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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0808  Friday, 2 April 2004

[1]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 15:34:29 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 01 Apr 2004 17:26:18 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 19:57:51 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Paul Swanson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 21:43:08 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 15:34:29 -0500
Subject: 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

I agree with Don Bloom that Claudius walks out of the Mousetrap play
because he is guilty, as Shakespeare and Hamlet have prepared the
audience to understand. That much really ought to be obvious. But what's
obvious in this scene does not exhaust its content.

The player king and player queen depart symmetrically from their models.
The real king was hardly sick, or inclined to this kind of gentle
tolerance, even encouragement, of a second marriage for his widow, while
the real queen can't be imagined to have equated second marriage with
murder anywhere outside the fevered idealizing imagination of Hamlet.
Why would Shakespeare make the king so much gentler than Hamlet's
father, and the queen so much more puritanical, or fanatical, than Gertrude?

Hamlet's plan to insert a speech in the play combines with Shakespeare's
failure to reveal which one it is to give the perhaps barely conscious
impression to the audience that somehow the whole play might have been
written by him, that it expresses something happening inside Hamlet,
though not necessarily, or entirely, in Hamlet's consciousness. Hamlet
is a character with an unconscious as well as a conscious mind. It's
hard for him or the audience to disentangle them. Conflicts roil his
inner life, some articulated, some hinted at, some buried deeper than
did ever plummet sound.

How must Hamlet feel, in that part of himself that believed the ghost,
and swore revenge, when instead of taking revenge he arranges a "test"
of the ghost's veracity? Does Hamlet really doubt him enough to make him
easy with the thought of putting the ghost to this insulting and
faithless test?

He's under a considerable amount, one might say an awesome amount, of
stress. He's torn: he's "to double business bound". He's also been
establishing his antic disposition, which I take to be, in some part of
his mind, a prospective alibi for killing the king, which then gets
used, and used up, as his alibi for killing Polonius-an alibi, given his
raging state at the moment, which seems at least plausible, if not
entirely true. To plan, in part unconsciously, to pretend madness, kill
the king, and then say you were mad then but are now sane, and then in
the process of carrying out this plan to find yourself veering toward
real madness, losing your "sovereign reason" in reality as well as in
pretence, would involve a very complicated complex of motivations, and
an almost ungraspable dialectic of belief and doubt. We may see an image
of this incompatible, though wedded, pair in the tolerant, nearly
cynical, player king and his queen, the fanatic of faithfulness who
proves the king's wisdom by accepting the murderer's love.

Hamlet may, in some part of his mind, hope that the Mousetrap will
induce Claudius to proclaim his malefactions, thereby not only
confirming the ghost's story for Hamlet's private satisfaction, though
witnessed  by Horatio (whose testimony, informed by the ghost's story,
would still not hold up in the court of public opinion), but providing
the public proof of his crime which Hamlet would need to justify an open
revolt against the king. Hamlet nevertheless seems to work against this
outcome with his rude and intrusive remarks, both reinforcing his
reputed madness and plausibly offending the king to the point where that
offense could explain why he would walk out of the play. Why doesn't
Hamlet sit quietly and give his test a fair chance to succeed? For one
thing, he can't help believing that Claudius is guilty, and even to wait
quietly would show him too starkly, to himself and the audience, failing
to be faithful to the ghost. Hamlet's evident anger proclaims his
certainty of Claudius's guilt, though Hamlet, with the help of his antic
disposition, carefully maintains deniability. He accuse the king?  No,
he appears to say, yet with a denial phrased to allow it a sense that
might make it true: "Your majesty, and we that have free souls, it
touches us not."

Hamlet here tauntingly challenges Claudius to endure the play without
wincing. He made it through the dumb show, which happened so fast no one
quite knew what it meant, but he senses an "offense" approaching as the
action is fleshed out with words. When the moment comes, he winces, and
walks out, but thanks to Hamlet the court can plausibly blame the
walkout on Hamlet's rudeness.

To say that by introducing a prospective king-killer as the king's
nephew Hamlet has directly threatened to kill the king gives the court
too little credit for detaching fiction from fact. No one knows
anything, and even Gertrude evidently believes Hamlet's rudeness drove
Claudius out. This is not to say that Hamlet's making the killer a
nephew is merely coincidental.  Hamlet may intend a threat. Claudius may
feel a threat. But the threat to Claudius lies mainly in the suggestion
that Hamlet knows about the murder.  Making the killer a nephew adds
nothing that would make Claudius try any harder to have Hamlet killed.
If Hamlet knows Claudius killed his father, Hamlet becomes a danger
removeable only by his death. The play shows Claudius his own image in
Lucianus, even if he's billed as the king's nephew. Besides, making the
killer his nephew also works against the force of the story. Would
calling him brother to the king be so close to the truth that it would
arouse the suspicions of the court, as those who see this as a "direct
threat" already believe it has? That would be more likely, though not
necessary. In this case Hamlet continues in his vein of antic
deniabilty, secretly taunting the guilty king with his ironic, if not
sarcastic, insistence that the character is called Gonzago and the story
"written in very choice Italian." His "frighted with false fire?" again
drives home the point that something here is true and Hamlet knows it,
and knows that Claudius knows it, though thanks in part to Hamlet the
public does not.

