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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0935  Wednesday, 14 May 2003

[1]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 May 2003 08:55:58 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0917 Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Paul Swanson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 13 May 2003 23:00:55 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0917 Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Shurgot <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 May 2003 08:55:58 -0700
Subject: 14.0917 Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0917 Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet

Dear Colleagues:

Tony Burton's remarks (5/13) on Paul Swanson's earlier post is a bit
confusing, and I suggest needs clarification. First, the First Player's
Pyrrhus speech is not "scripted": he has that memorized, and yes Hamlet
is initially quite upset that the player is apparently more "moved" than
he is.  (See esp. Emrys James as 1st Player in the BBC Hamlet).
However, there is considerable anger in Hamlet's following soliloquy; is
not this the soliloquy of a man moved to real anger at himself by what
he has heard?  Second, Hamlet is way too moved by Gonzago; as H. R.
Coursen and M. R.  Woodhead have demonstrated clearly, Hamlet blows his
cover, upsets the whole "script" he has apparently revised, and tells
the whole court that he plans to kill the king: "...Lucianus, nephew to
the King" (i.e. not Duke, as the "script" of Gonzago would have it), so
Mousetrap becomes an image of a past event (killing Hamlet Sr.) and a
prediction of a future (killing Claudius).

I admit that I have not read Grebanier since grad school in the early
70's, but does not the script make clear that Hamlet is struggling with
why HE has been called on to right a wrong by killing a King, exactly
Claudius's crime?  ("O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it
right.") Etc. There is revenge, and there is philosophy; Hamlet has much
of the latter, ponders the nature and fate of human kind, especially his
"god-like" reason, and has trouble fitting the former into the latter.
Do we really admire people who just run out and kill?

Lest this become a boring, third-rate mini-lecture to my betters,
enough.  And aren't we being rated this week? Woodhead's essay is in Sh.
Survey (32-1979); and Coursen's essay is in Sh. Performance as
Interpretation (Delaware, 1992). I have dabbled in the Mousetrap, but
with deep bows to Woodhead and Coursen.

Best wishes,
Michael Shurgot

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Swanson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 13 May 2003 23:00:55 EDT
Subject: 14.0917 Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0917 Re: Performances and Audiences in Hamlet

Tony Burton responds to one of my comments about performances and
audiences in "Hamlet" by saying that "It doesn't lead smoothly, however,
to Swanson's further remark, that "In each performance, however, both
Hamlet and Claudius respectively are 'touched,' drawing a clear parallel
between their characters."

Tony, I think, perhaps points out my imprecise language here, and I
appreciate his point and thank him for his response. Allow me to clarify
my argument that the performances in "The Mousetrap" and "The Murder of
Priam" draw startling parallels between Hamlet and Claudius.

What I think I should have said was that these performances each
accentuate the moral guilt hanging over both Claudius and Hamlet and
their respective frustrations with their own feelings. For Claudius,
obviously, the guilt -- elicited from "The Mousetrap" performance --
stems from his murderous action. For Hamlet, the "Priam" speech reveals
his guilt for his unfilial INaction.

This inaction is even echoed by Claudius as he attempts to pray after
"The Mousetrap":

Pray can I not
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my stronger intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect (3.3.38-43).

Whether or not this is a case of "like father, like son," I know not.
But we can clearly see that the two characters replicate both moral
guilt and a powerful inability to achieve a desired action.

Paul Swanson

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