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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: January ::
Hamlet as Renaissance anti-prince; Mercutio's Mab
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0037  Friday, 9 January 1998.

[1]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Jan 1998 22:32:58 +0000
        Subj:   Hamlet as Renaissance anti-prince

[2]     From:   Paul S. Rhodes <
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        Date:   Fri, 9 Jan 1998 00:45:56 -0600
        Subj:   Mercutio's Mab Speech


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Jan 1998 22:32:58 +0000
Subject:        Hamlet as Renaissance anti-prince

Hamlet seems obsessed with the theme of honour: he admires it in is
father, Horatio, Young Fortinbras, the anonymous Captain leading the
troops to Poland. He even seems to admire the 'rugged Pyrrhus' in a
paradoxical way - despite the latter's savage ways with old men. And
yet, and yet, everything he does - Ophelia's despair, his own behaviour
in striking bargains with pirates, secret killings, killings he shrugs
from accepting as guilty burdens - all these lead one to wonder if
Shakespeare intended us to see Hamlet as a young man broken by the
attempt to be what he can never be, namely the delicate and tender
prince his father would have wished him to be? Where can I find the
notion of Hamlet as Renaissance Prince - or its antithesis - best set
out? I am searching for critical names and ideas. Thank you.

Stuart Manger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul S. Rhodes <
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Date:           Fri, 9 Jan 1998 00:45:56 -0600
Subject:        Mercutio's Mab Speech

Greetings all,

I could comment on the various responses to my post on the heresy of
postmodernism, but just because I can do something does not mean I
should.  Therefore, I will let the post-modernists deconstruct
themselves.  They are very good at doing just that.

For years I have been going into high schools and performing Queen Mab
before freshmen.  I tell them before I perform that every performance is
an interpretation and as such stands or falls by how well it squares
with the text.  I hope by telling them this that in the discussion that
follows they will challenge my reading and offer alternative
interpretations.  But that never happens.  The freshmen are too
dumfounded by the strangeness of the language to be able to do such
sophisticated hermeneutics of it, I suppose.  So, I wind up having to
lead them through what I just performed line by line, which is fine, but
they end up swallowing my reading hook, line, and sinker, a result
exactly opposite of what I intend (or, more precisely, hope for).

Now, if any of you have any suggestions as to how I can get the freshmen
to respond a little more critically, I would be most obliged.  There is
probably nothing I can do.  I usually only have about fifty minutes and
that is just enough time to explain what Mercutio is saying and to make
sure that freshmen understand the explanation.  I should tell you that
after I perform, I try to do as little of the talking as possible.  I
figure that after I have inflicted the students with my hamming, it's
best that I be as taciturn as possible.  So, I employ the Socratic
method of question and answer, starting with the students' opinions.
But, invariably, I have to point out what a benefice is and other such
things (the student usually read the Folger's or Signet editions with
their abundant glosses but never seem to avail themselves of the
glosses-sigh), and that takes time.  Also, I have to explain my
interpretation because either my performance is lousy or they just don't
understand it.  By the time I've done all that, there's no time left for
the critical discussion that I had hoped for.  I could do more, I
suppose, if I were allowed to teach the whole play, but because I want
certification, I am deemed unqualified to teach-but that's a grumble
that has no place on this list, sorry.

But what I would really like this list to consider is my interpretation,
which lately I have come to doubt.  I have read Mab as essentially
Mercutio's description of his own descent into cynicism.  I hang this
reading on his line about the wind, "who woos even now the frozen bosom
of the North; being angered, puffs away from thence, turning his head to
the dew-dropping South."  Mercutio, according to my reading, has given
up trying to soften the heart of this, cold, cruel world where all
professed idealism is nothing but banal hypocrisy (the parson, for
instance, cares only about getting more money, not for the salvation of
his flock) and turns to dissolute dandyism.  But this seems to me now to
be reading far too much into the metaphor.  Besides, would a cynical
dandy stand up so boldly for the honor of his friend?  I doubt it.  A
much more plausible reading of the Mab speech, I think, is this:  it is
Mercutio's attempt to wean Romeo from his mad obsession with an
idealistic concept of Love.  The Mab speech depicts a world where only
narrow self-interest prevails and the high ideals that Romeo yearns for
are in no way realized.  Mercutio is hoping to persuade Romeo that
because the world is thus, trying to impose upon it utopian dreams of
love is as futile as the wind's attempt to warm up the North.  Or, in
other words, Mercutio is aggressively opposing to Romeo's romantic
zealotry, which ultimately leads to frustration, the calm, practical
philosophy of resignation.  This fits in nicely with the Friar's line
about "Adversity's Sweet Milk" but still is at odds with Mercutio's
fighting for Romeo's honor.

If any of you would share with me her thoughts on the matter, I'd be, as
I stated earlier, greatly obliged.  Thank you.  Sorry if this posting is
too rambling.  Too much thought about post-modernisn could very well
have soften my head.

Paul S. Rhodes
 

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