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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1921  Wednesday, 1 August 2001

[1]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 19:30:19 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1901 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

[2]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 12:28:48 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.1914 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 19:30:19 +0100
Subject: 12.1901 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1901 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

John Drakakis writes:

>Look at Horatio's description of Old Hamlet's conflict with
>Old Fortinbrass, and look at ho Hamlet nominates as ruler of Denmark.

But what is Horatio's position? Is 'emulate pride' something he admires?
Is 'valiant Hamlet' qualified by the line that follows? Yes, Horatio
speaks of violence, but it is not proved that he does not criticise it.
As for Hamlet's nominating of Fortinbras as his successor, can you give
one logical reason why he does so? Is it consonant with the Hamlet we
have seen? Is it loyal to his father? Or is it another fine
misjudgement? (Or convenient dramatic conclusion?)

>  Of
>course, neither you or I would regard this kind of violence as
>acceptable, but the difference between us is hat you want to project
>your own sensitivities onto the play.  I submit that what that does is
>to distort the action.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

>I think what Brian and Sean need is a good dose of Brecht.

While Shakespeare did not have the advantage of Brecht, he did know the
Bible.

In peace,
Brian Haylett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 12:28:48 +0100
Subject: 12.1914 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.1914 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

It's a little difficult to know where to begin to respond to Sean
Lawrence's comments, except to say that he seems to be starting from the
assumption that Claudius is a 'real' person.

If he argues that ethics is NOT uncontaminated then I think he needs to
tell us in what the contamination consists, or is this simply a mystery
beyond human comprehension?.  As I understand him, he seems to be
arguing in favour of a blanket humanism that is entirely indiscriminate:
we can let Claudius off the hook because he's 'human'. This is precisely
the kind of liberal position that gets itself in serious difficulties
when confronted with real choices (as opposed to those that literary
and/or theatrical texts offer us).

As for the comments on politics versus ethics and my alleged naivete..
surely, philosophy is little more than politics conducted at the level
of theory isn't it?  I've read as much Cavell as I want to, but Cavell
is interested among other things in the extent to which a text subverts
itself.  Such a formulation would, of course, be pertinent in relation
to the discussion of Claudius.  The question is: to what extent is
Claudius aware of his potentially subversive powers, or is he, like
other figures in the play, caught in a series of contradictions that no
ideology can occlude?  Claudius isn't a philosophical conundrum, and so
we need to be careful about the kinds of questions that we can ask of
various aspects of the structure of the text of Hamlet. The debate with
Brian Haylett began over the issue of genre, and genre exerts some power
over particular examples.  How we theorise the operations of that power,
or the negotiations that are produced as a consequence is an important
question. Also, we surely ought not to think of these particular
examples outside the notion of 'politics' broadly conceived as involving
the variable distribution of forces within particular fields of
activity.  Here Sean's claim that 'politics' is a discreet discourse is
worse than naive...it's plain wrong.

If he is asking whether there can be any politics without a 'morality'
(and this I take it is the import of his comment about violence) then
that IS a complex question and can't be answered simply.  I much admire
Levinas's work but I have serious reservations about the way it gets
wheeled out to justify an uncritical 'ethics' as the mystified origin of
vague humanisms. I don't propose to ask Sean if there are any
circumstances in which his liberalism would permit the use of violence.
I'll rather stick to Hamlet and point out to him that the play extols
violence as an effective means of sustaining power.  It subscribes to
the myth that there are some forms of violence that are not acceptable
(e.g. Claudius') but that there are others that are e.g. Old Hamlet,
possibly Fortinbras, and to some extent Hamlet himself.  Here we might
want to look closely at the aesthetic structure of the play, and to ask
questions about the extent to which it is successful in producing
ideology.  I think not, and for a variety of historical reasons.

I thank him for the Charles Taylor reference.  But perhaps, finally, he
needs to think about what Brecht actually proposes in texts like The
Messingkauf Dialogues and the New Organum for the Theatre. And lest he
thinks that Brecht is nothing more than a left-wing ideologue, he might
like to consider texts such as Mother Courage and The Life of Galileo
that constantly resist the most politically correct kinds of reading.

Cheers,
John Drakakis

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