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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1735  Wednesday, 11 July 2001

[1]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 10:20:50 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 14:36:12 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 18:37:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 10:20:50 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Paul Doniger writes:

> 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.

I could have sworn that she does offer him the cup, so I got out the
Riverside.  Sure enough, Paul is quite right, BUT it is interestingly
ambiguous.  Claudius offers the pearl, and toasts Hamlet:

"...Here's to thy health!  Give him the cup.
     *Drum, trumpets [sound] flourish.  A piece goes off [within].*
Ham.  I'll play this bout first, set it by a while.
Come.  [*they play again.*]  Another hit; what say you?
Laer.  [A touch, a touch,] I do confess't.
King.  Our son shall win.
Queen.             He's fat, and scant of breath.
Here, Hamlet, take my napkin, rub thy brows.  The
Queen carouses to thy fortune, Hamlet.
Ham.  Good madam!
King.              Gertrude, do not drink.
Queen.  I will, my lord, I pray you pardon me.
King.  [*Aside*] It is the pois'ned cup, it is too late.
Ham.  I dare not drink yet, madam; by and by.

While (unsurprisingly) there is no stage direction indicating who
Claudius is directing to "Give him the cup," since Hamlet answers, after
Gertrude drinks, "I dare not drink yet, madam," it seems reasonable to
assume that Claudius is telling the queen to offer the cup to her son.
And this is the way every production *I* have seen handles it.  Gertrude
drinks, then extends the cup to Hamlet, who refuses it with the line
above.  So, given all this, it seems reasonable that many of us have the
false memory of Gertrude *verbally* offering the poisoned wine, quite
unwittingly I would think.

> 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."

IF Gertrude offers the wine (after she drinks) to Hamlet, there doesn't
seem much room for the above subtext.  At least to me it doesn't seem
so.  Again, I am probably prejudiced by the productions I have seen.
Paul mentions Olivier's version, which I haven't looked at in years, and
productions he has seen that support the subtext he outlines above.  So
I may be quite mistaken about all of this.  Comments, anyone?

Cheers,
Karen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 14:36:12 -0400
Subject: 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

I appreciate Paul Doniger's clarification of his position. It is not as
bad as I thought, though I still strongly disagree.

The ghost says,

But howsomever thou pursuest this act,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive
Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven...

The contrast here is not, I would say, between mind and soul, though
they may be subtly distinguishable. It is rather between "this act", of
killing Claudius, and "that act": tainting thy mind or contriving aught
against thy mother. An overly simple translation, but one that caught
the main force of the line, would be, "Don't kill your mother, nor even
think about it."

On the grammar of "nor" I may be wrong in calling it literally an
intensifier, in a technical sense. In a non-technical sense, though, I
still find that a good term for how it works. The contrastive emphasis
falls on "mother", and is then reiterated in the emphasis on "her",
again in contrast with Claudius, in "Leave her to heaven". For support
here I would cite Jenkins's note in the Arden edition.

To think the ghost is advising a "pure" revenge makes no sense to me. I
don't understand what that would mean: to give it meaning would take
considerably more than this one phrase. We may drag possible meanings in
from elsewhere, but I don't believe Shakespeare would have left all that
meaning so implicit. If the ghost had any complex feelings about
Hamlet's revenge on Claudius he would say more about them--and he would
be a much different character than he is. Much of the emotional and
dramatic force of the play, as I think Steve Roth is saying, depends on
the ghost's command to take revenge on Claudius being both powerful and
unequivocal. The sources of Hamlet's hesitation come from elsewhere, and
work in opposition to the ghost.

Jenkins also adds a stage direction in the last scene. Gertrude drinks
"and offers the cup to Hamlet". I don't see another way of reading this.
Hamlet doesn't just say he dares not drink, he says "I dare not drink
yet, madam--by and by." That Gertrude has given him her napkin
establishes that she is standing next to him--and she's still there a
moment later when she says "Come, let me wipe thy face." One could of
course move her around the stage in between, and have her pick up
another cup, but that would lose the dramatic point of "I dare not
drink". There would be no tension in the line if he were not being
offered the poisoned cup. Those, like Olivier, who want a suicidal
Gertrude, therefore cut that line.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 18:37:13 -0400
Subject: 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1727 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

>From Paul Doniger:

> 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?

Possibly, but the accents are more heavily on the nouns.

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