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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0313  Friday, 9 February 2001

[1]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 10:35:33 EST
        Subj:   RE: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[2]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 15:55:40 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Feb 2001 08:54:28 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Feb 2001 12:15:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[5]     From:   Alex Houck <
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        Date:   Thursday, 08 Feb 2001 09:19:07 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[6]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 13:24:57 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet and the Passage of Time

[7]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 20:18:23 -0800
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 10:35:33 EST
Subject:        RE: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Stephanie Hughes writes:

"That Hamlet makes mistakes regarding the amount of time that's passed
since his father's death is one more clue, to my mind, that the author
was writing from personal experience, if not based on his own feelings
at such a time, then having observed the behavior of someone under the
stress of the kind of grief and suspicion that trouble Hamlet. How else
would a writer know that the passage of time becomes extremely hazy
where there is severe psychological trauma?  Books? I don't think so."

I don't think severe psychological trauma is at all necessary to distort
the perception of time.  When I worked as an interlibrary loan
librarian, I found the usually precise engineers, who were my customers,
were routinely mistaken about when a conference had occurred or when a
journal article was published.

There may well be a psychological motive involved in discrepancy between
Hamlet's and Ophelia's perception of time.  Hamlet's 'agenda' is to harp
on how quickly Gertrude has gotten over her husband's death.  Ophelia
may be countering his exaggerations by over-estimations of her own.
I've had enough of such disagreements with my own spouse to know that
'severe psychological trauma' is hardly a factor such disagreements.
(At least, I don't THINK it was a factor!)

Of course, S had experience some psychological trauma by the time Hamlet
was written.  He had already lost his young son, and I believe his
father died about this time.  (I don't recall the date exactly.)
Certainly, no one believes that he got ALL (or even necessarily most) of
his knowledge from books.  In this case I don't see how anything beyond
life's normal 'traumas' were necessary to enlighten him.

Philip Tomposki

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 15:55:40 -0000
Subject: 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Stephanie Hughes writes

>That Hamlet makes mistakes regarding the amount of time that's passed
>since his father's death is one more clue, to my mind, that the author
>was writing from personal experience, if not based on his own feelings
>at such a time, then having observed the behavior of someone under the
>stress of the kind of grief and suspicion that trouble Hamlet. How else
>would a writer know that the passage of time becomes extremely hazy
>where there is severe psychological trauma?  Books? I don't think so.

Say I accept your assertion that trauma causes a loss of one's sense of
time. Now I know it, and only because you told me so; it's not part of
my personal experience. Why do you think an email discussion list can do
this and books can't?

Gabriel Egan

PS: Terry Eagleton jokily commented that "it's hard to disagree with
Stanley Fish. Not because he's right, but because his model of
communication tells him that you simply don't understand what he's
saying". I suggest that Hughes's model (a community of personal
experience) likewise posits an excessively impermeable boundary.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Feb 2001 08:54:28 -0800
Subject: Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Stephanie Hughes wrote:

>That Hamlet makes mistakes regarding the amount of time that's passed
>since his father's death is one more clue, to my mind, that the author
>was writing from personal experience

Do you also claim that when he made time mistakes (actually, I think of
them as paradoxes) in Othello, Merry Wives, Twelfth Night, and several
other plays, that he was writing from personal experience?

Mike Jensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Feb 2001 12:15:35 -0500
Subject: 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

>doesn't the graveyard scene make clear that Hamlet is thirty?

Yes; and as if to emphasize that it is not a mistake, the characters
tell us twice.

But, until act V Hamlet doesn't appear, from the language or action of
the play, to be a middle-aged fat man.  Of course, if we saw Burbage
perform the part we would know immediately that he was.  Is it possible
that WS added these speeches (they are not in Q1) to accommodate
Burbage, who may have been taking some ribbing for being a trifle
o'erparted. Gertrude's comment in the duel that Hamlet is "fat and scant
of breath" may have served a similar purpose.

