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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Hawk and Handsaw
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1261  Wednesday, 30 May 2001

[1]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 13:36:18 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw

[2]     From:   Ward Elliott <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 12:24:21 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw

[3]     From:   Lene Petersen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 May 2001 09:48:55 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 13:36:18 -0400
Subject: 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw

I wrote an article some years ago which appeared in The Upstart Crow,
Volume XI (1991) discussing various specific and interweaving themes in
"Hamlet" that involved falconry and hunting in general, in which -- with
reference to Claudius and Hamlet in particular -- each hunter becomes
the victim or quarry of the hunt he himself set in motion.  With regard
to a pattern of falconry metaphors, I offered an explanation for the
puzzling hawk/handsaw remark (notes omitted) that brings it into
relation with the principal themes of the play as a whole.  The other
readings already offered in this thread have their own merits, which we
can all judge on our own, but do not connect the passage thematically
with what is going on in general and, for that reason, seem to me
arguable but unpersuasive.  I viewed it as an element of the thematic
falconry metaphors, as follows:

"Parrying Rosencrantz' and Guildenstern's clumsy inquiries, Hamlet warns
them not to underestimate him, 'I know a hawk from and handsaw,'
(II.ii.394) with 'handsaw' widely considered to be a variant or
corruption of 'hernshaw,' an early word for 'heron.'  He means 'I'm sane
enough to know the hunter from the hunted,' an ironically mistaken
opinion that leads him, in turn, to underestimate Claudius in the last
act."

The article deals with much more than this, which is just incidental to
the two startling and brilliant principal arguments.  Get to read a copy
of the "Crow," if you can.

Tony B

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ward Elliott <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 12:24:21 -0700
Subject: 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw

Have I missed something in this exchange?  Isn't it the standard
understanding that handsaw = heronshaw = heron = a bird of manifestly
different feather from a hawk?  Isn't Hamlet trying to say that when he
is in his right mind he can distinguish darkness from light, just like
everyone else?  The standard understanding isn't necessarily right, of
course, but someone ought to mention it.

Ward Elliott

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lene Petersen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 May 2001 09:48:55 -0000
Subject: 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1244 Re: Hawk and Handsaw

To add a little mystic amusement to the ol' Hawk and Handsaw debate,
here is a "solution" suggested to me years back by my Denmark-based
English mentor, who is not to my knowledge a practising cabalist:

If you peruse the words Hawk and Handsaw you will see that these two
words share some common letters, namely one H, one a, and one w.
Subtracting these double letters, the remaining letters spell: k n d s
a, which is ... an anagram for "dansk", meaning Danish.

The argument should then by implication be that Hamlet is protesting
that he knows a true Dane from a false one.

It may be added that the term Dansk was known to the author of Hamlet,
who uses it when Polonius makes enquiries into how many Danskers are in
Paris...

Enjoy!

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