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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1991  Tuesday, 14 August 2001

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Aug 2001 08:05:08 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[2]     From:   Geoff Layton <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Aug 2001 13:56:23 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 13 Aug 2001 15:19:55 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[4]     From:   Alan Pierpoint <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 00:25:08 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 02:49:04 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[6]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 06:01:46 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[7]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Aug 2002 10:58:51 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Aug 2001 08:05:08 -0700
Subject: 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Graham,

I too am dismayed that this thread has not addressed certain issues,
including those I posted in response to you when you made many of these
same comments a few weeks ago.  I pointed out that Claudius's
interruption comes at a certain point of *The Mousetrap,* and using
quotes from Q2 and F, showed that Horatio seemed more supportive than
you appear to admit.  I also questioned your insistence that if Claudius
betrayed his guilt then everyone in the room would know about it, when
the texts are very careful to give just two of the characters present
the knowledge to interpret Claudius reaction correctly.  You, in your
latest post, and others who have made some supportive but watered down
comments since, have failed to address any of my points.

I am not dismissing your comments about the reactions of the other
characters, which are very enlightening, but I don't see how you and
others have arrived at a truly integrated view of the play until you
have incorporated the comments I made several weeks ago.  Please do so
and enlighten me.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geoff Layton <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Aug 2001 13:56:23 -0500
Subject: 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Given that the Mousetrap is unsuccessful - and, furthermore - that it is
unsuccessful because the king is killed by his nephew rather than his
brother - the question must be asked - which I have not seen asked here
or elsewhere - why is the play within a play written so that it will
fail?  In other words, why does Hamlet insert a scene that most
assuredly does not trap the king, after he has so vociferously declaimed
that that is precisely what he wants to do?

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 13 Aug 2001 15:19:55 -0400
Subject:        Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Graham Bradshaw writes:

"I think Dover Wilson and, later Mushat Frye, were both right to insist
on the dramatic uncertainty about the Ghost. They don't assume, like
countless other critics, that the Ghost simply is Hamlet's father. But
neither do they assume, like Eleanor Prosser and some later critics,
that the Ghost simply is a devil."

Right. In fact, the most chilling possibility of all is that the ghost
is indeed Hamlet's father, and that he comes from hell.  Surely that
must be in the back of Hamlet's mind somewhere, but way in the back,
because it threatens young Hamlet's idealization of his father, which
seems to be a cornerstone of Hamlet's psyche.

Let me suggest that we may understand the first half of _Hamlet_ better
than the last half.  Making sense of what goes on after Hamlet springs
the mousetrap is hard to do. He does SEEM to forget about a lot of
thorny questions once he is convinced of Claudius's guilt; he even says
in 4.4, "I do not know/Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do,'"
(43-44), which appears to mean that there are no more impediments left
to action. Yet instead of turning right around and nailing Claudius,
Hamlet chooses instead to board ship with his two adder-fanged friends
whom, he knows, "marshal me to knavery" (3.4.209).

This action by Hamlet suggests that, whatever he says, impediments to
action still remain, and it may further suggest that at least one of
them is so emotionally disturbing that Hamlet can't consciously face it.

From the end of 4.4 on, Hamlet puts himself in harm's way whenever he
can. I wonder if this pattern is part of his attempt to solve,
indirectly, the remaining impediments to revenge? Or is it a kind of
death wish? Or . . . ?

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Pierpoint <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 00:25:08 EDT
Subject: 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Some of you were kind enough to respond to my posting last week, but I
somehow managed to delete several days worth of email, and I don't
remember who said what.

