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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: Time in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1408  Thursday, 7 June 2001

[1]     From:   Vick Bennison <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Jun 2001 14:06:16 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Jun 2001 22:01:16 -0400
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet

[3]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Jun 2001 11:51:55 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet

[4]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 07 Jun 2001 15:21:29 +0100
        Subj:   Re: Time in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Vick Bennison <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Jun 2001 14:06:16 EDT
Subject: 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet

Terence Hawkes writes:

>>Vick Bennison writes,

>>> "and my son", of course means that he is his son by
>>> marriage, a stepson.  That should be anyone's first
>>> interpretation. . . '

>> How can it EVER be anyone's 'first' interpretation
>> that 'my son' means 'my stepson'? It certainly isn't
>> Hamlet's.

In context, it would be anyone's first interpretation, unless they had
been snoozing through the rest of the play.

>>> 'As for "Our son shall win."  Well again, seems
>>> obvious that he is talking about his son by
>>> marriage'.

>> The only thing that's 'obvious' is that he's talking
>> about Hamlet as 'our son'.  Of course, in turn,
>> you'd expect Hamlet to express some concern at his
>> uncle turning out to be his father.  After all,
>> it's a fundamental transgression. Pity he doesn't
>> come up with something withering, like
>> 'uncle-father'. That'd clinch it.

No, no, no, you can't have it both ways.  Out of context here it is only
obvious that he is specifying some   male ("son" being masculine)
contestant ("win" suggesting a competition) as his (and some other
person's, not necessarily female (perhaps he is talking to the ghost))
son.  Broadening the context slightly, it then becomes obvious that he
means either Hamlet or Laertes.  By the time you've broadened the
context sufficiently to find it obvious that he is referring to Hamlet,
you probably also know that the obvious suggestion of the play is that
Hamlet is his step-son and Gertrude's son.

So in the first instance, you are denying me access to surrounding
context, but in the second instance you are allowing yourself all the
context you want.  Pardon me, but my doctoral research was heavily
involved in mathematical logic, and I won't allow you to abuse me thus.
;^)

As for your stance (I'm not convinced it's truly a belief) that
Shakespeare meant Hamlet to be Claudius' biological son, I can't imagine
why if Shakespeare thought that that was a significant dramatic fact
that he wouldn't bring it right out to the surface.  Why hide it from
all except the most perceptive drama detectives??

- Vick

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Jun 2001 22:01:16 -0400
Subject: 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Fw: SHK 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet

Terence Hawkes writes:

> Of course, in turn, you'd expect Hamlet to express some
> concern at his uncle turning out to be his father.  After all, it's a
> fundamental transgression. Pity he doesn't come up with something
> withering, like 'uncle-father'. That'd clinch it.

Of course, Hamlet does just that in the "hawk/handsaw" exchange with R &
G: "But my uncle-father and aunt-mother are deceived" (2.2.366-7). In
act 3, he even calls Claudius his mother! I trust no one will go down
that strange alley way towards an interpretation! Hamlet is just playing
with the disturbing notion that his mother is now married to his (hated)
uncle.

I still think it's possible to treat Claudius as the real biological
father of Hamlet, though most audiences would probably not notice it
without a director making it too obvious; there just isn't any textual
evidence that I can see to prove it.

Paul E. Doniger

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Jun 2001 11:51:55 -0700
Subject: 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1385 Re: Time in Hamlet

> From:           Bruce Young <
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> When he calls him son, he means "step-son"
> (a term the Shakespearean text never uses-- here and elsewhere "son" is
> used when we would say "step-son"; see Richard III 2.1.19 ["son Dorset"]
> and cf. Richmond referring to his "father [i.e., step-father] Stanley"
> [Richard III 5.2.5] and Imogen's step-mother calling her "daughter"
> [Cymbeline 1.1.70, 154]).
>
> If Claudius is calling Hamlet his literal, biological son, he is
> announcing publicly that he committed adultery with Gertrude, something
> I don't think likely.  Note also that Claudius says "OUR son" only in
> public.  In private, talking with Gertrude, he calls Hamlet "YOUR son"
> (2.2.55, 4.1.3, 4.5.80, 5.1.296).  Wouldn't it be odd to tell everyone
> in the kingdom (including Hamlet) he's committed adultery but then in
> private talk with the woman in question as if it never happened?

I am wondering if there is anything in the scansion to back up the claim
either way...for instance, a step-son is always "son" on an unstressed
syllable, and a biological son on the stressed, or something like
that...any studious, scanophiles want to check?

> From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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> It's certainly an interesting conjecture and can be
> (has been?) played that way, but it remains un-proven (un-provable?).

This seems to be the only possibility to me...play it that way if you
want to, but don't try to *prove* it to anyone

> From:           Terence Hawkes <
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> Pity he doesn't come up with something
> withering, like 'uncle-father'. That'd clinch it.

I don't see how that would clinch it at all...Claudius IS both uncle and
step-father.  'Uncle-father' is just as ambiguous as 'our son'

Terence, what I seem to be missing here is WHY you seem to need us all
to accept this interpretation...it seems far-fetched to most of us, but
I think we've all agreed that it is a viable option for production.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Thursday, 07 Jun 2001 15:21:29 +0100
Subject:        Re: Time in Hamlet

What Debra Murphy wrote is:

>Pronouns aside, it may be worth noting that Fortinbras seems to
>embody
>the values and attitudes of Old Hamlet, while Hamlet, Jr.'s
>sensitivity
>and intelligence are both characteristics of Claudius.

This is a very sound point and too important to be lost in the banal
interchange about Hamlet's parentage.  One could suggest that,
metaphorically speaking, Claudius did Hamlet a favour when he killed off
Hamlet Senior. And, metaphorically speaking, it could be suggested that
the poisoning by ear took place during Hamlet's tuition at Wittenberg.
However that may be, what the Ghost did by destabilizing Hamlet and
pushing him into trying to be another Laertes was to open the state to
the strongarm mercies of Fortinbras, thus negating the Ghost's own major
achievement in life.

Brian Haylett

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