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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: January ::
Re: Shakespeare Usurped
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0124  Friday, 24 January 2003

From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Thursday, 23 Jan 2003 14:11:06 EST
Subject: 14.0107 Re: Shakespeare Usurped
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0107 Re: Shakespeare Usurped

It's not often I tend to agree with Sam Small - but it does seem to me
that he's right about perhaps at least two things:

(1) The end of Hamlet is not entirely a success for Hamlet or Hamlet's
family - now though some people in bad times (i.e. Churchill) famously
considered it a mark of success to pluckily pick yourself up after
recurrent failure, as Bob Dylan said -there's no success like failure
but failure's no success at all: Hamlet dies, his line effectively dies,
a stranger turns up (with an army) and takes the throne and the only
bloke with half an idea of what's going on is his best mate Horatio who
really should have done something earlier. Plus the fact that it is a
'tragedy', as I think Brian Willis oddly pointed out, should indicate to
us that we as an audience feel fear for Hamlet's situation and pity for
his downfall (and no amount of thinking will make Hamlet or his father
rise from the grave and lead Denmark into a bright independent future).

(2) From all the sheer rhetoric that's been flying about concerning the
mighty power of Tolkein I have seen little in the way of argument to
show that Tolkein's characters demonstrate what used to be called in old
fashioned lit.crit 'interiority'. I mean O.K so ostensively 'good'
people get seduced by 'evil' but we can watch that kind of crude
morality and character development in any fiction surely? I thought
Sam's point was (to simplify perhaps) Shakespeare is good at showing the
complexity of making moral judgements in the first place - it is
difficult to judge Hamlet or Macbeth or Brutus or even Shylock because
we begin to identify with their suffering and sense of situation enough
so that simple 'judgement' is curtailed (at least for awhile during
performance)- yet surely this is not the case for the (admittedly
reduced) characters of the modern films - they are evil because they
chose evil because they act evil and that appears to be it. Are we
genuinely induced to be interested in the psychology of Sauron? Would
there be much point in probing? Surely the face of the 'good' or 'evil'
in these filmic Tolkein characters is a blank and meaningless assertion?
Ok so they can doubt - but they don't doubt like Hamlet or Lear or
Othello and they don't speak like Hamlet or Lear or Othello and it
doesn't appear that they think with anything like the precision or
subtlety of most of Shakespeare's great characters (here I'm thinking
Ulysses?)

It seems to me that many scholars would still feel embarrassed to invoke
Bilbo the Hobbit in a philosophy, politics or even literary but never
Shakespeare. Perhaps there is good reason for this? The only problem
with quoting Shakespeare (as the Tories found out when they used
Ulysses' speech on Degrees or any lover finds out on sending a
Shakespeare sonnet to his love) is the good chance of being
misunderstood or misunderstanding one's source by under-reading.

Best,
Marcus

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