To whomever asked if I were referencing a theorist with whom he or she
was unfamiliar: Thank you, and no.  To the one who politely suggested
that the term deconstruction is more properly applied to statements
rather than questions (did I get it right?), well, I did get a
smattering of Derrida and someone named Culler, 12 years ago when I did
my MA and credential work, but I'm rusty, and when my classroom door
closes, I can wing it with no chance of being corrected by either
spellbound students or wandering deans.  I'll leave it to you
(collectively) to straighten the former out when they get to you.  My
comments about the synthesis of warrior ethic and Christian humanism
into modern liberal democracy struck one of you (probably more than one)
as anachronistic, which tells me that I didn't express myself well.
Perhaps I would have done better viewing the matter from inside out.
The turmoil within Hamlet seems acute enough to explain his delays and
his depression.  Eye-tongue-sword he may be, but he's got to early
middle age without the contradictions embedded in his "parts" coming
into serious conflict.  And he's a bit out of balance.  He can kick ass,
but lacks the temper of a soldier.  The first interview with the ghost
leaves him with the command of revenge and the desperate wish not to
have to obey it.  His wild and whirling words suggest an incipient
psychotic break (which I think he fights off, although a former
professor liked to refer to him as a "card-carrying schizophrenic").
It's an age-old problem; how do you keep Christian values and still
defend the realm, or yourself for that matter?  The Elizabethans
resolved it one way; we have resolved it another; but we don't seem much
closer to SOLVING it.

I think the Mousetrap IS successful, though Claudius' reaction is often
overplayed.

The coded language that Hamlet and Claudius use in their confrontation
in Act IV tells us that Claudius knows, and Hamlet knows, and Claudius
knows Hamlet knows, etc.; but other than maybe Horatio and Gertrude, no
one else seems to, though the rumors would be flying about the court.
Claudius still hopes for deniability if he can get Hamlet out of the
way.  So, the Mousetrap needs a middle interpretation, with Claudius
betraying his guilt clearly, but only to those who know what to look
for.

Respectfully,  Alan Pierpoint

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 02:49:04 -0400
Subject: 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

I don't think the Mousetrap fails in Graham Bradshaw's, or Greg's,
sense. It works, for Hamlet, by removing any "doubt" about the ghost.
How far he actually felt that "doubt" is ambiguous. He feels no doubt at
first, any more than the audience can. The ghost is simply too powerful
and too convincing. With the ghost away, his doubts may begin to play.
The Mousetrap at least eliminates Hamlet's excuse for doubting the
ghost. He claimed he had to delay until the test was made. The test
succeeds, so he needs another excuse for delay. He finds it in the need
to damn Claudius's soul.

One interesting question might be, for what does Hamlet fear he might be
damned? If the ghost may be a devil, who "Abuses me to damn me", would
that be because Claudius is innocent, and Hamlet would be damned for
killing an innocent man? So it would seem, since Hamlet's response to
this "doubt" is a test of Claudius's guilt--a test of whether the ghost
was telling the truth. Yet the implied assumption, that taking the
ghost-commanded revenge on a guilty Claudius would not be damnable,
might be questioned.

In the nunnery scene, Shakespeare leads the audience away from sharing
Hamlet's "doubt" of the ghost, and perhaps away from fully accepting it,
by having Claudius reveal his guilt in his "painted word" speech. Hamlet
of course might doubt, though we now know for sure, but his "all but
one--shall live" suggests that his "doubt" of the ghost coexists with
his certainty of Claudius's guilt. Then in the play scene his obnoxious
behavior again seems to show that despite his "doubt" he still considers
Claudius guilty.

I think in forming the plan for the Mousetrap play Hamlet has in mind
two possibilities which he does not clearly and consciously distinguish.
1) Claudius could proclaim his malefactions, confessing in public. 2)
Claudius could reveal his guilt to the two informed observers. Only 2
happens. 1 doesn't happen, though it might have if Hamlet had given it a
chance. He acts so obnoxiously that he gives the court an alternative
explanation for Claudius's walking out.
Hamlet's behavior at the Mousetrap may reflect, in part, both the anger
sparked by watching his father's death played, and his anger at himself
for his need to have it played at all: for "doubting" the ghost. I
believe he also doubts the ghost in another way, by setting up this test
in the hope, buried somewhere in his mind, of proving Claudius's guilt
in public. From the ghost's point of view, no public proof of guilt is
required. It's enough for Hamlet just to know the truth. The ghost wants
revenge; he doesn't care about publicly justified justice, an ideal that
clashes with his heroic ideal of pure personal revenge.

