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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Hamlet (Once More)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0220  Monday, 28 January 2002

[1]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 10:42:30 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

[2]     From:   Andy White <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 13:29:04 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet (Once More)

[3]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 15:42:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

[4]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 14:40:10 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

[5]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 18:27:55 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet (Once More)

[6]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Jan 2002 10:18:48 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 10:42:30 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

I too think it is too easy to define "to be or not to be" as a speech
about suicide. It's like Olivier's infamous assertion that Hamlet is
about a man who couldn't make up his mind. I've always felt that it is
about consequences (in fact, the play among so many other things,
concerns itself so obviously with consequences). I feel that the whole
speech hurtles forward to the resolution "thus conscience does make
cowards of us all". It's almost as if Hamlet is saying, "I'm not sure if
the end justifies the means even if it deposes a tyrant". At least the
speech is as much about not being sure about the means or an "evil"
action causing any good.

I enjoy Andy White's opinions on Hamlet and find myself often agreeing
with his astute, sound, and textually based insights.

Bill Godshalk makes many good points as well. I'm just not sure if the
dynamic of the Mousetrap scene is as easily defined as getting Claudius
to admit public guilt. Of course the leaving of the play proves nothing
except that Claudius might be ill. But to Hamlet, it is the private
confession between them (and Horatio curiously acting as a witness to
validate Hamlet) that Hamlet is so thrilled to have elicited.  "I'll
take the Ghost's word for a thousand pound" is not a public declaration
of Claudius's guilt, but a private mission statement that Hamlet is now
more comfortable with the idea of avenging his father's murder. The
mouse is caught, but only in Hamlet's mind's eye.

And very true, Bill, that Hamlet inadvisedly shows his hand in a very
unwise setting. Sam West, in two public forums this summer in Stratford,
said that the Mousetrap is the worst possible thing that Hamlet could
do. He embarrasses Claudius publicly even though it is an acknowledgment
of guilt only between them, and he also "confesses" that he knows
somehow that Claudius did it. Now Claudius knows he isn't mad and he can
feel equally as free to dispose of "that meddling kid" Hamlet.

Brian Willis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy White <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 13:29:04 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

In order to "prove" that Horatio doubts the Ghost's veracity, Dr.
Godshalk appeals to a questionable interpretation of Horatio's
post-Mousetrap lines, and a BBC videotape (only one production?).

In my experience, Shakespeare tends to have his characters say what they
mean, and mean what they say.  Horatio _confirms_ Hamlet's witness by
agreeing that yes, he too kept an eye on Claudius the whole time.  Had
Shakespeare meant for Horatio to question the Ghost's witness, Horatio
would have had an extra word or two, to indicate his doubts; a simple
"aye, my Lord, _but_ . . ." would have sufficed.  At no time does
Horatio ever question the Ghost's witness, either in word or deed.

If we're comparing productions, I can cite the Shakespeare Rep
production in Chicago a few years back, in which Claudius' eyes
discreetly bugged out during the dumb-show, and his question immediately
afterwards -- "there's no offense in it?"  Confirmed that his eyes
bugged out for a reason.  Too many lazy directors pass over the fact
that it is the dumb show, not the play itself, in which Claudius first
sees his fratricide re-enacted.  Hamlet's remark "the players cannot
keep counsel -- they give it all away" could just as easily be seen as
Hamlet's subtle sign to Horatio (and the audience) that he has just got
the evidence he needs.

Finally:  Hamlet has presented himself to us, for the first 3 acts, as a
thoughtful, deliberate, conscientious sort of person.  The audience's
understanding of his character would be lost if Hamlet were to suddenly
turn into a monomaniacal, nihilistic punk, making up evidence where
there was none, and passing off his murder of Polonius with a sort of
"God (read: voices inside my head) made me do it" defense.  Hamlet's
madness when with his mother is justified to the audience precisely
because he has seen "miraculous" (ocular) evidence of Claudius' guilt.

Andy White

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 15:42:52 -0500
Subject: 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

Andy White writes,

>Some good questions here, particularly about how I interpret Hamlet's
>line, "to be or not to be"  -- let me try this one for size:
>
>I take this to be the first line of a gloss -- a cryptic quote in need
>of more elaboration via poetry.  If you take away this first line, it's
>clear to me at least that Hamlet is talking about revenge, about death
>and the likelihood of suffering in the afterlife for one's sins.

