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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Hamlet (Once More)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0159  Thursday, 24 January 2002

[1]     From:   Andy White <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Jan 2002 21:20:09 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet (Once More)

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Jan 2002 16:09:31 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0143 Hamlet (Once More)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Jan 2002 21:20:09 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

Ed Taft seems to think that once the Ghost's witness is proven, "Hamlet
should immediately effect revenge and the play should be over."

Well, yes, and Hamlet would readily acknowledge this too, _except_:

1. Hamlet might prefer to take his revenge at a time when he is unlikely
to be a) deterred by courtiers defending Claudius' person, or b) killed
in the process himself.  As "To be or not to be" clearly indicates, he
isn't too keen on an act of revenge that would send him too early to his
own death.

2. The overarching conceit of the play, a conceit shared by many (if not
all) in Shakespeare's audience, is that the state of one's soul at death
determines one's fate in the next life.  The Ghost bears witness to the
possibility that a basically good soul can be forced to suffer Purgatory
needlessly if she/he is murdered with "no shriving time allowed."

It's not just King Hamlet's murder that's at issue here, it's the added
fact that he is forced to suffer Purgatory unjustly.  Revenge, in this
case, is not complete by merely killing Claudius' body; Claudius' _soul_
has to suffer too.

Hamlet's hesitation in the chapel, in its original theological context,
makes perfect sense.  And what makes that scene so powerful is that you
really _don't_ know whether Claudius may actually find forgiveness.
He's fumbling at it, going through the motions, but these are the sorts
of things that sinners often do before they are saved by an act of
Divine Grace (at least in Christian folklore that's how it is supposed
to happen -- if you can't cleanse your soul, at least act as if you
have, and the salvation will come in time).  Hence the original audience
(at least) understood Hamlet's resolve to wait until a more appropriate
time.

Andy White

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 23 Jan 2002 16:09:31 -0600
Subject: 13.0143 Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0143 Hamlet (Once More)

Edmund Taft writes,

> Don goes on to argue that the audience should be pretty sure after
> Hamlet springs "The Mousetrap" that not only is Claudius guilty, but
> also that the Ghost is a good ghost and represents God's will.

I don't have any complaint about most of what Ed says in his reply,
though I have the usual reservations, but here I have to clarify my
position. It isn't just the Ghost that says that Claudius is guilty.
Claudius does so.  Twice, in fact. Once quite frankly when he confesses
to committing the offence with "the primal eldest curse upon't, a
brother's murder"  (3.3).  Earlier, he tells us in an aside about the
"heavy burden" on his conscience (3.1).

These would seem to me fairly authoritative sources on the matter of the
king's guilt and the ghost's veracity.

Cheers,
don

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