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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Time in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1296  Thursday, 31 May 2001

[1]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 May 2001 14:25:09 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 May 2001 15:48:53 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

[3]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 May 2001 18:33:36 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

[4]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 May 2001 19:01:44 -0400
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

[5]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 May 2001 08:18:19 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

[6]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 May 2001 19:22:33 -0400
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 12.1269 Rites of War for Hamlet or Claudius?

[7]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 May 2001 19:11:29 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

[8]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 31 May 2001 00:24:08 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 May 2001 14:25:09 -0400
Subject: 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

Terence Hawkes writes:

>The words work
>at full throttle only when uttered in the context given by the play, out
>loud, on stage --in this case, a stage which contains, inter alia, the
>bodies of the 'mighty opposites', Hamlet and Claudius. Since that
>context includes, like it or not, the structural possibility that
>Claudius is Hamlet's father, its worrying undertow is bound to tug at

>Fortinbras's final speech.

I always like to see on stage a "worrying undertow" tugging at a
"speech." It is a very dramatic sight, let me assure you.

But, yes, Claudius could be Hamlet's father, if we entertain the
possibility that Gertrude and Claudius had -- preplay -- a nineteen or
twenty-nine year liaison, depending on how old your Hamlet is.  Many of
my students find such a protracted affair difficult to accept.  Or, they
tell me that they cannot suspend their disbelief. But perhaps old Hamlet
was too busy with old Fortinbras to notice that his wife was in love
with his brother. Or, perhaps he didn't really care -- if we may talk
about fictional characters as if they have a life beyond the text.
Pirandello might not approve.

And, sure, a director could, of course, have her or his Fortinbras in
his final speech in the play distinguish between the two bodies.  But,
if Q1 has any authority, only one body is taken from the stage, not two.
(I have the Triple-Text Hamlet open before me.)

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 May 2001 15:48:53 -0400
Subject: 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

Charles Weinstein gives what seems to me the best overall refutation of
Terence Hawkes's suggestion that "his passage" refers to Claudius.
Still, it remains logically possible that Hawkes is right. I respect
Terence Hawkes as a scholar and writer. I've learned from him. Yet here
I think he's obviously wrong.

That such a good scholar should go so wrong makes me wonder. What does
it take to pare the logical possibilities, or "structural
possibilities", away from the dramatic possibilities? I wish it were not
necessary to spend so much time arguing, for example, that Claudius is
not Hamlet's father, that Hamlet did not make a secret pact with
Fortinbras, or, pace Stanley Cavell, that Claudius really did kill
Hamlet's father by pouring poison in his ear.  The fact that another
scholar supports Hawkes with a technical argument about meter leads me
to wonder, as many times before, what in the world students are being
taught about Shakespeare. Of course there's not a whole lot I can do
about it, except keep on keepin' on, and sometimes writing to this list.
I'm torn between trying to be "civilized" and answer as reasonably as I
can, and expressing my anger at those I feel are wasting my time, and
more important, students' time, and driving people away from Shakespeare
who with better teaching might have come to love him.

To be platitudinous, there's no solution. The search for balance is
never ending. Sometimes I go with the "can't we all just get along"
school, and sometimes, maybe more often, with "let the brickbats fly."
In this case Charles Weinstein, by writing with somewhat
uncharacteristic calmness, has led me to take a few deep breaths. But I
still think it can be good for the soul, and for society, sometimes to
call craziness crazy.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 May 2001 18:33:36 -0400
Subject: 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

I entirely disagree with the suggestion that the stray "his" in
Fortinbras's directions to his soldiers to carry Hamlet out for a
military funeral -- the soldier's music and the rite of war -- refers to
Claudius and requires both of them to be so treated.  But Charles
Weinstein's protest that the suggestion should be rejected on the ground
that would grant undeserved honor to a dishonorable man simply adds
unjustifiable preconceptions to the discussion.

IF we allow for argument's sake that Fortinbras was referring to
Claudius, what would an audience composed of people like-minded to
Weinstein make of it?  For one thing, they would not assume as he does
that the soldier's music or the rite of war reflected anything very
honorable from their, or Hamlet's, point of view.   Second, they would
note that young Fortinbras, whose name and behavior cast him as a born
and bred military type, is already known to be a prince whose poor
political judgment and inclination to warfare needed correction from his
uncle in the first act, was incapable -- as such types often are -- of
telling the difference between nobility and baseness in a fallen
combatant.  Anyway, they would not expect him to be making a moral
judgment over four corpses; all he knew of Hamlet [and Claudius] was the
fatal result of swordplay -- his own line of work -- and he treated him
[them] as no more or less than the princely [or royal] victim[s] of
combat, as comrades in arms, so to speak, in a court where he knew he
needed to curry favor.