Basically I agree with Andy -- with some qualifications. If one of my
friends said to me, "The question is: to be or not to be?" I would ask,
"To be or not to be what?" I would not take his question as existential.
And if my supposed friend went on to talk about nobility -- "Whether
'tis nobler in the mind to suffer . . ./Or to take arms against a sea of
troubles" -- I'd assume that he meant "to be noble or not to be noble,"
and that his next lines aimed at ascertaining what was most noble --
suffering or taking arms. Harry Levin, as I recall, notes that this
speech is about alternatives, and that each decision as to an
alternative, leads to yet another alterative. So when Hamlet decides to
be noble, he must then decide what is nobler.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 14:40:10 -0800
Subject: 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

I am dismayed that good Bill Godshalk repeats something I questioned
last July without rising to my challenge.  I realize, of course that
Bill may not have read July's post.  Bill wrote,

>I'd like to make two points:
>
>(1) The Mousetrap does not catch the mouse. Claudius admits no guilt by
>leaving the play, because Hamlet turns the trap into a threat, wherein
>the nephew threatens to murder the uncle. Note Horatio's reluctance to
>confirm Claudius's guilt. And in the BBC version of the show, Hamlet,
>not Claudius, reveals himself by the Mousetrap. You may not agree with
>the director's choice, but the underlying point is valid, I think.

Back in July I wrote,

>>>The exit happens at a particular point in The Mousetrap, and Hamlet's
commentary on it.  Lucianus has just described the poisoning of the king
in the play, the events being very like Claudius poisoning of Old
Hamlet, and Hamlet gives a commentary:

Q1: He poysons him for his estate.

Q2: A poysons him i'th Garden for his estate, his names Gonzago, the
story is extant, and written in very choice Italian, you shall see anon,
how the murtherer gets the loue of Gonzagoes wife.

F: He poysons him i'th' Garden for's estate: His name's Gonzago: the
Story is extant and writ in choyce Italian.  You shall see anon how the
Murtherer gets the loue of Gonzago's wife.

(Quotes from Bertram, Paul and Bernice W. Kliman The Three-Text Hamlet:
Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and First Folio New York,
AMS Press, 1991)

If this isn't Claudius showing extreme uneasiness at the parallels of
what he has done, it is certainly understandable that Hamlet thinks so.

>[The previous day, Graham Bradshaw wrote]
>The first assumption is in itself very questionable. Given Hamlet's
>behaviour to Ophelia, Gertrude and finally Claudius himself, any king
>might stop that performance, even if he were as innocent as a lamb.

I'm not so sure.  Even if you are correct, Claudius doesn't stop the
performance earlier.  He stops it at the point that it parallels his own
actions and rewards, the point where, presumably, Hamlet wrote his extra
lines so it would parallels Claudius actions and rewards.

>Stopping the performance proves nothing, despite Hamlet's accusatory
>"frighted by false fire?" Hamlet's increasingly hysterical behaviour
>ruins his test.

I don't think it is correct to ignore the moment of The Mousetrap, or
the content of Hamlet's commentary, when asking why Claudius rises and
calls for some light.  Why here?  Why not earlier, or later?

>The grave difficulty about this is both textual (there is no helpful
>stage direction) and theatrical. The latter difficulty seems to me more
>grave: how could Claudius betray his guilt to the offstage audience, or
>indeed to Hamlet, without also betraying it to the onstage audience?

Two answers:  One, maybe he does, though only Hamlet and Horatio would
fully understand it.  Two, it doesn't matter if Ophelia, for example,
doesn't get why Claudius has reacted this way.  She does not have the
information necessary to connect the dots.

>(ii) In the prayer scene, where Claudius does reveal his guilt, though
>only to us and not to Hamlet, he takes for granted that his guilt is not
>known to anyone other than God. He never speaks as though his crime is now
>known to Hamlet, or to anybody else in the Danish court.

Since I don't agree with the premise that anyone could know from the
King's behavior exiting the play, unless they were informed by The
Ghost, this is a non-issue for me.  The Ghost informing Hamlet, and
Hamlet passing word on to Horatio makes a real difference here.  The
same comment holds for your next few points, so I shall skip some of
them.

>(v) Horatio has been instructed by Hamlet to watch what happens. Hamlet
>also promises that after the 'Mousetrap' he and Horatio will discuss and
>compare their responses to whatever happens.  But when Hamlet tells
>Horatio that the whole thing has been so successful that Hamlet deserves a
>"share" in a theatrical company, Horatio sounds unconvinced: "Half a
>share".  By then Hamlet isn't interested in whatever makes Horatio more
>uncertain, just as he isn't interested when his mother exclaims, "As kill
>a king?"

Let me confess a weakness in my line of reasoning.  I have no idea what
Horatio means by "Half a share."  I'm not, therefore, sure if it is
Horatio's way is disagreeing with Hamlet's conclusion.  Horatio does
feel he observed something significant.  Horatio's response in not in
Q1.  One can claim that Horatio's lack of support in Q1 is significant,
but what of Q2 and F?  Here is Q2:

Ham. O good Horatio, Ile take the Ghosts word for a thousand pound.
Did'st percieue?
Hor. Very well my Lord.
Ham. Vpon the talke of the poysoning.
Hor. I did very well note him.