Interestingly, WS never wrote another major lead for a young man.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alex Houck <
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Date:           Thursday, 08 Feb 2001 09:19:07 -0800
Subject: 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Accelerated or decelerated time is not uncommon in Elizabethan drama.
Another time lapse that has caught my eye in HAMLET is in the very first
scene.  At first the changing of the watch @ midnight, but by the end of
the scene the Ghost suggests that it is almost dawn by "scent[ing] the
morning air."  Perhaps the phenomenon of the Ghost accounts for the
unaccounted passage of time.  Similarly, the quick passage of time at
the climax of Marlowe's FAUSTUS I have attributed to the mixture of the
supernatural and the mortal.  As for the Hamlet's references to the
quick passage of time in the play within a play I would have to agree
with previous postings since I think Hamlet is playing with words to
confuse people (as he often does with Polonius and R&G).

Another note, I think Shakespeare, in general, did not know how to
account for the passage of time.  Has anyone seen a production of ROMEO
& JULIET that was unedited and ran two hours?  And yet Shakespeare
suggests that the running time of R&J is two hour, "The fearful passage
of their death-marked love and the continuance of their parents'
rage...Is now the two-hours traffic of our stage".  A minor stipulation,
but I find it humorous anyway.

Alex Houck
Santa Clara University

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 13:24:57 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Stephanie Hughes writes:

>That Hamlet makes mistakes regarding the amount of time that's passed
>since his father's death is one more clue, to my mind, that the author
>was writing from personal experience. . .

Sorry, I'm not convinced:  within the play, Hamlet has already
established that when in public he is in Antic Disposition Mode (DAM).
What's more, his crude repartee with Ophelia at that point court, was -
within the world of the play - designed to play to those around him,
entertain them, but reveal to them in 'foolish' ways what he really felt
about her now.  And that he taunts his mother with being so happy so
soon after his father's death, well, his 'mistake' in time can be read
as deliberate.

The Hamlet of Saxo talked sense disguised as nonsense, for as Saxo said
repeatedly, Hamlet could never lie.  I find Saxo's guide as more helpful
than any extra-textual speculation on author's motives or experience.

In other words, I think Ophelia's timing is correct:  Hamlet is playing
the fool, talking in riddles as he is supposed to do at this time in the
play.  And if we take Ophelia at her word, Hamlet's ADM has been going
on for well nigh 2 months (take Hamlet's "but two months dead" and
Ophelia's line, and voila -- 2 months) -- hence Claudius' and Gertrude's
desperation to find out what the problem is.  The 'hours' since Hamlet
Sr.'s death is simply ADM-speak for "Mum couldn't _wait_ to switch
horses."

Andy White

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Thursday, 8 Feb 2001 20:18:23 -0800
Subject: 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time
Comment:        Fw: SHK 12.0300 Re: Hamlet and the Passage of Time

Two points regarding Hamlet and time:

a) I don't see that Hamlet "makes mistakes regarding the amount of time
that's passed since his father's death. He counts it as two months in
1.2, yet remembers that his mother and uncle married within a month of
his father's death. Later, in 3.2, he mentions that it has been twice
two months since his father died. This passage of time, which most
likely occurs between 1.5 and 2.1, seems quite logical. Where's the
error?

b) Regarding Hamlet's age, much has been written. Few critics have
accepted the "thirty years" without comment or question. Hamlet is
apparently much younger at the opening of the play (how many 30 year old
students were there at Wittenberg?). At the end of the first scene,
Horatio plans to report news of the Ghost to "young Hamlet." The
question is, by no means, an easy one.  >From the beginning, Hamlet
'seems' quite a bit younger than thirty, but philosophizes like an much
older man. This is one of those problems that drives actors and
directors to distraction. The Variorum, incidentally, spends about four
pages of notes just on the "thirty years" line.

Paul E. Doniger
 

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