Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0946  Thursday, 15 May 2003

[1]     From:   Claude Casper <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 14 May 2003 10:31:20 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[2]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 14 May 2003 13:28:14 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft<
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 14 May 2003 14:00:36 -0400
        Subj:   Hamlet and Belleforest

[4]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 15 May 2003 04:52:13 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[5]     From:   Edward Pixley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 14 May 2003 17:12:47 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0918 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[6]     From:   Jay Feldman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Thursday, 15 May 2003 04:50:35 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Casper <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 14 May 2003 10:31:20 -0400
Subject: 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

>Was he the embodiment of Reason, with a dash of rashness thrown in as a
>youthful man, to be sure, or not?  Of scholars I have read so far, only
>Grebanier answers this pivotal question about the play Hamlet and the
>character Hamlet to my
>personal satisfaction.  Sorry about that, that I am into this Hamlet
>question, for my personal satisfaction.  But I do awake nights and am
>confronted by the ghost of Hamlet who is annoyed with the scholars take on
>him.. Grebanier, not a matador to duck the horns of the bull, wrote: "The
>truth is--why should we long hesitate to say so?--that in Hamlet as
>Shakespeare wrote it, the hero is neither mad nor feigns insanity at any
>time.  He is perfectly sane and never pretends to be otherwise.  Of this the
>evidence will be presented hereafter [page 80: ergo, his book: The Heart of
>Hamlet: The Play Shakespeare Wrote].". Now, as a reader of Shakespeare's
>Hamlet, I submit that that is as precise a statement from a Shakespeare
>scholar as one can get about the sanity question of our hero Hamlet, is it
>not?

We concede that no one can be as "precise" as a German scholar.

Hamlet, ".the embodiment of Reason, with a dash of rashness thrown in as
a youthful man."  I must have missed the sequel, "Hamlet, the later
years." We see Hamlet for several months with more than a dash of rash,
though this may be referring to the time he was giggling at Yorick's
antics.  I am confused.  Was he the embodiment of Reason before or after
we know him?  Can anyone make the case for a single scene in which
Hamlet is embodied Reason, and not a complex (un-Greek) & conflicted
personality on immense intelligence, which is what is being really
confused with reason. Doesn't his actions [always?] counter his
intentions? Is he ever a man of his Word?  Even in the famous
transformation of the last Act, though sea-changed, he is not one
essence, and not reasonable.  Resignation, or acceptance, or surrender,
or absence of ambition, is not Reason, and his last acts are spontaneous
and disastrous, everything left to Chance.

Hamlet, ".perfectly sane."  Again, if you can stop laughing for a
moment, notice the absoluteness, the Greekness, of the state.  I am not
sure one can make out a case for proximate sanity, at the same time
accepting Hamlet feigns madness, though that strategy is itself
symptomatic.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 14 May 2003 13:28:14 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

It is true that it has been years since I read Grebanier and I am
therefore certainly missing the details of the argument. So I apologize
if I simplified or overreacted.

But then Bill Arnold writes: "OK: having said all this, it seems that
interpretation is key to this question.  So, we either agree with
Grebanier's premise or not, and that is that what SHAKSPEReans should be
interested in is, as per his title and sub-title: The Heart of Hamlet,
The Play Shakespeare Wrote."

Annalisa Castaldo

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft<
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 14 May 2003 14:00:36 -0400
Subject:        Hamlet and Belleforest

Bill Arnold writes:

"Again, as stated before, my whole point in introducing this thread was
to resolve what for me is the main question about Hamlet, was he insane
or not?  Was he feigning insanity or not? "

Apparently Grebanier provides an answer of which Bill approves:
"[Hamlet] is neither mad nor feigns insanity at any time." Maybe Bill
could explain briefly, for those of us who have not read Grebanier, how
he arrives at these conclusions.

I would be particularly interested in Grebanier's interpretation because
it appears clear to me that this question is capable of no simple, final
answer. In fact, it seems to me that Ophelia's report of Hamlet's visit
to her (2.79-102) strongly suggests that Hamlet either was mad or, more
likely, was pretending to be mad when he 'appeared" to her in the
likeness of a ghost from hell. According to Ophelia, Hamlet came before
her,

        "Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other,
        And with a look so piteous in purport
        As if he had been loosed out of hell
        To speak of horrors. . . ."  (83-86).

