The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0786 Friday, 25 April 2003
Date: Thursday, 24 Apr 2003 08:56:35 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Hamlet and Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques (1576)
SHAKSPEReans. In my search for the 1960s book on Hamlet which put a
different spin on the old canard that he was "the Procrastinator" I have
begun re-reading Bernard Grebanier's The Heart of Hamlet. In a section
beginning with "Hamlet's Procrastination" [pages 80 to 119], Grebanier's
spells out his thoughts on the title and subtitle of his book: "The
Heart of Hamlet: The Play Shakespeare Wrote."
In my request for the book Bill Lloyd wrote us, "I suspect the book from
the 60s that Bill Arnold was trying to recall that argued for a
non-procrastinating Hamlet is Bernard Grebanier's 'The Heart of Hamlet'.
It was published in 1960, and as I recall [though it's been decades
since I read it] it offered 'corrective' interpretations of a number of
aspects of the play, including Hamlet's assumed madness and his seeming
To Bill Lloyd, I say, right on, and suggest Hamlet aficionados get a
copy and read it. In his section on Hamlet and the critics [pages 75 to
79], Bernard Grebanier's writes, in part:
"The tale appeared in Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques (1576)... in
Belleforest's tale we have substantially the same story (except for the
Ghost) that Kyd must have told...[in the story by
Belleforest][Hamblet]assumed lunacy succeeds in defending 'his life from
the treasons and practices of the tyrant, his uncle... Hamblet suspects
a trick, and counterfeiting a fit of lunacy [kills the man behind the
curtains of Geruth's chamber]...he cries, 'A rat, a rat!'...He now turns
on his mother and upbraids her for marrying and defending the murderer
of his father; he also confesses that his insanity is feigned and
explains why. She is so much overjoyed to find her son truly sane that
she honestly repents, and agrees to do nothing to betray his secret or
interfere with his taking vengeance on his uncle...[after he kills the
King] [Hamblet] severs Fengon's head from his body, crying: 'this just
and violent death is a just reward for such as thou art; now go thy
ways, and when thou comest in hell see thou forget not to tell thy
brother...that it was his son that sent thee thither with the message,
to the end that being comforted thereby, his soul may rest among the
blessed spirits,and quit me of the obligation that bound me to pursue
his vengeance upon mine own blood.'...people gather, and Hamblet reveals
the truth, supported by his mother's public confession and repentance.
His oration so much moves the Danes that he is proclaimed king."
My reactions, similar to Bernard Grebanier--but not speaking for him--is
to denounce the interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet which wishes to
see him as "The Procrastinator" and I reaffirm my previous posts to this
list that he acts as the Good Prince in his attempts to restore Order to
the earthly Kingdom, and his belief in the Eternal Spirit--both good and
bad spirits--as Hamlet put fopth in his dichotomy speeches in the
opening segments with the ghost of his dead father.
Grebanier also discusses briefly the dating and translation issues of
the original tale which appeared in French in 1576 [page 75] and the
question of how Shakespeare came upon this plot he borrowed for his own
version of Hamlet, the play, and Hamlet, the character therein.
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