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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0484  Thursday, 19 February 2004

From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Feb 2004 13:12:01 -0500
Subject: 15.0474 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0474 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

Bill Arnold adds these stage directions to Hamlet's Mousetrap: "The
Usurper King squirmed, and tried to hide his evil face, and bolted the
witness chair like a confirmed criminal caught in the act."

Terence Hawks responds:

 >In your dreams. The fact is that 'The Mousetrap' doesn't work. In the
 >world of Elsinore, as beyond it, art doesn't make anything happen.

And I agree with Terry.  There's no indication how the king responds to
the play, and Horatio's judgment on the king's guilt is noncommittal.

Hamlet tells the king that Lucianus is the nephew of the King, not his
brother, and as Harry Levin long ago emphasized, Hamlet thus turns the
Mousetrap into a threat.  Even so, Claudius does not rise until after
Hamlet's comment on the poisoning (Bevington 3.2.259ff), and there's no
indication that the king's departure is hasty or causes a riot (as
Olivier has it -- almost comically).  I prefer Patrick Stewart's BBC
interpretation, in which Stewart takes a torch, walks slowly over to
Hamlet, puts the torch close to Hamlet's face, examines his face
carefully, nods, and then says "away."  The king has not revealed his
guilt (at this point), but Hamlet has revealed himself.

And Kurt Vonnegut would agree with Terry's assessment of the power of
art. Nilch.

Bill Godshalk

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