I don't think that the audience naturally watches Claudius very closely
during the dumb show. Bugging eyes or another sign of his reaction seems
to me melodramatic.  It would take a lot to keep us from watching the
dumbshow ourselves. Claudius absorbs the dumbshow, perhaps with some
pain, though it may take a little time for it to grow on him.

I find the idea that he should break down at the first sight of it
implausible, to put it mildly.
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. Leaving aside that extraneous
knowledge, and taking the dumbshow at dramatic face value, it serves, as
it's meant, as a preview.

The dumbshow happens quickly, and then the play starts and it becomes
evident that that scene is going to be expanded. Shakespeare does not
expect the whole plan to work just with the dumbshow, any more than
Hamlet does. He carefully prepares us to feel how the pressure on
Claudius rises as the moment of the fully-acted murder approaches. As
the anticipated play unfolds, Claudius has time to get more and more
nervous about the approaching scene of the murder. The action also
slows, and since we know the outline of the story we are now freer to
peek over at Claudius. He asks if there is any "offence" in the play,
showing his apprehension. The dumbshow has put him on edge. So
forewarned, he can't withstand the "second tooth" of the unabridged
version.

When Claudius walks out we, like Hamlet and Horatio, have been
thoroughly prepared to understand why. We also realize that Gertrude and
the court can't know what we know.
They assume, as they later indicate, that Hamlet's obnoxious behavior
upset Claudius.
They do not, however, take the "nephew to the king" as Hamlet's personal
threat to kill him. That would be a far more serious offense, and
nothing said by Gertrude, Polonius, et. al. suggests any such thought.
Hamlet has already been established as antic--obnoxiously so--and the
Mousetrap, to the rest of the court, is only a play. If Lucianus were
brother to the king the play might come off as an accusation. As it is,
it remains, to them, only a play.

I don't think Horatio's "Half a share" implies that he is any less
convinced than Hamlet that Claudius has revealed his guilt (to the two
of them, though to no one else). Half a share goes beyond a "fellowship
in a cry of players." Horatio "did very well note" Claudius; he sees the
same revelation of guilt seen by Hamlet, and by us (though by no one
else).

It is not absolutely necessary to believe that Claudius concludes from
the play scene that Hamlet somehow knows about the murder. It does seem
likely enough, but at least Claudius now finds Hamlet too dangerous to
live. Exactly why, or when, he comes to believe that does not really
matter, dramatically. Was it the "all but one--shall live" threat? The
"nephew to the king" threat, which Claudius, unlike the court, might
have heard? The "croaking raven" (likewise)? Hamlet's general attitude
of craziness and antagonism? The mysterious reenactment of his murder?
Or the killing of Polonius?

Whatever. In the prayer scene Claudius doesn't talk about the danger of
Hamlet knowing about the murder, but in concentrating on his own guilt
he may simply have his mind on the next world rather than on this one.
If he were to repent, confess, give up his crown and queen and enter a
monastery to do penance, Hamlet might be appeased.

When Claudius fails to repent, he goes on to form the plan to kill
Hamlet, if he hasn't formed it already. Nothing here is certain, I
think, except that Claudius's words in the prayer scene do not prove he
thinks Hamlet knows nothing of his crime.

The contradiction involved in "no traveller returns" is not strictly a
contradiction, because the ghost does not actually come back from the
dead. He does, however, report from the other side, and one can object
to this if one is so inclined. I feel the "traveller" slips by, in
context, without causing discernible trouble. It does not seem to me to
indicate doubt of the ghost, or to have anything specifically to do with
the ghost. It is, though unChristian in its skepticism (a contradiction
more to the point), a philosophical cliche. A devil impersonating a
ghost in order to damn Hamlet would cause a similar "contradiction" by
showing there was something going on in the undiscovered country which
could be discovered. But while caught up in Hamlet's speculations, I
don't feel the impulse to consider either "contradiction" too curiously.
The focus at the moment seems elsewhere than specifically on the nature
of the ghost. This kind of considering is another trap, I think, that
can befall those who know the play too well, or should I say who know
the words of the play too well?

