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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Three Sons in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0806  Friday, 2 April 2004

[1]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Mar 2004 21:52:32 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0795 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[2]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 16:35:36 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0795 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 14:10:50 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0802 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[4]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 19:46:51 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0802 The Three Sons in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Mar 2004 21:52:32 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.0795 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0795 The Three Sons in Hamlet

 >Dear Jack, you are correct, nothing I said concerning the physical state
 >of Fortinbras' army (battleworn and in need of resupply) is textually
 >supported, however that was not the thrust of my question. What I want
 >to know is where is the logic of Fortinbras marching his army through
 >Denmark, fighting a war in Poland, and only then returning to attack his
 >real target of Denmark? "Hamlet" is a fiction and so anything goes, but
 >surely this does not make sense in real or imagined life.

There is more in Jay Feldman's latest response than I have opportunity
address. However, I'll note that Hamlet observes a disproportion between
Fortinbras's large forces and the miniscule bit of Poland he reportedly
wants to capture, a bit that curiously requires a route through Denmark,
the previously stated objective, to reach.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 16:35:36 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.0795 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0795 The Three Sons in Hamlet

 From Jay Feldman:

 >Dear Jack, you are correct, nothing I said concerning the physical state
 >of Fortinbras' army (battleworn and in need of resupply) is textually
 >supported, however that was not the thrust of my question. What I want
 >to know is where is the logic of Fortinbras marching his army through
 >Denmark, fighting a war in Poland, and only then returning to attack his
 >real target of Denmark? "Hamlet" is a fiction and so anything goes, but
 >surely this does not make sense in real or imagined life.

One may wonder as well about the logic of fighting a war for the little
patch of Polish ground barely worth five ducats. Hamlet goads himself by
comparing his supposedly just cause to Fortinbras's finding quarrel in a
straw when honor's at stake. A question may be asked as to whether
Fortinbras has 2000 or 20,000 men, but wouldn't either amount be more
than too much for the purpose? But how many would be needed to take over
a medieval or Renaissance castle?

Perhaps we should look to the numbers in Henry V for an answer. The
logic of Fortinbras's strategy is to catch the Danes with insufficient
defenses. If they conclude that he has some other purpose than to attack
themselves, then Fortinbras's conquest will be that much easier.
Ultimately, much, much easier than expected.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 14:10:50 -0800
Subject: 15.0802 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0802 The Three Sons in Hamlet

Ed Taft writes,

 >The key word is "serious." Though poorly supplied near the end and
 >suffering from lack of numbers, Lee's men were superbly trained and
 >fanatically dedicated to the mission at hand. With such an army, Lee
 >twice employed the strategy you suggest. But contrast Lee's army with
 >what Fortinbras is still in the process of procuring:
 >
 >                         "Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
 >                   Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
 >                   Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
 >                   Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes. . . .
 >                                           (1.1.99-102)
 >
 >Is this a serious threat?  If designed for anything, such an army would
 >be appropriate for taking back by force the lands Fortinbras feels are
 >his. In fact, he later uses this army in a similar venture: not against
 >all of Poland, but "to gain a little patch of ground." It's good for
 >little else.

To which I would reply:  Hamlet later calls it an army "of mass and
charge".  The folio calls the resolutes only "landless" and cuts out the
later description of the goal of the Poland campaign.  Your argument
relies heavily, therefore, on Q2.

In any case, John R. Hale showed long ago that mercenary armies were
often made up of the lawless and landless who were, in fact, often the
better soldiers.  Such armies caused serious threats to Italian
city-states during the period which inspired Machiavelli, for instance,
and Machiavelli's own preference for conscript militias was not
justified by practical experience.  For that matter, the Republic of
Venice always fought with armies made of "lawless resolutes".  I recall,
in fact, that one or two of the generals were captured trying to attack
Venice, and pulled out of prison to command Venice's army.

Here's Thomas More's description of the Zapolets, a lightly-hidden
reference to the Swiss:

They are a rude, wild, and fierce nation, who delight in the woods and
rocks, among which they were born and bred up. They are hardened both
against heat, cold, and labor, and know nothing of the delicacies of
life. They do not apply themselves to agriculture, nor do they care
either for their houses or their clothes. Cattle is all that they look
after; and for the greatest part they live either by hunting, or upon
rapine; and are made, as it were, only for war. They watch all
opportunities of engaging in it, and very readily embrace such as are
offered them.

Sounds like a list of lawless resolutes to me, but Claudius nevertheless
calls for "my swissers" and the papacy is guarded by Swiss mercenaries
to this day.

More importantly, unless Fortinbras can threaten Elsinore he can't
threaten Denmark, and therefore can't recover the lands which he
desires.  It is not always possible, and I can't repeat this often
enough, to make a war-effort correspond to war aims.  Austria-Hungary's
effort in the first world war was considerably greater, in the end, than
what was necessary to avenge the assassination of the Archduke
Ferdinand, or even to conquer Serbia.  Hitler found himself dedicating
far more troops to the siege of Stalingrad than a small industrial city
could be worth, and the United States tore itself apart to fight a war
in Vietnam, a place with no industry and few strategic resources.

I understand that the region of New Brunswick and Maine is one of the
few places along the Canada-US border where Canada enjoys a military
superiority, since Canadian Forces Base Gagetown is in New Brunswick,
and Maine has no bases of similar importance.  I'm not sure if this is
entirely true, but even if it were true, and even were our countries not
allied, we wouldn't attack, because we could be assured that by
attacking any part of the United States, we'd be attacking all of it,
and would have to face a lot more than the Maine State National Guard.

Similarly, I can't see how Fortinbras can attack any part of Denmark
without fighting Denmark itself.  The Poles, after all, have already
garrisoned their piece of ground, "that hath no profit but the name".
Similarly, the Danes are engaged in "daily cast of brazen cannon / And
foreign mart for implements of war".

Furthermore, Fortinbras's alleged plan to make a feint at Denmark, win
passage to Poland, then attack Denmark again on his return just seems
too clever by half.

Finally, Claudius has no difficulty dismissing Fortinbras's note, which
therefore does not seem particularly threatening:  "So much for him".
The notion that Fortinbras might hold "a weak supposal of our worth" is
only hypothetical, weighed (briefly and dismissively) against the
possibility that Fortinbras suspects "Our state to be disjoint and out
of frame", or that he's simply ambitious.

This last quotation would further reinforce the claim that an attack
against any part of Denmark requires at least an estimate of the
strength of the state as a whole, as does your claim, for that matter.
Fortinbras can only attack "those lands" if he can overcome Denmark and
Claudius as "the Dane".  An attack against any one part can only
threaten Claudius's rule if it reflects upon his strength in general
(i.e., that of the Danish state).

Yours truly,
SKL.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 19:46:51 EST
Subject: 15.0802 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0802 The Three Sons in Hamlet

Ed Taft asks: Isn't the real threat in Fortinbras's note, in which he
says or implies that he doesn't think much of Claudius? ... Fortinbras's
note puts Claudius under psychological pressure.

Ed, I don't agree with your take on this. First of all, my impression is
that Fortinbras instructs his captain to delivery a verbal request
("Tell him by his license..."); secondly Fortinbras' is asking for an
escort for his Norwegian troops when he says that he "Craves the
conveyance of a promised march Over his [Claudius'] kingdom"; and
finally, I do not think Fortinbras is suggesting that he will poke
Claudius in the eye if he wants a personal interview, rather, if that is
the case, Fortinbras will dutifully come in person and request the
conveyance. If my interpretation is anything near accurate, I'm curious
what you find demeaning or psychologically demanding in the request?

Jay Feldman

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