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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet (Once More)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0510  Thursday, 21 February 2002

[1]     From:           Edmund Taft <
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        Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 10:37:16 -0500
        Subj:           Hamlet (Once More)

[2]     From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 17:01:53 -0500
        Subj:           Re: SHK 13.0488 Re: Hamlet (Once More)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 10:37:16 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

My email friend Sean Lawrence writes of Hamlet in Act 5:

"He's assuming that God can be made to answer his questions on demand,
if he really is doing this [putting himself in harm's way
deliberately]."

No, it's the other way around. The demand to revenge Hamlet Sr.'s death
is either sanctioned by heaven or not. If not, it shouldn't be done. If
sanctioned, then it should be done. If sanctioned, then the demand comes
from God, not from Hamlet. Hamlet merely wants to make sure that he's
got it right before exposing his soul to possible eternal torment. That
isn't a sin; that's being a seeker after truth.

But I agree with Sean that Hamlet's actions in Act 5 are unsettling, to
say the least.  And that observation brings me to the last part of my
argument about the ending of Hamlet: to believe that one can discern the
workings of Providence would be seen by many in a Renaissance audience
as proof of madness. Sure, some extreme Calvinists and Puritans believed
that they could see a "sign" confirming that they were part of the
elect, but the mainstream view by the time _Hamlet_ was written was that
Providence was inscrutable -- it's operations were beyond our power to
see or understand.

So, like Ophelia (Hamlet's most exact double), does Hamlet go mad?  Is
he really mad for the whole fifth act?  Is his constant putting himself
in harm's way a kind of suicide -- like jumping into a stream with all
your clothes on?

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 17:01:53 -0500
Subject: 13.0488 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0488 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

Ed Taft writes,

>>Moreover, what is Hamlet to do? If
>>he's not sure of God's Will in the matter of revenge (and that's what I
>>think is the case), then he's got to try and find out what it is, right?

Se n Lawrence responds,

>He could pray about it.  He could wait.  He could consult learned
>divines.  Courting danger is perhaps the strangest possible response.

Hamlet says,

"We defy augury. There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If
it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all" (Oxford
5.2.165-8).

I would see this as waiting. Hamlet is ready to act when called on to
act, but he is not actively trying to revenge himself on Claudius.

Hamlet says,

Our indiscretion sometime serves us well
When our dear plots do pall, and that should teach us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will -- (5.2.8-11)

To my ear, this sounds as if Hamlet has given up plotting and is waiting
for a divinity to shape the outcome or his death. God will provide. The
way you find out what God wants is by waiting.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

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