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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Hamlet (Once More)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0634  Monday, 4 March 2002

[1]     From:   Brandon Toropov <
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        Date:   Saturday, 2 Mar 2002 06:46:48 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0595 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

[2]     From:   Ruth Ross <
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        Date:   Sunday, 03 Mar 2002 09:48:33 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.0595 Re: Hamlet (Once More)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brandon Toropov <
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Date:           Saturday, 2 Mar 2002 06:46:48 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 13.0595 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0595 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

 Edmund Taft writes,

> In response to my query about how Hamlet knows when
> it is time to kill
> the king, Brandon Toropov responds,
>
> "The clear (but completely unanticipated) evidence
> that the King is
> responsible for both Gertrude's poisoning and the
> intrigue of the
> foils."
>
> Yes, but I'm not sure if this solves or complicates
> the main question --
> which pivots around revenge.  What I mean is, if
> Hamlet is motivated to
> kill Claudius because of the evidence at the end of
> Act 5 -- the Queen's
> poisoning and Laertes' testimony about the foil plot
> -- then couldn't it
> be argued that THESE ALONE justify a public death
> for the King, and that
> Hamlet's final act is not -- or may not be --
> revenge but a prince in
> his last moments administering public justice to a
> publicly guilty king?
> I write this out of my own (admittedly contested by
> others) view that
> Hamlet never does get an unequivocal sign from God
> that revenge is His
> Will.

WS may well have dodged this specific issue in this play because killing
for the express and sole purpose of revenge is clearly a sin, and would
have been recognized as such by his audience, with implications
affecting their perception of Hamlet.  Self-defense and the clear
administration of justice, however, are not sins. In the worldview of
the play, the question of how God feels about the act of killing solely
for revenge seems to have been airbrushed over with Hamlet's talk of
acting as heaven's scourge and minister.

This all points us toward questions of purity of intent and motive --
questions that must often be addressed in  dramatic writing featuring
sympathetic protagonists who face wicked antagonists. Remember how
Dorothy killed the witch? It wouldn't have felt "right" for her to, say,
grab the Tin Man's axe and simply start hacking away at the witch as
part of some kind of commando raid. Similarly, it wouldn't have felt
"right" for her to learn that the witch was vulnerable to water, and
then confidently set about finding a way to melt her. No -- she HAPPENED
to melt the witch WHILE PERFORMING A CHARACTERISTICALLY PRAISWORTHY
ACTIVITY (dousing the burning Scarecrow).  The audience wouldn't respond
in quite the same positive way if she'd acted out of rage, or the desire
for revenge against the witch's evil designs on Toto.

Brandon

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ruth Ross <
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Date:           Sunday, 03 Mar 2002 09:48:33 -0500
Subject: 13.0595 Re: Hamlet (Once More)
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.0595 Re: Hamlet (Once More)

Responding to Edmund Taft's point about Hamlet's baiting Claudius to the
point where the king acts criminally: sounds like something the police
in NYC do when they want to catch people they consider criminals.

I agree that Hamlet never receives a clear indication from God (the only
Being who could grant it) to seek revenge for his father's death. After
all, he's directed to do so by a wandering ghost, who COULD be a
messenger of the devil.

Ruth Ross

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