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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1835  Monday, 23 July 2001

[1]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Friday, 20 Jul 2001 10:01:05 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1817 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

[2]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Saturday, 21 Jul 2001 15:51:59 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1789 The Tragedy of Claudius

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Sunday, 22 Jul 2001 08:38:38 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1789 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Jul 2001 10:01:05 -0700
Subject: 12.1817 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1817 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

Brian Haylett wrote:

>Claudius negotiates the
>removal of the threat to Denmark by having Young Fortinbras put in his
>place without bloodshed. That seems to me - a weak-minded liberal -
>admirable in a king.  The fact that he uses intermediaries to accomplish
>it seems fully in accord with diplomatic practice: that is what
>ministers of state are for. <snip>
>
>Let us not
>forget that it is not Claudius's fault that Fortinbras is able to walk
>into the country in the final scene.

I don't think of Claudius as an inefficient ruler, but his handling of
the Fortinbras problem has never struck me as one of his brighter
ideas.  An enemy army attacks your country.  You send notice, and get a
response: "Ooops.  Sorry. Can we attack another country and march
through your country, fully armed, to get there?"  And you say yes.  ???

It seems to me that it *is* Claudius's fault that Fortinbras is able to
walk into the country in the final scene. He gave him explicit
permission to be there.

Melissa D. Aaron

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Saturday, 21 Jul 2001 15:51:59 +0100
Subject: 12.1789 The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1789 The Tragedy of Claudius

On business omitted in my last answer to John Drakakis.

>The fact is that Claudius is a regicide, and a very efficient one, so I
>think Brian Haylett had better be clear about his sympathies before he
>sentimentalises Claudius.  If he were to argue that Claudius demystifies
>the institution of kingship by proving that there is no such thing as
>the 'divinity that doth hedge the king around/ That treason can but peep
>to what it would / Acts little of his will' (4.5.), then he might have a
>point, but if that is the case then why does Claudius appeal to the very
>ideology that he has demystified?

Demistify, deschmistify (is that how they say it? ) I come from an era
before such terms. I would say - by the way, and not because it applies
to 'Hamlet' - that Shakespeare was clearly not very decided about the
divinity hedging a king, and debates the issue in a good many plays.

As I've implied, Claudius's guilt is obviously part of the equation. But
the murder is committed 'before' the play's action begins, whereas
Macbeth's murder of Duncan is committed during the play, complete with
plenty of blood, and compounded by the murder of Banquo. It may be a
great failure in me, but I find it harder to feel pity for Macbeth than
for Claudius. That is not liberal sentimentalism; it is a fact, which
others may or may not share.

I happen to think that our criticism has been too much governed by
notions of pity and terror, which - after all - were pinched from the
Greeks. They may be valid to a play, of course, but we should not try to
make every play fit the formula, Procrustes-style. Macbeth can show me
as much of his troubled soul as he wishes; I still don't feel that he is
me or Everyman.  That doesn't stop the play from being a fine play.
Macbeth is doing no good by living, though, whereas Claudius is: his
death loses the country, Macbeth's saves his. I don't want to overstress
the 'territorial imperative' line, but it's relevant in this contrast.
John tries too hard to categorise me as one-sidedly pro-Claudius. I
think he misses the point in suggesting that there are only two
possibilities in the analysis of this complex character. I'm sure he
does not believe that.

Regards,
Brian Haylett

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Sunday, 22 Jul 2001 08:38:38 -0700
Subject: 12.1789 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1789 Re: The Tragedy of Claudius

I'm sure that Brian Haylett is capable of defending himself, and he has,
but the following seems to more or less beg an answer:

>The fact is that Claudius is a regicide, and a very efficient one, so I
>think Brian Haylett had better be clear about his sympathies before he
>sentimentalises Claudius.  If he were to argue that Claudius demystifies
>the institution of kingship by proving that there is no such thing as
>the 'divinity that doth hedge the king around/ That treason can but peep
>to what it would / Acts little of his will' (4.5.), then he might have a
>point, but if that is the case then why does Claudius appeal to the very
>ideology that he has demystified?

Because he's a hypocrite.  Recognizing an ideological construct is not
the same as actually opposing it.  One might also simply want to exploit
it.  In fact, this seems a rather good example of how political
awareness isn't the same thing as ethics.

This sort of reading would tend to rob Claudius of sympathy, but it
doesn't seem incompatible with his being efficient and politically
astute.  Of course, we could just say (with Machiavelli) that the ends
justify the means, though this would imply that Claudius has some sort
of core of idealism that we know very little about.

Cheers,
Se

 

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