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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: April ::
Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0818  Wednesday, 30 April 2003

[1]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:18:44 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"

[2]     From:   William Proctor Williams <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:59:01 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 12:05:42 -0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

[4]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 14:13:40 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 16:04:35 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

[6]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Apr 2003 11:49:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"

[7]     From:   Tue Sorensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Apr 2003 00:41:54 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"

[8]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 22:43:38 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:18:44 -0400
Subject: 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"

Since many more learned will no doubt give us their asides, consider
this from a larger perspective.  George Steiner tells us that we know
the name of the first person to read without moving his lips, Augustine.
This was a phenomena! A significant shift in self & consciousness that
we each see in our on ontogeny. There is, for some, a deep meaning &
revelation in this process of self-overhearing, and how within the same
soliloquy, a character's consciousness expands & contracts upon seeing
itself as it self-projected. Whether Shakespeare invented, or first
observed, this phenomena, no one has staged it more profoundly.  Hence,
the issue of soliloquies transcends the particular issue of who might
hear them, as much, for Shakespeare, that they are intended to be heard
by their instigator so we can see, overhear, how they respond to
themselves.  This may very well be one of the secrets to his art- how he
was fascinated by the relationship, within his own mind, of the Socratic
Two-in-one, this internal dialogue that we all experience.  Those
interested will find wondrous books on this subject, both eastern &
western.

The differences between the velleity, thinking, talking, reading,
writing have deconstructed many forests. The stage aside, or for that
matter the literary aside, let's call it the aesthetic aside for those
who see its telltale traces in painting, sculpture, even Freudian slips
& signs divine, hint at a deeper hermeneutic than cost-effective
convenience.  What is being portrayed is the contour of our
consciousness, awareness of awareness.

Again, perhaps moving further a field, consider how in T & C we have an
observed, being in turn observed in turn observed, and again observed by
the audience.  No one loves to play these games more than whoever wrote
these plays & poems, himself taking either great pains to remain obscure
or no pains at stepping into the limelight.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Proctor Williams <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:59:01 -0400
Subject: 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

Markus Marti asks, "why should Hamlet say 'soft you now, the fair
Ophelia', unless his spoken 'thoughts' up to 'now' had been much louder
than his usual way of speaking?"

Have a look at the OED on "soft" as a verb, particularly senses 2 and 3,
though 1 works well too.

William Proctor Williams

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 12:05:42 -0300
Subject: 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

Markus writes,

>Another, even more private "soliloquy" in this play, Claudius' prayer in
>3.3, is overheard by Hamlet.

Are you sure?  At least in the Oxford text, Hamlet enters at the end of
Claudius's prayer.

But surely this points out something more general, that there is a
continuum between prayers (addressed to God), soliloquies (addressed to
the audience), asides (also addressed to the audience, or someone else
on stage), interior monologues (addressed to oneself) and so forth.

Cheers,
Sean.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 14:13:40 EDT
Subject: 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

A good director, I believe, encourages soliloquies to be "active"
thought, that is to say the character must solve something in order to
continue, using the audience as a springboard. If the audience senses
the character him/herself does not know what comes next, that they are
working something out, and that THEY are the recipients of these
thoughts, they will me much more engaged. The moment the soliloquies
become "oration" or speeches", they are dead theatrically. They are a
fascinating phenomenon because they are on the one hand extremely
intimate and on the other very public in that they include the audience.
If one can imagine talking to the audience as one talks to oneself, they
are on their way. If  you were in the middle of talking to yourself with
abandon, (I do it when I'm driving) you would be very embarrassed to be
overheard, as it is private. Likewise a character, surprised during a
soliloquy, would say "soft you now, the fair Ophelia comes".

I cannot think of an instance in which I would buy that a character is
lying during a soliloquy, can anyone else?

As far as I can tell, Hamlet does not overhear Claudius, but infers from
Claudius' position of prayer that he is confessing and maybe even asking
forgiveness. To be murdered while in a "state of grace", Hamlet
believes, would send Claudius to heaven.

Ted Dykstra

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 16:04:35 -0700
Subject: 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

As |I understand it, soliloquies in Shakespeare are not overheard by
other characters. That's what makes them soliloquies. Something similar
could be said of the shorter speeches that occur as brief breaks in a
scene with other characters on stage: asides. The "To be" soliloquy may
be unique. Can anyone think of another soliloquy--a genuine soliloquy,
unlike, say, Malvolio's musings--that occurs with another character
visible on stage?  This uniqueness has led to some strange
interpretations, as when Derek Jacobi addressed the soliloquy to
Ophelia. But I think in the play she does not overhear Hamlet, nor does
anyone else. They go into suspended animation for the duration of the
speech. This makes it, even more than a normal soliloquy, a kind of
dream-like interlude.

What speaking a soliloquy "directly" to the audience amounts to is a
complicated question. It's the character who is speaking, isn't it, not
the actor? Or is the "character" somehow being stretched? What happens
to the membrane of suspended disbelief? Until the 20th century I don't
think characters start wandering "untethered", though sometimes
Shakespeare's come close. Even when they do get so modern, or
postmodern, their parts are usually written. The actors do not speak as
actors, though sometimes as "actors". The difference between a soliloquy
spoken to the audience and one addressed to the audience can be subtle,
but I wouldn't deny there's a difference. Either way can be good,
depending on how it's done. The addressed soliloquy has authentic roots
in Elizabethan theater. But which soliloquies best fit this approach,
and how, seems to me hard to decide except case by case.

