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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: The Supernatural and Modernity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1878  Wednesday, 11 September 2002

[1]     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 17:03:29 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

[2]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 10:28:36 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

[3]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Sep 2001 13:42:49 -0500
        Subj:   More on that Ghost

[4]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 11:51:09 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 16:54:35 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

[6]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 21:39:25 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 17:03:29 +0100
Subject: 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

He that is giddy thinks the world turns round, Bill!

Or are you saying that in the US they still behave in the ways that they
did in Elizabethan England. I must look out for a hanging, drawing, and
quartering when I cross the pond next!

And is it in Cincinnati that they still whip prostitutes?

Come on, now Bill, you know as well as I do that once we move from crude
biology to culture then significant historical differences emerge.  And
I think that even in certain questions of biology we may not be talking
about universals either.

It's comforting to think that everybody else thinks the way we do, and
it's always a shock when we realise that they don't!  I recommend a
glass of zinfandel

All the best,
John Drakakis

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 10:28:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

It may seem unlikely, but I have it from my sources within the church
itself that a priest is indeed
indicated as the exorcist for each diocese.

Brian "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition" Willis

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Sep 2001 13:42:49 -0500
Subject:        More on that Ghost

Whitt Brantley observes,

>An English Protestant, raised on the Geneva Bible and Reformation
>doctrine would have understood Hamlet's serving the ghost as a dangerous
>error.  He also would have known of  the Bible's warning that revenge
>belongs only to God which was much used by Elizabethan writers to
>reserve the execution of vengeance to God.
>
>Instead of heeding these warnings, the seed planted in Hamlet's mind by
>the ghost takes root. Hamlet avenges his father's murder but loses his
>life and kingdom. Shakespeare's "Christian tragic heroes" each succumb
>to a temptation, one that they recognize and that they know could have
>terrible consequences. For Hamlet the temptation is listening to the
>counsel of the "dead."

[But Hamlet does so only after determining - as well as he can - that
the ghost's story is true.  We certainly discover that it is (Claudius'
soliloquy). But, considering all this, do we forget that Hamlet is a
prince of the realm and seeks - although he does not say he seeks it for
that - terms for *public exposure* of the crime? He cannot act merely
for revenge, and he knows it.  His error, a poor, an unfair estimate of
the supposed defection of Ophelia and R & G (who, after all, have been
given every evidence of his illness of mind and, therefore, as all of us
do in such situations, handle the mentally disturbed "with a
difference"); his resulting turn away from those who might have helped
him, his related desire for personal revenge (leading him to think, "now
might I do it," then doesn't, and for very wrong reasons, too) that
peaks in the mindless stabbing of Polonius - all this instead of seeking
princely justice, which he knows is his duty. And isn't it interesting
that when Claudius is finally caught up with, his crime shown to the
surrounding public is NOT his murder of Old Hamlet at all, but that of
Young Hamlet, and the Queen? ]

[Hamlet is a man who hasn't the proper respect for his friends, doesn't
know how to make proper, ready use of those whom he trusts (Horatio),
and estranges those who might have helped but whom he considers suspect,
although they are reacting just as he should certainly have expected to
his planned and executed  "antic disposition." ]

[In this vein, too, one wonders particularly about Horatio, who has seen
the ghost first and certainly seems to be around often enough, but has
nothing to suggest to Hamlet about a plan of action. Curious.  (Like
Emilia's silence on the handkerchief issue in "Othello" - until it's too
late.).  Horatio's remarks after the play are not conclusive of his
estimate of it as proof of Claudius' guilt - but if they are interpreted
as conveying his doubt, he says nothing to check the exuberant Hamlet
who immediately sees Claudius' reaction as confession of the crime.
(Horatio's first outspoken, adverse criticism of Hamlet's actions is his
obvious disapproval of Hamlet's disposing of R & G.). One wonders, too,
about Ophelia: she must be something of a mealy-mouthed ninny to listen
to Hamlet's rant without defending herself with observations about his
recent nutty conduct - socks down and wandering through her apartment
backwards, indeed! All of these characters - Horatio, Ophelia, R & G -
appear unable to poke a finger into Hamlet's chest, sit him down and
give him a "loyal opposition" opinion. (Are we to see them as such
weaklings, and being chosen friends of Hamlet, a comment on his
selection of friends?). ]

[(Pardon me for wandering a little way from the issue of the ghost - but
these matters do seem somehow related to that issue)]

[L. Swilley]

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 11:51:09 -0700
Subject: 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

Whitt Brantley:

>I do find one thing curious though.  How can a ghost come "from the
>undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns?"

Martin Seward:

>Hamlet ... tells us, in his moment of greatest
>self-revelation, that the traveller cannot return from the undiscovered
>country of death.

