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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet and Oedipus
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0412  Wednesday, 21 February 2001

[1]     From:   Pat Dolan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 08:21:51 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0400 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Feb 2001 11:48:02 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0407 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pat Dolan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Feb 2001 08:21:51 -0600
Subject: 12.0400 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0400 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus

> I'm reminded of the recent impulse to destroy the stature of Christopher
> Columbus and Thomas Jefferson, because they didn't conform to present
> standards of the Ideal.

What's being done is this: historians are pointing out that Jefferson
and Columbus don't conform to our present notions of the ideal, in spite
of the continual propaganda to the contrary. (My son was told this fall
that Columbus discovered America.) Jefferson didn't really believe in
the equality of all human beings--not even "men"--and was a vexed and
complex person, which to my mind makes him much more interesting that
the sanitised hagiographic version. Columbus didn't convince people that
the earth was round (our medieval and early modern predecessors weren't
as stupid as our school history books make out). And their human
limitations had consequences for real people--Sally Hemming and her
up-to-now de-Jeffersoned descendants and people who don't understand
that slavery included rape (John Ashcroft for example). Columbus's
consequences for the Arawaks and indigenous Americans were incredibly
severe, tens of millions died and human beings lost their land and much
of their way of life to rapacious (themselves complex) invaders. (In the
context of the American west, Patricia Nelson Limerick is good on this.)

I'm wondering if Stephanie Hughes realises how profoundly relativist she
sounds when she suggests that we shouldn't attend to Jefferson's racism
and rape (can a slave consent?) or Columbus's violence and greed.

This is relevant to a Shakespeare list, because there is no figure more
likely to have the values we think we hold foisted upon him. I've seen
Shakespeare the "art for art's sake" poet, Shakespeare the timeless
thinker, Shakespeare the friend to the working class and on and on and
on. My Shakespeare, the ordinary guy who takes an interest in theatre,
works hard and conscientiously, writes about erotic passion in a variety
of registers and finds his talents uniquely melded to a (contingent)
English literary historical moment is no less historically conditioned
(notice I didn't say "determined") than anyone else's. But I think I
have good arguments for regarding him that way, including arguments
about the literature and culture of early modern London.

The trouble with "Ultimately we need to honour our pathfinders, not for
what they didn't do, or did wrong, but for what they did right," is that
it requires us to ignore or suppress the evidence. Intellectual honesty
may be a historically and culturally contingent value, but it's one I
treasure.  I think everybody on this list does so as well.

Cheers,
Pat

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Feb 2001 11:48:02 +0900
Subject: 12.0407 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0407 Re: Hamlet and Oedipus

A.D. Nuttall provides a different "take" on Hamlet and Oedipus in his
essay, "Freud and Shakespeare: Hamlet" (in John Batchelor, Tom Cain and
Claire Lamont, eds., Shakespearean Continuities: Essays in Honour of E.
A. J. Honigmann, London: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin's Press,
1997: pp.123-137.).

Nuttall's essay begins:

"All male children pass through a phase in which they wish to murder
their fathers and have sexual intercourse with their mothers. We have
grown accustomed to Freud's famous theory of the Oedipus Complex. The
simple sentence in which the theory is stated no longer shocks. Does
this mean that we have learned to accept the proposition as true? If we
have indeed reached a stage of belief--as distinct from mere numb
habituation--then, I suggest, we ought not to have done so. There might
indeed be something salutary in using our imagination to recover the
original shock effect.  The shock arose not only from the sexual content
of the sentence but also from sheer implausibility. If ever a statement
needed to earn acceptance by vigorous demonstration, it was this."

Nuttall himself goes on to recall how "the philosopher Sidney Hook asked
one psychoanalyst after another what would count as evidence that a
child had not got an Oedipus Complex and never obtained an answer"
(p.128).

Then there's Joyce's wonderful Finnegan joke on the dangers of being
"jung and easily freudened."

Graham Bradshaw
 

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