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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Oxymora
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0727  Monday, 10 April 2000.

[1]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 06 Apr 2000 01:25:56 +0000
        Subj:   Oxymorons (-mora?)

[2]     From:   Kevin De Ornellas <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Apr 2000 22:19:51 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0712 Re: Oxymorons

[3]     From:   Janet MacLellan <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 Apr 2000 15:03:25 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0588 Q: Oxymorons


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Apr 2000 01:25:56 +0000
Subject:        Oxymorons (-mora?)

As always, Sean Lawrence responds insightfully and courteously, which I
appreciate.  He points out that (1) "Hamlet seems to reserve his most
Providentialist statements for after his return from England. Relying on
Providence here [4.4] seems prescient"; and (2) "Testing Providence
sounds a lot like tempting God. . . Saying that he's testing Providence
{opens} up a whole new set of problems."

As for (1): Hamlet reserves his statements about Providence for later on
(the fall of a sparrow, etc.) once he's pretty sure he's on the right
track.  As for why he comes up with the idea in 4.4, here is one
inference.  At the end of the soliloquy, it dawns on Hamlet what
Fortinbras is really up to.  This "tender prince" (Ha!) is not really
marching on a worthless piece of land!  No, no! Instead, Fortinbras is
putting himself in harm's way by planning to fight a skirmish war with
the Poles while actually waiting to see if fortune will give him an
opening to seize the Danish throne! Once Hamlet realizes that, he then
knows what his own course of action will be!  Now, as to why Hamlet
doesn't say that, let me point out that the whole play is predicated on
the notion that we cannot judge the prince by his solioquies alone. Out
of context, they are often misleading, and 3.1 and 3.4 are the best
examples.  In 3.1, he seems to say that he cannot continue to hunt down
Claudius, and then he warns Ophelia to "get out of Dodge" and save
herself! In 3.4, he seems to say he will take immediate revenge, and
then walks off with R&G!  It is the PLOT that often tells us what Hamlet
is really thinking and really doing, or so I would argue, Sean.

As for (2), I don't think "testing God" need be tempting God. Hamlet is
saying in effect,"Look, God, if you want me to do this, I have to have
better proof that this is what you want me to do." I think that God
would find this comment wholly acceptable. In fact, the plot shows that
He does!  But you are right, Sean, that "testing Providence" opens up a
whole new set of problems, chief among which might be, "Why is this
necessary"?  I leave the answer to that (or other problems) to
theologians and critics more able to answer them than I.  Thanks for
great questions, Sean.

To Judy Craig: thanks for your kind words.

To David Bishop: I'm saying Hamlet should "do it" only when he is
convinced that "it" represents God's will.  For me, Hamlet, the super
detective, has to answer two questions before killing Claudius: (1) Did
Claudius kill Hamlet, Sr.? (2) Is the Ghost's command the will of
heaven?  Answering question 1 is not enough, since the Devil can tempt
us to do evil by telling us the truth! If the truth causes us to sin,
then so much the better!  So question 2 must be answered as well, and I
argue that Hamlet answers it and then kills Claudius.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kevin De Ornellas <
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Date:           Wednesday, 05 Apr 2000 22:19:51 GMT
Subject: 11.0712 Re: Oxymorons
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0712 Re: Oxymorons

>Shouldn't the plural of "oxymoron" be oxymora?
>
>Allan Blackman

Yes, you are right, Allan.  I checked it out in a most reputable source:
Chris Baldick, 'The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms' (OUP,
1990), p. 157.  Other authorities concur.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Janet MacLellan <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 Apr 2000 15:03:25 -0500
Subject: 11.0588 Q: Oxymorons
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0588 Q: Oxymorons

E. Pearlman wrote:

>In his book on Hamlet and Character, Bert States states that "everybody
>knows" that Claudius is a great user of oxymorons and that Hamlet
>abounds in oxymorons.  No footnote.  Can anyone on this list of
>knowledgeable Shakespeareans direct me to a discussion of this topic?

On Claudius's use of this rhetorical figure, try Lawrence Danson, Tragic
Alphabet: Shakespeare's Drama of Language ("If Claudius's mode is the
oxymoron, Hamlet's is the pun. One man balances words to cancel out
their antithetical meanings, while the other overbalances words with
meanings") or Madeleine Doran, Shakespeare's Dramatic Language. Doran
identifies Claudius's juxtaposition of opposites in his opening speech
as "*synoeciosis*, or composition of contraries; here the contraries
ought not to be composed."

Other useful discussions of this topic can be found in Stephen Booth,
"On the Value of Hamlet" ("[Claudius's] first sentences are unifications
in which his discretion overwhelms things whose natures are oppugnant")
and Patricia Parker, Literary Fat Ladies ("[i]t is this narrative and
oratorical joining which enables the new king's power through
succession").  Booth's essay has been reprinted in several collections,
most recently, I believe, in Kastan, Critical Essays on Shakespeare's
Hamlet.

Regards,
Janet MacLellan
University of Toronto
 

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