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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: To be or not to be
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1742  Thursday, 12 July 2001

[1]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 12:35:06 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1729 Re: To be or not to be

[2]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 16:39:16 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1733 Re: To be or not to be

[3]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 19:20:50 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1733 Re: To be or not to be


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 12:35:06 -0400
Subject: 12.1729 Re: To be or not to be
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1729 Re: To be or not to be

Sorry, I disagree. Hamlet has already contemplated suicide in his very
1st soliloquy, wishing the canon were not 'fixed against
self-slaughter'.

In 'To be or not to be' he is not worried about Claudius having bad
dreams in the sleep of death. He's not worried about Claudius dreading
something after death. He's considering his own death.

The bare bodkin indicates how easy it is to kill oneself with a largish
pin, or very short dagger. To kill someone else requires the full-length
sword Hamlet eventually uses on Polonius, then Laertes, then Claudius.

John Ramsay

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 16:39:16 -0600
Subject: 12.1733 Re: To be or not to be
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1733 Re: To be or not to be

I think it's true (as has been implied by some recent comments) that
Hamlet is not altogether explicit about revenge in the "to be or not to
be" speech.  There are gaps we need to fill in, no matter how we
interpret the speech.

Vick Bennison claims (if I'm understanding) that the only way using a
bare bodkin will change Hamlet's having to suffer "the whips and scorns
of time" (etc.) is for it to lead to his own death. Of course, that
could still fit with his using the bodkin to take revenge IF he thinks
it likely he himself will be killed in the process.

But I think there's another way taking revenge would relieve Hamlet of
his suffering. What if he's thinking of Claudius and what Claudius has
done (killed his father and married his mother) when he lists the
various things he's suffering?: "The oppressor's [Claudius's?] wrong,
the proud man's [Claudius's?} contumely, / ... / The insolence of office
[such as he may see Claudius exemplifying] and the spurns / That patient
merit of the unworthy [e.g., Caludius?] takes."

(I've had to leave out "The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,"
because they don't fit as well ... but with a little ingenuity, who
knows?)

Of course, Hamlet is generalizing: he's not just talking about Claudius.
But Claudius is a prime example of much of what he lists and has helped
bring about many of the "whips and scorns of time" Hamlet is currently
suffering.

What especially persuades me that Hamlet may be thinking of
revenge--specifically revenge taken against Claudius--as a way of
"taking arms against a sea of troubles" and throwing off "the whips and
scorns of time" is that later in the play he more or less says exactly
that:

Does it not, think thee, stand me now upon--
He that hath kill'd my king and whor'd my mother,
Popp'd in between th' election and my hopes [sounds a lot like "the
spurns /
That patient merit of the unworthy takes"],
Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such coz'nage--is't not perfect conscience
To quit him with this arm? And is't not to be damn'd,
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil? (5.2.63-70)

Note the word "quit"--i.e., repay or requite, clear a debt. Hamlet wants
to "pay" Claudius, or clear the debt that Claudius's deeds have created,
by doing violence against him with this (Hamlet's own) arm, presumably
by using a weapon. It's almost exactly the same image as making a
"quietus" with a "bare bodkin." And the fact that he sees Claudius as
"this canker of our nature" suggests that Claudius in his view is the
source of the diseased, rotten, out of joint state of things Hamlet and
the rest of the kingdom are suffering. To get rid of him would thus
relieve Hamlet of much of what he suffers, or so he thinks.

I don't think the revenge reading of the "to be or not to be" speech
(especially the "quietus" line) is the only possible reading. I'm just
arguing that it makes sense and is even likely given Hamlet's use of
similar financial imagery elsewhere in connection with revenge.

Bruce Young

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 19:20:50 -0400
Subject: 12.1733 Re: To be or not to be
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1733 Re: To be or not to be

Vick Bennison is entitled to believe that Hamlet's "quietus" refers to
suicide -- but if, as has been stated, "quietus" chief meaning is the
settling of scores or evening-up of accounts, others are entitled to
believe otherwise.  As for:

"How would getting revenge on Claudius change his suffering the crap,
unless, of course, he assumes he will die in the process.  His statement
doesn't make any sense unless his death is part of the "quietus".

I am really puzzled.  How many people here _can't_ understand that
'settling the score' and 'ending suffering' can mean getting rid of your
chief obstacle to happiness, i.e., your uncle?  If Hamlet is suffering
humiliation (as his "too too solid flesh" speech clearly indicates)
because of his uncle's marriage to his mom and ascendance to the throne,
and if Claudius is in Hamlet's eyes utterly unfit to rule, getting rid
of Claudius with a "bare bodkin" would seem to be a perfectly reasonable
solution.  Risky, yes, perhaps even fatal, but also quite reasonable.

Besides, stab Claudius, and you don't have any more drunken orgies, with
stray cannon fire scaring the bejeezus out of the merchants in the
harbor nearby.  Bodkins are perfect for that sort of thing, as I
understand it.

Andy White
Arlington, VA

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