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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: June ::
Various Hamlet Postings
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0528  Friday, 5 June 1998.

[1]     From:   Ildiko Solti <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Jun 1998 04:47:39 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Hamlet

[2]     From:   Justin Bacon <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 02 Jun 1998 14:18:41 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0517  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 04 Jun 1998 11:34:40 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet

[4]     From:   Justin Bacon <
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        Date:   Thursday, 04 Jun 1998 10:56:00 -0700
        Subj:   Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ildiko Solti <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Jun 1998 04:47:39 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Hamlet

It has been very interesting to think over with you the various reasons
Hamlet may or may not have for action (killing Claudius). I think all
those aspects are there, but the reason why we don't see him doing the
deed for so long is that the play itself is perhaps a slow-motion
presentation of Action itself. This way, I think, it is also more
actable than seeing it in negative and passive terms.  About the women:
if we decide to make Gertrude just plain adulteress and Ophelia a just a
silly girl, we would end up cutting out the stakes not only for these
characters, but for the others related to them (most importantly Hamlet)
as well.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <
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Date:           Tuesday, 02 Jun 1998 14:18:41 -0700
Subject: 9.0517  Re: Branagh's Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0517  Re: Branagh's Hamlet

 Larry Weiss wrote:

 >Thank you, Ed.  The conventions of the soliloquy require us to accept
 >the speaker's words as accurately describing his state of mind.  He
 >might be in error, but he is not lying, and Ed is correct on that
score.

> Hamlet tells us four things that, if accurate, make it inexplicable that
>he has not yet killed Claudius.  Two of those things (strength and
>means) are (fairly) objective, and I think we have to accept Hamlet's
>word for them.  Moreover, they are confirmed by circumstance:  Hamlet
>clearly has the strength-he employs it in the last scene.  As for means,
>we see that Hamlet had the run of the palace at least until he killed
>Polonius.  In fact, as in the Saxo Grammaticus story, Hamlet might have
>feigned madness in order to assure access to the king.

It is interesting that Hamlet uses the word *have* before that list-he
clearly does not *have* means to kill Claudius, considering he's on his
way to England. By using "have", however, he casts into doubt into when
those elements came together- did he truly have cause before the
play-within-a-play (for example)?

Although it is a very powerful piece, it also suffers terribly from the
fact that it doesn't make much sense. It is for this reason that I
believe the reason it is missing from the Folio is that W.S. cut it.

On the other hand, "From this time forth..." is so essential a summation
of the conclusion he has reached at this point in the play that it pains
me to leave it out.

In other news, John P. Dwyer wrote:

> I think there's a bit too much Holden Caulfield-like analysis of actors
> in recent complaints about Branagh's _Hamlet_.  The more often I view it
> (the whole way through), the better I like it.

That's a very good summary of my own approach. I found three particular
weaknesses in the piece (I may have offered this summary before, I
apologize if I have):

1. Jack Lemmon. Ugh.
2. The Hecuba and Priam "flashback". Ugh.
3. I also felt the final scene got a little bit too carried away. Not as
serious an error as the first two, however.

For a 4-hour film there is more than enough there, despite these errors,
to render it extremely entertaining. Why, oh why, don't they release a
letterbox version of it?

One last note, I have a lengthy "treatise" on my rather untraditional
views of the play (Hamlet isn't tragically flawed, for example). It is
too lengthy for posting here, but I would be willing to share it with
anyone who is interested. (I bring this up here and now because the one
particular weakness of the piece is the fact that I can find no
satisfactory way of fitting "How all occasions.." into the puzzle.)

Justin Bacon

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[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 04 Jun 1998 11:34:40 -0400
Subject:        Re: Hamlet

I do not believe that anything separates Prof. Barton and me except a
semantic quibble.  She believes that Hamlet has a nagging doubt about
the rectitude of taking revenge, perhaps from "thinking too precisely on
th'event," and she considers this a question of cause.  I see little if
any textual support for such uncertainty,  However,  I am willing to
allow the possibility but regard it as a diminution of will. It seems to
me that once we agree, as Prof. Barton does, that Claudius murdered
Hamlet Sr. and that Hamlet Jr. has been exhorted to "revenge," we are
left not with an issue of cause or motivation, but a question of
strength of intention.

 I do not pretend to know why Hamlet's will is blunted; although Ed Taft
and I agree that cowardice is a distinct possibility.  Religious
scruples, as suggested by Prof. Barton is also conceivable, albeit I
find a paucity of textual support.  Someone suggested to me off list
that we should remember that Hamlet is Claudius's nephew and there could
have been familial affection between them in the past.  Again, no text
support, but a possibility.  I am sure every member of the List can come
up with other plausible possibilities.  The only point I was making is
that the 26/27 monosyllabic word sentence is a guidepost that points to
a weakness of intention (from whatever cause) as the root of Hamlet's
vacillation.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Justin Bacon <
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Date:           Thursday, 04 Jun 1998 10:56:00 -0700
Subject:        Hamlet

Ed Taft wrote:

>  But Hamlet is afraid that if he does so, he
> might go to hell  because, after all, revenge is not exactly thought of
> as a Christian act. So, his "will," to use Larry's approach, is
> paralyzed, even though he knows that Claudius deserves to be killed. He
> is scared of (1) dying and (2) going to hell. If so, who would feel
> differently than Hamlet at this point? Only a *truly* mad man, right?

Unless Hamlet is actively questioning his religious beliefs it would be
difficult for him to simultaneously believe that Claudius deserves to
die and that he would go to hell (if he's going to hell for the act,
then Claudius does *not* deserve to die). I think your interpretation
possesses a few of flaws:

1. Hamlet never questions whether or not revenge/vengeance as a general
idea is an act which is good or bad -- I think we are supposed to accept
that, as a general concept, killing people guilty of murder is a good
thing.
2. Hamlet never questions his religious belief. The only time he says
anything about the possibility of going to hell is when he is unsure if
Claudius is guilty or not -- clearly if the Ghost is "the devil"
tempting him to sin by killing an innocent he would go to hell. I never
see the corollary of "but even if Claudius is guilty and I kill him, I'm
going to hell".
3. Because of this you would render the entire play-within-a-play
pointless. If it doesn't matter whether or not Claudius is guilty, then
these pointless activities of trying to prove him guilty (pretending to
be mad, play-within-a-play) are a bit of a wash aren't they?

[Unless of course you believe that Hamlet plans the play-within-a-play
to test *Gertrude* -- but why does he have Horatio watch Claudius then?
Why would Shakespeare write a play so poorly? ]

Andrew Walker White wrote:

> 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?)

I've got to strenuously disagree here. If you look at almost all of
Shakespeare's tragic works you will see a common theme of stability and
order replacing the chaos at the end of the play-this is certainly true
of the "great" tragedies. At the end of *Macbeth*, *Othello*, *Lear*,
and *Hamlet* we see that after the current king/leader is dead (as a
result of their tragic flaws) a new leader arises. Compare and contrast
with Creon from *Oedipus*. I think these leaders are meant to be beacons
of hope- down with the corrupted old, up with the purity of the new.

Hamlet is slightly muddied, of course, by the fact that Shakespeare
wants us to believe that Hamlet would have made an excellent king
(whether or not you accept that he would've based on what Shakespeare
showed us, I think we have to accept convention and realize that the
very last thing we hear about Hamlet is what a great king he would have
made-from the lips of Fortinbras no less!). I still believe, however,
that Fortinbras is supposed to be looked on as a positive light for the
future.

Justin Bacon

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