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 06:01:46 -0400
Subject: Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Graham Bradshaw refers to 'Greg's 1919 essay on "Hamlet's Hallucination"
'.  In fact, Greg's essay was published in the Modern Language Review,
vol.  X11, No. 4, in October 1917. The date is important, for Dover
Wilson's response to Greg bears evident traces of the impact of that
time's astonishing and disturbing events. Account should also be taken
of Greg's riposte, 'The Mousetrap- a Postscript', published in the
Modern Language Review in 1940 -itself not an insignificant date. There,
Greg's revised judgement on the case is that 'According to the
traditional interpretation the King's behaviour proves the truth of the
Ghost's revelation. According to my original contention it disproves it.
Actually it does neither.' The failure of  'The Mousetrap' is
nevertheless once more confirmed and Greg's scrupulous examination of
the evidence remains hard to refute. At heart, as befits one of the
founders of modern bibliographical and textual studies, he was always a
copper.

Terence Hawkes

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 Aug 2002 10:58:51 -0400
Subject: Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        SHK 12.1985 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Thanks to Graham Bradshaw for a very detailed posting. A few
comments/responses follow

> Dover Wilson's "imaginative idea" was anything but new, and goes back to
> Tieck in the early nineteenth century: I can't check this now, but I
> think Tieck's theory is quoted in the New Variorum Hamlet.

I believe it was Halliwell (New Variorum 1.242). The fact that it wasn't
original with Wilson doesn't make it less imaginative (and the fact that
it's imaginative, doesn't make it any less questionable).

> Sometimes Hamlet accepts that the Ghost is his father's spirit;
> sometimes he is doubtful; sometimes he denies that, for example when he
> describes death as the bourn from which "no traveller returns". As
> Wilson saw, the nineteenth-century critics who endlessly discussed
> Hamlet's real or alleged "delay" ignored this very important, good
> reason for delay.

I have suggested in the past that Hamlet's expressed doubts about the
Ghost are disingenuous (see my previous postings on this subject). I
haven't seen anything, yet, to shake that belief. I appreciate your
quotation marks around the word delay; the production of the inner play
is an act of vengeance (this idea goes to the heart of my thesis). I've
never been comfortable with the idea of a hesitant Hamlet.

> Which brings us back to Greg. The most important part of his argument
> was unrelated to, but very unfortunately harnessed to, his thoroughly
> unconvincing argument that the Ghost was a "collective" hallucination.
> Greg saw very clearly what was wrong with Hamlet's idea that the
> Mousetrap was a success. Wilson never did.
.............
> Hamlet-centred productions regularly make nonsense of these other
> characters' reponses, in their determination to believe that the
> Mousetrap must have been as successful as Hamlet himself takes it to be.
>
> Hence my stage-oriented question, some weeks ago. HOW COULD Claudius
> reveal his guilt, unequivocally, to Hamlet, in a way that is nonetheless
> invisible to everybody else in the onstage audience, including Horatio
........
> The staging tradition has a different history, since Peter Hall's 1965
> production assumed that the Mousetrap was a failure. That view was
> developed in the BBC/Time Life production, with Patrick Stewart's superb
> Claudius.  British actors like Stewart, Jacobi, and Pennington (cf his
> excellent book on Hamlet) assume that the Mousetrap fails, as I think it
> does. But the critical issues are still not discussed, and are blithely
> ignored in numerous other productions, like Zeffirelli's opulent
> fast-food Hamlet.

On the surface, yes, I agree that _The Mousetrap_ is a failure. But I
question our traditional view of Hamlet's intent in producing the play.
He is not looking for proof so much as he is looking to prick Claudius's
conscience  -- "The play's the thing / Wherein I'll CATCH THE CONSCIENCE
of the King." Hamlet could have said something about 'proving the guilt'
rather than catching the conscience if he intended to show proof. If we
view _The Mousetrap_ as an act of vengeance, with Hamlet as cat and
Claudius as mouse, then Claudius's soliloquy is proof that the play was
successful -- and Patrick Stewart's performance would STILL be equally
superb (as I agree it was); and so would Basil Sidney's! Hamlet's hope
is to get Claudius to reveal his own guilt and to have natural, or at
least temporal justice accomplish his vengeance (thus following ALL the
Ghost's commands). In this goal he is not very successful.

Paul E. Doniger

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