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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: May ::
Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0990  Tuesday, 20 May 2003

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Monday, 19 May 2003 13:07:54 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0969 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[2]     From:   Edward Pixley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 May 2003 09:03:51 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0969 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Monday, 19 May 2003 13:07:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.0969 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0969 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

"With respect to Ms. Castaldo's last post, I recall an argument that Old
Hamlet is actually in Purgatory because Claudius has murdered him before
Old Hamlet has had an opportunity to repent and be absolved his most
recent sins."

This is exactly right, and I should have clarified my point. Most views
of Purgatory fall into two camps: that the punishments are exactly like
Hell, but finite, or that they are specific to the sins committed while
alive. If the former, Hamlet is faced with the fact that, as a murderer,
he too will suffer like his father, but without end. If the latter,
Hamlet is faced with the much more upsetting thought that his fate after
death will be a great deal worse (true, we don't know what kind of sins
Old Hamlet committed, but we do know that Hamlet worshipped his father,
and since it is his emotional state we are interested in, we can assume
Hamlet would believe his father did not deserve much in the way of
"purging").

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Pixley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 May 2003 09:03:51 -0400
Subject: 14.0969 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0969 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

>>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.

>What? Gradually revealed?
>
>It seems to me that the only dramatic purpose of the oft-cut dialogue
>between Polonius and Reynaldo at the beginning of Act II is to reveal,
>suddenly, that a substantial time has elapsed since Hamlet said he would
>"swoop to [his] revenge."

Larry:   OK, I won't quibble over the level of the revelation.  We are
agreed on the scene's purpose.  On the other hand, to quibble, since
Shakespeare details no specific lapse of time, I hope you would agree
that we have to infer the time-lapse from the evidence.  Moreover, since
time-lapse is not the focus of the Polonius/Reynaldo conversation, but
rather Polonius's convoluted plot to spy on his son to test whether he
is following his father's recently given advice, most audience members
are unlikely to leap on the time-lapse as the most important information
to be gleaned from the scene -- a fact that is supported, it seems to
me, by the paucity of discussion of this point in the Hamlet
commentaries.  Since most of the critics don't seem to have noticed it,
why should we expect "mere" audiences to grasp it.  If, however, we are
dramatically (rather than exegetically) focused and are sincerely
waiting for Hamlet to -- as you aptly point out -- "swoop to [his]
revenge," this delay is going to puzzle and maybe even disturb us.  When
all the subsequent reminders of the delay are piled on through the rest
of Act II, the frustration builds.  Hamlet's blatant inactivity when he
finally does appear seems a grotesque denial of his resolve  -- [Oh, how
I have come to loathe that word-- but, Polonius-like, I digress].  Thus,
Shakespeare has so beautifully prepared us to reconnect with Hamlet
when, at the end of the act, he anguishes over the same question that
the whole act has been designed to raise:  why hasn't Hamlet done
anything.

So, Larry, that's why I refer to the time-lapse as a gradually revealed
inference.  It doesn't begin:  [Elsinore -- two months later].  We come
to know it by the evidence.  Not until Act III does Ophelia pin down the
lapse of time with "Nay, 'tis twice two months, my Lord."

Ed Pixley

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