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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1909  Tuesday, 17 September 2002

[1]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Monday, 16 Sep 2002 23:19:31 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1899 Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

[2]     From:   D. Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Sep 2002 07:18:29 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1899 Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Monday, 16 Sep 2002 23:19:31 +0100
Subject: 13.1899 Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1899 Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

Sean:

"Actually, this old chestnut's been around for a while, and seems to
derive from a period when anthropologists were determined to find that
other groups were different.  Some of that fanaticism seems to have worn
off in anthropology departments."

The spoiler in Laura's piece is the first sentence:

"Just before I left Oxford for the Tiv in West Africa, conversation
turned to the season at Stratford.  "You Americans," said a friend,
"often have difficulty with Shakespeare.  He was, after all, a very
English poet, and one can easily misinterpret the universal by
misunderstanding the particular."

The entire piece is [deliberately] hysterically funny, and trying to
teach it seriously, as part of a PC course as, for my sins {like Hardy}
I had to do, can be ... difficult.

Laura Bohannon is a really hard-nosed ethnologist, and she must be
screaming that the version doing the rounds is still the R3 joke
version.

Doesn't ANYONE (Professor Hawkes?) have the full write-up?

Robin

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D. Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Sep 2002 07:18:29 -0500
Subject: 13.1899 Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1899 Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

I have to confess that as a bushman I didn't understand Hamlet either,
when I heard it. In our tribe a man never killed his brother, except
once in a very long time when, perhaps during a lion hunt, he made an
unwise spear cast and killed a man across from him. But that, of course,
might well have been a distant cousin as well was his brother. In the
only instance I know of - not in our tribe but in a related one - the
man was inconsolable and died soon after.

Being one of the apprentice tale-bearers of the tribe, I got interested
in this strange story and asked the ethnographer to explain it more
completely.  She said that one part of Claudius's motivation was the
desire for power and the other part was the desire for Old Hamlet's
woman. Both these concepts puzzled me.

What was power? She said that it was the right to lead the others. I
found this hard to understand. Among us, the ones who lead are those who
show great wisdom and, in the case of war, great courage as well. They
are granted much respect, but no one actually desires this place. It
just comes if you speak wisely over the course of many years of
councils. She said that it was sometimes like that among the Danes, but
at that time the leaders were rulers. So I naturally asked what they
were.

She explained that those who ruled the Danes were able to treat the
other grown-ups like children. I asked her why the Danes allowed this
but she could not give me a clear answer. It seemed that the king had a
gang of warriors who could force the others to act like children. They
also kept the other men from becoming warriors. I asked why they would
want to do that, since it would clearly make the tribe far weaker, and
she said that then the gang members could get more food, lots of objects
that they valued and their pick of the most beautiful women. So I asked
how they could live with others not eating, why they would want objects
that they could not carry with them, and how they hoped to pick a woman
when you could only let her pick you. She tried to answer but I couldn't
understand.

This got us to the matter of the wife. I asked why, if Claudius and
Gertrude wanted to blanket together (as we put it), they didn't just do
it. She told me that it was against the rules to blanket with people you
were not married to. So I asked why the Danes didn't stop being married
to people they didn't want to be married to. She said they had to stay
married because the spirits had told them they must and that the tribe
would be accursed if they allowed it. At least, I think that's what she
said.

So, I began to understand that Claudius might want to kill his brother -
as horrible as that sounds to my ears - because he wanted to treat
others like children and to blanket with his brother's wife. But I still
was not sure why he would want to do these things. How could treating
others like children make the tribe stronger and healthier? Why should
his desire to blanket with one woman make him willing to defile his
entire tribe with the killing of a fellow tribesman?

Among us either of these desires would require that the healers be
called and a ceremony of purification be held. Usually with a sweat
bath, the chanting of the right songs to the spirits, and the marking of
the face and chest with colored paint, the individual can be returned to
harmony with the world.

With respect,
Nod Moolb

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