I think Hamlet's making the murderer the nephew points to something
else, a feeling held nearly incommunicado in another part of Hamlet's
mind. If he kills Claudius he will be putting himself in Claudius's
regicidal shoes, by killing the king of Denmark. His desire to get his
mother back from Claudius, though not literally to marry her, may be
another closely held motive, yet then her move to him, by analogy with
the Mousetrap play, would be faithless. I wouldn't get too Freudian
about this. What stands out is that for Hamlet to be figured in Lucianus
would make him not a revenging hero but a regicidal villain. Hamlet's
revenging side wants to kill Claudius, while the parts of him that
hesitate to kill the king, because of the potential consequences for
himself, the state and his mother, identify regicide with the villainy
of Lucianus, and, through him, Claudius. Hamlet does not want to become
Claudius, though the ghost tells him he must.

Shakespeare threads the needle in the Mousetrap play. He gives the
doubting Hamlet a ploy that may produce public proof of the crime, while
the faithful Hamlet (faithful to the ghost) has to screw it up so that
the proof remains private, leaving him in almost the same position he
was in before. Except that now Claudius knows he knows-or knows
something close enough to that to take action. As Hamlet also now
supposedly knows enough to take action, and therefore.drifts off
obediently to his mother's closet.

On the main track of the play, Claudius shows his guilt to the real
audience, who already knew he was guilty, but not to the court, who see
the king offended by the insolently antic Hamlet. Hamlet won't get
public proof of the king's guilt before he leaves for England. The
revenging Hamlet does break through his inhibitions and try to kill the
king when he is aggravated to near-madness and thinks he's found the
king hiding and spying behind the arras-an act that has no relish of
salvation in't. Afterwards, he expends his alibi on Polonius. In the
end, of course, he does get proof of Claudius' s crimes, first in the
commission (strictly speaking, proof only of criminal intent), and then
in the poison whose action is testified to by Laertes and proved by his
own death.

Claudius walks out of the Mousetrap play because he can't stand to see
his crime acted out, and the pain it gives him makes plausible, with a
duality worthy of Hamlet, both his attempt to repent and his plot to
have Hamlet killed. Guilt is the obvious reason he walks out. I don't
think we should get over subtle about that.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 01 Apr 2004 17:26:18 -0500
Subject: 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

 >As many have noted, the parallel of the crimes is exact. Against all
 >possibility, Hamlet knows exactly how the murder of his father took
 >place, and with the production of "Murder" the King knows that he knows
 >-- and that everyone else will at least have a suspicion.

writes Don Bloom of the Mousetrap.

(1) We do not know that the parallel is exact.  The ghost may be an
evil, lying ghost, and Hamlet may be deceived. He's not very good at
"seems," as he admits to his ma.

(2) And, yes, Hamlet does seem to give himself away, especially when he
identifies the murderer as the "nephew" of the king. But Hamlet has been
drawing attention to himself from the first scene-wearing black to the
wedding, acting mad, and now putting on an offensive play.  The play
would be offensive to the king even if he were not guilty.

Bill Godshalk

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 19:57:51 EST
Subject: 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

It seems to me that following the "Mousetrap" Claudius knows that Hamlet
knows of his regicide and is planning retribution. What the court knows
is not clear, yet given the conversation between R&G and the king, there
is some fear for the king's life. Only Claudius knows exactly what
threat Hamlet now presents to him and he is prepared to deal with it at
once. The commission he promises R&G may have been written during
Hamlet's visit to his mother's chamber, even before he knows of
Polonius' murder. Following the death of Polonius, Claudius knows that
Hamlet is very dangerous and now has an excellent rationale for sending
him away, one that will work with Gertrude. Claudius wants Hamlet dead,
but in England not Denmark.

On another point, some have noted the halfhearted agreement offered by
Horatio to the king's "Away!". It seems to me an actor can say "VERY
well, my lord." and "I did VERY well note him." in a manner that is most
convincing.

Jay Feldman

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Swanson <
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Date:           Thursday, 1 Apr 2004 21:43:08 EST
Subject: 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0800 The Murder of Gonzago

Greetings, All!

Jack Heller writes "I kick myself for missing that Player Lucianus is
the Player King's nephew; thanks to those who pointed out this detail. I
think it only strengthens the reading I was developing. So "The Murder
of Gonzago" may be a death threat. Claudius may leave pissed off at
Hamlet, not guilt-stricken."

Shakespeare's (or Hamlet's, as he is the quasi-author of "The
Mousetrap"), choice to make Lucianus the Player King's nephew has always
fascinated me, and it very much brings into question Freudian readings
of the play. If we see "The Mousetrap" as a threat against Claudius,
then we must very much ponder Hamlet's line immediately after Lucianus
pours poison in the ear of the Player King, when Hamlet tells the entire
audience, "A poisons him i'th' garden for his estate. . . You shall see
anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife" (3.2.258).

Wow... A deeply complex duality emerges here: On one hand, Hamlet has
just staged a recreation of his father's murder, meaning that Lucianus
is actually Claudius. But that is NOT what Hamlet tells us; he
explicitly says that Lucianus is the nephew to the King, which makes us
see Lucianus as Hamlet, as Jack Heller and others point out. But what of
the provocative line about Lucianus, the nephew, getting the love of the
dead King's wife? Does Hamlet reveal, as some have suggested, an Oedipal
attraction to his mother?

I am not sold on Oedipal readings of this play, but the "nephew" who
gets "the love of Gonzago's wife" is central to this scene and cannot be
left unexamined. I would love to hear what other list members have to
say on this.

Paul Swanson

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