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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: To be or not to be
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1912  Tuesday, 31 July 2001

[1]     From:   R. A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Jul 2001 11:28:18 -0500
        Subj:   2 B R - 2 B

[2]     From:   Andrew W. White <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Jul 2001 20:57:38 -0400
        Subj:   To be or not to be

[3]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 02:50:18 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1895 Re: To be or not to be


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Jul 2001 11:28:18 -0500
Subject:        2 B R - 2 B

> First:  somehow, R. A. Cantrell and I have miscommunicated.  I believe
> Hamlet is _especially_ gifted at finding things out;

And I believe that he has simply seen the things that you ascribe to
this gift.

> in the original
> legend, in Belleforest's narrative, and here too he is able to play the
> fool but tell the audience that he's in charge of his own fate.  (how
> does he get word about the trip to England, eh?)

My point exactly.  He watches the revelatory scene, 3.3 with the
audience, delivering the "Now I might do it pat" in soliloquy, not
tippy-toeing up behind old Claude.

> On a related thread, I
> have stated my belief that Hamlet learns Claudius' guilt at _The
> Mousetrap_, although few seem to agree.  [Care to chime in on that
> thread, to back me up?
> Some people on this thread have problems with Hamlet's prescience, but I
> do not.  I believe that if Hamlet smelled a rat from the very first,

Of course he did, "too too solid", exacerbated/confirmed by Ghost,
confirmed/reenergized by Mousetrap?

> his
> "To be or not to be" would be explicitly staged for the benefit of his
> observers.

Who were, or would have been whom?  I would stage to audience only.

> Hence, that's just how I would play it if given a second
> chance: book in hand, pontificating.  [And if it is about suicide, but
> it's staged, it could be done as a means of keeping Claudius and
> Polonius off his back.]  Just because few people stage it this way
> doesn't mean that it can't be done.  But it does require an especially
> astute director and nuanced actor --

I am sure that upon requirement they will be sent for.

> one or both being in short supply
> as far as Hamlets go.

The nuance of the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is perhaps
perfected in Hamlet's viewing of 4.7, the conspiracy scene, and going to
his end fully informed. T'was to be and he was ready.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Jul 2001 20:57:38 -0400
Subject:        To be or not to be

Charles Weinstein forces us to go a bit deeper into this mess; which is
a good thing to do, provided he doesn't insist that his interpretation
is the only one worthy of the Bard.

Ophelia's tragedy can just as easily be read in this way:  she loves and
trusts her father too much for her own good.  That's it.  As Maximillian
Schell points out, 'all she has to do is whisper "he's behind the
curtain, I'll explain later" and there's no tragedy.'  She has been told
Hamlet's mad, and sees him the whole time as mad; as Weinstein rightly
points out, she lies to him because that's what you do with mad people,
to reassure them.  But that Hamlet is stone-cold sober is something that
would never have occurred to her.

Hamlet begs her to level with him, with his "errant knaves" speech.  And
when she lies to him, she truly believes she's doing what's best for
him.  Hamlet's reaction is read by the audience one way, by Ophelia
another; that way lies the complexity and the dramatic tension in the
scene.  Hamlet has to behave in such a way that the audience can see he
feels betrayed, but also in such a way that (at the same time) Ophelia
thinks he is mad.

I don't buy the sexual tension thing so much, nor the misogyny; as
Barrymore once said, Hamlet only slept with Ophelia "in the Chicago
company."  It's not necessary to sex up their relationship in order for
it to have pathos; I find it just the opposite; if they have never slept
together, if they have been platonic to this point, out of respect for
each other, that makes the Nunnery scene all the more tragic, because
beyond this point no relationship can survive.

Besides:  when Hamlet slays Polonius, hasn't it occurred to anyone that
she feels partly to blame?  After all, she's been told that she's the
one to cure Hamlet; her cure fails utterly, and then he kills her dad.
Try living through that, and try imagining how you might explain it when
your brother comes home.  We must distinguish between what the
characters know, and what the audience knows, which are two very
different things.

Andy White

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001 02:50:18 -0400
Subject: 12.1895 Re: To be or not to be
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1895 Re: To be or not to be

Though I also think Hamlet unaware of the eavesdroppers, I have never
seen the case as beautifully made as by Charles Weinstein. I'm grateful
for the point, which hadn't occurred to me, that Ophelia's "O, what a
noble mind" speech is incompatible with her knowledge that Hamlet knows
he's being spied on.

I would add that Hamlet's threat, "all but one--shall live", seems too
direct to be made in the known presence of Claudius. He wouldn't tip his
hand so carelessly. He does tip his hand to the audience though. This is
one more way he calls into question his "doubt" of the ghost. As through
the Mousetrap play, Hamlet tests Claudius while also acting as if he
already knows he's guilty.

Hamlet's lust for Ophelia involves a similar subtle alternation of
feeling. Hamlet loves Ophelia, but now, I think, has come to discover he
also feels lust for the beautiful nymph. He discovers a lust in his
heart he believes must always have been there.  Since in his mind lust
is incompatible with love, he could not have loved her. This is how the
nostalgic "I did love you once" gets suddenly contradicted. Her "you
made me believe so" sounds, though not intended to, as if he were a
seducer. It takes Hamlet back to what he now thinks is the arrantly
knavish reality. He used to think he was a pure lover; now, in his
cynical mood, he thinks he was only a seducer. Yet he can't quite rest
in either belief.

Another interesting aspect of the scene, related to the theme of
incompatible beliefs, comes out in the divided responses of the spies.
They both "heard it all" yet come to opposite conclusions. It's all in
the ear of the beholder.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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