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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Charity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0401  Monday, 8 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Friday, 05 Mar 1999 22:10:49 +000
        Subj:   Re: Charity

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 05 Mar 1999 15:38:38 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0382 Re: Cosby; Quill; Charity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Friday, 05 Mar 1999 22:10:49 +000
Subject:        Re: Charity

>As a Christian, I regard charity as an obligation.  The object(s) of
>charity are other persons.  But literary characters are not persons,
>they are constructs.  In interpreting Hamlet, for instance, when he
>refrains from killing Claudius lest he go to heaven, one might regard
>that as indeciseiveness, on the assumption that Hamlet is under some
>sort of obligation to carry out the ghost's command, or one might regard
>it as the depths of uncharity, in that he wants not only the death but
>the damnation of his uncle, or whatever.  But one is under no obligation
>to limit consideration of base motives, since Hamlet is a literary
>figure, not a living person, and the rules of interpretation, not
>morality apply.  Which is not to deny that moral considerations are
>relevant to good criticism.
>
>      Roger Schmeeckle

Frankly I have never understood this interpretation, that Hamlet
refrains from killing his uncle out of indecision. Clearly he makes, and
rather quickly, a good decision, at least it is good from the point of
view of one who believes that a life taken in prayer is a life that goes
straight to heaven. Hamlet wants Claudius to go where he belongs, to
"the other place," and so wisely decides to wait for a more opportune
moment.

It is Hamlet himself who complains that he is indecisive (unless we take
the opinion of the impatient ghost), but as I would with a beautiful
woman who claims that her nose is too big, or that she's overweight, I
don't share his self-judgement.  Life has put poor Hamlet between a rock
and a hard place, and no amount of decision-making is going to free
him.  Whatever choice he makes he's in trouble. I think it's awfully
Christian of Hamlet not to be angry with his father for endangering the
kingdom by napping outdoors without a guard to keep an eye out for
poisoners. If I were Hamlet I'd tell my father to go to hell and leave
me alone.

"Construct" or whatever, Hamlet's got more life in him, more
intelligence and more love, than twenty real people.  "Rules of
interpretation" to the contrary, it's simply impossible not to love the
guy.

Stephanie Hughes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 05 Mar 1999 15:38:38 -0800
Subject: 10.0382 Re: Cosby; Quill; Charity
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0382 Re: Cosby; Quill; Charity

Thanks for your note.  I found it very interesting.

First, I'd like to take issue with your example, which isn't an exact
parallel to the examples to which I was responding.  Hamlet never says
that he wants his uncle's soul to go anywhere other than Hell.  He
doesn't make two public statements of his intents for his uncle's soul,
one of which we should recognize as a lie, and the most depraved of
which we should think is his "real" reason.  To do so would betray a
rather pessimistic, not to mention totalizing (everyone is assumed to be
lying, and to have shrewd alterior motives), assumption about human
nature, albeit one projected onto fictional characters.  It amounts to a
sort of characterological Foucauldianism, is such a phrase can even be
coined: power, or politics, is behind everyone's actions everywhere,
including the characters on stage.

There's a second, more questionable, point that I'd like to make.  Of
course, the characters in plays aren't real, but they can make us weep
or laugh.  Phenomenologically, encountering a character on stage bears
some similarities to encountering a person in what we perhaps
prejudicially call "real life".  I would imagine that the similarity
would be greater on an Elizabethan thrust stage, with an intimate
interplay of audience and fictive world.  The penultimate scene of Henry
VIII is a good example.

This is not, of course, to say that we simply suspend our disbelief, or
cease to be apart from the stage-world.  We don't actually get inside a
historically untraceable Elsinore, and leave the jostling of the other
groundlings behind. But the alterity of stage characters does not guard
us against their impinging on our world.  Other people, after all, are
existentially separate from us.  But Levinas makes this difference the
foundation of his ethics.  Just because stage characters are, as the
player-king in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern says, "the opposite of
people" doesn't guard us against their calling on us for an ethical
response.

Cheers,
Se

 

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