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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0790  Wednesday, 31 March 2004

[1]     From:   Douglas Brooks <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 09:55:44 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   John V Robinson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 11:15:55 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Stanley Kozikowski <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 13:26:02 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0761 Taking the Ghost's "word"

[4]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 14:53:34 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 15:23:44 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0772 The Murder of Gonzago

[6]     From:   Rick Jones <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 16:29:15 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Brooks <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 09:55:44 -0600
Subject: 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

Certainly Claudius leaves the theater and prays because "one nephew to
the King" has given him a preview of his untimely end.  No wonder that
Horatio never gives Hamlet anything like the confirmation he promises
before the dumbshow begins.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V Robinson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 11:15:55 EST
Subject: 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

 >I'm always a trifle startled at people's inability to see the
 >implications of their theorizing. Hamlet sets out to catch the
 >conscience of the king --  that is, to prove to himself that the ghost's
 >accusation can be trusted -- by re-enacting the murder (as the ghost
 >related it) in front of the king and court. At the time when the
 >"murderer" commits the crime and Hamlet begins to summarize the rest of
 >the events (a further direct parallel), the king stops the play and
 >storms off.
 >
 >The deduction that the one causes the other is so easy that some people
 >apparently mistrust it. But why else would the king leave at just that
 >point? In actors' terms, what possible motivation could he have except
 >the obvious one?

Speaking of startled, I thought you were going to say what's really
going on in that scene and then you drop the ball.

So here it goes folks. When Hamlet starts to narrate the play he makes a
curious mistake. Hamlet identifies the players on stage as the King, the
Queen, and the murderer as the "King's nephew"  (i.e., his relationship
to Claudius) .  Whether this is a Freudian slip or is planned by Hamlet
is an open question. But it is ample reason for Claudius to feel
threatened and storm out of the room.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stanley Kozikowski <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 13:26:02 -0500
Subject: 15.0761 Taking the Ghost's "word"
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0761 Taking the Ghost's "word"

A different but not totally eccentric take on the passage:

"I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pounds"

Given that WS, legend having it, likely played the Ghost, WS's "word"
(as we may well know) was indeed worth 1,000 pounds to Sir Henry
Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.  In fact, the gift may have backed
the purchase of New Place.  Biographers seem to be coming around on the
likelihood of Southampton's gift.

Perhaps, then, Hamlet had some prototypification in Southampton, whose
'father' figure--Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex, appeared on March
24, 1601  (1) as a Ghost (2) before soldiers (3) on guard at the Tower
of London (4) one cold evening (5) along with other Caesarian omens
(See G. B. Harrison's appropriate Elizabethan Journal)

The execution of Essex on February 25, 1601 and its preceding attending
events would have as much inhabited the Elizabethan public consciousness
as 9/11 does the American awareness.  Like Hamlet, but unlike Essex,
Southamppton escaped with his head.

Stan Kozikowski

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 14:53:34 -0500
Subject: 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

Don Bloom wants to know:

 >The deduction that the one causes the other is so easy that some people
 >apparently mistrust it. But why else would the king leave at just that
 >point? In actors' terms, what possible motivation could he have except
 >the obvious one?

Well, Harry Levin emphasized some years ago that the Lucianus is
"nephew" to the king, not brother. The mouse trap is an implied threat
to Claudius.  And Hamlet speaks directly to Claudius before Claudius
leaves the stage.  Hamlet interferes with the outcome of his experiment,
and thus taints the evidence.  Horatio does not vigorously endorse
Hamlet's conclusion that the king is guilty.

Bill Godshalk

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 15:23:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.0772 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0772 The Murder of Gonzago

I hope that as this discussion continues, we may also address some of my
previous questions about plays-within-plays. In my previous posting on
"The Murder of Gonzago," I did not offer an alternative suggestion for
what Claudius is doing when he reacts. On examining the texts further, I
think I see such an alternative, one that I think will withstand a close
reading. I also think someone on SHAKSPER has proposed this solution
before; please forgive me for being unable to find that previous
posting.  I will occasionally use all-caps to give emphasis.

