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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Poland; Fortinbras; Maps; Ham. Qs
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1125  Thursday, 12 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Skip Nicholson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Nov 1998 11:23:02 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1123  Re: Poland

[2]     From:   Kristine Batey <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Nov 1998 13:52:59 -0600
        Subj:   Re: Fortinbras

[3]     From:   Michael Ullyot <
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        Date:   Thu, 12 Nov 1998 10:56:49 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1115 Re: Maps of Play Settings

[4]     From:   Ed Friedlander <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Nov 1998 06:52:49
        Subj:   Katherine Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Skip Nicholson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Nov 1998 11:23:02 -0800
Subject: 9.1123  Re: Poland
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1123  Re: Poland

> Andrew Walker writes:

> Then again, a third possibility presents itself; knowing much of his
> audience wouldn't care if he got his geography wrong, the playwright set
> up Norway on the same land-mass as Denmark.  A few hundred years
> before Gondwanaland, even ...

I've always been told that "in Hamlet's time" (!) Elsinore was in the
center of Denmark, meaning that a big hunk of what is now southern
Sweden was then Danish soil-and on the same land-mass as Norway. Have I
been most notoriously abused?

Cheers,
Skip Nicholson
South Pasadena (CA) HS

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristine Batey <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Nov 1998 13:52:59 -0600
Subject:        Re: Fortinbras

Andy White wrote:

>This talk of maps reminds me, something I've puzzled over for some
>time.  When Claudius learns of Fortinbras' intent to march through
>Denmark on the way to Poland, he must know this is either a) a stupid
>stratagem, since sailing through the strait at Elsinore and into the
>Baltic would get him there in no time, or b) a military threat, thinly
>veiled as a request for permission to march through.
>
>This scenario  has led me in the past to stage Fortinbras' return to
>Elsinore as a full-out attack.  It may have been that, given the theory
>of humours, Shakespeare intended the arrival of a red-headed royal as a
>happy ending.  But this is a hostile element, taking over the castle.
>What gives?

I'd go with b). And I don't think I'd say Fortinbras' arrival was
intended as a "happy" ending. It's a resolution, certainly, and one
could say that it returns the world to equilibrium.

Hamlet is a tragedy in the classical sense: hero of high stature brought
down as a result of a fatal flaw, a personal act so heinous that he
cannot live. Arguably, it's Claudius who has the fatal flaw-I've
mentioned before on this list the idea that the play is standard tragedy
viewed from a skewed perspective, and the Claudius is actually the
tragic hero. Hamlet himself has neglected to take action to prevent the
ascension to the throne of a murderer and usurper.

In the 20th century, we're accustomed to seeing personal tragedy unfold
on the stage. Hamlet is a personal tragedy, but it's also tragedy in a
grand sense. In a world where the position of royalty is established by
God, the commission of, shall we say, high crimes and misdemeanors by
the sovereign imperils the entire nation's place in the order of the
universe. The sovereign isn't just the head of state, he is The State.
When the king violates the order God has ordained for the universe, the
entire State falls with him.

I've done my share of carping about the Branagh Hamlet, but I'd have to
say that it's the first version of the play I've seen that really
expresses how integral the Fortinbras subplot is the play as a whole.
I've heard it said that Fortinbras is included in the play only to
provide a device for getting all those bodies offstage at the end, there
being no curtains in theaters. Many productions seem to follow that
logic; many end the play with Horatio's "Good night, sweet prince" line.
That is indeed the end of the personal tragedy, but the bigger tragedy,
the disruption in the fabric of the universe, requires that the
sovereignty of the House of Hamlet be totally destroyed, and Denmark as
an entity with it. It's an important conceptual point that the
well-being of the state rests on the moral impeccability of its rulers,
not only in a practical sense but in a metaphysical one.

We're still wrestling with this idea, of course, particularly in the US
of late.

Kristine Batey
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA

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[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Ullyot <
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Date:           Thu, 12 Nov 1998 10:56:49 +0000
Subject: 9.1115 Re: Maps of Play Settings
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1115 Re: Maps of Play Settings

Kevin Donovan responds facetiously on the subject of maps of
Shakespeare's play settings:

>Be sure to include the seacoast of Bohemia, the topography of Illyria
>and Messaline, and the readiest shortcut from Norway through Denmark to
>Poland.

While Jarrett Walker continues in the same vein, before making this wry
observation:

> To demand a map is to lose track of Shakespeare's essence as a
>stage-artist, whose power to shift the scene in a moment freed him from
>tyrannies of time and distance.  His distortions and confusions, more
>than any "accurate" map, will lead your students to his real geography.

Time AND distance, indeed. Drafting a map of Shakespearean geography
seems to me as perilous as attempting a chronology of medieval history
based on the history plays: Shakespeare's imagination is resolutely
unconfined by the dictates of time and space. Even outside of the
histories: witness the words of the Chorus Time, midway through _The
Winter's Tale_:

        ...Impute it not a crime
     To me or my swift passage, that I slide
     O'er sixteen years and leave the growth untried
     Of that wide gap, since it is in my power
     To o'erthrow law and in one self-born hour
     To plant and o'erwhelm custom.

This might be read as Shakespeare's authorial voice protruding through
the surface of fiction, if one takes the playwright as an
overdetermining presence in his play, capable of manipulating time and
space to bend them to his will.

It seems, then, unproductive to plot Shakespeare's settings onto
existing topography, particularly in the interest of belittling his
sense of basic geography (seacoasts in Bohemia, and the like), when what
is really at work in plays like _The Winter's Tale_ are the forces of
tyranny and reconciliation, taking place against a physical backdrop
only incidental to their interplay-and that, even in the history plays,
time and space are secondary considerations.

But even that statement seems a belittling of their importance, since
even in plays seemingly grounded in the "real" world of known geography
and chronology (as is the case of the histories), Shakespeare telescopes
and rearranges events. What we need for this discussion is a study of
the topography of the history plays-does Shakespeare treat their
geography as malleable, as he does that of his more "fictional" plays?
What these inchoate ideas give rise to is really the larger question of
the extent to which Shakespeare's imagination is bounded by the dictates
of the known world-of chronology, of historical cause and effect, of the
relative spatial relations of locales within his plays.

Any thoughts?

Michael Ullyot

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Friedlander <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Nov 1998 06:52:49 CST
Subject:        Katherine Hamlet

Trying to learn more about the background of "Hamlet".  Would appreciate
hearing from others on the list or personally to me at

   
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I am told that a lady named Katherine Hamlet drowned accidentally

I am also told that a lady named Alice suicided in a well in Stratford.

Are these stories well-attested?

For a while I did the medical examiner's job in Kansas City.  Looking at
Ophelia's history and acute behavior, I would have signed her death out
as an accident. But in "Hamlet", Shakespeare seems to leave questions
deliberately unanswered ("Does the queen know...", etc.)

What documentation of the historic Amleth exists?  Anything older than
Saxo?

Thanks.
 

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