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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Stoic Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0623  Tuesday, 7 July 1998.

[1]     From:   David Crosby <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Jul 1998 09:47:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0618  Re: Stoic Hamlet

[2]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Jul 1998 11:31:52 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Stoic Hamlet

[3]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Monday, 6 Jul 1998 12:27:14 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0622  Re: Stoic Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Crosby <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Jul 1998 09:47:34 -0500
Subject: 9.0618  Re: Stoic Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0618  Re: Stoic Hamlet

Carol Barton makes a good point in stressing the breakdown of
conventional sources of religious and civic certitude in the 16th
century as a convincing reason for Hamlet's indecision.

In this context it is interesting to contrast Kyd's *Spanish Tragedy*
with *Hamlet.* In the earlier play, the ghost of Don Andreas stands
outside the play, along with the personification of Revenge, and
provides an overriding rationale against which to judge to the events
that transpire on the stage.  In a fascinating example of metatheater,
about halfway through the play Don Andreas has to wake up Revenge, who
has been put to sleep by the play (as so many of us aging theatergoers
are wont to be). The roused Revenge assures Don Andreas that there is
nothing to worry about. All will turn out as required by the laws of
retribution.

In Hamlet, on the other hand, the ghost appears not in a frame story but
in the play itself. He doesn't function as an external validation of the
justice of revenge, but must be internalized by Hamlet, interpreted and
tested, before Hamlet can be sure where justice truly lies.

The change in the formal frame of reference from one play to the other
reflects Shakespeare's embrace of the transition to modern modes of
empirical and skeptical thought with its accompanying loss of certitude
about the validity of "eternal" verities.

David Crosby
Alcorn State University

> by Shakespeare's time, all of the existing epistemology
>is subject to doubt, from the configuration of the universe (Ptolemy vs.
>Copernicus and Kepler) to the supralunary perfection of the cosmos
>(Cnidus vs. Galileo and Kepler) to the sanctity of the Bible as
>"translated" by the clerisy (Luther, Tyndale, et al.) to the divinity of
>divine right monarchy (Elizabeth vs. MQ of Scots) to the very core of
>salvation itself (single and double predestination vs. the doctrine of
>good works).  The general population had established a tentative
>literacy; each man was exhorted by the Protestants to think for himself,
>to let God and the Paraclete write directly on the fleshy tables of his
>heart; and for the first time, things weren't circumscribed by an
>infallible Church and a predeterminate Great Chain of Being.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 06 Jul 1998 11:31:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Stoic Hamlet

Ben Schneider makes an interesting argument that stoicism is the
dominant moral code of the Renaissance and comprises the ethical system
in *Hamlet.* Maybe so. Many of us, myself included, are not as well
versed in stoicism as in Christian Humanism and tend to think of
stoicism in terms of Marcus Aurelius-seemingly a far cry from
Shakespeare.  I guess my question for Ben is: If 4.4 is a "revelation"
to Hamlet, then has he simply decided that it doesn't matter whether the
ghost is from heaven or hell? He'll just kill Claudius anyway?  If so,
he sure doesn't act on that thought, preferring instead to just walk
away with R&G and go to England.

Could it be that Hamlet is-or becomes-in Act 5 a Christain stoicist?
Would this *blend* "solve" the problem of what motivates him to finally
kill Claudius?

Best,
--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Monday, 6 Jul 1998 12:27:14 -0500
Subject: 9.0622  Re: Stoic Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0622  Re: Stoic Hamlet

>[snip]
>Puritans opposed adventurism, also, but Shakespeare, with his patrons,
>couldn't possibly be a Puritan, even a closet Puritan. Nor do I think
>the "Christian Humanism"  dreamed up by modern scholars applies to
>Shakespeare.   It wasn't mainstream.  Stoicism was.

I'm a bit concerned with the way "Puritan" is being used here; it's a
pretty broad and flexible term.  I seem to remember that earlier in this
discussion it was implied that "Puritans" were against the theater; if I
understand the work done by Margot Heinemann and Martin Butler
correctly, this is, at best, an oversimplification.  Hope I have not
misinterpreted this line of reasoning, but I do worry about this
artificial and inaccurate binary being perpetuated.

Melissa Aaron
University of Wisconsin-Madison
 

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