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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1940  Saturday,  4 August 2001

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Aug 2001 13:47:32 -0400
        Subj:   Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Aug 2001 17:45:42 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1921 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Aug 2001 13:47:32 -0400
Subject:        Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

John Drakakis writes:

"I'm a little puzzled too by the handing over of power to Young
Fortinbras at the end.  It's very often played as though Denmark is
being handed over to a dictator who will grind it under his jackboot.
Fortinbras, you will recall, claims that he has 'some rights of memory
in this kingdom'.  We don't know what they are, but Hamlet seems to
concur.  Surely, the point is that Fortinbras behaves like Hamlet's
father.  He fights for bits of land (in Q2) and seems to do so for
honour's sake."

Three points deserve brief mention:

(1) I agree completely with John that Fortinbras gives no indication
that he is -- or will be -- a jack-booted thug. In fact, his words at
the end of the play are measured, thoughtful, and rather impressive,
politically pointed though they surely are, and he evinces an almost
mystical connection to young Hamlet that is hard to fathom: how does
Fortinbras know that Hamlet, Jr., would have been a good king, had he
lived?

(2) Fortinbras's behavior may be more like young Hamlet's than Hamlet
himself realizes in 4.4. Fortinbras in this play functions much like a
blank cipher: we get only the outlines of his actions, not his
motivations. It may be that he is hell-bent for honor as Hamlet thinks,
or it may be that his useless war against the Polack is a cover for
temporizing, for hanging around and being close at hand while Claudius
self-destructs. Curiously, both Hamlet and Fortinbras share the view
that Claudius isn't very able.

(3)Why does Hamlet give Fortinbras his dying voice? It's a mystery, for
sure. But I wonder if a providential interpretation works here: Old
Fortinbras foolishly fought old Hamlet and lost a lot of land. Now, at
the end of the play, the scales are righted -- more than righted,
actually.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Aug 2001 17:45:42 +0900
Subject: 12.1921 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1921 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

>As for Hamlet's nominating of Fortinbras as his successor, can you give
>one logical reason why he does so?

A really good question. Might the answer be simple? Hamlet lives and
dies hating Denmark.He tells Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that it is a
prison.  He is entirely indifferent to the threat of invasion in the
second scene.  Contrary to conventional expectations, he never expresses
any concern for the fate of Denmark or its Danes, or even for Ophelia
once he has killed her father.

As I have suggested before on this thread, the chief problem in Hamlet
criticism is the tendency to see the play and its other characters
through Hamlet's eyes.

That seems to me far less absorbing than the extraordinary contrast it
blocks out: Prince Hamlet is never interested in how anybody else thinks
and feels, including his mother, Ophelia and Horatio, whereas the play
is powerfully interested in how everybody else thinks and feels?

Best wishes. Graham

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