I find a textual variance between the second quarto and the folio texts
of Hamlet, 3.2. If a performance of the play Hamlet is based STRICTLY on
the second quarto, then Claudius is not reacting to seeing his bizarre
method of poisoning re-enacted. Editors supply a stage direction to
texts at 3.2.256 based on the second quarto, but the quarto itself does
not have Player Lucianus pouring the poison into the King's ear.

Such a stage direction does appear in the folio text, but then this
raises a new question. If Claudius reacts to Player Lucianus pouring
poison in the King's ear, why was he unmoved the first time he saw the
poisoning enacted, about 130 lines earlier during the dumb show?

So what is Claudius reacting to? How about to Hamlet himself rather than
to "The Murder of Gonzago"? Hamlet asks Horatio, "Didst perceive? . . .
  Upon the TALK of the poisoning?" (3.2.284). Hamlet is the talker
between Player Lucianus's last line and Claudius's reaction: "A poisons
him i'th'garden for his estate. His name's Gonzago. The story is extant,
and written in very choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer
get the love of Gonzago's wife" (3.2.257-260). Claudius's response may
not be guilt-stricken-if so, why not after the dumb show?-but he may be
furious with Hamlet, supporting Gertrude's later line, "Hamlet, thou
hast thy father much offended" (3.4.9). If Hamlet insists upon drawing
attention to himself during this "play," let him have the attention;
Claudius does not have to react to "The Murder of Gonzago" at all to be
storming out of this scene.

Why does this matter? After all, Claudius confesses himself for our
benefit at both 3.1.49-54 and 3.3.36-98. I think it matters because
Hamlet tries to justify his vengeance by violating the very privacy he
wants to insist upon for himself. Could not Claudius have said these
lines, "You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops, you
would pluck out the heart of my mystery, you would sound me from my
lowest not to the top of my compass. . . . 'Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe" (3.358-361, 363-364)? I favor a
consideration or performance of "The Murder of Gonzago" that does not
work towards Hamlet's self-justification. We may observe that he finds
what he wants to find, whatever truth and morality will be.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rick Jones <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 2004 16:29:15 -0600
Subject: 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0783 The Murder of Gonzago

Thus Don Bloom:

 >Hamlet sets out to catch the
 >conscience of the king --  that is, to prove to himself that the ghost's
 >accusation can be trusted -- by re-enacting the murder (as the ghost
 >related it) in front of the king and court. At the time when the
 >"murderer" commits the crime and Hamlet begins to summarize the rest of
 >the events (a further direct parallel), the king stops the play and
 >storms off.
 >
 >The deduction that the one causes the other is so easy that some people
 >apparently mistrust it. But why else would the king leave at just that
 >point? In actors' terms, what possible motivation could he have except
 >the obvious one?

It strikes me that we have here the answer to what may have been posed
as a rhetorical question.  "What possible motivation...?"  How about this:

Hamlet seeks, as argued above, to *prove* (not to test) the veracity of
the Ghost.  What Hamlet stages is a play in which a nephew kills his
uncle the king.  This crucial (and unnecessary) detail is in fact
underscored by Hamlet himself.  Claudius can quite reasonably read The
Mousetrap as a threat against him by his nephew, who after all has been
behaving a bit strangely of late.  The fact that Claudius really is
guilty is in one sense irrelevant: it is certainly possible to frame the
guilty.  Hamlet hasn't in fact proven Claudius's guilt to the
satisfaction of an objective and critical observer.  Rather, he has seen
what he set out to see.

Obviously, the staging is crucial here.  To my mind, at least, some of
what Hamlet says in this scene is directed at the entire court, some at
Ophelia alone.  If the "nephew to the king" line is to just Ophelia,
then Claudius does indeed have no reason other than guilt to respond as
he does.  If, on the other hand, Claudius is intended to hear this line,
then I would want him to respond, sensing a reference to Hamlet, whom he
knows to have commissioned the entertainment.  Conversely, if the line
about the murderer getting the love of Gonzago's wife is to Ophelia
alone, then it is the murder (of uncle by nephew) which is the only
stimulus for Claudius's response.  And so on.

Here we have an answer, I think, to those who argue that "it's all in
the text."  It isn't, at least as far as I'm concerned.  I know which
reading I'd pick, but that doesn't make someone who chooses differently
"wrong."

Rick

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