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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1918  Wednesday, 1 August 2001

[1]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 12:09:11 -0400
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 12:38:16 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[3]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 10:11:13 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 13:19:15 -0400
        Subj:   RE: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 12:09:11 -0400
Subject: 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Fw: SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

I have two final comments that I would like to share regarding this
thread:

1. I have never been comfortable accepting that Hamlet doubts the
honesty of the Ghost. It seems to me that his "Devil" comments in the
2.2 soliloquy are post hoc excuses for following a plan of action that
he decided on earlier (the double-meaning in "His majesty shall have
tribute of me;" and then: "We'll hear a play tomorrow ... Can you play
'The Murder of Gonzago'? ...  You could for a need study a speech ...
."). Hamlet's intent in presenting _The Mousetrap_ to the court (his
first act of revenge!) is to get Claudius's conscience caught, reveal
his guilt to all the court, and have justice done openly, thus
accomplishing his revenge without tainting his mind OR his soul.

2. I think Claudius views the dumbshow with outward calm, as others have
suggested (here I agree with Grey and not Dover Wilson), and is more
disturbed by Hamlet than by the inner play. The key lines, for my money,
come when Hamlet urges the player Lucianus to begin. At first he
addresses the actor: "Leave thy damnable faces ... ," but then he
curiously says, "Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge." To
whom is he speaking here? Lucianus is not an avenger. Why should anyone
call for revenge before the murder of Gonzago? No, I rather think that
Hamlet intends these lines for Claudius. Hamlet is the croaking raven --
he's been 'croaking' all through the performance of _The Mousetrap_, and
he has been dressed in raven-colored suits since act 1. Of course, it is
he who is calling for revenge, and in his desperation to "catch the
conscience of the king" is digging the knife deeper into Claudius to get
a reaction from him. Claudius, as some have suggested, now knows
Hamlet's intent (and knows what Hamlet knows), and he uses the "love of
Gonzago's wife" line as a convenient excuse for giving o'er the play,
pretending offense outwardly, but inwardly feeling a need to take some
action to stop Hamlet; unfortunately for Hamlet (and Polonius) the
excuse for action comes swiftly.

Paul E. Doniger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 12:38:16 -0400
Subject: Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Hamlet begins, not with the words 'Who's there?', but with Francisco's
silent entry, followed by that of Barnardo. The latter's sudden wordless
terror, presumably accompanied by a hasty hoisting of his partisan, the
large military spear, into some sort of offensive position, sets the
play alight well before any utterance. This disturbing sequence --a
soldier preparing to strike at a comrade who wears the same uniform--
sends signals of fear, confusion and uncertainty that are all the more
potent for being non-verbal. The play ends without words too.

T. Hawkes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 10:11:13 -0700
Subject: 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

>From:           Tony Burton <
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>
>The reversal of conventional order in the matter of the exchange between
>sentries, to which Weiss has referred, conforms also with other
>indications to the same effect, <snip>

These reversals and "jugglings" are also quite in keeping with the
reversal of roles and disorder played out in winter revels--boy bishop,
prince of fools, christmas prince, etc.--that echoes throughout the
Tudor period (and before), and throughout Hamlet.

I argue in chapter 2 of my book <http://princehamlet.com>, building on
initial discoveries by Steve Sohmer, that the mousetrap is played on
Twelfth Night, and the graveyard/swordfight on Valentine's Day, which in
1602 was Shrove Sunday. The action of the play encompasses the revels
season at court--from October 31 to Shrovetide.

Shrovetide in particular is intimately connected with role reversals and
revels (and rebellion).

>For students like Weiss and White, with whom I most
>wholeheartedly agree, and It is clear to me that the depiction of
>disorder and uncertainty are an essential element of "Hamlet" and its
>mystery, of Hamlet's character, and of the audience's experience.

The understanding that we've (I think) come to here of the dumb
show--that it contributes to that uncertainty of knowledge--adds to that
key aspect of the play.

>such private views of the matter
>are inevitable necessary and exclusive.

An interesting difficulty is discerning between:

o Those things that simply must be true in a single, exclusive  sense,
that constitute the basic "sense" of the poem--who does what and when
(Gertrude definitely married Claudius, and Hamlet definitely had
audiences with Ophelia, though we only know of these things by first-,
second-, or third-had report)

 and

o Those that may have multiple, uncertain, or ambiguous
interpretations/meanings (too many examples to bother citing any).

>Indeed, there are good reasons why such uncertainty spoke loudly to the
>spiritual and intellectual climate of Shakespeare's time,

Indeed, indeed! Worth a new thread?

>The departure would
>then certainly not be unambiguous evidence of guilt for murder, nor even
>of guilt for marrying for money (although that is surely what happened),
>but only of anger at Hamlet's presumption in implying he might employ
>those tactics against him.

Or, simply, presumption at threatening to kill him in front of the whole
court!

>From:           Sean Lawrence <
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>
>Andy White argues that
>
>>He [Claudius] has to suffer in the afterlife, just as he made his brother
>>suffer Purgatory needlessly.  It's a concept that is alien to us, but
> >would be taken for granted back then.
>
>I'm not sure how "taken for granted" it would have been.  Leaving
>vengeance up to the almighty was a tenet of Christianity, was it not?

This is a great question. Doesn't this make Hamlet doubly presumptuous
in taking revenge--not just preempting the lord's prerogative in
speeding Claudius' death, but even worse, seeking to determine where he
will spend his afterlife?

>From:           David Bishop <
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>
>I doubt very much that we are intended to feel that the court audience
>at the Mousetrap takes the nephew, Lucianus, as Hamlet's threat to kill
>Claudius.

How else could the courtiers interpret that scene, and Claudius'
response to it? This is a real question, not a challenge. I think Dover
Wilson nailed this one, and I haven't seen any explanations to compete
with his.

>I think the nephew to the
>king (Hamlet's switch from duke) indicates the problem, in Hamlet's
>mind, that revenge would require the same crime, regicide, that Claudius
>committed.

Agreed (an insight I hadn't come to). But that's not its only
implication.

>A too curious concentration on the dumbshow, and a demand
>that Claudius react to it immediately, seems a product of too much
>leisure thinking, and of our familiarity with the play.

It could be played either way, successfully and without contradicting
the text. But critics have been asking forever why Claudius reacts when
he does, not to the dumb show. It's a darned curious question that I
don't think has been answered satisfactorily (or at least I haven't read
a satisfactory answer, until this thread).

>The dumbshow takes everyone, especially those who
>haven't been warned, by surprise.

Including, according to Wilson, Hamlet! I like that interpretation.

>When Claudius walks out
>we're prepared, and unlike Gertrude or the court we know the real reason
>why.

And also unlike Hamlet.

>If he kills him now, he may think, he'll meet
>his dearest foe in heaven--or would, if killing him would not send
>Hamlet himself to hell. It's all very cleverly twisted

Oh, that's very nice. I hadn't made the connection between Hamlet's
"dearest foe" and Claudius.

Thanks,
Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 13:19:15 -0400
Subject:        RE: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

David Bishop rightly notes that "Christianity prohibits revenge while
the ghost demands it." Implicit in David's comment is Hamlet's need to
answer two questions: not just whether Claudius is guilty as charged,
but also whether the ghost is a good ghost (and thus reveals the will of
heaven), or a bad ghost (and thus may be using the truth to damn Hamlet
and effect an unsanctioned revenge).

Thus, even if we accept that the mousetrap reveal Claudius's guilt,
Hamlet's work is not done.  He now must somehow solve the question of
the ontological nature of the ghost.

How does he go about doing that?

--Ed Taft

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