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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1807  Thursday, 19 July 2001

[1]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 15:40:17 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[2]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 16:35:17 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 18:18:38 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[4]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 23:39:11 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 15:40:17 -0400
Subject: 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

I think Steve Roth is trying to be too literal, and "Taint" doesn't
really go with "against".

But I agree with his conclusion.

As Ed Taft says, it's hard to get a ghost to testify. This is a major
problem for Hamlet in trying to get from revenge to justice. There is,
in effect, a very condensed trial at the end. Laertes gives dying
testimony that Claudius killed Hamlet--or is "to blame"--and then Hamlet
proves this testimony true by dying.

Paul Doniger thinks the ghost is cautioning Hamlet to take revenge
without losing his mind. To taint his mind would be to lose it. I
neither understand this nor see the point of it. Why make the ghost in
any way opposed to revenge on Claudius? As I said, I do think Hamlet
wants somehow to take revenge without tainting his mind, but I don't
think the ghost sees anything mind-tainting about killing Claudius.
Again, I think this comes from reading the lines as if--note, as
if--there were a period instead of a comma after "mind".

Terence Hawkes and Graham Bradshaw both say the Mousetrap doesn't work.
That it is a "success" in the sense GB criticizes is clearly untrue. In
another 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 convincing. With the ghost away, his doubts may begin to
play.

The audience is also led to doubt Hamlet's doubt, a little more, because
Claudius reveals his guilt with his "painted word" speech in the
eavesdropping scene--a speech unaccountably unnoticed by GB.

I think in forming the plan for the Mousetrap 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, largely perhaps because Hamlet doesn't give
it a chance. He acts so obnoxiously that he gives the court an
alternative explanation for Claudius's walking out.

I think Hamlet's behavior reflects his anger at watching his father's
death played, and his anger at himself for having it played: 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. Claudius can withstand the dumbshow,
but, as his question about "offense" indicates, the dumbshow has put him
on edge, and he can't withstand the "second tooth" of the full acted
version.

I would like to respond in more detail, but life is short and Bradshaw
is long. In the unlikely event that GB is interested in more from me,
he'll find it in my book (at clashingideals.com).

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 16:35:17 -0400
Subject: Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

I agree with much of what Graham Bradshaw wrote in his lengthy but
valuable comments. I question only two points:

> When Claudius "sits down" to the 'Mousetrap' he has not "revealed his
> crime to us".

If this is true, how would one explain his comments (an aside) in 3.2,
just before the "To be, or not to be" speech:

         The harlot's cheek, beautied with plastering art,
         Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
         Than is my deed to my most painted word.
         O heavy burden!

I have always read this as Claudius's first mention of his guilt,
designed by the author for the edification of the audience in the
theatre.

> Dover Wilson showed why Hamlet's fear about the Ghost's provenance
> should be taken seriously. Later, Roland Mushat Frye, who is even more
> knowledgeable about theological matters, agreed. But neither Wilson nor
> Frye supposed (like Eleanor Prosser and later dogmatists) that this
> issue is ever resolved: what they emphasise (rightly, I think) is the
> continuing uncertainty about the Ghost's provenance.

While I agree that there is much uncertainty about the Ghost (and
gallons of ink have been spilled regarding those doubts) I don't think
that even Hamlet himself is taking his fears about the ghost seriously.
His peasant slave speech is full of contradictions as it is, and his
plan to stage "The Mousetrap" -- or something like it for the king --
had already been annouced (twice!). Hamlet seems to be rationalizing a
decision he has already made when he expresses those fears. Besides, it
seems clear from the beginning that he is willing to accept the Ghost at
his word (he even gives subtle suggestions earlier:"Oh my prophetic
soul" for example). I think Hamlet's purpose is rather to expose his
uncle's guilt to the court (which, as G.B.  suggests, is a failure),
thus preserving (not tainting?) his soul and leading to the very
vengeance he has been commanded to accomplish -- only without commiting
either crime or sin himself.

Paul E. Doniger

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 18:18:38 -0700
Subject: 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

One hesitates to disagree with as careful and sensitive reader of texts
as Graham Bradshaw.  If fact, it seems downright foolish!

