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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Three Sons in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0816  Monday, 5 April 2004

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 Apr 2004 09:55:32 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 Apr 2004 16:12:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[3]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 Apr 2004 18:52:28 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[4]     From:   HR Greenberg <
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        Date:   Saturday, 3 Apr 2004 01:20:02 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0773 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[5]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Saturday, 3 Apr 2004 13:07:47 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Friday, 2 Apr 2004 09:55:32 -0600
Subject: 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

I think this is all getting too complicated by getting both too
technical and too modern. Granted this is one Renaissance man's vision
of the early Middle Ages, but it is the Middle Ages, and there is no
clear sense of nation-states.

The separation of one nation from another is thus often rather fuzzy.
The relationship of Old Hamlet to Old Fortinbras is evidently one of a
senior to a junior king, but their lands are not readily separable.
Their battle was apparently to determine whether Norway would remain a
more or less independent state, or become a full tributary of Denmark.
So they wagered a chunk of Denmark against all of Norway. I don't see
any indication that the Norwegians found that outrageous and treasonous
-- and why should they? You cared who was king only as to who would
provide you the most advantage. And the common people often didn't care
at all.

Fortinbras's sharks are adventurers. He wants his property back-much as
the son of some industrial tycoon might want to regain the family's
business when it was lost to a hostile takeover. He's not a patriot. He
wants the "gloria" that goes with being a recognized king, rather than
the nephew of a feeble viceroy. When the clamp gets put on that, he
decides to obtain some gloria by beating up on the Poles and seizing
some of their coastland. He asks permission to move a legal army past
Elsinore to the Baltic. He gets it on "regards of safety and allowance."

Shakespeare does not offer details on these "regards" but since Claudius
and his ambassadors do not appear to be stupid, these would probably be
such that Fortinbras would not likely betray their trust-perhaps his
wife and babies (if any) as hostages. When he returns, the royal family
of Denmark is defunct, and being almost certainly a cousin, he can make
an appeal for election as the king of both countries. And why not?

There's no need to complicate matters, especially with theories that
require Claudius and his advisors to be exceptionally stupid. It is much
easier to accept the fact that Fortinbras is the beneficiary of good
fortune that was pretty rotten luck for the Hamlet crowd.

(Also, I wouldn't put too much credence in the words of the hardbitten
and cynical captain that Hamlet speaks to in IV, 4. He's clearly an old
hand who fights because it's his job and cares nothing for chivalry and
gloria.)

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Friday, 2 Apr 2004 16:12:56 -0500
Subject: 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

The usurping Fortinbras seems to me an unbelievable character, above all
for one simple reason. At the end of his tragedies, Shakespeare leaves
the state under the rule of the best available candidate, who represents
a good, if exhausted, order. He does not give the crown to a duplicitous
usurper.

The point about Fortinbras, it seems to me, is that he starts off as a
kind of revenging son, but converts to a law-abiding prince. One reason
he must convert is that his father lost fair and square, according to
explicit "bonds of law." There was no secret murder involved. His
gentleness as he crosses to Poland emphasizes his converted state, as
does his judicious tone at the end. The shot to the English ambassadors
is a salute. They then come in perfectly peacefully, along with
Fortinbras, to bring their news. The drums are ceremonial, and perhaps
funereal, since Fortinbras has already heard of "this sight."

To make Fortinbras a scheming usurper, who only fakes his conversion,
involves the critic in positively Ptolemaic contortions.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Friday, 2 Apr 2004 18:52:28 EST
Subject: 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

Jack Heller says: "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, I wonder where your textual support for the above may be found?
Since, there is no indication of the size of the opposing Polish Army we
really have no idea of the appropriateness of a two or twenty-thousand
man Norwegian Army. Also, there really is no word concerning the size of
the Danish Army nor of the defenses at Elsinore Castle. We do know,
however, that the battlements are manned with soldiers and cannon and
therefore it would seem surprising if no one noticed an army attacking
the fortress.

Finally, I have had trouble associating Hamlet's argument that it is
right to find quarrel in a straw when honor is at stake with Fortinbras'
invasion of Poland. My sense is that particular sentence of Hamlet's
declaration is a generalization and not applicable to possible deaths of
twenty-thousand men for "a fantasy and trick of fame".

To Ed Taft, please excuse my o'er hasty assumption that you were
speaking of Fortinbras' message to Claudius in act IV. I should have
known better.

Jay Feldman

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           HR Greenberg <
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Date:           Saturday, 3 Apr 2004 01:20:02 EST
Subject: 15.0773 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0773 The Three Sons in Hamlet

Fortinbras' motivations are ultimately quite enigmatic, after the
mysterious fashion of so much in the play that seems 'obvious' on first
sight. HR Greenberg MD ENDIT

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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Date:           Saturday, 3 Apr 2004 13:07:47 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0806 The Three Sons in Hamlet

I think Jay Feldman has more than half the truth on his side.
Tangentially, my own impression, albeit subjective, is that Shakespeare
is more concerned with a sort of moral (rather than equivalency) or
calculus. Much of Hamlet seems to me to be a reductio ad absurdam of
received thinking about "honour" and conflict and the hierarchical
orders which this thinking supports.

Best, S

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