The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2716  Monday, 3 December 2001

From:           Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 30 Nov 2001 17:01:11 -0800
Subject:        Forwarded Query on Possible Plagiarism

I take the liberty to forward from the Ficino list (Renaissance) a query
regarding the source of a discussion of Claudius' soliloquy in Hamlet; a
teacher believes it is plagiarized and wants to confront the student.

--Al Magary

Dear Ficinisti,

I am sorry to bother anyone with such tedium, but I've tried looking
everywhere to find a discussion of Claudius soliloquy in _Hamlet_ that
sounds published but which a student is trying to pass off as her own.
The passage shows up as a patch of thoughtful and sophisticated prose in
the middle of quite different text, and the student insists it's her own
when it patently isn't.  I've checked google.com for phrasing, I've gone
to the library and gone buggy-eyed looking through the Shakespeare
section, and still haven't turned up anything.  It may in fact be from a
guide to the play written for students, though it doesn't really sound
like Cliff's notes.  I'm rather keen on producing ocular proof with
which to confront the student, a fairly bright freshman, as I think at
this stage of her college career it might stop her from a repeat
performance.  I've copied in the text below, and would greatly
appreciate it if anyone who recognized it would provide me with the
source.  (Also, I might like to read the source myself.)  It looks as
though it might be from a serviceable introduction to the play.

Thanks for any help anyone can give me on this.  Please also of course
feel free to dump the following unread, especially at such a busy time
of the year.

Jameela Lares
Associate Professor of English
University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5037
+(601) 266-6214 ofc
+(601) 266-5757 fax


Perhaps, most importantly, it indicates that Claudius, unlike Iago or
Richard III, is not an unfeeling and soulless villain, but rather a
troubled and over-ambitious younger brother in a turbulent royal
family.  This characterization of Claudius creates a very round
antagonist, and helps the reader understand his motivation throughout
the remainder of the play.  This particular soliloquy can be broken down
into five sections.  The first deals with Claudius' inability to pray,
the second with his offense (i.e., his brother's murder), the third with
the nature of mercy and prayer, the fourth with his unwillingness to
repent and the earthly consequences of such refusal, the fifth with the
otherworldly consequences and his final attempt at prayer and
absolution.  [A short section I believe written by the student follows.]
The entire body of section one introduces two motifs: perversion of the
natural order, and corruption in Denmark.  One sees in the second
section a recurrence of the appearance vs. reality motif, and Claudius
wonders if the appearance of guiltlessness is enough.  Even is his sin
had been bloodier, he observes, he ought to be forgiven if he repents
properly. The third section entertains the notion of mercy and its
purpose in the medieval belief system.  Why do we have mercy, Claudius
asks, if not to oppose sin?  And what is the purpose of prayer, if not
to stop us before we fall, and pardon us when we are down?  The
personification of "offense" creates a dichotomy between mercy and mere
forgiveness; one theorizes that Claudius understands that his sin is
beyond simple absolution.  Hamlet, after all, is far more devoted to
thoughts of purity, morality, and propriety than Claudius seems to be,
yet in this soliloquy the King is espousing belief system [sic] when it
is convenient to relieve his guilt; he easily avoided it before, when it
provided moral obstacles to his ambition.  The fourth section is the
longestit deals in depth with why, precisely, Claudius cannot be
absolved.  If he were pardoned, he says, then he would be able to look
up (perhaps more literally, cast his eyes toward heaven rather than
downward toward eternal damnation), his fault being past.  What should
he say? "Forgive my foul murder?" Hardly.  He is truly in a quandary,
and all his options seem to be closed.  He cannot pray for forgiveness.
Furthermore, he cannot truly repent since he is unwilling to give up the
needs he sinned to satisfyhis hunger for power ("my crown"), the
fulfillment of his over-ambitious nature ("mine own ambition"), and his
lust for Gertrude ("my queen").  The repetition of "my" in this sentence
reveals Claudius' fascination with himself. Something these lines bring
up is an important juncture in the play, while Hamlet is torn between
the modern and the primitive, Claudius feels none of that conflict.
Hamlet is concerned with punishment and absolution by law, whereas
Claudius turns to the violent and half-barbaric practices of the
medieval Norse world to attain his ends.  Several motifs are reinforced:
appearance vs. reality (with the gilded hand and the appearance of
piety), the corruption of Denmark ("corrupted currents"). The fifth
section brings Claudius to the crux of his dilemma.  While sins may be
avoided and may even be profitable on earth, one cannot avoid one's
crimes in the afterworld.  One cannot equivocate or rationalize here
Claudius uses the word "shuffling," the same word Hamlet uses in the
third soliloquy of the play, to describe death ("what dreams may come
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil").  Rather one must face
one's faults and offer affirmative defense.  This soliloquy goes to the
motivation and nature of the King and illustrates his guilt plainly.  It
also serves to round Claudius' character, and moves him from the ranks
of disaffected heartless villain to conflicted and criminal antagonist.

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