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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0751  Thursday, 25 March 2004

From:           John Ramsay <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 22 Mar 2004 11:16:44 -0500
Subject: 15.0687 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0687 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Performers?

 >Cheryl Newton wrote:
 >
 > >following these manic or depressive moments Hamlet can legitimately
 > >request forgiveness for impulsive behaviour beyond his control
 >
 >I agree but I think that a key part of asking forgiveness is confronting
 >what you have done without evasion and 'I didn't mean to' and 'I'm not
 >responsible, it was the madness not me' and 'Hamlet is of the faction
 >that is wrong'd' does not suggest moral heroism.
 >
 >Hamlet famously rails against hollow funeral etiquette (I,2,282) but
 >personally, if I had knifed my girlfriend's father to death causing her
 >to commit suicide then it would not just be etiquette that might suggest
 >I might hang back a bit at the funeral (and not jump into the grave and
 >berate her surviving brother). Certainly I wouldn't expect to be invited
 >back for the baked meats
 >
 >John Ramsey wrote:
 >
 >>Does it also give Claudius greater stature that he arranges for Hamlet,
 >>his 'cousin and son' a duel with a poisoned sword for Laertes and a
 >>poisoned cup of wine as backup?
 >
 >I think that the phrase you find objectionable is "In this respect
 >[Claudius' self-analysis in the soliloquy 'O my offence is rank']
 >Shakespeare gives Claudius a greater stature than Hamlet". This is not
 >an argument that Claudius is a character of unspotted moral probity and
 >unimpeachable actions! However, in life (and I would contend in
 >Shakespeare) the virtues are not exclusively allocated to the heroes and
 >the vices are not just found in the villains. Indeed it could be argued
 >that you cannot be an effective villain without some virtues. In
 >response to the Mousetrap Claudius does have a crisis of conscience in
 >which he considers his sin, fleetingly perceives the penance he might do
 >to purge it (confess, give up crown and wife and presumably be
 >executed). However, by the end of the soliloquy he has resolved that he
 >will not do the penance and hence he cannot escape the road where 'sin
 >will pluck on sin'.
 >
 >This is a play where everybody's actions do harm to others (Denmark is
 >sick) apart from perhaps Horatio (although if He had kept the fact he'd
 >seen a ghost to himself...) and R&G (depends how it is staged). Hamlet
 >is rightly celebrated for his analysis of the human condition but never
 >at any point (whatever the wind direction) does he truly reflect on the
 >suffering he has caused on his revenge path (and hence whether the Ghost
 >who urged him to revenge was indeed a devil). If there were some more
 >Hamlet soliloquies in act V perhaps we would hear some of this
 >reasoning. Without such evidence an easier conclusion to come to is that
 >Hamlet is too self-absorbed and self-centred to see himself. It is
 >disturbing to hear him say of the execution he ordered of R&G "They are
 >not near my conscience". The devious underhand means by which he
 >procured R&G's executions are exactly those Claudius used intending to
 >execute him. You could argue that he has become what he beheld in
 >executing R&G and has hardened his heart to it in a way that Claudius
 >has not when he says 'O my offence is rank'.

You write: "This is a play where everybody's actions do harm to others
(Denmark is sick)"

Who did the harm? Hamlet didn't kill his father. Claudius did.

Yes. Hamlet killed Polonius. But why was Polonius behind the arras? He
was spying for Claudius,
already having used his daughter to spy on Hamlet for Claudius.

Yes. Hamlet had R&G put to death. Why did it not touch his conscience?
Because they were supposed friends conveying him to his death. With
written orders from Claudius.

How can you say Claudius had not hardened his heart when he has ordered
the death of Hamlet in England only to have that fall through, whereupon
he prepares an envenomed sword and a cup of poison as backup?

Are poisoned swords and cups of poison your idea of being softhearted?


 >>Get thee to A.C. Bradley and read what he said about the death of
 >>Gertrude for true moral reasoning.
 >
 >Could you expand on that for me?
 >
 >Dan Smith

A.C. Bradley's comments on Shakespeare are available on the internet.
Well worth reading.

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