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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: June ::
Re: Various *Hamlet* Postings
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0523  Wednesday, 3 June 1998.

[1]     From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 11:01:43 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0518  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

[2]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 11:04:25 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0520  Various *Hamlet* Postings

[3]     From:   Ed Peschko <epeschko@den-mdev1>
        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 11:38:43 -0600 (MDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0520  Various *Hamlet* Postings

[4]     From:   Mary Jane Miller <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 14:02:12 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0518  Re: Branagh's Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 11:01:43 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0518  Re: Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0518  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

To add to the discussion, the statue of Hamlet Sr. certainly would
resonate with those of us who watched the collapse of Communism, with
Lenin's image being toppled all over eastern Europe and the former
Soviet Union.  It introduces a modern element which is a bit
distracting, perhaps, since I don't think Shakespeare would have wanted
his audience to think of Fortinbras' rise to power as a good thing.
(Was James VI of Scotland regarded as a worthy successor, after all?)

Another element here, which gives me pause whenever I make my own
personal list of grievances against Mr. Branagh's film, is the general
viewing public.  This was a big-budget picture, intended for a very
broad audience (hence the bit of flesh in the flash-back sequences?).
Many of us would have narrowed our focus to a smaller crowd of local
theatre enthusiasts, whichever town we happen to live in.  Since his aim
was to produce a piece of epic but popular entertainment, it was
inevitable that he would add touches based on his instinct for what
non-scholars would like to see.  Better yet, what they would _need_ to
see, in order to make sense of this 400-year old script.

I hope to produce a Hamlet in Washington, someday, which comes close to
my vision of what the play's about.  Many of the points touched on here
would be included, many not.  It's part of keeping the material alive,
and since Branagh's film is intended for a much broader, more general
audience I won't gripe too much about his work, and assume he did it
differently when the focus was much narrower.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 11:04:25 EDT
Subject: 9.0520  Various *Hamlet* Postings
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0520  Various *Hamlet* Postings

I second Ed Taft's comments in response to Larry Weiss's and respond to
Mr. Weiss"s latest thus:

<snip>
[LW] Ms. Barton begins by agreeing that Hamlet does in fact have
sufficient strength and means.  The balance of  her post seems to
question that Hamlet in fact has the will.  I agree, although I am not
certain of the reason and suggested a different one than Carol surmises.

Yes, I agree with Ed Taft that Hamlet has sufficient will to kill
Claudius, for a variety of reasons - he despises his uncle ("how can you
go from this -to this?"); Claudius has bedded his mother in her widow's
weeds; robbed H of his patrimony; murdered his father; indirectly
precipitated H's manslaughter of Polonius, and plotted to kill H
himself, etc. - but the prince is incapacitated by "thinking too
precisely on th'event."

[LW]  Where we differ, I suppose, is on the question of cause.  I am not
sure that Ms. Barton is suggesting that Hamlet does not in fact have
cause or that he is not convinced that he does.

I am suggesting that in fact he has two potential approaches to one
empirical
cause, between which he is unable to choose-and that that inability to
subscribe to one or the other leaves him paralyzed at the center ("thus
enterprises of great pitch and moment . . . lose the name of action").
I refer, of course, to the polar dictates of the Hammurabic Code ("an
eye for an eye," which would call for Hamlet Orestes-like to slay his
father's murderer, promoted by the Ghost, with the caveat that he leave
his mother to heaven) and the Christian ethic that says, in effect, do
nothing: "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."  Caught in a time warp
between the medieval past and the age of Enlightenment, Hamlet seems to
feel that both obtain, yet they are mutually exclusive.  His instinct
would be to avenge his father's murder, as the Ghost demands that he do
- but the church would have taught him that even Talionic murder is
wrong.  I submit that the weight of his patrimony lies too heavily upon
him: just as, in the capacity of kingship, he cannot marry whom he
pleases, so he is not free to take the rash action of a Laertes or a
Fortinbras with respect to righting Claudius' wrongs:  "Rightly to be
great / Is not to stir without great argument" - i.e., compelling reason
and moral and legal justification - and being contemplative rather than
hotheaded, he cannot (a la Fortinbras) obey his own injunction "greatly
to find quarrel in a straw."  What to do, what to do?  Do nothing -
rather than make a mistake (the curse of the modern bureaucrat).

<snip>

[LW]  Cause in fact is irrelevant to Hamlet's motivation.  As I think I
said in my last post, it doesn't matter whether the ghost is real or
not, all that is needed for motive is for Hamlet to believe that he has
a good reason.  Take Othello, for example.  We can all agree that he had
no justification for killing Desdemona, but his belief that he did was
fatal.

