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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: August ::
Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1995  Thursday, 16 August 2001

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 12:40:17 -0400
        Subj:   Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

[2]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 15 Aug 2001 15:47:16 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1992 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 14 Aug 2001 12:40:17 -0400
Subject:        Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

Don Bloom theorizes that Hamlet and Fortinbras might be cousins:

"To put it another way, how else could he have a shadow of claim to the
Danish throne?"

And, why else would Hamlet designate Fortinbras as his successor? Don's
theory is interesting, and it highlights the quasi-mystical relationship
between Hamlet and his alter ego Fortinbras -- a relationship that has
many unexplained elements. Why, for example, does Fortinbras have such a
low opinion of Claudius (like Hamlet), and why does Fortinbras honor the
dead Hamlet, Jr, the son of the man who deprived F's father (and F) of
land?

At the start of the play, why does Fortinbras target Elsinore and
Claudius instead of marching off to recapture the land lost by his
father?  It's as if Fortinbras, like Hamlet, later, has revenge on his
mind. But what kind of revenge, and why?

I sometimes think that Fortinbras is Hamlet's "secret sharer," but,
again, why? One might argue that Fortinbras is the "winner" designated
by Providence to "take over," but even if true, problems of character
and motivation remain.

Best,
--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 15 Aug 2001 15:47:16 +0100
Subject: 12.1992 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1992 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

Don Bloom writes:

>To put it another way, how else could he have a shadow of claim to the
>Danish throne?
>
>He says he has "some rights of memory" which he will pursue. Even more
>important, Hamlet has just predicted this election and supported it with
>(as has been pointed out) the dying voice of the de facto monarch. None
>of this would make sense unless we assumed that the two royal families
>were connected. So, I assumed it. I generally assume that Shakespeare
>makes sense, and usually he does.

Now it is clearer where you stand, thank you. However, I do not believe
there is any solution to this that makes sense. It is only a couple of
scenes since the mob were crying 'Choose we: Laertes shall be king'.
Assuming, as I do, that Laertes was not another concealed cousin, then
we are dealing with an elective monarchy (as I think Don agrees).
Hamlet gives his dying 'voice' - presumably a vote, as in Coriolanus.
Certainly we can assume that he counts for more than the average vote
(on the other hand he will be dead, so some democracies might have
trouble with that). Laertes is also out of the running now, so the field
is rather limited.

In this elective monarchy, the Older Hamlet's brother was elected king
rather than his son. But could Claudius have known that would be so when
he committed the murder? And now, at this end of the play, is Hamlet de
facto king, as some scholars claim, or a previously rejected prince
presuming to say who shall be king next? The Penguin editor suggests the
'rights of memory' go back to the forfeiture of land by Old Fortinbras
to Old Hamlet, though it is hard to see why a gain by conquest should be
wiped out just like that, nor why the audience should remember this
rather obscure point from Act I.

I suggest this is a political mess, but covered by dramatic flow. In
dramatic terms, we have no need to invent cousins when what we see is
the young Hamlet 'handing over' the kingdom to the son of the man that
Old Hamlet fought, and whose territorial aggression Claudius foresaw and
anticipated. Whether Hamlet or Laertes or Fortinbras becomes 'king' is
not a matter of relationships but of the qualities they stand for.

(It has been suggested occasionally that the real reason that Claudius
succeeded to the throne is that the original story goes back to
vegetation myth and the cyclical battle between the god-king and his
dark 'tanist' brother. That does not quite appear in the archives of
this list. Does that indicate contempt, I wonder, or demarcation?)

Brian Haylett

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