Graham, I read with great interest your list of reasons why you don't
think Claudius exiting of the play confirms that he is the killer.
Unless I've misunderstood something, you have missed a small thing.  The
exit happens at a particular point in The Mousetrap, and Hamlet's
commentary on it.  Lucianus has just described the poisoning of the king
in the play, the events being very like Claudius poisoning of Old
Hamlet, and Hamlet gives a commentary:

Q1: He poysons him for his estate.

Q2: A poysons him i'th Garden for his estate, his names Gonzago, the
story is extant, and written in very choice Italian, you shall see anon,
how the murtherer gets the loue of Gonzagoes wife.

F: He poysons him i'th' Garden for's estate: His name's Gonzago: the
Story is extant and writ in choyce Italian.  You shall see anon how the
Murtherer gets the loue of Gonzago's wife.

(Quotes from Bertram, Paul and Bernice W. Kliman The Three-Text Hamlet:
Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and First Folio New York,
AMS Press, 1991)

If this isn't Claudius showing extreme uneasiness at the parallels of
what he has done, it is certainly understandable that Hamlet thinks so.

>The first assumption is in itself very questionable. Given Hamlet's
>behaviour to Ophelia, Gertrude and finally Claudius himself, any king
>might stop that performance, even if he were as innocent as a lamb.

I'm not so sure.  Even if you are correct, Claudius doesn't stop the
performance earlier.  He stops it at the point that it parallels his own
actions and rewards, the point where, presumably, Hamlet wrote his extra
lines so it would parallels Claudius actions and rewards.

>Stopping the performance proves nothing, despite Hamlet's accusatory
>"frighted by false fire?" Hamlet's increasingly hysterical behaviour
>ruins his test.

I don't think it is correct to ignore the moment of The Mousetrap, or
the content of Hamlet's commentary, when asking why Claudius rises and
calls for some light.  Why here?  Why not earlier, or later?

>The grave difficulty about this is both textual (there is no helpful
>stage direction) and theatrical. The latter difficulty seems to me more
>grave: how could Claudius betray his guilt to the offstage audience, or
>indeed to Hamlet, without also betraying it to the onstage audience?

Two answers:  One, maybe he does, though only Hamlet and Horatio would
fully understand it.  Two, it doesn't matter if Ophelia, for example,
doesn't get why Claudius has reacted this way.  She does not have the
information necessary to connect the dots.

>(ii) In the prayer scene, where Claudius does reveal his guilt, though
>only to us and not to Hamlet, he takes for granted that his guilt is >not
>known to anyone other than God. He never speaks as though his >crime is now
>known to Hamlet, or to anybody else in the Danish court.

Since I don't agree with the premise that anyone could know from the
King's behaviour exiting the play, unless they were informed by The
Ghost, this is a non-issue for me.  The Ghost informing Hamlet, and
Hamlet passing word on to Horatio makes a real difference here.  The
same comment holds for your next few points, so I shall skip some of
them.

>(iii) Polonius speaks about how Hamlet's "pranks" are becoming >dangerous
>(boy, is he going to get a surprise);

No point to make here, except that this is a funny line.  Thanks for the
laugh.

>(v) Horatio has been instructed by Hamlet to watch what happens. Hamlet
>also promises that after the 'Mousetrap' he and Horatio will discuss >and
>compare their responses to whatever happens.  But when Hamlet tells
>Horatio that the whole thing has been so successful that Hamlet >deserves a
>"share" in a theatrical company, Horatio sounds >unconvinced: "Half a
>share".  By then Hamlet isn't interested in >whatever makes Horatio more
>uncertain, just as he isn't interested >when his mother exclaims, "As kill
>a king?"

Let me confess a weakness in my line of reasoning.  I have no idea what
Horatio means by "Half a share."  I'm not, therefore, sure if it is
Horatio's way is disagreeing with Hamlet's conclusion.  Horatio does
feel he observed something significant.  Horatio's response in not in
Q1.  One can claim that Horatio's lack of support in Q1 is significant,
but what of Q2 and F?  Here is Q2:

Ham. O good Horatio, Ile take the Ghosts word for a thousand pound.
Did'st percieue?
Hor. Very well my Lord.
Ham. Vpon the talke of the poysoning.
Hor. I did very well note him.