Ah, but I think cause in fact is an integral part of the dilemma,
Larry.  He knows (as much as one can without firsthand witness) that
Claudius killed H, Sr.  I don't think there's ever a question of that,
especially not after the playlet.  He is driven by cause, by the
knowledge that he should, in fact, do something-but unable to act for
the reasons cited above: having cause, what is his moral authority to
take action?  He can't decide: so he does nothing.

[LW]  As for the possibility that Hamlet does not think that he has
sufficient cause to kill Claudius because of the divinity that hedges a
king:  (1) This runs counter to the conventions of the soliloquy; if
Hamlet says he has cause, he must believe it.

Pace.  He has the cause - more than one, in fact, as elaborated above.
What he lacks (in his eyes), or has incompletely, is the moral warrant.

[LW] . . . (2) There is no textual support for the notion that Hamlet
thinks Claudius killed his father but regards that as an insufficient
justification for doing the same to Claudius.

Agreed.  But his very hesitation to do so, having cause, and at least
partially recognizing "duty," is de facto evidence of the conflict that
paralyzes him: unable to move right or left, because he is unsure what
is "right," he stands at center, thinking instead of doing.  He envies
Fortinbras' and his army's  unconflicted response to their sense of duty
because his own is so heavily fraught with dilemma.

[LW] . . . (3) Ms. Barton's point could have validity only for
legitimate kings, and Hamlet consistently refers to Claudius as a
usurper.

But suppose he believes any anointed king rules by divine right-no
matter how the oil got there?

[LW]  Ms. Barton is a persuasive and charming writer.

Mr. Weiss is a gracious and perspicacious "opponent."

[LW]  I hope she comes up with a closer question for us to wrestle over.

I hope this response does justice to the quality of the comments which
precipitated it.

Carol Barton
Department of English
Averett College - Northern Virginia Campus

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Peschko <epeschko@den-mdev1>
Date:           Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 11:38:43 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: 9.0520  Various *Hamlet* Postings
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0520  Various *Hamlet* Postings

> It is interesting to return from my trip to find the lively discussion
> my little question about the RSC Hamlet sparked.  I have mostly lurked
> on this list, as an amateur I am intimidated by all the experts, but I
> may jump into this one.
>
> Some of the vitriol directed at Branagh makes me think of a Hamlet
> symposium I once attended.  Someone asked the panel of scholars what had
> been their favorite production of Hamlet.  One, the only woman, said she
> found something to enjoy in almost all the productions she had seen;
> another said he had never seen one he liked; all the others cited the
> first production they had ever seen (often as a child); several added
> that they hadn't liked another since.  It was so clear that they had
> fixated on experiences that had grown to mythic proportions in their
> minds, or some unattainable mental ideal.

I agree here, that it is quite sad that people can get fixated on
certain performances. The reason that Shakespeare is popular, and around
today, is *because* his plays evolve with the time rather than stay
fixated in meaning.

To say that there is an 'ideal' version totally misses the point, as is
to dismiss every performance one sees after the first.

It is no small feat for a group of literary works to be as widely
popular as Shakespeare is today, over four centuries of change. I cannot
think of any work created today that will be around four hundred years
hence.

As for my favorite production of Hamlet I'm not sure I have one. Hell,
even the Zefferelli version (with Mel Gibson) had some interesting
facets (although it did take the Oedipal thing to an extreme).

Ed

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mary Jane Miller <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Jun 1998 14:02:12 -0500
Subject: 9.0518  Re: Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0518  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

>Shakespeare deliberately plays up the Christian aspects of Hamlet's
>dilemma when the prince recoils from killing Claudius in the midst of
>prayer

The prince does not "recoil" surely. As he goes on to say, he wants to
damn Claudius to Hell that is  to worse than the purgatory the ghost
suffers. He want to impose his will on the future as well as the present
and so refuses his only onstage opportunity to kill Claudius. I take
that to be the chief point of contrast between Hamlet acts I-IV and
Hamlet in act V where he tells Horatio he is ready to trust to
Providence , who delivered R and G to him on the ship to use him as an
instrument of justice. Until then, it seems to me,  the conflict between
the Revenge code and the "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord" stance of
the Church ( which one is another complication)  is played out  in
inconsistencies of his behavior - although by no means explaining them
all. If it did we'd have much less fun with the play.

Re: the women in the play. Has anyone mentioned Margaret Atwood's
piece, a new speech of   Gertrude to Hamlet  in her collection Good
Bones? My students find it gives them a new perspective - especially
with the sting in its tail " I did it".

Mary Jane
 

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