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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: June ::
Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1023  Saturday, 31 May 2003

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 May 2003 09:48:20 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[2]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 May 2003 10:55:45 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 23 May 2003 14:13:00 -0400
        Subj:   Hamlet and Belleforest

[4]     From:   Steve Roth <
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        Date:   Sunday, 25 May 2003 09:13:25 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 23 May 2003 09:48:20 -0500
Subject: 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

Sean Lawrence, responding to Larry Weiss, writes,

>>The audience certainly gets that (at least subliminally) from
>>being told that Laertes has been in Paris sufficiently long to have
>>possibly picked up some bad habits.
>
>On the whole, I think that you're right, but nothing says that Laertes
>has to have been in Paris long enough to have "possibly picked up some
>bad habits".  He might just be over-indulging in frosh-week activities.

I would like this idea (or perhaps that it would take Laertes some time
to acquire true student habits-drinking to excess, sleeping in, cutting
class) except that he himself insists that he is an old hand: "My dread
lord, / Your leave and favor to return to France . . .  My thoughts and
wishes bend again toward France." How long he has been a student of
French learning we don't know but we can presume that his experience in
Paris was probably more diverse (not to say spiritually fulfilling) than
Hamlet's in Wittenberg.

The key to assuming a substantial time lapse between 1, 5 and 2, 1 (the
dating supplied by Hamlet being very erratic, even when corrected by
others) derives from the fact that Polonius is sending him money but not
grumbling about it. Sensible parents know that their student-son cannot
possibly live within his allowance, so they anticipate his repeated
requests for more money by budgeting them in (without telling the son
they are doing so).  Since Polonius expresses no surprise or annoyance
at his son's economic need, we can safely assume a lag of several weeks
before he sends a supplement to the money we likewise assume Laertes
took with him.

Chris Ferns comments on "Ophelia's report of Hamlet's visit to her" to
the effect that " Hamlet [is] simply following the conventional script
for heartsick lovers [as per AYLI, Chaucer's Knight's Tale and a million
other sources] . . . [and] Polonius, always prone to take convention at
face value, falls for the performance hook, line, and sinker ("This is
the very ecstasy of love")."

Yes, but I didn't think that it was only a convention for heartsick
lovers.  That is, I thought that lovers were "comic" (or at least
strange) because they became like madmen, including wandering around
talking to themselves and wearing their clothes undone. Hamlet begins
acting like a lunatic;
Polonius associates his lunatic behavior with Ophelia's sudden rejection
of his suit, and deduces that Hamlet is enduring the "very ecstasy of
love." Whether Hamlet intended to suggest love-melancholy, or what we
would now call schizophrenia, is never clearly stated.

Probably it doesn't matter.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Friday, 23 May 2003 10:55:45 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

"Rather than imitating the Ghost (or his reaction to it), isn't Hamlet
simply following the conventional script for heartsick lovers..."

This (non)scene is one of the places Shakespeare shows his brilliance as
dramatist as much as a poet. First off, as Olivier showed, actually
acting out such cues as "a little shaking of mine arm" leads to chuckles
rather than sympathy. But more important, by reporting the scene rather
than presenting it, the veracity of what Ophelia saw must remain ever
ambiguous. I have no doubt that Ophelia was terrified and perceived
madness and lovesickness. But whether Hamlet is acting or displaying one
of the first (in some worlds) bouts of true madness is impossible to
tell. If it were staged, every actor would have to decide and that would
influence the rest of the play.

Annalisa Castaldo

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 23 May 2003 14:13:00 -0400
Subject:        Hamlet and Belleforest

Chris Ferns quotes from part of 2.2.79ff and asks:

"Rather than imitating the Ghost (or his reaction to it), isn't Hamlet
simply following the conventional script for heartsick lovers which
Rosalind mockingly describes in As You Like It - likely written the
previous year?"

It's not an either/or situation. Hamlet's appearance before Ophelia
mimics the melancholy man, the lover, and the madman, as well as
reinacting both the ghost and Hamlet's reaction to it. It's a bravura,
multi-valent performance that Hamlet gives, much in keeping with a play
whose focus is on ACTING and its difficulties.

His conscious intentions I take to be two: to test Ophelia (Will she go
to her father? Alas, she will. If she does, her report will provide
Hamlet with a means to show his "love madness.") But another reason for
this action is Hamlet's compulsion to reinact both the ghost's visit and
its effect on himself. (He has been infected by the ghost, and he passes
this disease on to Ophelia, who, in turn, becomes infected and finally
goes insane and dies.)

In fact, many of Hamlet's actions not only seem to contradict what he
says but are themselves done for more than one reason. For example, it's
clear that Hamlet goes to see his mother in her closet 1) because he has
been told to do so by Polonius; and 2) because he wants to make his
mother repent of her supposed misdeeds. But there's also another reason:

        "'Tis now the very witching time of night,
        When churchyears yawn and hell itself breathes out
        contagion to the world."  (3.2.387-89)

Hamlet also wants to test the ghost one more time. It's midnight-the
very time the ghost walks abroad. And Hamlet is expressly going against
the ghost's command to "leave thy mother to heaven."

Throughout _Hamlet_, actions have multiple causes and multiple effects;
some of these causes and effects are consciously calculated, but others
are not.

Best,
--Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Roth <
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Date:           Sunday, 25 May 2003 09:13:25 -0700
Subject: 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1014 Re: Hamlet and Belleforest

Sean Lawrence:

>nothing says that Laertes
>has to have been in Paris long enough to have "possibly picked up some
>bad habits".  He might just be over-indulging in frosh-week activities.

He's been gone two months. Ophelia's "twice two months" line makes this
clear.

Chris Ferns:

>isn't Hamlet
>simply following the conventional script for heartsick lovers which
>Rosalind mockingly describes in As You Like It - likely written the
>previous year?
>
>And Polonius, always prone to take convention at face value, falls for
>the performance hook, line, and sinker ("This is the very ecstasy of
>love"). Given Polonius' approval of Hamlet's performance of the
>over-the-top rhetoric of "The rugged Pyrrhus" speech, it would seem that
>Hamlet was in fact judging his intended audience rather well.

Well thought! Isn't it likely that in these actions that a man might
play, Hamlet is putting a disposition on? First comment I've heard
suggesting that even in Ophelia's closet, Hamlet's playing the great
game. I like it.

Steve
http://princehamlet.com

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