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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Incest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0679  Wednesday, 22 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Peter S. Donaldson <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jul 1998 11:10:30 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0670  Re: Incest

[2]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jul 1998 11:40:22 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0670  Re: Incest

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Monday, 20 Jul 1998 10:23:04 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0670  Re: Incest

[4]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 21 Jul 1998 10:48:51 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Incest, anyone?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter S. Donaldson <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Jul 1998 11:10:30 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0670  Re: Incest
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0670  Re: Incest

Laertes warns Ophelia, preposterously, as Oscar Wilde might have said,
to keep "in the rear" of her affection, out of "the shot and danger of
desire."   He is metaphorically anxious lest her "buttons be disclosed",
a triple entendre, at the least.  There is more.  As for social work, it
might do much, of course, but for this cast of characters a more
ambitious treatment plan could be considered.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Jul 1998 11:40:22 EDT
Subject: 9.0670  Re: Incest
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0670  Re: Incest

Roy Flannagan writes:

>  I may be misremembering, but I thought a televised version of
>  <italic>Hamlet </italic>starring Nicol Williamson included scenes of a
>  long and lingering goodbye kiss between Laertes and Ophelia.  So far as
>  I know, though, there is no textual evidence that Laertes is anything
>  more than a possessive busybody with his sister: he treats her almost
>  exactly the way Polonius does, as a silly girl deceived by a prince
>  humoring her with his attention and perhaps trying to take advantage of
>  her innocence.

I dimly recall such a production, too, and agree that there is no
textual evidence for anything extra-fraternal between Laertes and
Ophelia, though I might balk a little at the "silly girl" aspect of the
analysis.  I think both men recognize that there is a strong attraction
between Hamlet and Ophelia, and understand why: but they are cautioning
a woman whose heart and reputation they seek to protect (at a time when
such things matter) that a head of state cannot choose whom to marry, no
matter what his heart tells him about whom he can love, and they
recognize that she is therefore setting herself up for disaster, no
matter what he feels, or how sincerely.  I would accept the mad kiss
that Louis references as just that, evidence of Ophelia's madness,
casting all young men as Hamlet clones, but I think incestuous readings
of her relationship with Polonius or Laertes, or Hamlet's bond with his
mother, are merely interesting interpretations, full of a Freudianism
that Shakespeare does not seem to address anywhere else in the canon.
(One could perhaps play Regan and Goneril that way, too, on the strength
of Cordelia's "why do my sisters have husbands, if they say they love
you all?"-but what would be the point of any of this, from the author's
perspective?)

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Monday, 20 Jul 1998 10:23:04 -0700
Subject: 9.0670  Re: Incest
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0670  Re: Incest

Roy Flannagan writes:

> So far as
> I know, though, there is no textual evidence that Laertes is anything
> more than a possessive busybody with his sister: he treats her almost
> exactly the way Polonius does, as a silly girl deceived by a prince
> humoring her with his attention and perhaps trying to take advantage of
> her innocence.

The difference, I think, is in how Laertes and Polonius treat Hamlet.
To Polonius, he's dangerous because he's an untrustworthy teenager with
the power to make and break oaths at will:  "he is young, / And with a
larger tether may he walk / Than may be given you."  To Laertes,
Hamlet's in a difficult position where he might not be able to honour
his word because "his will is not his own, / For he himself is subject
to his birth."

The two men in Ophelia's family can't agree on how to treat an adult
heir to the throne, who's been passed up for coronation and still
hanging around-is he a victim of his circumstances, or does he possess
power untrammeled by responsibility?  In any case, they agree that this
abnormality is dangerous, at least to Ophelia.

Cheers,
Sean.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Tuesday, 21 Jul 1998 10:48:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Incest, anyone?

I have a hard time finding textual evidence of incest in Polonius'
little family, motherless though it may be.  Laertes' farewell scene
paints a picture of an all-too-typical bourgeois household, with the
typical double-standards for male and female behavior.  Laertes is free
to go off to Paris, to catch the pox, while his sister Ophelia (in spite
of her wisdom) is 'unsifted' in these matters, and can't be trusted
anywhere near a young man.

As for the songs, they are characterized as 'old tunes,' and indicate
more a sense of disconnect than a sense of incest.  When she is more
clear-headed, she speaks of her father, but then she just as quickly
retreats into the world of old popular songs.  A contemporary Ophelia
would very likely sing snatches of "Gloomy Sunday," or "In the Pines,"
which are about dead lovers on the surface but are also expressive of
deep grief in a more universal sense.

My questions for the 'mad scene' have more to do with how much of
Ophelia we see, and how much we see of a shell of a human being,
composed of whatever snatches of tunes pop up in the chaos of her
shattered mind.  Seeing her gleefully belt out "Valentine's Day," a
raunchy little number if there ever was one, indicates to me she is far,
far gone, not mindful of incest, Hamlet or anyone else for that matter.

Andy White
Arlington, VA
 

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