Those in the audience of either a martial cut-and-slash or vengeful
disposition might well be overjoyed at the prospect that Hamlet would at
last be duly honored with peals of ordinance or whatever else; but
surely the alert Weinsteins among them noted the irony, that his life
and cause were being wholly misunderstood and co-opted by a foreigner so
unlike Hamlet in his values and motivation that he made violence a way
of life.  To Hamlet himself, the special character of his own cause was
pivotal to his own sense of purpose  He made it clear by his last words,
anticipating that, if unexplained, he would be misunderstood intolerably
by merely external observation and thus be left with a wounded name.
So, he instructed Horatio to refrain from suicide for the express
purpose of reporting his cause correctly -- which I take to mean, to
describe the facts which explained, justified, and supported the
morality of his actions -- and thus rescue his reputation.

But whether or not one accepts the proposed and eccentrically intriguing
reading of "his" to refer to Claudius, there is no good reason to
identify Fortinbras's values with Shakespeare's, Hamlet's, or our own.
Oh, what havoc parallel texts could wreak here!

Tony B

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 May 2001 19:01:44 -0400
Subject: 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Fw: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

Charles Weinstein writes:

>Claudius murders Hamlet's father (and his own brother) for gain, seduces
>Hamlet's mother into a hasty and disreputable marriage, engineers his
>election as King despite Hamlet's ostensibly superior claims, and then
>crowns his villainy by successfully plotting Hamlet's own murder.

The assessment of Claudius is certainly accurate; I wonder about
Hamlet's "superior claims," however. In Elizabethan terms, is there any
evidence that the king's son has a superior claim to the throne than the
king's older, more experienced younger brother? I was under the
impression that kingship depended in larger measure upon election by the
nobles than by father/son inheritance. Are any of our resident
historians able to clarify the question?

Paul E. Doniger

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Thursday, 31 May 2001 08:18:19 +0900
Subject: 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1270 Re: Time in Hamlet

The "colliding pronouns" don't cause any difficulty in the passage
Terence Hawkes quotes. But what about this speech of Iago's?--

    Cassio's a proper man: Let me see now.
    To get his Place, and to plume up my will
    In double Knavery. How? How? Let's see.
    That he is too familiar with his wife:
    He hath a person, and a smooth dispose
    To be suspected: fram'd to make women false.
    The Moor is of a free, and open Nature, etc.

In Renaissance Self-Fashioning Greenblatt argues that "the ambiguity of
the third-person pronoun" is "felicitous" because it delivers the
suggestion that Othello himself is "too familiar with his wife" (p.233).

As for the idea that Claudius is Hamlet's real father, the Branagh film
seems to take that for granted in making Hamlet look so like his uncle
and unlike his father.

Graham Bradshaw

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 May 2001 19:22:33 -0400
Subject: 12.1269 Rites of War for Hamlet or Claudius?
Comment:        Fw: SHK 12.1269 Rites of War for Hamlet or Claudius?

Steve Roth writes:

>And Fortinbras doesn't even know about Hamlet and the pirates. This
>unless you adopt the pretty tenuous idea of Derek Savage, in "Hamlet and
>the Pirates" (1951). He suggests that Hamlet was actually in league with
>Fortinbras, cutting a deal to get his army's support in taking the
>throne, in return for giving back the lands surrendered in the single
>combat.
>
>As I say, damned tenuous, but alluring. Despite some serious missteps,
>Savage does a pretty good job of marshalling evidence in support. (i.e.,
>What in the hell is Fortinbras doing at Elsinore at that moment? Can
>always argue dramatic necessity, of course.... )

I don't know Savage's book (article?), but the question posed here is
simple to answer: Fortinbras is passing through on his way home from
battle in Poland (5.2 -- "OSRIC: Young Fortinbras, with conquest come
from Poland, / To the ambassadors of England gives / This warlike
volley."). He had permission to do so from Claudius (4.3 -- "FORTINBRAS:
Go, captain, from me greet the Danish king. / Tell him that by his
license Fortinbras / Craves the conveyance of a promised march / Over
his kingdom."). It's perhaps a queer coincidence that his march should
coincide with the d

 

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