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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Three Sons in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0844  Wednesday, 7 April 2004

[1]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Apr 2004 15:03:52 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0833 The Three Sons in Hamlet

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 7 Apr 2004 02:27:20 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0833 The Three Sons in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 06 Apr 2004 15:03:52 -0400
Subject: 15.0833 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0833 The Three Sons in Hamlet

 >I'd quibble only about whether F
 >represents a "good" order. He seems to represent the ethic of land
 >grabbing: Property rights triumphant. Young Hamlet, in his better
 >moments, seems to represent a higher, better ethic -- but perhaps only
 >appropriate for the private world, not the public one.

Which is precisely why Hamlet was unfit to be king and the electors
wisely selected Claudius.

I can easily imagine a time in the 13th Century when the Danes looked
back wistfully on the reign of Good King Claudius, also called Claudius
the Peacemaker and Claudius the Wise, who (sandwiched between two
warmongering rulers) successfully navigated the dangerous shoals of
foreign invasion and domestic insurrection at a time when the kingdom
was particularly disjoint, until he was cowardly murdered by the
disappointed candidate, a man whose judgment was lacking and whose very
sanity was problematical.  It would be regretted that Claudius did not
follow the examples of less compassionate kings and dispose of his rival
as soon as the election was over.  His tragic flaw was, as he admitted,
uxoriousness.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Wednesday, 7 Apr 2004 02:27:20 -0400
Subject: 15.0833 The Three Sons in Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0833 The Three Sons in Hamlet

I don't see Fortinbras as a usurper at all. He shows no designs on
Claudius's kingship. He just wants back his father's lands. Since they
were legally lost he has no claim and is acting as a lawlesss rebel. His
uncle calls him on it and he converts to a law-abiding prince, thus
qualifying him to inherit the throne of Denmark at the end. Shakespeare
makes it clear that Norway is "impotent and bedrid", indicating that
Fortinbras could overthrow him if he chose. Instead he leaves behind his
lawless youth and vows to respect the law, which from then on he does
(though exactly what's going on with Poland no one knows). At the end he
speaks of his "rights of memory" to claim the throne, a claim which,
we've seen, Hamlet supports. Claiming your rightful throne was not
something Shakespeare disapproved of. He saw danger in disorder, and saw
a settled monarchy supported by "rights of memory" as the best guarantor
of peace.

The youthful, unimproved, revenging Fortinbras, after his brief episode
of lawlessness, vanishes when he makes his vow. By the end he has become
instead the best available candidate to succeed Hamlet, combining
combat-tested strength with demonstrated commitment to law and order.
Fortinbras is not a villain, in any sense. He's not exactly a hero
either.  He's a minor character, set up to bring a relative order to a
potentially chaotic Denmark. Fantasists, like Ingmar Bergman or Kenneth
Branagh, may make him a villain. Shakespeare did not.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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