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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1894  Monday, 30 July 2001

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Jul 2001 13:19:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1886 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[2]     From:   Graham Hall <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Jul 2001 18:00:06 +0000
        Subj:   Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[3]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Friday, 27 Jul 2001 15:17:43 -0400
        Subj:   Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

[4]     From:   Rainbow Saari <
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        Date:   Sunday, 29 Jul 2001 19:47:13 +1200
        Subj:   RE;12.1886 Hamlet's clashing Ideals


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Jul 2001 13:19:13 -0400
Subject: 12.1886 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1886 Re: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

>This lack-of-certain-knowledge bit is certainly a central theme of the
>play ("Who's there?")

I don't think "Who's there?" prefigures a theme of uncertainty so much
as disjointedness.  Consider:  A sentry is on stage "at his post" and
another person enters and demands of the sentry "Who's there?"  This
reverses the proper order of things, which Francisco correctly restores
in the next line -- "Nay, answer me ...." But the suggestion has already
been planted in the audience's mind that something completely out of the
ordinary is happening.  And who was Bernardo expecting to be there, or
was afraid might be there?  Perhaps this is the most brilliant opening
line ever written.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Hall <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Jul 2001 18:00:06 +0000
Subject:        Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

>Don Bloom writes,
>
>Excuse me for introducing a side issue in this discussion of "The
>Mousetrap," but the thing that has bothered me for many years is why the
>players agree to do it at all. Even leaving out the possible parallel of
>the nephew to the brother, the play on the surface is a gross insult to
>the queen. > [...]

Life's prequel could be said to have occurred on  7 Feb 1601, I suppose.

Further, it could be argued that Eastward Ho! kept the tradition alive.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Friday, 27 Jul 2001 15:17:43 -0400
Subject:        Hamlet's Clashing Ideals

Some very good stuff, I like this thread, it's getting more demanding.

First, Steve Roth:  I see a contradiction here -- first you say:

>I didn't mean to suggest that [Claudius'] reaction is solely because he's seen
>his own death figured at his nephew's hand. It's quite possible his
>reaction is because he saw his own vile crime. (Both, I'd say.)

Then:

>Hamlet would understand both explanations for his
>action, but would be unsure whether A, B, or both of the above was the
>trigger. So he gains no knowledge.

Hmm, so Hamlet has seen Claudius react _both_ as a guilty party, and as
someone who now knows his days are numbered.  That doesn't constitute
proof?

Again, Hamlet has informed the audience that the 'most miraculous organ'
will give a criminal's deeds away.  So we have been asked to look, upon
Claudius' eyes during the dumb show.  Eyes don't have lines or stage
directions.  Granted, Shakespeare doesn't give us explicit stage
directions ('his eyes buggeth out, his jaw droppeth') but Hamlet's
certainty should be taken at face value, IMHO.

> I don't understand; what plot is Hamlet covering (up?) [with Ophelia]?

Um, the plot to uncover Claudius' guilt, and Gertrude's incestuous
adultery, through the play?  Just a theory.  Given Denmark's reputation
for drunkenness and bawdry, Hamlet's nastiness with Ophelia would pass
as a sign of mental health among the court.

> Claudius is a brilliant actor. <g> Which is what makes him such a
> consumate diplomat and politician.>

Precisely the point:  Claudius is a good actor, but I believe the scene
is set up so that he _does_ lose his cool, albeit silently, and reveal
his guilt in a very discreet, eye-centered manner.

> It's certainly a play about revenge, but I don't understand what
> demanding and intricate revenge is.

A revenge that ensures Claudius' damnation, because mere death doesn't
cut it.  He has to suffer in the afterlife, just as he made his brother
suffer Purgatory needlessly.  It's a concept that is alien to us, but
would be taken for granted back then.  And this involves Hamlet's unique
awareness of the two worlds, that of nature and that of the 'life to
come.'  It is because he has to juggle the demands of _spiritual_
revenge, not merely physical, that he needs to play it so carefully and
make sure he does the job at the right time, under the right
circumstances.

As for Edmund Taft:

> I have to disagree with Andy: this is very much a play about not
> knowing. . .

In the sense you put it, of course it's about not knowing, which I would
qualify:  it's about _initial_ uncertainty.  Hamlet makes sure he's got
his facts straight before he proceeds; it is hence also a play about
revelations, and about the difficulties of acting even after one has 'by
indirections found directions out.'

As for Don Bloom, who is right to point out:

> Surely the players could expect immediate imprisonment, followed by
> whipping, branding, mutilation -- if they were lucky, that is, and
> escaped REAL torture.

Well, yes, but remember that the Lord Chamberlain's men had just
collectively escaped the gallows themselves, in the wake of the Essex
rebellion.  Their excuse?  'Look, _R-II_ was an old chestnut of a play,
nobody does it anymore; but this was a command performance, and the
money was too good to pass up."  [Among the defendants was one of the
editors of the Folio edition.]  That was enough to keep their heads off
the block.

Cheers, and apologies for the length but there was so much good stuff to
respond to!

Andy White

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rainbow Saari <
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Date:           Sunday, 29 Jul 2001 19:47:13 +1200
Subject:        RE;12.1886 Hamlet's clashing Ideals

Don Bloom's 'side issue' about ' the Mousetrap'  ( Why would "the
players agree to do it at all", given the play "on the surface is a
gross insult to the Queen?" ) brings into focus   similarities between
'the Mousetrap' performance by  these fictional Players and  the actual
performance by the Lord Chamberlain's Men of Richard II just prior to
the Essex Rebellion. That Queen, Elizabeth, was indeed offended by its
content. Those Players apparently did it , in all innocence, for the
money  according to Augustine Phillips, when asked to explain. (Forty
shillings, if my memory serves me correctly .)

If the theory that Steve Roth endorses is so (that the Players in
'Hamlet' are intended  to represent/parody  the Lord Admiral's Co ),
then perhaps in 'Hamlet' we have WS portraying, with customary
subtlety,  how easy it is to for players of any company( even - heaven
forbid!- the L. Admiral's ) to get (innocently or otherwise ) caught in
a 'mousetrap', in this case a potentially politically inadvisable
situation, as Don points out.

Cheers,
Rainbow

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