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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Essential Macbeth and Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2440  Thursday, 25 October 2001

[1]     From:   Todd Pettigrew <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 14:42:38 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

[2]     From:   John Ciccarelli <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 15:41:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Essential Macbeth & Hamlet

[3]     From:   Louis Swilley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 15:46:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

[4]     From:   Frances L Helphinstine <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 17:11:02 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

[5]     From:   Todd Pettigrew <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 14:42:38 -0300
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd Pettigrew <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 14:42:38 -0300
Subject: 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

I don't know who said it first, but I once read a remark that Macbeth is
Hamlet told from Claudius' perspective.

Something to that.

t.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ciccarelli <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 15:41:25 -0400
Subject:        Re: Essential Macbeth & Hamlet

Being theatrically oriented, I would say what's often missing from
classroom lectures regarding these plays are taking other characters
fully into account.  The names of Claudius or Gertrude or Banquo are
briefly mentioned and then are treated only as filler for the larger
characters.  Course work then jumps to the more famous scenes and they
stay there.  Take some time to present profiles of other characters and
their motivations, along with the usual passages, scenes, etc.

What is Claudius' true intent in summoning R & G?  What's Gerturde's
role in this?  What is R & G's take on the way Hamlet is acting?  What's
the difference in the way Hamlet acts toward the players, Horatio,
Ophelia, as opposed to others and what are their relations to him?  Is
Ophelia's mad song, just a song or something else?  How does Banquo's
character change throughout the play?  What is the effect of Duncan's
death on the other Thanes?  What prompts Malcolm to "test" Macduff?
What insight does a given scene reveal about the inner lives of the
other characters?  By working from the inside out, the play as a whole
helps to flesh out the "high" points or scenes.  This also gives a much
better overview of the work as opposed to just concentrating on specific
aspects.

One class project that I've found useful is assign various scenes from
the play as an oral presentation. Two to three students take a scene and
perform it before the class memorized.  They must perform it using
suggestive clothing/props.  Next they present the same scene using
modern language and a modern setting.  Finally, they conclude with
commentary on the scene itself and or open it to a Q & A.  Students may
even select the scenes from the play that they would like to do.  The
scenes need not be actual full length, but can also be snippets of
larger scenes.  Try to avoid assigning the same scene twice.  Have the
class present scenes from across the play.

John

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Louis Swilley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 15:46:24 -0500
Subject: 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

> I just started "Hamlet" with my college-bound seniors and "Macbeth" with
> my average seniors.  Does anyone have any input as to what is ABSOLUTELY
> essential for my students to know about these respective plays?
>
> Carol Gallagher

Yes.  They need to know what each line says, the relationship of the
next to that line, then the next to those two, and so on.  In this
manner they should proceed to the end of the play and then stop.

         L. Swilley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frances L Helphinstine <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 17:11:02 -0400
Subject: 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

Visit the Folger library web page and see the Shakespeare Set Free
Series. If the students do all the exercises for the titles which you
teach, they will be ready for both theater and literature Shakespeare
courses.

Fran

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Oct 2001 20:47:21 -0400
Subject: 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2436 Essential Macbeth and Hamlet

I would describe both of these plays as concerned with a conflict of
value systems, or as I call them in Hamlet, clashing ideals. (for more
see my book at clashingideals.com.)

Both Hamlet and Macbeth desire to kill a king. The spur to this desire
is what I would call the heroic ideal. In Macbeth's case it's expressed
as ambition, in Hamlet's as a desire for revenge. Both involve
manliness, a value Lady Macbeth uses effectively to stiffen Macbeth's
weakening resolve.

Macbeth mentions some reasons that inhibit him from killing the king:
that he will "teach bloody instructions"; that Duncan has been a good
king; that Macbeth will be damned (though he says he doesn't care: "we'd
jump the life to come").

Hamlet's parallel inhibitions, the Christian prohibition on revenge (and
consequent threat of damnation), and his duty as prince and subject not
to kill the king, at least until he has been publicly proved a tyrant,
mostly have to be inferred from the play. Not merely from the play--we
supposedly bring a knowledge of Christianity and patriotism to the play
with us--but from how Shakespeare activates our feelings by reminding us
of what we already know.

To take a subtle case, look at what happens in the prayer scene. Hamlet
presents himself as a totally uninhibited, bloodthirsty revenger, who
says he can't get true revenge without damning Claudius's soul. His
resolve to wait and kill him later arises, supposedly, from his
Christian faith. He presents himself both as a pure revenger and, at the
same moment, as a totally faithful Christian--except for one thing. He
believes in the whole apparatus of heaven and hell, as well as in a
forgiving God who would forgive even Claudius. Yet he believes,
according to him, that God is wrong about that. Hamlet will use
God--will "circumvent" him (a word he uses later in another
connection)--to get revenge. This "Christian revenge" is a kind of
oxymoron. You can't be a fully committed revenger and a fully faithful
Christian at the same time--by which I mean the same moment. We may hold
contradictory beliefs, but usually when one is active the other is
dormant, so we don't have to face the contradiction. In the prayer
scene, the audience, hearing a plausible argument that assumes both are
true at once, feels confused.

Laertes says he will "dare damnation" to take his revenge. But can you
fully believe in damnation and also "dare" it? If it's damnable that's
because God says it's wrong. Is the fear of God cowardly? This seems
like another, parallel oxymoron.

Macbeth overcomes his inhibitions and kills the king. It's all downhill
from there. His fate is a warning for ambitious usurpers. It's the kind
of inevitable result of killing a king that the imaginative Hamlet finds
so inhibiting. The ghost is not quite as persuasive as Lady Macbeth.
Hamlet finally kills Claudius only after he has clear, and public, proof
that Claudius is a tyrant. Not because it's been proved that he murdered
Hamlet's father, but because it's been proved that he murdered Hamlet
himself.

We still encounter these paradoxes arising from clashing ideals. A
phrase I've seen in connection with Afghanistan, "Justice Not War",
might apply to Hamlet's dilemma in the form "Justice Not Revenge".
Hamlet thinks he wants revenge, but feels mysteriously inhibited. His
underlying desire for justice is perhaps demonstrated best by the fact
that that is what he finally achieves (though to make that point
convincingly requires a lot more argument).

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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