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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0772  Monday, 29 March 2004

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Mar 2004 12:13:45 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Thomas Pendleton <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Mar 2004 14:47:16 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Mar 2004 00:51:59 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Mar 2004 12:13:45 -0600
Subject: 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago

Jack Heller writes,

 >What justifies Hamlet's saying,
 >"I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound" (3.2.281-82)? On my
 >most recent reading of the play, I don't think Claudius's "Give me some
 >light.  Away" is quite enough to conclude that the play has caught the
 >conscience of the king. At least, the scene would not have to be
 >performed as if to insist upon the success of the "The Murder of
 >Gonzago" in catching his conscience.

[Although it is not impossible to suggest that Claudius is leaving the
"theater" at this point for reasons other than the presentation of a
scene earlier described by the Ghost to Hamlet and inserted by Hamlet
into this "play," the director would have the devil of a time inventing
other reasons for Claudius' departure *at the moment when the
"poisoning" is taking place* - and what would be the point the director
is making by such a "turn"?  I would certainly instruct any actor
playing Claudius to speak and react at every point in the play, before
or after the "Murder" presentation, as though he were painfully
conscious of his crime; certainly he does not "discover" it only through
the play's presentation of it - although the public display would add
salt to the wound and provoke just such a soliloquy as Claudius delivers
after it. But to go the other way with Mr. Heller: Horatio's remarks to
Hamlet, those remarks taken by Hamlet as confirming what Hamlet has
"seen", might well be taken as "Yes, I saw; but I cannot confirm what
you conclude because of it."  But, finally, the play advances on what
*Hamlet* believes, not what Cladius responds to or Horatio sees. ]

Two complementary points:

 >First, Gertrude's "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" might be
 >taken as an appropriate critique of the Player Queen's lines rather than
 >as any indication that she recognizes herself in the performance. Thus,
 >her conscience might not be caught, even if its capture was intended.

[Gertrude's lines in her confrontation with Hamlet in the bedchamber,
"Thou turns't mine eyes into my very soul,/ And there I see such black
and grained spots/ As will not leave their tinct." (3.4), seem, in part,
to be the result of her recognition of herself in the fickle Player
Queen whose comments have warranted Gertrude's defensive "The lady doth
protest too much".  To go any other way would seem not only to challenge
so reasonable an inference, but would also ignore the parallel
construction of Claudius' confession and Gertrude's admission. ]

 >Second, surveillance generally does not lead to accurate conclusions in
 >this play. Hamlet does not find Claudius praying. Polonius mistakenly
 >concludes that Hamlet is distracted by love. Rosencrantz and
 >Guildenstern can only conclude that Hamlet is mad. We might also note
 >that Polonius reveals a problem with surveillance in his instructions to
 >Reynaldo to spy on Laertes: Reynaldo is to find what Polonius is already
 >looking for. So why must "Give me some light. Away" indicate the
 >veracity of the Ghost's charges?

[Undeniably, these misconceptions are much in evidence; this is
particularly a play about misunderstandings and misinterpretations. And
a good director should extend that idea as far as it will go; but he
will have to solve problems that go off in directions that seem against
the grain of Hamlet's interpretation of the events. As to R. and G., and
Ophelia, they have been persuaded that they are dealing with a person
who is at least suffering from a nervous breakdown; their caution,
"indirection," and cooperation with the royal couple - in Ophelia's
case, with her father - should be seen not as self-serving - or, again
in the case of Ophelia, betrayal - but as honest attempts to help
someone who is sick. When we are told that a friend is mentally ill, we
interpret his least actions as we would never have done without that
warning; we treat him gingerly and follow the advice of therapists and
doctors who instruct us how to deal with him.  Hamlet knows this and has
warned Horatio and the soldiers on the parapet of his proposed (or to be
expected) conduct; that he does not extend that understanding to Ophelia
and R.&G., reacting, rather, to them as though they have betrayed him,
is one of his most serious flaws.]

[L. Swilley]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Pendleton <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Mar 2004 14:47:16 -0500
Subject: 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago

I think that Shakespeare devised the rather bizarre method of poisoning
in the ear exactly so that when Claudius sees his secret (and bizarre)
murder re-enacted, he will react guiltily.  That he does so seems to me
endorsed by Horatio's endorsing Hamlet's interpretation.  I don't think
that either Horatio or Shakespeare is deceiving us.

Tom Pendleton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Mar 2004 00:51:59 EST
Subject: 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0761 The Murder of Gonzago

Jack Heller asks: "What justifies Hamlet's saying, "I'll take the
ghost's word for a thousand pound" . . . I don't think Claudius's "Give
me some light. Away" is quite enough to conclude that the play has
caught the conscience of the king."

I believe this is a case where the tail wags the dog. Hamlet does not
make his declaration because of Claudius' response, rather Claudius must
make a significant reaction, 'upon the talk of the poisoning', because
he knows what Hamlet is going to say. I see Hamlet's comment as a stage
direction (working backward) that should be seconded by a strong
affirmation from Horatio.

It is Hamlet's assertion that should control the scene because
ultimately it does not matter what anyone else has observed or thinks,
it is only important for Hamlet to be convinced of Claudius' guilt and
the truthfulness of the ghost. It would have been excellent if the king
had stood up and proclaimed his malefactions, but that would have been
another play. Finally, there seems to be clear evidence that Claudius'
conscience has been caught given his subsequent confession.

Jay Feldman

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