The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0406 Tuesday, 12 February 2002
Date: Monday, 11 Feb 2002 12:16:04 -0500
Subject: Hamlet (Once More)
Andy White thinks maybe I'm pulling his leg. No, Andy, I'm dead
serious. What you have written about Hamlet and Polonius in 3.2 is
certainly true, but, you know, Andy, none of it precludes what I wrote.
Hamlet can be fooling with an old man and revealing his thoughts at the
same time! Look at 2.2.206-217, in which Hamlet BOTH makes fun of
Polonius AND reveals his own thoughts about his impending death if he
effects revenge. It's a preview of "To be or not to be."
Brian Willis is certainly right to see from 4.4 on as more problematic
than many critics think. In my view, Hamlet is still bothered by the
question of whether or not revenge is divinely sanctioned. I think that
a close look at the plot shows us -- at least in part -- what Hamlet is
1. Hamlet meekly boards ship with R&G and heads towards what he knows is
2. Hamlet boards the pirate ship in the middle of combat, exposing
himself to sudden death.
3. Hamlet arrives home and sends the king a note announcing he's back --
"naked" and "alone."
4. Hamlet goads Laertes unendurably at Ophelia's funeral, infuriating
the grieving brother.
5. Hamlet quickly accepts a duel with the better fencer, Laertes.
6. Hamlet refuses to inspect the foils before the duel begins.
What does this pattern of action demonstrate? It looks like Hamlet is
deliberately putting himself in harm's way every opportunity he gets,
doesn't it? Isn't he really trying to get himself killed? I would
hypothesize that he is testing Providence. If he's killed, then he was
not meant to take revenge against Claudius. If he's saved time after
time, then Providence must have plans for him that are yet to be
fulfilled. The more times he cheats death, the more sure he is that
revenge is God's will. Moreover, his passivity in Act 5 requires that
Providence provide him the means, the motive, and the opportunity: only
then will he take action. From one point of view, isn't that what
happens near the end of the play?
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