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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: June ::
Re: Various Hamlet Postings
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0539  Wednesday, 10 June 1998.

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Jun 1998 13:28:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0534  Re: Various Hamlet Postings

[2]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Jun 1998 15:50:00 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Various Hamlet Postings

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 Jun 1998 17:23:17 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0534  Re: Various Hamlet Postings


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 09 Jun 1998 13:28:06 -0400
Subject: 9.0534  Re: Various Hamlet Postings
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0534  Re: Various Hamlet Postings

Ed Taft writes and asks:

>The implication of many recent productions is that
>he {i.e., Fortinbras} is a great falling off from what Hamlet might have
>been had he become king. But what is the textual support for this? Is it mainly the
>Captain's report in 4.4.18-23? Isn't this Fortinbras's 'cover story" so
>that he can hang around and see if fortune delivers Denmark into his
>hands? And isn't that exactly what Hamlet does in Act 5? Wait around and
>see if Providence delivers Claudius into his hands? So, I ask you,
>aren't Fortinbras and Hamlet meant to be seen as much alike, not as very
>different?

>What do you think, Bill?

Well, Bill's thinking was molded by his reading of Peter Alexander's
<italic>Hamlet Father and Son</italic> when he was an undergraduate at
St. Andrews way back in the 50s. If Hamlet father is a medieval monarch,
and Hamlet son is a Renaissance prince, then young Fortinbras seems
closer to the old Hamlet than to the young.

Of course, a good deal of what we think we know about Fortinbras is
inference and hearsay. But Fortinbras seems active-valiant, and doesn't
appear to sit around asking questions about human values. He seems to
value military honor, much like the old Hamlet, without question. He
probably doesn't sit around reading Montaigne and/or putting on dramatic
performances. He's probably not been hanging around some German
university consorting with actors or moping around cemeteries talking to
grave diggers.

When he takes over at the end, I feel that we have returned to the
status quo ante in the sense that a medieval monarch is back on the
throne. At the same time, the Danish royal family is kaput, and old
Hamlet's traditional enemy has the country. How does old true penny
react to all this?  I mean, of course, as a dramatic function NOT as a
real person!  I'll bet he's not happy, and I'll bet he chews Hamlet fils
out when he gets down to purgatory. No, I don't think the Hamlet family
is too happy about this power transfer.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 Jun 1998 15:50:00 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Various Hamlet Postings

I think that Stuart Manger has got it about right. Doesn't Hamlet
*misunderstand* what Fortinbras is up to in 4.4? Doesn't Hamlet's
experience at sea teach him what Fortinbras already knows and is acting
upon? And is there any reason to see Fortinbras's name as ironic or
limiting? Why not take it straight and add to his strength in arms a
strong head too? If we do so, the end of the play becomes much brighter,
doesn't it? By cooperating with providence, Hamlet helps bring a
competent ruler to the throne, though by means he could not fully
foresee, which, of course, is always true since providence works in
mysterious ways.

--Ed Taft

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 09 Jun 1998 17:23:17 -0400
Subject: 9.0534  Re: Various Hamlet Postings
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0534  Re: Various Hamlet Postings

I enjoyed reading Dave Evett's list of final comments, each of which (no
doubt?) should be read uniquely as part of a unique play.  When Dave
writes,

>I see no warrant here for ascribing to Shakespeare some remorseless
>insistence on humans' remorseless self-interest, with no place in drama
>or life for disinterested admiration of demonstrated virtues or
>unequivocal desire to live in cooperation not competition with others,

I gather that he refers to Fortinbras's final comments on Prince Hamlet,
not on all the instances he lists.  Since Fortinbras has had no
opportunity in the play to judge the qualities of young Hamlet, I think
it strange that Fortinbras is so sure that Hamlet "had he been put on"
would have "prov'd most royal."  Had young Hamlet ascended the throne
and had had to deal with Fortinbras militant, I have little doubt who
would have been victorious.  And so I find Fortinbras's eulogy puzzling,
and being myself cynical about the motives of political leaders, I think
perhaps he speaks from political expediency.  Never speak ill of the
dead, when you may want to use their dying words to support your own
position in the kingdom.  Remember Clough's decalogue.

Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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