In this reported encounter, Hamlet reenacts, perhaps without fully
knowing it, both the part of the ghost and his own fearful reaction to
it.

Moreover, Hamlet's actions from 4.4 on present a real quandary to the
careful reader. On the one hand, he engages in some risky actions:
boarding the pirate ship, jumping into Ophelia's grave, and so on. On
the other, he seems sometimes to be possessed of a preternatural calm,
as when he tells Horatio in the beginning and the middle of 5.2. about
his recent adventures.

The problem, of course, is what to make of Hamlet all throughout act 5.
I suppose we could see him as confidently guided by Providence. On the
other hand, we could easily decide that he has truly gone insane,
perhaps because he cannot solve the central question of the play, "Who's
there?" (1.1.1).

If Grebanier has cut through all of these difficulties in some
persuasive, objective way,  I'd be happy to hear about it.

--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 15 May 2003 04:52:13 +0800
Subject: 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

Bill Arnold wrote (in reply to Annalisa Castaldo):

"Have you read Grebanier?  He certainly would not have agreed with you
that "Hamlet himself clearly feels he is slacking (and so does the Ghost
'thy almost blunted purpose') and talks about it endlessly."

I must apologize for not actually having read Grebanier - unfortunately
I do not have access to his book at the moment. Nonetheless, I am
intrigued by this statement by Bill Arnold. If Hamlet was not chiding
himself for delaying his revenge, during his two long soliloquies (Act
II Sc 2 and Act IV Sc 4), what was he doing then? What does Grebanier
understand as the meaning of statements like these?:

"Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing - no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damned defeat was made. Am I a coward?
Who calls me a villain, breaks my pate across,
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face,
Tweaks me by the nose, gives me the lie i'th'throat
As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this?
Ha!
Swonds, I should take it; for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should ha'fatted all the region kites
With this slave's offal. Bloody, bawdy villain!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murdered,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must like a whore unpack my heart with words
And fall a-cursing like a very drab,
A scullion! Fie upon't! Foh!"

"Now whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on th'event
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward - I do not know
Why yet I live to say this thing's to do,
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do't."

Call me naive, but these words certainly seem, to me, that Hamlet is
berating himself for being slow on his vengeance. If this is not so,
what do these words mean? What is Grebanier's understanding of all this?
I am particularly interested in Hamlet's delay, so I would truly
appreciate some help in furthering my understanding.

Kenneth Chan

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 14 May 2003 17:12:47 -0400
Subject: 14.0918 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0918 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

>I think Kenneth Chan has pointed out the major flaw in the idea that
>Hamlet doesn't delay. Whether or not he jumps to his revenge, Hamlet
>himself clearly feels he is slacking (and so does the Ghost "thy almost
>blunted purpose") and talks about it endlessly. By comparison, Vindice
>of The Revenger's Tragedy has waited (I believe) 7 years for his
>revenge, and doesn't seem at all disturbed.
>
>But what is confusing is that, as the first quote by Grebanier points
>out, if one reads carefully, 2 months seem to have gone by between 1.5
>and 2.1. Shakespeare does not appear to want to make a big deal of this,
>and yet he keeps mentioning it in offhanded ways. Like the fifth act
>specification of Hamlet's age (a move which only confuses the picture),
>I can't help but wonder why the references to a gap exist at all, if we
>are not supposed to pay attention?
>
>Annalisa Castaldo

Thank you Annalisa and Kenneth, both.  As I said some time ago, in a
previous incarnation of this discussion, the first act of Hamlet, in the
good revenge play tradition, sets up Hamlet's need for revenge, both for
himself and for the audience.  After his confrontation with the Ghost,
Hamlet vows to Heaven -- "and shall I couple Hell" -- to "sweep" to his
revenge "on wings as swift as meditation."   This is an expectation that
Act I clearly establishes for any audience that is paying attention..
That is why the Act II delay, which is only gradually revealed to the
audience in ways that we have to infer from the evidence, seems to me
designed to make the audience wonder what's going on with Hamlet's
intention.  In short, why isn't he doing anything?