And here is F:

Ham. Oh good Horatio, Ile take the Ghosts word for a thousand pound.
Did'st perceiue?
Hor. Verie well my Lord.
Ham. Vopn the talke of the poysoning?
Hor. I did verie well note him.

Sure reads to me as if Horatio agrees that Claudius's reaction to the
poisoning, of not marrying the Queen, was observed and similarly
interpreted by Horatio.  Horatio does not say this in so many words, but
I think the context makes it clear, in fact, so clear that I wonder if I
misunderstood you?

>Uh-huh. So forget why. HOW did he betray himself?

As we used to say in Berkeley, but getting so freaked out that that he
vammed, man.  That cat was not groovin'.  Be mellow, fellow.

>And yet, when they both maintain that the questions about the Ghost >have
>still not been answered when the play finishes, neither Dover >Wilson nor
>Frye asks what might seem to be the next, extremely pressing, question: if
>these doubts about the Ghost are never (as >these critics say) resolved,
>why does Hamlet himself stop worrying >about the Ghost after the
>'Mousetrap' scene?

>Answer: Because Hamlet is convinced that the 'Mousetrap' was a complete
>success. Well yes, but how could it have been?Ah, here we go again, in >a
>parody of what might be called teleological argument.

>Historically, the English critic and editor W.W.Greg and (a few years
>earlier, not a lot of people know that) the Japanese novelist Shiga
>Naoya were the first to suggest that the Mousetrap cannot be the >success
>Hamlet takes it to be. They both suppose that Hamlet's >behaviour while the
>play-within-a-play is being performed ruins the >success of the test. Yet
>their arguments were dismissed, not least >because of the stranglehold of
>the daft stage tradition that had >Claudius reeling around (often with his
>goblet).

I find this very interesting.  It would depend on how it is played,
since the text does not specify this is Claudius reason for leaving,
though it may be what Gertrude means by much offending Da.  Contrast
that with the fact that it does specify that both Hamlet and Horatio
interpret his departure as the result of guilt, at least by strong
implication.  If correct, your comment adds a fascinating level of
complexity.  Have you a citation for the Greg article, and does anybody
know how I can get hold of copy of the revised edition of his book on
The First Folio?

>The landmark reversal came with Peter Hall's production (1965?

1965 is correct. (Source: Hall, Peter Making and Exhibition of Myself:
The Autobiography of Peter Hall London, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1993, page
401.)

I love my library.

>Going on with the history: the next stage was Patrick Stewart's
>mesmerising (and morally impressive) Claudius in the BBC/Time-Life
>production: far and away the best Claudius I have ever seen or expect >to
>see. When I met Patrick Stewart some years later, by chance, I >blurted out
>how much I admired that performance.

Yes, isn't he amazing?  Remind me to tell you sometime about how I was
supposed to interview Stewart, who had to cancel to do some pick-up
shots for some sci-fi TV show he was in.  I ended up spending that time
with Mel Gibson talking about *Hamlet* instead.  Enough name dropping
for the moment.  Never did meet Stewart.

I agree with your point about the death of R&G.  I'm not sure it sheds
light on The Mousetrap specifically, and actually you don't stretch your
claim quite that far.

>the sublime Smoktunovsky

Yes he is.  My favorite *Hamlet* film.  My favorite Shakespeare film,
after two of Kurosawa's.

I'm sure you have a rebuttal.  I eagerly await it.

All the best,
Mike Jensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 23:39:11 -0700
Subject: 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1786 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

After sending my longer message on this thread, I did my evening reading
and found a reference that seems worth quoting.

  ...as Naomi Liebler observes, "the 'Mousetrap' seems to
  operate effectively only for Claudius and Hamlet; the
  rest of the courtly audience, arguably ignorant of
  Claudius's crime, see a performance they take to be
  entirely fictional."

I'd maybe add Horatio, but this is one of my points, expressed better
than I expressed it.

The Beibler citation is

Naomi Conn Liebler, *Shakespeare's Festive Tragedy: The Ritual
Foundations of Genre* (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 27

I found it in

Kathy M. Howlett, *Framing Shakespeare on Film* (Athens: Ohio University
Press, 2000), p. 183.

This should not be construed as a recommendation of Howlett's book.

Mike Jensen

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