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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Oxymorons
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0695  Tuesday, 4 April 2000.

[1]     From:   Clifford Stetner <
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        Date:   Monday, 3 Apr 2000 20:15:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0678 Re: Oxymorons

[2]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 04 Apr 2000 01:38:40 +0000
        Subj:   Oxymorons


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Monday, 3 Apr 2000 20:15:47 -0400
Subject: 11.0678 Re: Oxymorons
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0678 Re: Oxymorons

David suggests:

<snip>
>To be too cowardly to go either way seems a third possibility.
<snip>
>But what in this case is the right, noble, brave course he should pursue?
Either one would be more >admirable? Bravery for the sake of bravery?

But, as Sean points out, it's God, not Hamlet who speaks of spewing out
the lukewarm.

<snip> Obviously trying to think very precisely about this can twist
your
mind into knots-<snip>

>David

This play or this Bible?

Clifford

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 04 Apr 2000 01:38:40 +0000
Subject:        Oxymorons

David Bishop's informed and enlightening comments, and the excellent
response by Judith Craig set high standards for this most recent
discussion of Hamlet and his discontents.  David is right to point out
that Hamlet is beset on all sides by contradictions and intellectual and
moral puzzles (he says as much!), and Judy is right that Hamlet is a
"finer sort" who is revolted at the prospect of revenge (though part of
him revels in the thought of "doing in" Claudius).

I would suggest that the beginnings of the resolution of this many-sided
dilemma occur in 4.4, where the report of Fortinbras and his exploits is
followed by Hamlet's "How all occasions" soliloquy, surely the easiest
35 lines in all of Shakespeare to deconstruct!  The whole speech is full
of contradictions, and then it ends with the greatest contradiction of
all, as Hamlet, after seemingly promising revenge, meekly walks off to
certain death at the hands of R&G (!).

Why does he do this?  I would suggest that, as always in Hamlet, the
plot tells us at least as much as the soliloquys, and so what Hamlet is
doing is putting his own life on the line in a courageous and brilliant
attempt to interrogate Providence, to put Providence itself on trial, as
it were.  IF the Ghost represents the will of heaven, then Hamlet will
be saved from his adder-fanged "friends" and brought back to Denmark to
finish the job that Providence has assigned to him.  IF the Ghost
represents God's will, then Providence will give Hamlet the means, the
motive (he already has that!), and the opportunity to effect revenge.

And that is exactly what happens!  It brings him back to England, allows
him to dispose of R&G, provides a duel, poisoned rapiers, the exchange
of these rapiers, a cup full of poison if necessary, the presence of the
king, the timely truth-telling of Laertes, the fortuitous appearance of
Fortinbras to take over; in fact, it takes away Hamlet's fear of death:
he's dead already, so why not finish the job!

This is the ultimate triumph of the human mind, of Renaissance humanism
and its credo that "Man is the measure of all things." In effect,
Shakespeare gives Hamlet an impossible task: the task of peering into
the world beyond our own and understanding the wishes of God Himself,
and, in a feat of detection unmatched by any detective before or after,
Hamlet succeeds-against all the odds-and proves himself the greatest of
heroes.

Two quick observations: (1) Renaissance Humanism leads, of course,
through Bacon, to modern science, whose great triumph is to unlock the
mysteries of God's creation.  In that sense, Shakespeare might agree
with Einstein, who said that to him the greatest wonder was that the
mind of man was capable of understanding the universe.  (2) There can be
little doubt that in 1.5 Shakespeare has his own son Hamnet on his mind.
The scene inverts reality, as a dead father talks to a live son.
Moreover, Shakespeare probably played the part of the Ghost.  So Hamlet
may well be a tribute to a son who never reached maturity to perform the
great deeds that his father wished for.  If so, then Hamlet IS Hamnet,
and the play itself portrays Shakespeare's own hope that, had he lived,
Hamnet would have been a prince among men!

PS    Of course, there is another, darker way to interpret Hamlet, but
I'm sure that others will take care of that.

--Ed Taft
 

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