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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Hamlet Survey?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0347  Monday, 9 February 2004

[1]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Feb 2004 06:25:22 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[2]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Feb 2004 06:55:13 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[3]     From:   Ken Steele <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Feb 2004 11:08:32 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[4]     From:   Colin Cox <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Feb 2004 04:07:20 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[5]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Feb 2004 07:01:20 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[6]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Friday, 6 Feb 2004 15:49:11 +0100 (CET)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338  Hamlet Survey?

[7]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Feb 2004 11:49:05 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[8]     From:   Norman Hinton <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Feb 2004 11:42:01 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[9]     From:   Mike Sirofchuck <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Feb 2004 08:56:34 -0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[10]     From:  Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Friday, 06 Feb 2004 18:46:05 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

[11]     From:  Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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        Date:   Saturday, 7 Feb 2004 14:49:38 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Feb 2004 06:25:22 -0500
Subject: Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

Hamlet is neither mad, pretending to be mad, pretending to be mad but at
times actually so, a calculating avenger, or a woman in disguise who is
in love with Horatio.

Hamlet is a character in a script, who can be portrayed in performance
as any of the above or more.

The script itself is ambiguous and cannot be relied upon to provide a
reliable, unchangeable, unequivocal, irrefutable, unchallengeable single
answer to the question.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Feb 2004 06:55:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

I would have to go with (d) sometimes mad, sometimes pretend mad. But I
would also have to go with (d) depends on the actor playing Hamlet.

Annalisa Castaldo

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ken Steele <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Feb 2004 11:08:32 -0600
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

Bill Arnold's suggestion of a Hamlet survey caught my attention, and
really disturbed me, perhaps far more than it should have.

Understand that I am not opposed to online survey technologies -- in
fact my company, Academica Group, sells online survey work to
universities and colleges every day, to benchmark and track the
attitudes and perceptions of student applicants and alumni.  I am also
not opposed to the application of quantitative tools to the study of
literature -- my graduate work involved a great deal of
computer-assisted analysis of Shakespeare.

But Bill seems to be advocating literary criticism by public opinion
poll, which I think would be a gross misuse of the quantitative method.
  Polls and surveys can tell us about the opinions and intentions of the
general public or specific demographic or psychographic groups -- which
can be important for predicting elections, launching new consumer
products, or enhancing student recruitment techniques -- but are
completely useless for getting at scientific truth, philosophical depth,
or accurate literary reading.  Particularly where theatre and literature
are concerned, we (of all people) should be conscious that popular
opinion has brought us Roman gladiator fights, wrestling, reality TV and
America's Funniest Home Videos -- but precious little work with the
depth or grace of Shakespeare.

The essence of scholarly debate is to engage in reasoned and
well-supported discussion and allow the best argument to win -- not
necessarily the most popular argument.  The underlying rationale for
tenure and academic freedom is that the truth is often -- perhaps even
usually -- decidedly unpopular with the general public, other academics,
and research funders.  An essential part of an education in the
humanities is to learn to read with a critical eye, evaluating ideas,
consolidating them, and arriving at our own synthesis -- not to abdicate
our responsibility to think for ourselves, by accepting a numeric
measure of popular opinion as the arbiter of truth.

But perhaps I misunderstand -- perhaps Bill Arnold is speaking as a
cultural anthropologist interested in tracking Hamlet's reputation in
contemporary society.  Then, certainly, a survey might provide some
relevant data, if the survey instrument was very carefully constructed
and the sample obtained through valid scientific methods.  But the
methodological hurdles are considerable, in trying to distill a
Shakespearean play, or character, into a multiple-choice question, or
even a series of questions.  There is a reason that Shakespeare courses
are weighted heavily toward essays and essay answers on exams, and not
toward multiple choice questions.

While it would be seductively easy for SHAKSPER to implement online
polling on a whole bevy of questions -- we could engage in a question of
the week, or the day -- it would tell us more about the membership of
this discussion group than about Shakespeare or his works.  We would
learn what percentage of us thinks Hamlet is "none of the above" (count
me in!).  I do not believe we would gain a deeper understanding of Hamlet.

Particularly in the humanities, and the study of literature, statistics
are a starting point but provide little intellectual satisfaction in and
of themselves.  What is truly important is the thoughtful discussion
sparked by those questions or statistics -- the opinions, whether from
established scholars or amateur actors, whether well-supported or merely
offered in jest, that prompt us to consider, evaluate, and synthesize to
enhance our understanding.

I would argue that SHAKSPER already offers us precisely that level of
discussion.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of our moderator, Hardy
Cook, we have here an intelligent forum in which to offer our ideas,
substantiate them, repudiate them, vindicate them, and evaluate them as
a group -- advancing and invigorating scholarly investigation, not
replacing it with a quantitative popularity contest.

Yours,
Ken

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Feb 2004 04:07:20 -0800
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

Hamlet Survey

I'll take (d).

I think the man starts by pretending to be mad and by the end is
certifiably off his rocker!

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Feb 2004 07:01:20 -0600
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

Bill Arnold asks about Hamlet: was he

 >(a) mad?

Definitely not.

 >(b) pretending madness?

Most likely.

 >(c) calculating avenger?

Tries to be, but the pretension of madness - and his assumption that the
art of pretense and the use of that play can be weapons against the
cold, active logic Claudius applies - makes Hamlet's role as
"calculating avenger" impossible for him.

 >(d) other-suggestions?

Olivier presented him as "a man who could not make up his mind." There's
something to that, and it's related to (c), above.   But that certainly
isn't all.]

           L. Swilley

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Friday, 6 Feb 2004 15:49:11 +0100 (CET)
Subject: 15.0338  Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338  Hamlet Survey?

 >(d) other-suggestions?

How about....  Freaked out by encounter with his father's ghost?  Unsure
whether ghost is good or evil?  In need of further proof before he takes
his revenge?  Maddened by his mother's lack of grief?

Just a few (obvious) suggestions.  Your list was a tad simplistic.

Peter Bridgman

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Feb 2004 11:49:05 -0500
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

 >It seems to me that none of us know what the majority of
 >SHAKSPEReans
 >think about Hamlet the main character: was he?
 >
 >(a) mad
 >
 >(b) pretending madness
 >
 >(c) calculating avenger
 >
 >(d) other-suggestions?

Yes.

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norman Hinton <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Feb 2004 11:42:01 -0600
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

I don't think there is any one answer in a multiple-choice milieu that
will define Hamlet.

The Elizabethans had the best term, and reading a dozen or so books and
articles about Elizabethan 'melancholy' will tell you quite a bit about him.

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Sirofchuck <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Feb 2004 08:56:34 -0900
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

 >Hamlet the main character: was he?
 >
 >(a) mad
 >
 >(b) pretending madness
 >
 >(c) calculating avenger
 >
 >(d) other-suggestions?


E.  All of the above

Mike Sirofchuck

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Friday, 06 Feb 2004 18:46:05 -0700
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

For your survey, please put me down as "B"; I believe Hamlet to be
feigning madness, rather than truly mad.  But I think you need to limit
your survey to these two choices first.  Once one has decided between
truly mad or pretending madness, THEN one can explore WHY.  Calculating
Avenger seems to be one reason WHY he would fake madness, but I'm sure
our list members will have many other ideas.

Susan

[11]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:           Saturday, 7 Feb 2004 14:49:38 -0600
Subject: 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0338 Hamlet Survey?

B -- pretending madness.

He knows a hawk from a handsaw.

Marcia Eppich-Harris

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