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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Re: Oxymora
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0803  Friday, 14 April 2000.

[1]     From:   Edmund M. Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 Apr 2000 23:20:57 +0000
        Subj:   Oxymora

[2]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 Apr 2000 01:04:25 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0769 Re: Oxymora


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund M. Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 Apr 2000 23:20:57 +0000
Subject:        Oxymora

I'm glad to see Sean Lawrence's most recent post, because it portends
potential agreement (at least in part) between us.  Sean suggests that
at the end of 4.4 Hamlet may have in mind nothing more than a "vague,
long-term plan." Yes!  Maybe so. That's how most plans begin, don't you
think, Sean?  In fact, I would go one step further and suggest that
through-out {Hamlet} the obvious disjunctions between speech and action
on Hamlet's part may indicate that Shakespeare is examining the ways in
which action indicates subconscious or barely conscious or half-realized
thought. [This is not always true, but in 1.5 and other places, a strong
argument can be made for such an inference.]

Sean's insistance that there is no evidence that Fortinbras seeks to
revenge his father is curious.  Sean, put yourself in Fortinbras's place
for a few minutes.  Your father has been killed by old Hamlet, and for
some time (we don't know how long), you have wanted to regain the lands
lost by your father and avenge his defeat at the hands of Denmark.  When
you finally come of age and start to take action, your uncle, at the
behest of Claudius, stops you dead in your tracks and makes you vow not
to seek revenge. You have no choice, of course, but to obey.  Now, Sean,
it is scarcely credible that the fire to revenge your father has been
quenched by the restrictions of your uncle, prompted by your enemy,
Claudius.  That's not the way the emotion of revenge works.  But you are
in a trap, and so you agree to use the forces you've assembled to march
against the Polack.  But that is just a cover (just as Hamlet's madness
is a cover), and you will indeed march against Poland, but with one eye
on Claudius and Denmark all the time. If time serves, you will take
advantage of it and revenge your father, to whom you owe much greater
allegiance than to your uncle, whose will, after all, is being directed
by your enemy, Claudius.  Of course Fortinbras is still out to revenge
his father and win back land-or more, if possible!  By the way, your
uncle is on the throne. If your father had lived, you would have  been
on the throne after he died a natural death.  My outline here of
Fortinbras's position and tactics makes clear that he is in many ways
the most exact double to Hamlet in the play.  That parallel is set up,
of course, in the opening scene, so that the attentive reader/spectator
can follow the parallel lives of Fortinbras/Hamlet as they unfold
throughout the play.

Once Hamlet realizes this (in 4.4?), however dimly, he also realizes
that if Providence does not confirm the commands of the Ghost, there is
SOMEONE ELSE who has a good chance of bumping off Claudius, should
something happen to him.

Next, Hamlet's reasoning is not circular. Providence must show its hand
for him to act. And, as I have argued, the plot from this point on
confirms (in Hamlet's mind) that Providence is with him; all he has to
do is wait for the right time.  In fact, in the most delicious of
ironies, Providence makes Claudius Its instrument, as his plans to kill
Hamlet become the means to the destruction not of Hamlet but of himself!
(Providence seems to like irony!)

Finally, ask yourself this question, Sean: Why does Hamlet so willingly
and quickly give Fortinbras sanction to be the next king of Denmark?
What does he know that allows him to do that with such authority?
Food for thought.

Cheers,
--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Friday, 14 Apr 2000 01:04:25 +0000
Subject: 11.0769 Re: Oxymora
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0769 Re: Oxymora

> Florence Amit writes of Hamlet,
>
> >The problem for him had been that he wanted to be of the
> >"elect" - Calvin's elect. And so to stain himself for partisan and pagan
> >'revenge' seemed to him a sure way to fall into temptation and lose the
> >election
>
> There's only one problem with this statement: One can neither gain nor
> lose election through one's deeds.  Only through the predestined gift of
> Grace given before birth by the Calvinistic divinity is one part of the
> "elect." All humans sin, some to a greater degree than others.  But even
> the most heinous sin cannot remove election.
>
> I speak of this topic NOT as a Calvinist (nor even as a Christian) but
> rather as a seeker of knowledge who pursued this very question at length
> with a Presbyterian minister because it is a key issue in Arthur
> Miller's _The Crucible) where MILLER misunderstands it.
>
> I believe that Shakespeare, regardless of his personal religious faith
> (or lack thereof), would know this crucial fact, since the conflict
> between Calvinist and Catholic had been an ongoing one for decades by
> the time he wrote.
>
> Marilyn Bonomi

Florence Amit proffers an interpretation that does not originate in her
own approach to any faith including her own, but what she believes that
Shakespeare has revealed. It is true that in such a short essay I may
have not been explicit enough, but the matter of inaction by Hamlet is,
according to my understanding, on account of his fear over of the great
forfeit he felt that would be the result of "Revenging" his father's
death. The forfeit of his possible election in the kingdom to come.
Probably the Grace that is mentioned by Ms. Bonomi is a way of naming
the revelation that finally occurs - I assume that a faithful Calvinist
of today would say so. I can only affirm indeed that a great spiritual
change in the character occurs as I described and however, that there
are many details that fit in with a Lutheran literary transfiguration.
(Many people have investigated it.) Perhaps in the light of our
hindsight knowledge of Puritans in power, not only Hamlet had this
misunderstanding of the importance of Grace for a believer. Perhaps
Shakespeare had reason for thinking that Puritans were severe. I leave
the question open because it seems that you do not like a Jew to ask it
- neither Arthur Miller or some one as insignificant as I am.

Florence Amit
 

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