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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: July ::
New on the SHAKSPER Fileserver: MADNESS CRITICS
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1362  Thursday, 6 July 2000.

From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Thursday, July 06, 2000
Subject:        New on the SHAKSPER Fileserver: MADNESS CRITICS

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                        Hamlet:  The Madness and the Critics

                                        Introduction

         I taught this play for many years and was always frustrated
by the things my students knew about it before they'd read it.  They
knew too much.  Not only did they already know the main outlines of
the story, they knew all about its notorious Problems.  They knew
that Hamlet keeps putting off his moment of reckoning with the King
because he can't make decisions.  They knew that when he behaves
strangely, he is either mad or pretending to be mad-some thought
he was mostly mad, some that he was mostly faking it.  Why is he
faking it?  To gain time.  I never thought these explanations made
sense but it was not easy to persuade my students of this.  They
thought they made perfect sense-or if not perfect, good enough-and
they didn't understand why I objected to their pre-fabricated
opinions.  I tried everything I could think of to throw them back on
their own resources.  Sometimes my tactics would work, sometimes
they wouldn't.  It was always an uphill struggle.
        The truth is, we are all in the same boat.  We all know, or think
we know, too much.  Virtually no one comes to <Hamlet</i in all
innocence, either as a reader or hearer, knowing nothing but what
the play itself tells her.  That's how it is, nothing can change this
situation.  Yet, though we can't completely disentangle the play from
its history, we do need from time to time to make the effort.  That is
what I have tried to do in this essay.
 

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