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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Revenge
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1047  Tuesday, 16 May 2000.

 [1]    From:   Tom Mueller <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 10:08:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1038 Re: Fortinbras/Hamlet/Revenge/Swording Fighting

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 May 2000 15:54:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1038 Re: Fortinbras/Hamlet/Revenge/Swording Fighting


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Mueller <
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Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 10:08:35 -0400
Subject: 11.1038 Re: Fortinbras/Hamlet/Revenge/Swording
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1038 Re: Fortinbras/Hamlet/Revenge/Swording
Fighting

Regards # 1:

I thought Hamlet's reasoning for not killing Claudius while praying is
of a spiritual nature, yes.  He wants him damned to hell, and believes
that will not happen if his soul departs while he is praying.

>> I believe Hamlet hesitates to take revenge because of his patriotic and
>> Christian scruples-wrong to kill a king on the word of a ghost, wrong to
>> kill anyone in revenge-
>
>Then how do you read Hamlet's reason for not killing Claudius while
>Caludius is praying?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 15 May 2000 15:54:47 -0400
Subject: 11.1038 Re: Fortinbras/Hamlet/Revenge/Swording
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1038 Re: Fortinbras/Hamlet/Revenge/Swording
Fighting

Mike Jensen raises the difficult question of the prayer scene. I would
nominate this scene as the most morally confusing in the history of
drama-and not just morally confusing.

To answer very briefly, Hamlet is held back from killing Claudius at
prayer by his Christian faith, supposedly working together with his
heroic ideal of revenge. He argues that since Claudius sent his father
to hell, killing him now would not be revenge enough because it would
not even rise to the level of "justice"-a soul for a soul. The ghost
gave Hamlet the seed of this argument with his anger at how Claudius
sent him to hell. However, the ghost didn't tell Hamlet to make sure
Claudius went to hell, and up to now we've assumed that revenge meant
simply killing him. Now Hamlet says that no revenge but the absolute
revenge of sending his soul to hell will be revenge at all.

Hamlet presents himself at the same time as the complete revenger and as
an absolutely faithful Christian. Both ideals reach a simultaneous,
paradoxical, perhaps perverse, climax in the image of hell: absolute
revenge in an absolutely real place (real to the faithful Christian).
The problem is that God might forgive Claudius and circumvent Hamlet's
revenge. So Hamlet tries to circumvent God by choosing a better time.
His Christian "faith" ignores God's prohibition on revenge, while his
belief that he can tell the fate of Claudius's soul comes, according to
Hamlet, from faith in a Christian God whose intentions are utterly
clear.

Hamlet's "Christian revenge" seems to me oxymoronic. The supposedly
Christian audience, primed for revenge, has trouble contradicting him
but can't be sure why. Our heads swim. Then Shakespeare closes off the
scene with the revelation that Claudius never repented, concentrating
ironic attention on the missed opportunity, and giving critics an easy
jump to the conclusion that Hamlet was just rationalizing his inability
to act. But it's not that easy.

I apologize to Ed Taft for my brusqueness. Years of hanging around
Harvard, and seeing what often passes there, and in so many other
places, for the discussion of literature, seems to have left me a
permanently angry young man (though not so young). I do get irritated at
times, perhaps more than can be justified by the iniquities of my
antagonist. However, I also think that when you enter the lists you
should be prepared for a little jostling.

I agree with Florence Amit that by the end Hamlet has taken over the
responsibility of kingship from his father, though I can't always follow
the route by which she gets there.

David
 

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