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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: December ::
Belatedness of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2392  Thursday, 18 December 2003

From:           Dana Wilson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Dec 2003 09:22:39 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Belatedness of Hamlet

Below is the Hamlet thesis on which I am working.  I think the case
needs more predication, or at least better editorial arrangement.

Can anyone help?

Thanks,
DEW

Belatedness of Hamlet

My thesis is that Belatedness is to blame for the tragedy of Hamlet.  By
Belatedness, I mean the 'poetical belatedness' of Harold Bloom.

The word late appears 11 times in the H text.  The first 2 mean 'dead'
and the last 2 mean 'belated'.  Of the remaining 7, 6 mean 'recent'.
However, the 7th usage of 'late' occurs in Act II, sc ii ln 341.  There
Rosencrantz refers to 'late innovation', and I would argue that this
ought to be rendered as 'belated revision'.

There are four places in the play where H revises a text.   In no
particular order:

1) H revises the text of the play-within-the-play
2) H revises the letter of execution sent to England
3) H revises the letter rcvd by Claudius in Act IV sc ii, which I infer
from the fact that C recognizes only "naked" and "alone" to be from H's
hand
4) The highly parsed reading of H's letter to Ophelia made by Polonius
in Act II, sc ii, leads me to believe that this is also a revised text.

On this basis, I conclude that Rosencrantz is chastising H, saying that
the Players have lost their position in the city because of H's belated
revisions.

Now time is very important in Shakespeare but it is especially important
in Hamlet.

The word 'hour' appears 10 times in reference to 12 hours, 4 hours, 2
hours, and hourly.   I would suggest that this is because the OED is
itself in contradiction as to how long a 'watch' is.   Or rather that
the length of a watch depends on what type of 'watch' it is, and this
confusion enters into the text thru the several uses of the term 'watch'
in Act I.

Furthermore, in addition to 'watches' which are by an measure divisions
of a day.   The term or period of a day is also important to the text.
As when Laertes urges Ophelia to write daily, or when Marcellus asks why
cannons are daily cast.

This last example raises a further confusion based on the term 'cast',
because in the sonnets Shakespeare uses the casting of bronze as a trope
for eternity, 'memorials cast in eternal brass', but in Hamlet casting
of bronze is a daily event.  Alt, 'casting' could be a trope meaning 'to
fire or discharge' in which case one would generally associate cannon
salute with special occasions, such as the visitation of dignitaries or
holidays, such as when cannon are sounded on the 4th of July.

This shows that there are "wheels within wheels" or cycles within cycles
which expire at different intervals, and this is illuminated by a
reading of sonnet 45, "I have 2 quick and 2 heavy elements".

Furthermore, in sonnet 51, the author laments "What does it matter how
hard I drive my horse for though he had wings I should be too late."

This in my opinion goes to the idea of a wit, as someone who has only a
single tick, or wit, in which to make an answer, which returns us to the
'tyrannical minutes' of which H writes.

There are two occurrences of 'minute' in the text.  One is in reference
to the watchmen, who might reasonably be expected to have instruments
subtle enough to measure to a minute (Although I prefer to doubt this
and their own words seem to imply that there watches are accurate only
to an hour).

The other use of 'minute' is by Laertes to Ophelia, and for my insight
on this point I am deeply indebted to Harold Bloom.  HB points out that
Ophelia is the only char in the text whose name has a Greek root.
Therefore, if we assume as HB does, that she knew Greek, she would know
that a minute was a 60th part.  However, she would not necessarily know
of an instrument capable of measuring time to a sixtieth part of an
hour.  Therefore, she might have supposed that L meant that H's faction
was to be accounted as composing only a 60th part of the army or state,
which caused her greatly to depreciate him.   Alternately, it might have
been she thought his was to be one of only 60 hands allowed to revise a
text, which is why his words came thru to her in such a corrupt form.

Finally, having identified a series of concentric periods ranging from a
minute up to a journey by horse. One should point out a greater cycle
still.   If posting a letter to another town is a long cycle, then
posting a letter to another country is longer still, this would
correspond to H's trip to England, and might also explain why H didn't
have time to verify the reports of R&G and to clarify the position of
the players before the denouement.  I believe that this last theme,
appears in numerous places in the sonnets as the longing for home, the
paralysis of waiting, the feelings of estrangement that come from
foreign embassies.

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