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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0972  Monday, 19 May 2003

[1]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 May 2003 14:41:39 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

[2]     From:   Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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        Date:   Friday, 16 May 2003 11:35:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

[3]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 17 May 2003 13:09:48 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Friday, 16 May 2003 14:41:39 +0100
Subject: 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

As the meaning of "To be, or not to be" is being fiercely debated once
again, perhaps it would be appropriate to remind people of Rowan
Atkinson's 'Blackadder and Shakespeare' sketch?  The full text is given
in SHK 10.0044.  [Blackadder edits down "To be a victim of all life's
earthly woes, or not to be a coward and take Death by his proffered
hand."]

John Briggs

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:           Friday, 16 May 2003 11:35:56 -0500
Subject: 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

Steve writes:

>The point Hirsh makes (and demonstrates quite convincingly) is that in
>"To be..." Hamlet uses the utterly traditional form of the Elizabethan
>set-speech for duplicitous purposes. Your point is well-taken, but read
>Hirsh and see what you think.

You're right. Hirsh is absolutely convincing, and the reason why is
because he thinks of every possible way to refute him and in effect
"covers his bases." But what I am not convinced about is his explanation
why Claudius and Polonius (and Ophelia) do not react to the "To be"
speech. He says : "By the time the soliloquizer [Hamlet] finally leaves
the stage, another incident, a deeply disturbing incident, has occurred,
and the soliloquy is understandably no longer uppermost in the minds of
the eavesdroppers; it is merely a part of 'what Lord Hamlet said.'"
Additionally, HIrsh claims that the convention of the overheard
soliloquies was so prominent during the Renaissance that it would be
folly to assume that if the playwright did not go to great lengths to
show that the speech had been overheard that it had not, indeed, been
overheard. My response to this claim is to ask: if the convention of the
overheard speeches were so common as Hirsh claims, so common as not to
necessitate commentary within the play, then why would a playwright ever
bother to make mention of it within the context of the play?  It's not
as if Shakespeare were writing these plays for them to be read. He could
have allowed stage techniques to show that the players were meant to
overhear speeches. Yet in every one of Hirsh's other examples -- there
are eight -- Shakespeare very, very obviously points out that the speech
has been overheard. (Like when Malvolio's speech is overheard by Sir
Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, or when Juliet's balcony speech is
overheard by Romeo, for example -- both examples Hirsh uses.)  Why would
Shakespeare bother to point out that these speeches had been overheard
if this were such a convention?

I would argue that because of the examples that Hirsh uses and the
concrete evidence that all of these speeches have been overheard that
Shakespeare would most certainly make more of the fact that Claudius et.
al overheard Hamlet's soliloquy if they had heard it, or if they were
meant to have heard it. I also don't buy Hirsh's explanation for
Hamlet's motivation -- to try to dupe Claudius. It's not as if he needs
to do anything to confuse or throw Claudius off at this moment. He's got
the mousetrap ready to go. What is then is the need?

Here is what I concluded after thinking about it far too much: I think
that Hirsh is right about one thing -- that is we need to look at the
"To be" speech in the context of the play. I noticed that the "To be"
speech follows only 54 lines after the "O what  a rogue and peasant
slave am I" soliloquy, and Hamlet has no other lines between these
speeches. In real time, barring a badly placed intermission, the "To be"
soliloquy would follow about two minutes after "O what a rogue." Maybe
less. Isn't it then possible that the "To be" soliloquy is an extension
of the previous soliloquy -- the more tame and thoughtful version of the
same thing? What puzzled me about the "To be" soliloquy is that there is
no mention of the ghost, even though Hamlet is the most eschatologically
informed person in the play, having spoken to the ghost, he says that
death is a country from whose bourn no traveler returns.  But the ghost
returned. Not in flesh and blood, but he did return nonetheless. If you
look at "O what a rogue," Hamlet talks about his father a lot, but not
in "To be." I think he doesn't need to mention the ghost after having
ranted about it 54 lines previously. His mind IS on the ghost in "to be"
-- after all, why would Hamlet be so queasy about death in 3.1 when his
very first soliloquy (before he even knows about the murder) wishes for
death? He's uneasy about death because he knows his father's fate.

I have a lot more on the subject -- 19 pages -- but I think I'll stop
here for now. If anyone is interested in reading the paper, let me know.

Cheers,
Marcia Eppich-Harris

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Saturday, 17 May 2003 13:09:48 +0100
Subject: 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0960 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

Steve Roth wrote

>read Hirsh and see what you think.

Hirsh's argument about 'To be' is repeated in his paper published in the
proceedings of a conference on Hamlet on Screen held at Shakespeare's
Globe in April 2001. The proceedings appeared in the online journal
EnterText published by Brunel University and are available on the web at

http://www.brunel.ac.uk/faculty/arts/EnterText/hamlet/hamlet.htm

Gabriel Egan

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