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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: May ::
Re: Branagh's Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0517  Saturday, 30 May 1998.

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 29 May 1998 14:16:34 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0510  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

[2]     From:   Justin Bacon <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 May 1998 05:12:02 -0700
        Subj:   Branagh and Jennings as Hamlet

[3]     From:   John P. Dwyer <
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        Date:   Saturday, 30 May 1998 07:25:05 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0506 Branagh's Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 29 May 1998 14:16:34 -0400
Subject: 9.0510  Re: Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0510  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

My professional brother, Ed Taft, invites me to comment further:

> 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."

Thank you, Ed.  The conventions of the soliloquy require us to accept
the speaker's words as accurately describing his state of mind.  He
might be in error, but he is not lying, and Ed is correct on that score.

Hamlet tells us four things that, if accurate, make it inexplicable that
he has not yet killed Claudius.  Two of those things (strength and
means) are (fairly) objective, and I think we have to accept Hamlet's
word for them.  Moreover, they are confirmed by circumstance:  Hamlet
clearly has the strength-he employs it in the last scene.  As for means,
we see that Hamlet had the run of the palace at least until he killed
Polonius.  In fact, as in the Saxo Grammaticus story, Hamlet might have
feigned madness in order to assure access to the king.

This leaves "cause" and "will."  Ed suggests that maybe Hamlet is in
doubt about the cause, but to believe that we would have to accept the
notion that he is deliberately lying in a soliloquy, an unacceptable
idea.  Nor is it helpful to postulate that Hamlet thinks he has a good
reason to do it but doesn't really.  I can't think of a way to divide
actual from conceived cause as a motive force.  If Hamlet believes he
has the cause, he has ample motive, even if the ghost is a figment of
his imagination.

But I don't think the same can be said for "will."  We can all think of
instances in which we or others have said-honestly and in good faith --
that we want to do something which we are able to do but never manage to
try.  Year after year, a friend tells you "I will learn to ski this
year"; but he never goes to the mountain.  It is quite possible for
Hamlet to "want" to kill Claudius in an abstract sort of way.  But he
cannot "will" himself to do't.  Why?  That's the question.

Perhaps, as Mason West suggests, it is because murder is a difficult
thing to bring oneself to do.  But, as if to anticipate and answer this
point, Shakespeare shows us how easy it is for Hamlet to kill his old
school chums.  Or, perhaps, as Hamlet tells us just before the 26/27
words (and in two earlier soliloquies), he's a coward.  I'm afraid I
have no better answer, and I would like to hear what others think.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 May 1998 05:12:02 -0700
Subject:        Branagh and Jennings as Hamlet

A few more misc. ruminations...

H.R. Greenberg wrote:

> I haven't been following the ins and outs of this thread-but has anyone
> noted the similarity of Branagh at his best to Jacobi's interpretation?

Actually I thought Branagh's interpretation was radically the opposite
of Jacobi's (although I have only seen Jacobi's BBC production).

> Also, to my mind, Jacobi is the best Claudius I've ever seen, just as
> Jack Lemmon's Bernardo and Crystal's Gravedigger were the worst takes on
> those characters I've ever seen.

I certainly agree on the points of Claudius (superb) and Lemmon (awful),
but I thought Crystal's Gravedigger was right on the button. What
problems did he find with his interpretation?

Peter T. Hadorn wrote:

> I would respond by observing that pretty much all we know about Hamlet
> Senior comes from Hamlet Junior who clearly idealizes his father.
> Otherwise, all we know for sure is that he wore armor a lot, was able to
> defeat old Norway (a war- monger-like Fortinbras?  Which may be why
> Hamlet gives his voice to Fortinbras at the end), slept in his garden
> (neglectful of state?), and, perhaps, was neglectful of wife ("O
> Hamlet,  what a falling off was there!")  So, yeah, men ARE pigs in this
> play.  Notice the first thing the old school chums Hamlet, Rosencrantz
> and Guildenstern start sniggering about as soon as they meet: Lady
> Fortune's "privates."

A few thoughts on this:

1. "O Hamlet, what a falling off was there!" sounds a lot more to me
like Hamlet Sr. lamenting the fact his wife was cheating behind his
back. Of course, he could have alienated his wife. There's just no
textual proof of that (and if he did, why does she feel so guilty in the
scene with Hamlet Jr.?).

2. Okay, yeah, sexual humor from college students. Big whoopin' surprise
there.

3. I'd set the men of this play against the women any day of the week.
Of the two women's roles you have Gertrude cheating on her husband and
then marrying his brother before the body's scarcely cold and then you
have Ophelia who dumps Hamlet like a cold turkey without a word of
explanation and then pops back into his life a couple months later for
the *sole* purpose of manipulating him. On the other hand, the character
of the majority of the men in the play is unimpingeable when it comes to
women.

Justin Bacon

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John P. Dwyer <
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Date:           Saturday, 30 May 1998 07:25:05 -0400
Subject: 9.0506 Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0506 Branagh's Hamlet

I think there's a bit too much Holden Caulfield-like analysis of actors
in recent complaints about Branagh's _Hamlet_.  The more often I view it
(the whole way through), the better I like it.

John P. Dwyer
CCPS/ FL Gulf Coast U
 

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