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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Hamlet (Once More)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0174  Friday, 25 January 2002

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 10:44:06 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet (Once More)

[2]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 11:14:39 -0600
        Subj:   Christian Folklore

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 12:52:57 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet (Once More)

[4]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 11:55:11 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0143 Hamlet (Once More)

[5]     From:   Takashi Kozuka <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 23:34:39 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet (Once More)

[6]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 12:31:05 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet (Once More)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 10:44:06 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

Don Bloom writes,

"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."

Yes. This is right. But the point that I made earlier is that just
because the Ghost is found to have told the truth about Claudius's
guilt, it does not follow that the Ghost is from Purgatory or represents
God's will. As I wrote earlier, the devil (or someone from hell) can use
the truth to damn us: "The devil can quote scripture for his own
purposes."

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 11:14:39 -0600
Subject:        Christian Folklore

Andy White speaks of this subject in considering whether Claudius may
obtain forgiveness for his sin(s).  That is if he goes through the
motions of repentance, true repentance may yet come to him one day.

It is worth noting that Hamlet speaks of this very concept when he urges
his mother to eschew sex with Claudius.  "Assume a virtue if you have it
not"; this and the following rationale he offers in 3.4 throw light
interestingly on the phenomenon Andy is speaking of in 3.3.

Cheers for folklore,
John

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 12:52:57 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

I agree with Andy White (and with Paul Doniger's earlier post) that
there's more to revenge than just doing it.  Andy goes on to write that
Hamlet's hesitation while Claudius is at prayer would be understood as
perfectly reasonable and should be taken at face value.

This is an argument that seems plausible, but I don't think it really
holds. Even if Claudius had made an act of "perfect contrition" -- one
that would absolve him of his brother's murder, Hamlet could still
guarantee that Claudius went to hell. Think of the end of Nashe's
_Unfortunate Traveler_, in which the revenger holds the victim at sword
point and makes him abjure forgiveness and any future plea for
repentance, makes him blaspheme God and accept the Devil, and then
immediately kills him, thus ensuring that the victim's soul goes to
hell.

Now, Hamlet doesn't do this, though he could. Why doesn't he?  I think
it is because he STILL has doubts about the ghost and about whether or
no he should really take revenge. It goes back to the point I made
earlier: the fact that Claudius is guilty does NOT mean that heaven
sanctions revenge in this case.

Hamlet is temporizing because the fundamental question of God's will --
of whether or no God really wants revenge taken on Claudius -- is still
unanswered. I believe that a good case can be made that this question is
never unequivocally answered in the play.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 11:55:11 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0143 Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0143 Hamlet (Once More)

Ed Taft writes,

"But the problem with these explanations is that if they are really
meant as "proof" of the Ghost's goodness, then Hamlet should immediately
effect revenge and the play should be over."

"I see these points as "ways out" for members of the audience who cannot
bear -- or choose not to consider -- that the provenance of the Ghost
continues to be a puzzle -- and unsolvable one, in my view -- to the
very end of the play."

"If this interpretation is valid, then one of the things _Hamlet_ is
about is that action depends on unverifiable faith -- faith in the Ghost
and all he stands for."

"Yet that faith may be mistaken."

Is not the Ghost in _Hamlet_ a ghost, and in the age of Shakespeare,
were not ghosts thought to be beings which were believed to exist?  Can
someone demonstrate that ghosts were as _scientifically_ doubted then as
they are today?  And are we not therefore judging Shakespeare and his
audience by rigorous standards of modern science?  Not to argue that all
among us doubt the existence of ghosts, by any stretch of the proverbial
imagination!  Our modern theater obviously has vampires and ghosts as
characters.  Do we judge the witches in _Macbeth_ by the same paint
brush?

If our protagonist Hamlet _believes_ in the Ghost, and Shakespeare's
audience _believes_ in the Ghost, then the Ghost _is_ but another
character in the play who must be listened to, and judged as to his
ability to witness to events.  Thus Hamlet seems justified to check out
the Ghost's story before avenging the death of the king.  I like the
word avenge better than revenge.  Avenge, to me, implies that Hamlet
used reason rather than passion.  Hamlet did not procrastinate out of
some lack of will but thoughtfully checked out the story of the Ghost
against all the discoverable events like a good prince, in order for him
to be justified in the eyes of the Shakespeare's audience.  Do we not
finally adjudicate Hamlet to have been the Good Prince and to have
upheld the Shakespearean concept of the Good?

Bill Arnold

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 23:34:39 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Re: Hamlet (Once More)

Andy White <
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 > argues,

> 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.

Is Andy suggesting (a) the soliloquy is a meditation on revenge, (b) "to
be" means "to live" and "not to be" means "not to live" / "to die", (c)
both, or (d) neither?

With curiosity (which wouldn't kill any cat),

Takashi Kozuka

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Jan 2002 12:31:05 -0500
Subject:        Re: Hamlet (Once More)

Andy White's insightful post makes some points which I agree go to the
heart of Hamlet's dilemma.  I have only two fine-tuning adjustments to
his interpretation:

(1)"To be or not to be" reveals Hamlet to be less concerned with dying,
in fact willing to die, but deterred by fears of damnation.

(2) I don't think that Claudius is just "going through the motions" in
the chapel scene -- he seems genuinely remorseful

    Though inclination be as sharp as will
    My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent

but he questions whether even sincere remorse is sufficient if he
retains the fruits of his crime.

By the way, the quoted lines seem a commentary on what I consider the
main philosophical question in the play:  The nature of will.

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