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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: April ::
Hirsh and "To Be"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0804  Monday, 28 April 2003

From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Apr 2003 00:14:36 -0500
Subject:        Hirsh and "To Be"

I am writing because I am puzzled. Have you read "Shakespeare and the
History of Soliloquies" (1997) or "The 'To Be or Not to Be' Scene and
the Conventions of Shakespearean Drama" (1981) both by James Hirsh? I'm
writing a paper on the "To be" soliloquy and ran across these two
essays. I must say, I have always been a bit puzzled by that speech in
general, so that's why I decided to write about it. In reading these two
articles, I have come to the conclusion that all conventional wisdom on
this speech is if not wrong, then sort of naive, and I'm wondering if
you could help me out a bit with this.

Here's a brief summary if you haven't read these articles: Hirsh
contends that we must look at "to be" in the context of the scene --
obviously -- but not so obviously, Hirsh says that the convention of
Shakespeare's day was that soliloquies were not "interior monologue,"
nor were they the actual thoughts of a character, nor were these
speeches protected from overhearing.  There's the rub. (Hirsh says that
the neo-classical folks were the ones who reinvented the soliloquy as we
now know it -- as interior monologue.) As much as I want to believe
Hirsh because it fits the premise of my own paper, I am wondering where,
besides literary examples, he gets evidence that THE convention in
Shakespeare's day was that soliloquies were literally just people
talking to themselves, not interior monologue, and available for all to
hear. Would there even be such a thing as non-literary evidence in this
case? I mean, I know there are a ton of examples in Shakespeare's works
alone in which speeches are overheard, but the literary tradition that I
am familiar with in regard to "soliloquy" is that it is an interior
monologue that is verbalized for the audience alone to hear. If we take
Hirsh's stance, though, then Ophelia, Polonius, and Claudius overhear
the "to be" speech, and each of them might have a different response.
Hirsh says that the speech is for Claudius to hear in order to throw
Claudius off -- in other words, if Claudius were suspicious that Hamlet
knew about the murder of King Hamlet, then the "to be" soliloquy would
be designed to direct Claudius to believe that Hamlet is really just
depressed and contemplating suicide.

In Hirsh's later essay (the 1997 one), he says that no one has ever
refuted his claim that Shakespeare soliloquies are for all on the stage
to hear, not interior monologues. That seems a little weird to me that
Shakespeareans wouldn't jump on that, unless there is some sort of
non-literary evidence to support his claim. Do you know of any? Now, I
grant that it's sort of splitting hairs in a way to say that a soliloquy
is just a speech, and not in fact interior monologue, but in the case of
"to be," this distinction seems to make all the difference in the world.
It's so impersonal and completely unlike any of Hamlet's other
soliloquies that it really makes me wonder what exactly is the answer to
this soliloquy convention thing because if the speech IS directed at
someone (or multiple people), then that changes everything.

Any ideas?

Turning the green one red,
Marcia Eppich-Harris

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