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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: November ::
Re: Laertes as King
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1187  Wednesday, 25 November 1998.

[1]     From:   Fran Barasch <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Nov 1998 10:45:44 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King

[2]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Nov 1998 15:49:11 -0000
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Nov 1998 13:28:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King


[4]     From:   F. Nicholas Clary <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Nov 1998 13:36:24 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fran Barasch <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Nov 1998 10:45:44 EST
Subject: 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King

On "give me my father":  Polonius's body has been sent to dinner and, as
I recall, Hamlet won't tell where.  Laertes wants the body to pay last
respects. Rather customary, I should think. fran barasch

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Nov 1998 15:49:11 -0000
Subject: 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King

N. R. Moschovakis seems to be jumping the gun a little bit.  Claiming
that Shakespeare's text interrogates the ideology of divine right does
not necessarily mean that Shakespeare was challenging monarchy per se,
or indeed, that he was anti-monarchist.  On either of these two issues
we have no way of knowing.

While there may be different attitudes to the institution of Monarchy at
the turn of the 16th century, and while there were clearly challenges to
Elizabeth's rule, I hardly think that the issue of monarchical authority
was being seriously challenged- or to put the matter more succinctly, in
danger of being replaced. Take a look at Fulke Greville's unpublished
Treatise on Monarchy.  There was however considerable interest (as
witness Shakespeare's Roman Plays) in alternative forms of government,
but we should be careful before assuming that this could easily
translate into a political position-not yet anyway.

There was, however a growing awareness of those contradictions that it
was the function (not the purpose) of ideology to occlude; the most
significant of these contradictions was that a divinely ordained king
COULD be killed, or, that a divinely ordained king could be politically
useless (or even worse, dangerous).  The debate about what might be done
in those circumstances goes back, at least to Bishop John Ponet's
Treatise on Power.

I think that the comparison with Richard II isn't a valid one because
Richard IS king by divine right. He's a bad king, that's certain, but
his deposition has to be very gingerly handled. In the case of Claudius
he HAS killed what we assume to be the lawful king, and he has usurped
his position, and the language which authorises his position. We need to
go to Marlowe's Edward II for a more realistic appraisal of the material
foundation of royal power and to the forlorn Edward's: "What are kings
when regiment is gone/But perfect shadows in a sunshine day". Quite
clearly at the turn of the 16th century there was considerable interest
in the emerging gap between the dominant ideology on the one hand, and
the historical realism emanating from Machiavelli and a number of Roman
historians on the other. Certain possibilities became thinkable as a
result, although to suggest that Shakespeare was a card-carrying
anti-monarchist is not the conclusion that I would draw, myself from
this.

Cheers
John Drakakis

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Nov 1998 13:28:49 -0500
Subject: 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King

Katherine Batay and I made the point some time ago that Claudius is
actually quite a good king, in the sense of an effective statesman who
seems in most things to strive successfully to advance the interests of
his subjects generally.  We cited in particular his brilliant diplomacy
in the Fortinbras affair, avoiding a bloody war (for which he was
nonetheless wisely providing), and turning the attack against a
traditional enemy.  We also alluded to his ability to unify a kingdom
which must have been seriously divided by the sudden death of the old
king and a disputed election, in which the more "natural" successor was
defeated.  His putting down of the Laertes uprising, without shedding a
drop of blood, is another example, especially considering the continued
parlous condition of the country and his own psyche..

Claudius' wrong doings were of a private nature, essentially driven by
his lust for Gertrude.  (I acknowledge, however, that regicide for the
purpose of supplanting the old king on the throne, as well as in bed,
smacks of a more public transgression, but not every analogy can be
perfect.)  And, of course, it was perfectly normal for him to try to
cover up such an embarrassing interlude.

I wonder if anyone can think of a modern instance.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           F. Nicholas Clary <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Nov 1998 13:36:24 -0500
Subject: 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.1180  Re: Laertes as King

In The Dramatic Censor (1770), Francis Gentleman made the following
comment on the "Laertes as King" passage:

        "Laertes is ushered in with a strange insinuation importing no less
than a proposition to chuse him King; how this became necessary, or is
reconcileable I cannot see as in a preceding scene the King says, that
he cannot enforce any law against Hamlet on account of the murder
committed because 'He's loved . . .  offence' [2665-8]. Nay speaking of
the matter afterwards to Laertes, the king delivers himself thus 'Why .
. . graces' [3025-9]. Now if Hamlet was so extremely popular, how is it
possible to suppose the Laertes by complaining of a private injury,
shold supersede him in the people's favours, and gain their voices to
the prejudice </p.26><p.27> of his birth right besides Laertes's attack
upon, and language, to a monarch, without knowing a syllable of the
matter he contends about, makes him an absolute drawcansir equally the
foe of justice, reason, and decorum; indeed the author seems to have
been sensible of this, making the king say 'Will you, in revenge of your
dear father's death Destroy both friends and foes?'" (1:26-27).

A few years later, in the edition of Hamlet that he prepared for Bell
(1773-4), Gentleman offered the following comment on the behaviour of
Laertes:

        "Though Laertes has great provocation to rouse him, yet such peremptory
violent and abusive behaviour to his sovereign, breaks through the
bounds of decorum and allegiance, unpardonably; and we by no means see
why the rabble offer to chuse him King."

About a century later Frank Marshall, who would work with Irving on his
edition of Shakespeare, offered the following the comment on the
kingship question in A Study of Hamlet (1875), reminding his readers of
an earlier interpretive position taken by Gervinus and recommends an
editorial note provided by Malone:

        "It would seem that, with 'the rabble' at least, the popularity of
Claudius had been short-lived. His accession was probably more owing to
the nobles than to the people: they had wished to place young Hamlet on
his father's throne; and now that he had been sent off by Claudius to
England, in order, as they thought, to get rid of him as a successor,
the people clamoured to be allowed to choose for themselves and to make
Laertes King: Gervinus credits the energy of Laertes with the creation
of this 'rebellion, which looks giant-like;' but it is probable that he
found the work of creation at least half-done: the fact that Hamlet had
been sent out of the kingdom had more to do with their riotous attitude
than any love either of Laertes himself or of his father, who had been
so mysteriously killed. On the question as to whether the Crown of
Denmark was elective or not, see an interesting note given in Malone's
'Shakespeare' (ed. 1821, vol. vii, p.
209)."

I offer these excerpts for those interested in the earlier stages of the
present exchange on this listserv.

        Nick Clary
 

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