Shakespeare injects a series of cues to build up these inferences.
First is Polonius's posting of Reynaldo off to Paris to spy on Laertes.
Clearly this posting is not on the next tide after Laertes' departure,
but implies some time gap.  Second is Ophelia's reporting of the effect
created on Hamlet by her avoiding his attention, again implying a time
gap from Polonius's ordering her to stay away from him.  Next,  we find
that the Ambassadors who were sent to Norway have returned -- with their
report complete.  Next we find out that Hamlet's "antic disposition" has
been causing a sufficient stir around the court that Claudius has sent
to Wittenberg for his two schoolfellows to see if their friendship can
be of any help in finding out what's wrong.  Not only have they been
sent for; they have already had time to arrive at court..  This is
followed immediately by Polonius with his diagnosis and proposed
solution to the problem.

Only now, after this whole series of time-delay devices (with no mention
yet of any specific time lapse) do we meet Hamlet.  This character --
whom we had last seen plotting his revenge -- is reading.  How inactive
can one get?  And if that isn't enough, his conversations are silly word
games with Polonius, followed by more potent philosophical word games
with R& G, followed by a private theatrical performance with the First
Player, in which Hamlet does an amateur performance as well as enjoys a
favorite speech from the First Player.

But it is this speech about Hecuba that finally draws out the Hamlet of
Act I.  And what do we learn?  We learn that Hamlet is asking the same
question that we are.  "Why haven't I done it?"  Well, it's about time.
Not only does he ask the question.  In this soliloquy, at the very end
of Act II, he tries to answer it.  His first answer is, "I must be a
coward."   "About my brain," dismisses that answer.  His second answer,
however, gets him moving again, for it provides him direction.  "I don't
trust the Ghost," and so "The play's the thing . . ." now puts him back
on track.  But notice, he is virtually at the same point in his revenge
as he was back in Act I.  By the way, notice that he returns shortly,
proposing yet a third reason why he hasn't done it:  "To be or not to
be, that is the question."

Basically, in this soliloquy he confronts the realization that acting,
committing the revenge, will cause his own death, which will lead to
"that something after death," "the undiscovered country from which no
traveler returns."  And here is where he really answers the question of
Act II, why he hasn't done it: "Thus the native hue of resolution is
sicklied oe'r with the pale cast of thought, and deeds of great pitch
and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name
of action."  And it will take him to Act V to finally work out the fact
that he can't control the event (consequential action, which his
university training had instilled him with) but only himself within the
event (existential action).  "The readiness is all.  Let be."  He tells
Horatio.

He finally works out the basics of his new perception in his final
soliloquy while watching Fortinbras getting ready to fight over a piece
of land not big enough to bury the dead.  The first scene of Act V (the
graveyard) and the first half of Scene ii, with Horatio and Osric,
explore his new perceptions about action and mortality, so that by the
time we hear "the readiness is all," Hamlet's internal struggle is
complete.  The one mistake he has made, of course, is in assuming that
Laertes has gone through a similar struggle and has achieved the same
level of "readiness."  It never occurs to him that Laertes (ignoring
Polonius's famous advice -- "to thine own self be true) will have
allowed himself to become Claudius's foil.  One does not have to read
carefully to notice the time lapse between Acts I and II.  One simply
has to pay attention to the action and hold onto the simple dramatic
issue that we were left with at the end of Act I -- the imminent action
of Hamlet to avenge his father's death.  It is the single most important
event that we have been led to expect, and anything which gets in the
way of advancing that expectation is a complication that must be
surmounted.  As one time delay after another emerges, the complications
mount and seem designed to make our wonder and frustration grow and
shout out, "what's the problem?"  That's why it is such a relief to
discover that Hamlet, if he is not avenging his father, is, at least,
asking the same question we are.

Ed Pixley

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 15 May 2003 04:50:35 EDT
Subject: 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0931 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

Bill Arnold writes:

>So, we either agree with Grebanier's premise or not, and that
>is that what SHAKSPEReans should be interested in ...

I have no problems with Grebanier's premise, it is his argument that I
have not heard, nor your explanation of why you find it so compelling.
However, that may be due to my inattention.

One thing I would like to see is his, or your response to my original
query which went something like:

If Grebanier truly believes: "...that in Hamlet as Shakespeare wrote it,
the hero is neither mad nor feigns insanity at any time.  He is
perfectly sane and never pretends to be otherwise." How come so many
characters in the play seem to feel that Hamlet is mad or transformed?

Sincerely,
Jay Feldman

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.