claims it is all pretense so that
he can use it to gain himself extra freedom of expression.

Is this a plausible point of view? I suppose it reconciles with his
'north-north-west' comment to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern...

What do you people think?

Chris

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Clark <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Jun 1997 16:15:41 -0400
Subject:        Various Questions Related to *Ham.*

Thank you to everyone who replied to my questions about Hamlet.

I am, as will become clear, of the opinion that Hamlet is sane. I would
argue that his fatal flaw is passion, both in excess and in
insufficiency.

Is there sufficient controversy over Hamlet's madness for me to write
about this issue, or is there some other facet of the play that people
consider unrepresented and that I should investigate instead?

Here are my comments as regards your help...

[1] Sean Lawrence <
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 > [online bibliography]

I have got Bradley's criticism, and in the process and am in the process
of reading it and analysing the text in detail to strengthen my own
convictions. As far as the bibliography is concerned, I suspect it could
be really useful, so I may start researching with a view to at least
producing something of that kind..

[2] Scott Crozier <
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 > [Polonius/Laertes]

> Maybe he does know the "primrose path" and is a "puffed and
> reckless libertine"

OK - I suspected it could be something of that sort, but I had to
inquire, because it has to be said that there was a distinct lack of
evidence in the text.

[3] Louis Marder <
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 > [Madness]

> Hamlet is snots mad.

I thought as much - I was pretty much searching for people who think he
is, because the evidence for it being a masquerade seems too strong to
me.

> All you can do is make a list of opinions and count them up like a
> poll,  so many pros, so many cons, so many can't make up their minds.

It has to be said that he does do and say some pretty strange things,
but on the other hand someone pretending to be mad WOULD do so. I
personally disagree with both Bradley and Dover Wilson, and subscribe to
the too thoughtful, sane interpretation of the prince.

> Making your annotated bibliography will keep you busy for years.

It will be a good project to put on my university application form
though. And it will be really interesting to get a decent list and
categorise the criticism.

Thanks for the book recommendations and as and when I get something done
towards compiling this bibliography-type thingy, I will let you know.

[4] Stuart Manger <
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 > [Madness]

> Having him mad simply does not work on stage

I agree that he is not mad, but it does have to be made pretty clear
that it's a facade - and luckily that's what Ophelia is there for.

> how he deploys his intellect in circumventing

Although he gets his revenge, he surely shows himself as a potentially
not very good King, no? Surely, Fortinbras is there to show that action
must be taken and one must not ponder too long, and Laertes is there to
show the danger of being corrupted. It has to be said that Hamlet does
show himself to have some major weaknesses. He gets revenge, as
requested by the ghost...

> the temper of the times was for secret spying, paid informers

It's nice to have some background knowledge, even if there is no textual
evidence.

I really dislike Polonius, he's a greasy creep - I suspect he only tells
Ophelia to reject Hamlet's advances not through concern for her, but in
the hope that he will ask to marry her, thus elevating his own social
status... and I think that is a LOW way to be acting. Sycophant.

[5] Andrew Walker White <
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 > [Madness]

> "When the wind is southerly", i.e., when it's warmer and sunnier, his
> symptoms abate.

So Hamlet, by that definition, is definitely sane just before the duel
with Laertes? That makes that part even more of an enigma!

> As for his love of his father being extreme, I beg to differ.

Hehe, you're welcome to do so.  I'm new to this play, and on many things
I am certain to be incorrect, even if I can come out with some valid
points.

> remove almost any trace of reason, honesty and responsibility from him

I credit him with reason. He is a bit deceiving, but clearly one has to
be in his situation. Responsible I can't call him, otherwise would he
not have challenged Claudius openly, or killed him earlier? And what
about his treatment of Ophelia? He doesn't display much compassion
there.

> If you say that there's no reason for Hamlet to prefer his natural
> father to his uncle

Oh no, don't get me wrong. I really like Hamlet, the person.. and
clearly there is reason for him to like his father a lot more than his
uncle, who seems to have been a contemptible, evil and incestuous little
sneak. On the other hand, surely it is fair to say that Hamlet takes his
grief too far? He says he wants to die, which is natural grief.. and
wanting revenge is fine... but his father went to Hell, he can't have
been the God (literally, he calls him Jove, no?) that he seems to think
he was!

Hamlet's lack of action against Claudius, mistreatment of Ophelia, out
of hand execution of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (though I consider they
were supposed to be viewed as mercenaries, out for reward, getting what
they deserve) and murder of Polonius do count against Hamlet, it must be
said. The arguments against his sanity lie more in his dialogue than
with his actions.

And yet he is caught in a truly terrible situation and it is almost
impossible but to sympathise. True, there are mirrors for Hamlet to show
how he should have acted and he does seem to be frightfully
self-indulgent, but at the same time he's a nice guy.

[6] John Lee <
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 > [Madness]

> Oscar Wilde saw Hamlet's discussion of playing as holding the mirror up
> to nature as the indisputable evidence of the Prince's madness.

Thanks for that. I may use that as a counter-argument in my case that he
is a sane man, caught in a tide of emotion and unable to cope with so
many crises at once, dulled into inaction, while still planning his
action. Could you be a bit more specific as to how Wilde makes his case
please?

Thank you to everyone again!

Chris
 

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