One thing I don't think is subtle, though. Hamlet does not overhear
Claudius's soliloquy. He enters after it's over.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Apr 2003 11:49:45 -0400
Subject: 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"

In my experience, Shakespeare's soliloquies in general, and Hamlet's in
particular, work best as cracks in the "fourth wall".  (The comic
soliloquies, especially Benedick's, even allow a degree of direct, if
silent, audience interplay.)  Assuming that Shakespeare intended this,
that would seem to send us to the "interior monologue" theory, though I
suspect that Shakespeare himself, faced with the direct question, would
very likely respond by hurling an inkwell at the impertinent seeker.

At any rate, to the immediate point:  we do not, in fact, know that
Claudius, et al., hear "To be"; we do know, on the other hand, that
Claudius does not hear "Now might I do it pat".

On the other hand, I grant that there is a progression from, at the one
end, the plain undramatic speechifying of primitive drama, whether in
early Aeschylus (or, one supposes, Thespis) or in pageants of the Seven
Deadly Sins, to, on the other, echo-chambered voice-overs in film and
television and "cloud" thought-balloons in comic books.  But the
question is:  Where on that progression do we find Shakespeare?  I
should put him rather near the latter end, myself.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tue Sorensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 30 Apr 2003 00:41:54 +0200
Subject: 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0804 Hirsh and "To Be"

Marcia Eppich-Harris wrote:

>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.

If I were you I would get used to assuming that virtually everything
Shakespeare writes is directed at multiple people and their multiple
mindsets. A good line of Hamlet's to be constantly mindful of is "O,
'tis most sweet when in one line two crafts directly meet." In my view,
this attitude pretty much sums up Shakespeare's entire method of
working. All the works are rife with double meanings, which will speak
differently to different listeners (which is why a vast library of
Shakespeare criticism has accumulated). Shakespeare is aware of this
and, as he made it his habit, he manages to manipulate the audience and
the characters in the play at the very same time. As with the "To be or
not to be" speech. It is definitely delivered in the knowledge that
there are listeners, and these listeners are both Claudius, Polonius,
Ophelia *and* the theatre audience. The words are manipulative in that
the entire soliloquy has at least two major, distinct and quite
different meanings. One - the one usually glossed - is the melancholy
contemplation of whether existence is worthwhile or not (this is what
Claudius and Polonius and of course much of the audience hear), and the
other, I believe, is a philosophical consideration of and a powerful
instigation to rebellious action (this is Hamlet's true feelings and
what fuels his passion for revenge). That he can speak his mind and
mislead his enemies at the very same time is a testament to his superior
intellect and cunning.

In my preferred reading, the first "To be" means to let be; to stay
one's hand; to hold off, so that in terms of action the opening line of
the speech comes to mean "Not to act, or to act". Note that at 5.2.220
(in Jenkins' Arden edition) Hamlet resolves his earlier question with
the statement "Let be". He decides, in act 5, *not* to act, although
he's been a ravenous proponent of action throughout the first four acts.
This decision is the wrong one, and leads to Hamlet's being ensnared by
Claudius' trap - the final, fatal duel. Herein lies the trademark
warning of the tragedy: Failure to take righteous action when we ought
to, will be our undoing.

Ultimately Shakespeare's greatest skill lies in using words to
manipulate the audience by playing on many different meanings. He
doesn't offer one story per play, but many stories which make sense from
many different points of view. In my judgment, this is a technique he
consciously developed in order to hide layers of radical poetic meaning
which would only gradually emerge over a very long history of
performance and textual analysis, effectively entrenching the heart of
his mystery. This is perhaps not a widely held belief among
Shakespeareans, but I think Shakespeare was smarter than us, and worked
from a much bigger perspective than we tend to imagine, even four
hundred years removed. The grand principles of universally relevant
literary devices and structural elements were his to play with, and he
put them to the best possible use.

- Tue Sorensen

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 22:43:38 EDT
Subject: 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0813 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

Markus Marti suggests: "Another, even more private "soliloquy" in this
play, Claudius' prayer in 3.3, is overheard by Hamlet."

Markus, I must tell you that I have never believed this to be so. In
fact, my copy of Hamlet indicates that he enters only after Claudius'
last line: "All may be well." Had Hamlet heard the entire confession he
might have been willing to "do it pat" given the sense of Claudius'
inability to achieve true repentance.

As for the "To be" soliloquy, it is the only soliloquy in the play that
seems singularly misplaced, though where better to place it I do not
know, perhaps at the end of 5.1. Every other soliloquy is an exquisite
gem in a perfect setting, giving us an insight to an event which has
and/or may occur. They tell us his thoughts, reactions, plans, and do it
in excellently.

The "To be" soliloquy seems out of place, almost an afterthought. If
Hamlet indeed knows he is being overheard, and this is certainly
disputable, one might expect him to more cleverly use the opportunity,
perhaps as a "bait of falsehood" or "fetch of warrant" in further
preparation of capturing the king's conscience. Instead he gives us his
thoughts on life and death; interesting, compelling, (infamous to
generations of students) but nothing really germane to the action of the
*overheard* moment.

Sincerely,
Jay Feldman

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