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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Re: Branagh's Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0510  Friday, 29 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Matthew Gretzinger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 May 1998 17:18:20 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet

[2]     From:   Mason West <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 27 May 1998 19:41:10 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet

[3]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 May 1998 10:00:45 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Hamlet: 4.4.44-47

[4]     From:   Dusty Rhodes <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 May 1998 10:51:15 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Gretzinger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 May 1998 17:18:20 -0400
Subject: 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet

Larry Weiss writes:

> The sheer virtuosity of 26 consecutive monosyllabic words (27 if you
>consider "do't" as two) is remarkable in itself.  It makes emphasis of the
>passage by even the dullest of actors unavoidable.  Add to that the fact
>that it sums up the central mystery of the play, and does so in a fashion
>that invites profounder analysis.

If I had to pick one speech in't I chiefly lov'd, it would be this one.
I agree with L. W. and find his comments on "How all occasions..."
insightful.  I have always felt that this speech grounds Hamlet and ties
all of his loose threads together in preparation for the final movement
of the play.  It's also my favorite acting speech.  Much to do, perhaps,
with the power of those twenty-six/-seven syllables... and the wonderful
(if potentially confusing)

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

However, I'm wondering: why is there no sign of it in the Folio?

Can it be W. S. felt that other soliloquies did the job ("O what a Rogue
and Peasant Slave" also laments inaction, for example) and axed it for
playing time?  That seems a weak theory (though I can buy it for "So,
oft it chances in particular men...").  This speech may iterate, but it
also offers new direction & focus.  I find it hard to enjoy productions
that enter the denouement without H. resolving "O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!"

Just wondered what others thought.

-Matthew

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mason West <
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Date:           Wednesday, 27 May 1998 19:41:10 -0500
Subject: 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet

Larry Weiss wrote:

> Thus, I don't think it is
> coincidental that the gravedigger begins Act V by alluding (albeit
> inaccurately) to the common philosophical conceit that an act has three
> distinct components.  As I recall, they are motive, intention and
> performance, not "to act, to do [and] to perform."  Hamlet has just
> reminded us that, in his opinion, all three of the necessary components
> are satisfied ("since I have cause, and will, and strength"), and adds
> for good measure that he could not be hindered by external lets ("and
> means").  Why, therefore, was he unable "to do't," Hamlet wonders.  So
> do we.  Perhaps an answer can be discerned by applying the conventions
> of the soliloquy.  I leave that for others to comment on for the nonce.

Forgive my digression, but think about the myth-busting genre-breaking
Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven. The film reminds us that a man of
average moral stature cannot easily take aim and take a life. Killing,
contrary to the Western myth of gratuitous mayhem, is difficult for
William Munny (Eastwood), at least until he is pushed across yet another
genre attribute: the threshold of justified violence (a la Rambo). It's
been a while since I saw Branagh's Hamlet, but as I recall, Branagh goes
some length to show Hamlet's hesitation to kill, even though he had a
perfect opportunity in the confession scene. Could Hamlet's hesitation
be explained, at least in part, by how hard it is to kill someone?
Hamlet may be a little off, but he isn't a murderous psychopath; he
isn't even drunk as William Munny was in his past life when he did
gratuitously kill a lot of people.

--Mason West

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 May 1998 10:00:45 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Hamlet: 4.4.44-47

Larry Weiss makes a good point about the centrality of 4.4.44-47, and
also about the mystery attending these lines. For example, I tend to
think that Hamlet knows perfectly well why he has not killed Claudius
yet; the prince has yet to discover a way to prove that the ghost he saw
gave commands that represent heaven's will.  On the other hand, I have a
hard time defending the ideas that Hamlet is lying in a soliloquy (!).
So, I'd really like to hear what Larry Weiss thinks on this matter, and
how, perhaps, we can arrive at an answer "by applying the conventions of
the  soliloquy."

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dusty Rhodes <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 May 1998 10:51:15 -0600
Subject: 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0506  Branagh's Hamlet

Mr. Weinstein ends his inspired polemic against Branagh's Hamlet with
this swipe at Branagh's performance:

>His own performance is trivial when
>isn't grating.  He plays Hamlet as a nice, ordinary young chap who's
>gotten in a little over his head-which is a pretty good description of
>Branagh.

Now, I don't disagree.  I just have this question.  How the devil should
Hamlet be depicted?  Having that about this 800 Pound Gorilla of English
Literature for more than a decade now, I have come to the conclusion
that C.S. Lewis is right.  If one strips away the poetry, all one has is
a character who has lost interest in life, however much he tries to find
stimulation in syllogistic games or revenge.  Hamlet is merely a
hyper-articulate moper, and that doesn't make for a very interesting
character.  Perhaps, the best an actor can do is too make him "nice".

Paul S. Rhodes
 

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