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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: Hamlet and Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0873  Thursday, 8 May 2003

From:           Claude Casper <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 May 2003 11:25:28 -0400
Subject: 14.0852 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest's Histoires
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0852 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest's Histoires
Tragiques (1576)

>Again, I say to the SHAKSPER list, read Grebanier.  His revelation of
>Will Shakespeare's indebtedness to Belleforest's HT is astounding!  I am
>almost finished with my reading of Grebanier after four decades, and my
>memory served me well.  If anything it has reestablished in my mind the
>thought that Shakespeare was more the genius for this play than anything
>else he put pen to: namely, it IS a play about the human mind!  If you
>want madness, you have Ophelia.  If you want deception, you have
>Polonius.  If you want an accomplice, you have Gertrude.  If you want an
>early Macbeth, and daggers before his eyes, you have Claudius.
>
>If you want Reason, you have Hamlet.

This seems very Greek, but not Shakespeare. You have had "established"
in your mind a program that is congenial because it claims to resolve
all questions, though for some it does this only be ignoring what does
not compute. We see the contours of a human mind in your comments, but
it is Grebanier's, not Shakespeare's.  This works, to a degree, for the
Classic model, but fails, like it or not, currently. For the Greeks,
(and here I must ludicrously compress or say nothing) emotions, virtues,
vices, in a word, essences, are all discreet, never combined.  Socrates
likens them to fingers on a hand that in sum comprise the hand- but,
each finger is separate and if necessary could be amputated whilst the
hand would remain more or less intact.  But, alas, real emotions, modern
emotions like the ones we experience everyday, are never discreet, are
always mixed, compounded, confused. Remove the love from our hatred and
what remains, our benevolence from our greed, kindness from
self-serving!- But, that is far too simple you say correctly, there are
not just two poles to our emotions, but Hydra headed beasts that can't
be counted.  The simplest decision is rife with myriad emotions that
loose the name of action in contemplation.  And, there is the interplay
between their value for the individual verses the establishment, the
collective society.  What is a virtue for the individual may be a vice
for the community.  And, as a rule, vs. the Greeks who weighed
everything from the point of view of the society; someone banished from
their city often choose death to luxurious life abroad, since there was
no life outside one's polis; and, felt the purity of essences such that
a flaw or vice was never confused with a virtue and was equally
insidious for the individual & the collective. Shakespeare's invention
is that modern human nature often finds individual virtues at odds with
society's values such that one is doomed by the implication of one's
gifts, not one's vices. Hamlet is more intelligent than anyone else, and
just one of his "flaws" is that he considers everything, from all points
of view, and this overwhelms.  He is not reasonable!- I have to say, out
of justice, that you wrong the rest of the cast of characters woefully
to reduce these fascinating beings of many facets to one dimensional
placards. Grebanier has seen his karma in the face, as he withers in the
dustbin of scholarship as these characters become more alive everyday.

Now, each character you have delimitated as representing a single
essence does NOT in fact do so.  Only someone who has not read anything
in 30 ears could say that without smiling!- This is a Cliff Notes
shorthand suitable for high school- or this is imposed by someone with
an Aristotelian preconception, namely Grebanier, who interprets
Shakespeare within the tradition of Greek tragedy.  Let's simply take
Hamlet as our example!  Reason?  Isn't he also, rash, hypocritical,
irresponsible, selfish, cruel, irrational, as well, at times?  When or
where, exactly, is he pure Reason?  He is a walking contradiction.  Now,
I have no problem with that, but Grebanier does, because no Greek tragic
hero could be so self-contradictory.  Hamlet's acceptance of his own
multiplicity is what is so enticing, so easy to identify with.  Don't we
all feel this is about how we have felt?  He allows himself to grow, to
morph, before our eyes, not locked in the rigidity of a preconceived
essence- he is too intelligent to be reasonable, he acts out so he can
experience himself, discover who he is: we see Becalming, not Being.
"It is not wisdom only to be wise."  This is why a new, a modern, tragic
sense has entered through Shakespeare that requires a deeper
understanding, not just of Shakespeare, but of his observation of
modernity, modern consciousness.

I have to say that if this was a class on Greek culture you would find
me, without contradiction, revealing my deepest love & sympathy.  The
issue is the difference between.  One doesn't have to choose, just
understand.

I can't resist Santayana's keen observation on theatre and art at large
[from my palsied memory], however related or unrelated you may find this
in the present context: "The emotions most movingly portrayed are ones
no one has ever felt."

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