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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: Polonius/Kate/Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0630  Wednesday, 7 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Moira Russell <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Apr 1999 08:17:26 -0700
        Subj:   Polonius/Kate/Hamlet

[2]     From:   Clinton Atchley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Apr 1999 17:24:07 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0625 Responses to On-going Threads

[3]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Wed, 7 Apr 1999 03:20:27 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0612 Re: Polonius/Kate, Hamlet as Sociopath

[4]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Apr 1999 03:32:58 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0612 Re: Polonius/Kate, Hamlet as Sociopath


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Moira Russell <
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Date:           Tuesday, 06 Apr 1999 08:17:26 -0700
Subject:        Polonius/Kate/Hamlet

I think that comparing Hamlet's teasing of Polonius with Petruchio's
attempted mastery of Kate is mistaken.  Admittedly, this is somewhat
interpretive, but Hamlet, in switching from camel to whale to weasel,
may be seen as very subtly undermining Polonius' authority-"I know what
you're up to,  and I'm going to make a fool out of you in such a way you
can't say anything about it."  In a recording I have of a BBC radio
dramatization, John Gielgud gives a wonderful sort of sidewise smirking
intonation to "weasel," as if to say Polonius is like one.  The scene is
echoed in Hamlet's rebuke to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern about lying
(the pipe speech).  Petruchio, in contrast,  is trying to establish his
authority over Kate in a dogmatic and unsubtle manner.  I personally
don't think Hamlet feels affection towards Polonius  -- in an outdoor
production mounted by Shakespeare in Santa Fe at my alma mater, St.
John's College, Hamlet was played with a just-repressed anger sizzling
under the surface whenever he confronted the people he thought
responsible for, or at least contributing to, his father's death.  He is
opposing authority and tacitly rebelling rather than attempting to
impose his will on Polonius, as Petruchio tries with Kate.

Moira Russell
Seattle, WA

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clinton Atchley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Apr 1999 17:24:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 10.0625 Responses to On-going Threads
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0625 Responses to On-going Threads

Andy White states:

>In Hamlet's case,
>it is his mother who has disgraced herself by committing adultery and
>then incest with her husband's brother.

Do we have evidence of adultery?

Clinton Atchley
University of Washington

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Wed, 7 Apr 1999 03:20:27 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.0612 Re: Polonius/Kate, Hamlet as Sociopath
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0612 Re: Polonius/Kate, Hamlet as Sociopath

>Whether the story came to Shakespeare (or Kyd, or whoever wrote the
>first version) by way of the Saxo legend or the Bellefleur
>translation/rendering, Hamlet is described as a riddler, which is to say
>someone who makes remarks that are outwardly nonsense but inwardly all
>too true.  Truth wrapped in fool's clothing, as it were.  For that
>reason alone, I'm not inclined to judge Hamlet too harshly when he takes
>on Polonius and Osric; the latter two are, after all, pathetic toadies
>to Claudius, willing to do anything to get ahead and maintain their
>position in the food chain.  If he makes them spout nonsense, it's
>because he's asking them to spout nonsense about themselves.

I am very interested in the ancient mythological Hamlet and what form
the character had taken in England when Kyd(?) first adapted
Belleflower.  Nevertheless, I think there is more to Hamlet's treatment
of Polonius and Osric than the clever riddling of the Norwegian seasonal
deity.  (In fact, it is others who ask the Amleth/Havelock et. al.
figure questions to which he provides enigmatic responses which they
interpret as insane, but which are revealed to be ironic truths).

Like his prototypes, Hamlet seems to me to hold all those around him
(with the possible exceptions of Horatio, the soldiers, gravediggers,
Yorick) in utter contempt. Is this contempt justified? Or has
Shakespeare placed us so totally in Hamlet's point of view that we fail
to recognize its sociopathic nature? What about poor Ophelia?  Here is
her danged down to hell, and all Hamlet can talk about is himself: forty
thousand brothers, etc. A Freudian might be tempted to read his
narcissistic superiortiy complex as an early modern expression of an
Oedipal regression.

Although I didn't think too much of Branagh's Hamlet in general or Robin
Williams' Osric in particular, I thought Williams hit the mark by
laughing a bit too pointedly at Hamlet's carriages/hangers witticism,
conveying that it was a somewhat lame condescension without being
overtly insubordinate.

Hamlet, staged about the time Shakespeare is thought to have completed
his Sonnet cycle, seems to me to possess a great deal of the selfishness
increasingly acknowledged in the character of the fair youth addressed
in the poems (ostensibly an aristocratic young patron who needs some
lessons in the proper treatment of his faithful servants).

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
York College
C.W. Post College

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Apr 1999 03:32:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 10.0612 Re: Polonius/Kate, Hamlet as Sociopath
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0612 Re: Polonius/Kate, Hamlet as Sociopath

>Hamlet only seems to wield power of life and death over anyone when he
>himself does the killing.  As for whether a faithful servant should
>agree with everything, take a look at Richard Strier's _Faithful
>Servants: Shakespeare's Praise of Disobedience."  In The Historical
>Renaissance.  Chicaco: 1988.

I can't help thinking of how I would look playing this trick on an
annoying student who kept bugging me about his grade:

"Professor Stetner, when will the grades be posted?"
"Don't call me 'professor,' I'm only an adjunct. Call me 'Mister
Stetner'"
"Mister Stetner, when will the grades be posted?"
"Don't you think you should be addressing me as 'professor?'"
"Yes, professor. When..."
"Then the grades will be posted by and by."

Even if the student has no right to be harassing me before the end of
the term, wouldn't I be a ***** to take sadistic pleasure in the abuse
of my superior authority?

Oh, and, as with Osric, I might have a fellow adjunct there to help me
laugh at the offending lackey.  Pretty tacky behavior if you ask me.

I think this bears on the age question. Hamlet gives the impression of a
rebellious youth, responding to figures of authority, when, as prince of
the realm in his thirties, he should show more of the paternal demeanor
of Claudius.  This terminal adolescence is not the result of
Shakespeare's confusion over Hamlet's age, but a further symptom of his
sociopathology.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
York College
C.W. Post College
 

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