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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1929  Thursday, 2 August 2001

[1]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 01 Aug 2001 14:13:11 +0000
        Subj:   An improbable fiction

[2]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 10:06:12 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1918 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[3]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 17:38:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[4]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 19:49:51 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1918 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Wednesday, 01 Aug 2001 14:13:11 +0000
Subject:        An improbable fiction

Terence Hawkes writes,

>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.

I respond:

A large number of assumptions, interpretations and extrapolations here,
Terrence, up with which I cannot put.

But I am prepared to give a fair wind to them if you could present your
justification or sources.

Best wishes,
Graham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 10:06:12 -0700
Subject: 12.1918 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1918 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

>From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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>2. I think Claudius views the dumbshow with outward calm, as others have
>suggested (here I agree with Grey and not Dover Wilson),

I don't know Grey's commentary. Can you give a lead?

>"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?

Richard Simpson pointed out in 1874 that the line is a compressed
mimicking of a speech from The True Tragedy of Richard III, written in
1591-2 and perhaps revived by the Admiral's Men around the time of
Hamlet's debut. I've transcribed the speech, with commentary, at:
<http://princehamlet.com/revenge.html>

By alluding to that speech, Shakespeare succeeds in making (at least)
four (incredibly involved) jokes, all at once. I also argue in a paper
to be presented at the Scaena conference this month that it's yet
another sally in Shakespeare's contribution to the war of the
theatres/poets.

Wilson comments on/explains it in a footnote, and refers to it in
Appendix C of WHIH. Jenkins (Arden 1982) comments thus in his footnote
on the line, in his usual concise and cogent fashion: "Claudius is
simultaneously confronted with the image of his crime and the threat of
its avenging."

>--Ed Taft:

>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?

In nice manner, this returns us to the title of this thread--Hamlet's
clashing ideals. Is the ghost/revenge good or bad?

Hamlet is laboring under conflicting codes of honor--the code of Old
Hamlet, which requires and even admires revenge (while at the same time
vilifying regicide), and the more modern code, in which revenge is a
terrible crime, both legal and religious. There are strong arguments on
either side as to whether he succeeds in resolving those conflicts.

Thanks,
Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 17:38:50 -0400
Subject: 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1908 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

This will be my last post before an extended travel/conference season:

Again, my compliments to all, this is going well!

Apologies, for not citing specific posters, I'm in a hurry:

First, I think it undermines the play to have Claudius react only to the
"nephew" line, and it creates an unnecessary layer of uncertainty to
have Hamlet _over-react_ to Claudius.  I don't think _Hamlet_ works on
that level, it tends to be up-front about everything that is done, and
why.

As for purgatory vs. hell, I don't think Elizabethan England was a
terribly Christian place, nor do I think Shakespeare's principal
audience were Quakers or pacifists.  They were in a red-light district
(I think there's something in the Bible about that. . .) and were part
of a Christian society that routinely persecuted, tortured and murdered
people for heresy.  Let's not idealize Christians from this period,
especially if the Christianity portrayed in _Hamlet_ is more complex and
bloody-minded than we would like it to be.

Cheers,
Andy White
Off to Chicago, then Paris

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Aug 2001 19:49:51 -0400
Subject: 12.1918 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1918 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Steve Roth asks how else the court could take the nephew in the
Mousetrap than as Hamlet's threat to kill the king. I think the answer
is that they take him as a character in a play. They are watching a
play, which Hamlet insists rather obnoxiously on interrupting. Claudius
may pick up a threat from Hamlet, the thought of revenge in Hamlet's
mind may come out, to us, in his misquote of the line about revenge from
an older play, but the courtiers see the king leaving in apparent anger
at Hamlet's behavior. If Hamlet had been quiet, and Claudius had walked
out as the murderer came to murder the king, then we'd have to wonder
what the courtiers think. As it is, we don't.  Unless we read our
outside knowledge into the play and into their minds.

When Claudius walks out, he walks out, in reality, because he can't take
the reenactment of his crime, which, thanks to the dumb show, he knows
is coming up. Hamlet recognizes that and believes the ghost has been
proved right, even though he has continued to act, with his "all but
one--shall live" threat and his behavior at the play, as if he believes
the king is guilty.  Gertrude thinks Hamlet's behavior has offended
Claudius, and has no inkling of the murder--"as kill a king?"--and this,
given the state of their knowledge, must be what the courtiers also
believe. Nothing suggests otherwise.

We may hear a threat coming from Hamlet, conceivably Claudius could. But
the courtiers have no basis for interpreting the play that way. To
threaten to kill the king in front of the court would be more than
offensive presumption. It would be treason. It does not happen.

Ed Taft agrees that the ghost is for revenge and God against it, then
says that Hamlet must determine whether the ghost's demand for revenge
is approved by God. This seems to me a contradiction. I think there is
no such remaining question about the "ontological status" of the ghost.
The only question, as far as it ever is a real question, is whether the
ghost was telling the truth about his murder. The Mousetrap definitively
answers that.  The ghost's demand is wrong from a Christian point of
view, but right from the point of view of what I call the heroic ideal.
That's why these two ideals clash.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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