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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1727  Tuesday, 10 July 2001

[1]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jul 2001 07:52:28 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1712 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[2]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Jul 2001 11:45:41 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1719 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jul 2001 07:52:28 -0700
Subject: 12.1712 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1712 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Paul Doniger:

>I must disagree, moreover, that the Ghost has initiated the situation.
>Had he not been the victim of his brother's crime, the situation would
>never have come into existence.

Perhaps the ghost is justified in demanding revenge. But once again, I
have to refer to McGee's consummately argued and supported if somewhat
overstated position in "Elizabethan Hamlet."

He argues that the ghost and his call for revenge would be viewed by
most Elizabethans (especially pious ones) as pretty irredeemably evil.
Though Shakespeare's ghost is much more ambiguous than his stage
predecessors, those predecessors were never portrayed in favorable
light.

This view of the ghost is supported by Shakespeare's consistently
negative depiction of internecine wars for succession in the history
plays.

The ghost may have just grounds for his demand, but it is nevertheless
that demand which causes the ensuing tragedy. It's not like he's going
to get out of purgatory any sooner, after all, if Hamlet offs
Claudius...

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Jul 2001 11:45:41 -0400
Subject: Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        SHK 12.1719 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

David Bishop wrote:

> Paul Doniger's suggestion that the ghost is warning Hamlet against
> revenge with "Taint not thy mind" is, to my mind, staggering. What then
> did he mean by telling Hamlet to take revenge? And then in coming back
> to tell him again? What is this whole play about?>

There was no suggestion on my part that the Ghost means that Hamlet
should NOT take revenge, only that he should do so without becoming
inherently evil himself. It was long the tradition of the revenge
tragedy for the avenger to descend into madness, evil, or depravity (I
believe I cited some examples of this in my last posting). Hamlet is a
notable exception, and it is perhaps the Ghost's admonition that sets up
the unique problem. The traditional revenge tragedy spends a good deal
of time in working out the details of the act of vengeance; this unique
variation on the revenge plot has, instead, the inner turmoil of a hero
who has been given a series of contradictory commands (from the Ghost)
and must accomplish his task while he remains 'pure' and innocent -- an
almost impossible task; no wonder he hesitates. I think this is a major
point in the play.

This concept of the nature of the avenger can be read about in Fredson
T.  Bowers' book, _Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy_. Gloucester, MA: Peter
Smith, 1959, among other places.

> The word "nor" on the other hand, though taken in a certain narrow way
> would suggest a difference between the two commands, presents no real
> problem.  This is a standard Shakespearean idiom. The second part is an
> elaboration, or explanation of the first, and the nor is an intensifier.
> The proof of this is that otherwise "Taint not thy mind" would be
> unexplained, leaving us to speculate wildly, not to say madly, about a
> ghost who suddenly is speaking, for four words, against revenge on
> Claudius.

I maintain my linguistic reading. Abbott makes no mention of this
"standard Shakespearean idiom," and I have difficulty reading the word
'nor' as an intensifier; it's a coordinating conjunction, as it is used
here. An intensifier modifies an adjective or adverb, but that is not
the case in this sentence.

I see no contradiction, as I said above but still see three 'conditions'
that the Ghost puts on Hamlet's acting of vengeance: Keep your virtue
and sanity, leave your mother to heaven, and protect the state. None of
this says, "Don't avenge my death."

> One might also think that Gertrude committed suicide, if one's only
> access to the play was, say, Laurence Olivier's movie. Shakespeare, on
> the other hand, shows Gertrude drinking from the cup and then offering
> it to Hamlet, thereby making it perfectly clear that she does not know
> the cup is poisoned.

I'm sorry, but I see no place where Gertrude offers the drink to Hamlet,
neither before nor after she drinks. Hamlet does say that he dares not
drink, but this is not in reaction to anything Gertrude has said. What
is more, Gertrude's response to Claudius's insistence that she doesn't
drink could be considered as having a very interesting sub-text: "I will
drink, rather than let my son drink and therefore die by your hand."
Certainly this is how Olivier's film plays it, but it is not the only
production I have seen that reads her actions and words in this way.

One of the reasons that Shakespeare's plays -- and _Hamlet_ in
particular -- are so long-lived and meaningful from generation to
generation is the ability of these works to reveal new meaning and new
ideas consistently over time. This is only one very small (though
apparently controversial) example.

ALSO -- Larry Weiss wrote:

>I have always thought that the opposing ideas are the nouns ("mind" and
>"soul") not the verbs ("taint" and "contrive"),

Yes, that is true, too. As an actor, however, I was always trained to
focus on verbs. Could the Ghost mean both?

Paul E. Doniger

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