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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: Hamlet and Grebanier
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0970  Monday, 19 May 2003

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 May 2003 08:35:41 -0400
        Subj:   Hamlet and Grebanier

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Sunday, 18 May 2003 05:54:47 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Bernard Grebanier, Shakespeare's Hamlet Scholar

From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 16 May 2003 08:35:41 -0400
Subject:        Hamlet and Grebanier

Bill Arnold wrote the following to me yesterday:

"Excuse me.  Are we not SHAKSPEReans?  And you would deny Grebanier his
day in court?  My God, Sir, he wrote a whole book on the subject: answer
to the critics, brilliant and definitive interpretation, footnotes,
index--the Whole Enchilada!  If you have even the remotest interest in
the subject of Hamlet, why do you not just read it?"

I don't understand Bill's response. I don't want to deny Grebanier his
day in court. I asked Bill what he had to say. Moreover, his book is not
in the Marshall library, and, I suspect, not in many others. So why is
it so out of line to ask for a short summary of his argument?

I try not to get angry at fellow SHAKSPERIANS, but this takes the cake!

What a pompous ass you are, Arnold!

--Ed Taft

From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Sunday, 18 May 2003 05:54:47 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Bernard Grebanier, Shakespeare's Hamlet Scholar

I begin this thread with: anyone interested in Shakespeare's Hamlet
ought to read Grebanier.  He is a delight to behold.  He got the
interpretation right.  There cannot be mutually-exclusive
interpretations, inasmuch as such a fiasco makes a mockery of the genius
of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the play and the character.

Grebanier's presentation about the confusion surrounding the play's
interpretation is lucid, and to me, right on.  He spares no mole hills
as he attacks the mountains of inadequate exegeses.  The conflicted
debate about Hamlet's sanity and his cause for delay are legendary,
according to Grebanier.  He addresses both, and his book answers all who
raise questions about each.  Shakespearean scholars should take note, in
my humble opinion as a reader of the play, put succintly: what
Schoenbaum is to Shakespeare's biography, Grebanier is to Shakespeare's

Indeed, the same misguided logic of the anti-Stradfordians motivates
some critics of Shakespeare's Hamlet, which Grebanier enumerated in
detail and I surmise as: anti-Hamletians.  It is no doubt a shame that
at the hands of the critics, Shakespeare's greatest play suffers the

Grebanier wrote: "Whatever difficulties Hamlet now presents emanate
largely, though not entirely, from the confusion attending the
interpretation of its hero's character and objectives.  No other play of
Shakespeare's revolves so completely about the central character as does
this.  To see Hamlet otherwise than as Shakespeare intended him to be is
to mistake the meaning of the entire play.  It is a great misfortune
that the commentators, with the best will in the world, have fairly
succeeded in obfuscating the dramatist's intentions [55]."

Grebanier also wrote, and anticipated with brilliance the advent of the
internet and message boards: "There is something absurd about the
contempt of academic scholars, which is as great as a woman's for last
year's fashion in dresses, for any speculations older than a couple of
decades.  The pseudo-scientific search for newer facts about sources,
dates, editions, and historical analogies thus would rate only the
newest crop unearthed as possessing value.  Professional scholars seem
often more interested in answering one another than in writintg their
learned articles to enrich anyone else's experience of literature [57]."

Hear, here [sic]!: I might add :)

Grebanier noted: "It is a state of mind that unhappily cooperates with
prevailing conditions in the academic wortld.  College professors of
English are expected intermittently to turn out 'learned articles' in
order to maintain their jobs or advance their salaries.  The result is
that they seem mutually to have agreed to operate in a hermetically
sealed chamber from which the general public is excluded--too often the
poets they write about are excluded too [57-58]."

Ultimately, on the point of whether or not it is in the realm of
possibility to resolve the question of Hamlet's sanity and his cause for
delay, Grebanier added: "It should be remembered, to begin with, that
there was not always a 'Hamlet problem.'  The vogue of finding one did
not commence until the eighteenth century, when the drama was nearly a
century and a half old...An able study of older Hamlet criticism clearly
proves that the play was widely known throughout the seventeenth century
(at the opening of which it was written), but nowhere implies that
during that popularity there was any doubt as to the meaning of the
play...No student of the scholarship on the play can fail observing how
much each age and intellectual climate have perverted this masterwork to
suit the prejudices of the epoch.  Shaftesbury praises Hamlet for
conforming to standards Shakespeare never dreamt of considering.
Johnson raps its author over the knuckles for failing to meet much the
same standards.  Goethe makes its hero another Werther, Coleridge an
early-nineteenth-century Romantic, the Germans make him very German, and
the Freudians into a perfect candidate for the clinical couch [60]."

And what about the doctors, the medical men who have seized the day with
the play?  Grebanier wrote: "In the seventeen-forties Aaron Hill
observed that 'besides Hamlet's assumed insanity, there was in him a
melancholy, which bordered on madness'--melancholy being at the time as
fashionable a 'disease' as allergies are today...the earliest
expression['s' omitted] advancing the theory of Hamlet's mental
illness...the medicos have been busy with Hamlet, eager to prove him
insane.  It is an inviting theory, for it comfortably explains in
anyone's conduct whatever seems otherwise difficult of explanation.  In
Hamlet's case (and the doctors have made it a case!), it would cozily
leave nothing to be accounted for [65-66]."

Grebanier defended his own criticism of Shakespeare's Hamlet in a brief
sentence: "Criticism and discussion are defensible only to the extent
that they can enrich the experience of the work of art [47]."

And Grebanier's motivation was, and still is, for all us: getting the
interpretation right, getting to the Heart of Hamlet: The Play
Shakespeare Wrote.  SHAKSPEReans expect Hamlet as a drama to be
staged--and read--with some semblance of the reality of the play
Shakespeare penned!  Gosh, I hope that is true!  It is for me.
Directors and actors, Grebanier noted [9-13]--and I argue, readers
especially--ought to want to get their interpretation right.  And I, as
a reader, believe Grebanier got IT right: the interpretation!

In summation, I would note that several centuries worth of anti-Hamlet
confusion at the hands of critics is, indeed, enough.  If Grebanier put
into words for all times a contextual approach to the play Hamlet and
the character Hamlet, and his apparatus is cogent and precise and right
on, and available to any with library access, then it stands to reason
that Grebanier's The Heart of Hamlet: The Play Shakespeare Wrote is
integral to any discussion of the play and the character.

Bill Arnold

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