For those who take the "to be" speech at face value, thinking it reveals
Hamlet's true beliefs and noblest inmost thoughts, please run, don't
walk, to James Hirsh's "To Take Arms Against a Sea of Anomolies."

http://www.brunel.ac.uk/faculty/arts/EnterText/hamlet/hirsh.pdf

(the immediately accessible online presentation of his insights), and to
the two earlier papers where he first presented those insights:

"The 'To be, or not to be' Scene and the Conventions of Shakespearean
Drama" (MLQ 42 1981 pp. 115-36)

"Shakespeare and the History of Soliloquies" (MLQ 58 1997 pp. 1-26)

Hirsh shows (quite conclusively in my opinion) that this 800-pound
gorilla of all soliloquies is in fact a "utterly impersonal," feigned
set-speech, put on for the benefit of Claudius and Polonius lurking
behind the arras. (Just one piece of evidence among many: there's not
one first-person singular pronoun in this soliloquy; all the others are
riddled with them, generally from the very first line.)

It's fruitless to consider that soliloquy without considering that
dramatic and conventional "framing."

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 16:54:35 -0700
Subject: 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

I'm glad to see a few people pointing out that it's still possible to
believe in ghosts, though I suspect it's harder for most of us than for
most of Shakespeare's audience. Horatio, on the surface a good
Renaissance Christian ("that is most certain") resists the ghost story
until his own eyes avouch it. The appearance of the ghost releases a
flood of Roman imagery, along with some confused speculation about
hallowed and unhallowed times. The result, it seems to me, is a sense of
awe and mystery. No one quite knows what to make of it, but it reminds
us all that there's a lot we don't know, and that mystery can erupt in
front of us any time. I think this can be true in at least an analogical
sense for those of us who still don't believe in ghosts. Some of the
impact of Hamlet has shifted its ground from supernatural credulity to
willing suspension of disbelief. In a similar displacement, the
Christian prohibition of personal revenge can still touch the feelings
of a secular unbeliever who would want to refrain from taking the law
into his or her own hands.

The Christian prohibition does come into play for Hamlet, though. If he
doesn't quite mention it directly, he does talk about the danger of
being damned; and when Laertes comes rushing in to take his parallel
revenge, he says explicitly, "I dare damnation."

There's also the problem that Claudius is not just a man but a king,
which intensifies the danger of damnation. At the same time it
definitively removes any hope of justice from the king since the king is
the criminal. To punish Claudius, Hamlet must get beyond personal
revenge to objective justice, which in this case he can only do by
transforming himself, symbolically at least, into the king, and then
punishing a criminal who has been objectively proven guilty.

The symbolic transformation, into "Hamlet the Dane", comes with his
first act of direct rebellion (not merely intended, as with Polonius,
but accomplished). He forges the commission and seals it with his
father's signet. This he can do on the basis of evidence: the commission
proves Claudius a tyrant, and Hamlet carefully hands the evidence over
to Horatio for later presentation to the people. This still doesn't
quite suffice, though, because Claudius only intended to kill Hamlet
without succeeding. He could deny it all. At the end Hamlet must take
over by demanding an investigation of his mother's death ("Let the doors
be locked") and hearing Laertes' dying testimony ("the King's to
blame"). Now he can kill Claudius for the one intentional, and
successful, crime of which Claudius has been objectively proven guilty:
killing Hamlet. Even so, Hamlet kills Claudius not with a sword thrust
("I am but hurt") but with his own poison, "temper'd by himself." Had
Claudius not poisoned the sword and the wine, he would not die from
Hamlet's actions. Meanwhile, personal revenge for Hamlet's father has
all but faded away as a motivation in the final fray, replaced,
emotionally, by the impulse to revenge his mother. This is not exactly
revenge, however, since Claudius did not intend to kill Gertrude. The
emotion nevertheless releases some of the pent up energy of revenge,
while it also gives Hamlet a partial further excuse of hot blood.
Meanwhile, the legal underpinning, justice for Hamlet's own death,
provides the justification with which, along with the commission,
Horatio will save Hamlet's name. Shakespeare's solution has to be as
complicated, and delicate, as Hamlet's problem.

Bringing the ghost back from hell accomplishes two things. First, it
makes hell vividly real for Hamlet, and the audience (within limits),
thus setting up the great Christian obstacle to revenge. Second, it
changes the old story by making the murder a secret. Hamlet can't tell
the public he killed the king on the word of a ghost, so he has to look
for evidence, even though to do so in a way betrays the ghost, who in
person seems undeniably honest. The ghost cares nothing about objective
evidence because he knows the truth--and thinks that should be enough
for Hamlet. Nor does the ghost care about the Christian prohibition on
revenge (against Claudius), or about the danger of chaos in the state,
or about the danger to Hamlet's soul. Hamlet is different. He cares
about all those things--as, analogically at least, do we. Hence the play
has five acts.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Sep 2002 21:39:25 -0400
Subject: 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1866 Re: The Supernatural and Modernity

"Would those who are commenting on this issue please read the works
mentioned above before continuing?  We're inventing the wheel on this
issue."  John Cox

To John's list of relevant older texts I would add Fredson Bowers,
"Hamlet as Minister and Scourge," PMLA 70 (1955): 740-49.

David Evett

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