And here is F:

Ham. Oh good Horatio, Ile take the Ghosts word for a thousand pound.
Did'st perceiue?
Hor. Verie well my Lord.
Ham. Vopn the talke of the poysoning?
Hor. I did verie well note him.

Sure reads to me as if Horatio agrees that Claudius's reaction to the
poisoning, of not marrying the Queen, was observed and similarly
interpreted by Horatio.  Horatio does not say this in so many words, but
I think the context makes it clear, in fact, so clear that I wonder if I
misunderstood you?

>Uh-huh. So forget why. HOW did he betray himself?

As we used to say in Berkeley, but getting so freaked out that that he
vammed, man.  That cat was not groovin'.  Be mellow, fellow.

>And yet, when they both maintain that the questions about the Ghost have
>still not been answered when the play finishes, neither Dover Wilson nor
>Frye asks what might seem to be the next, extremely pressing, question: if
>these doubts about the Ghost are never (as >these critics say) resolved,
>why does Hamlet himself stop worrying about the Ghost after the
>'Mousetrap' scene?

>Answer: Because Hamlet is convinced that the 'Mousetrap' was a complete
>success. Well yes, but how could it have
>been?Ah, here we go again, in a
>parody of what might be called teleological argument.

>Historically, the English critic and editor W.W.Greg and (a few years
>earlier, not a lot of people know that)
>the Japanese novelist Shiga
>Naoya were the first to suggest that the Mousetrap cannot be the success
>Hamlet takes it to be. They both suppose that Hamlet's behaviour while the
>play-within-a-play is being performed ruins the success of the test. Yet
>their arguments were dismissed, not least because of the stranglehold of
>the daft stage tradition that had Claudius reeling around (often with his
>goblet).

I find this very interesting.  It would depend on how it is played,
since the text does not specify this is Claudius reason for leaving,
though it may be what Gertrude means by much offending Da.  Contrast
that with the fact that it does specify that both Hamlet and Horatio
interpret his departure as the result of guilt, at least by strong
implication.  If correct, your comment adds a fascinating level of
complexity.

I'm sure you have a rebuttal.  I eagerly await it.<<<

Still waiting, Bill.  Feel free to take over.

Mike Jensen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Sunday, 27 Jan 2002 18:27:55 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

Andy White writes,

"Once Hamlet has caught Claudius' reactions to the play, he knows the
Ghost is trustworthy.  After that point, he does not question his role
as God's "scourge and minister," his only problems have to do with how
best to carry out God's will."

Andy, Hamlet is not the kind of fellow to make the logical slip that you
impute to him. Even in the flush of apparently "proving" Claudius's
guilt (see Bill Godshalk's post), Hamlet will only bet "a thousand
pound" on the ghost, not his life.  Let me try to get at the issue of
the Ghost's origins another way. Ask yourself these two questions:

1. Why doesn't Hamlet go right away to see his mother, who has urgently
called for him (3.2.309)? Even after Polonius repeats the message,
Hamlet waits until it is midnight. Why?

2. Why does he decide to "speak daggers to her" -- that is to be so
verbally rough that it may seem like he is about to manhandle her?

You will recall that in his first meeting with the ghost, the ghost
tells Hamlet not to mess with Gertrude. You will also remember that
midnight is exactly the time that the ghost walks.  It's clear, Andy,
that Hamlet is trying to make the ghost appear yet again so that he can
test him.

The ghost appears in 3.4 right after Gertrude says, "No more!"  He might
appear at this point to protect Gertrude from a young Hamlet seemingly
about to lose control.

But if you read 89ff, you will see that Gertrude is also on the verge of
repentance at exactly the point where the ghost enters.  So, what do we
have? A good ghost who comes to save Gertrude, or a bad ghost who comes
to prevent her from repenting?  Hamlet's test is brilliant, but it too
fails, and the question of the ghost's motives and origins remains.

After 3.4, Hamlet changes tactics. No more fruitless Ghost tests.
Instead, he decides to test Providence Itself. That's why he goes off
with R&G to certain death willingly and without protest. Let's see
Providence get me out of this one is the subtext.

Throughout Acts 4 and 5, the question of God's will is central. In fact,
Hamlet's actions are designed to interrogate the Mind of God Himself.
You may think that the question of God's will has been solved, but I
don't think Hamlet agrees with you.

--Ed Taft

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Jan 2002 10:18:48 -0000
Subject: 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0198 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

What does Andrew Walker White - or anyone else for that matter - make of
the famous mixed metaphor at the beginning of "To be or not to be"...?

Oh yes - Socrates did not say that death was a blessing. He simply
reasoned that, because we could not know what death was like, it makes
no sense to assume that it is an evil. Which brings us back to "Hamlet"
via "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" - the dialogue, "Have you
ever imagined what it would be like to be dead?" "Yes" "No, you haven't.
Really you have imagined what it would be like to be alive in a small
box".

m "memento mori"

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