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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0876  Thursday, 15 April 2004

[1]     From:   Thomas Larque <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 13:30:05 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 09:34:04 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Alan Jones <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 15:17:29 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Alan Horn <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 10:55:48 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Jack Hettinger <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 21:16:14 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas Larque <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 13:30:05 +0100
Subject: 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

 >Peter Bridgman's remark that "the audience, along with
 >Wittenberg-educated Hamlet, is made to accept the existence of
 >Purgatory," made me think, along with Jack Hettinger, that the play's
 >original audience might have associated that Catholic belief with other
 >officially rejected traditions like belief in ghosts and in the justice
 >of revenge.

As Alan Horn suggests, Shakespeare's plays and those of other
Renaissance dramatists, frequently contain references to beliefs that
would be considered outdated or unacceptable to their own Renaissance
English authorities.  The assumption that suicide is an honourable
action - for example - is present in many Renaissance plays and poems
set in the Roman period, and I seem to remember in a few plays set in
more recent times, although the idea is repugnant to the official
Christian morality of Renaissance England, which saw suicide as one of
the greatest sins and a rejection of God.

Similarly the Roman and Greek gods make frequent appearances in
Renaissance literature, not only in references, but occasionally in
person.  Rather obviously direct belief in these gods would have been
paganism, and not permitted by Renaissance English society.

It may be too easy to suggest that ghosts and purgatory in "Hamlet"
serve a similar function (Medieval Catholic theology for a play set in a
Medieval Catholic country, but in a work intended as fiction rather than
fact, and therefore acceptable) since there would obviously be more
threat from and more hostility towards ideas still held by modern
Catholics - the enemy - than from those held by long-dead Romans -
viewed as a virtuous but mistaken society, whose descendants had
discovered the true God.

I find it very difficult to believe, however, that there is not some
element of celebration of an apparently virtuous revenge in the revenge
dramas of the Renaissance, despite the official Christian belief that
all revenge should be left to God and that revengers were sinners - and
would accept more readily that playwrights hedged their bets by making
it clear that even the most virtuous revenger was doomed to an
unpleasant fate, than that all revengers were portrayed as malignant and
evil villains (which does not seem to reflect the heroic and sympathetic
portrayals in so many plays).  And it seems obvious that "real" ghosts -
the spirits of dead people, not devils in disguise - appear in many
English Renaissance plays, despite the official Protestant rejection of
such things.

If revenge, suicide, real ghosts, and pagan gods could be portrayed and
treated sympathetically in Renaissance drama (despite the fact that
Renaissance English audiences were officially expected to oppose these
things in their everyday life), then perhaps the concept of purgatory
could be treated in a similar way.

Thomas Larque.
"Shakespeare and His Critics"       "British Shakespeare Association"
http://shakespearean.org.uk           http://britishshakespeare.ws

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 09:34:04 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Alan Horn's parenthesis is worth contemplating: "(the ghost might be
right and still be an evil spirit)". The fundamental question is not
Claudius's guilt but the nature of the Ghost.

Is this a good or bad spirit? If good, then revenge is God's will and
should be carried out. If bad, then, well, the opposite. In the most
fundamental sense, the play *Hamlet* demonstrates that important actions
often depend on information that just cannot be known beforehand.

And afterwards, well, it's too late. Thus, the tragic nature of Hamlet's
(and our) dilemma.

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Jones <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 15:17:29 +0100
Subject: 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

Alan Horn writes: "I'd like to know what others think about all this,
and would appreciate suggestions for background readings related to this
discussion".

Not specifically about "Hamlet"'; but  Eamon Duffy's "The Stripping of
the Altars" describes the slow and uneven process by which popular
religious belief and informal practice became Protestant.

Some small research I undertook into this matter showed that, even at a
date when prayers for the dead (which seem almost inevitably to imply a
belief in something like Purgatory) had been eliminated from the
official formularies, Archbishop Parker instructed his officials
carrying out a Visitation at Hampton in Middlesex to enquire how many
parishioners prayed for the dead.

The context in which Article XXII mentions Purgatory seems to be the
mediaeval abuse of indulgences, and it stops curiously short of
forthrightly condemning even the deplored "Romish "doctrine of
Purgatory. Perhaps the use of "Romish" implies that some other such
doctrine might be acceptable. An Elizabethan Latin version I once read
(but of which I have mislaid my notes) used the term "scholastica
doctrina", which neatly avoids condemning the very ancient "patristic"
doctrine of which the Reformers must have been aware.

Alan Jones

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Horn <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 10:55:48 EDT
Subject: 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

<< The view supported by Peter Bridgman that Prince Hamlet was in fact a
  figure of ridicule >>

I meant "by Jack Hettinger." Sorry. Alan H

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Hettinger <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Apr 2004 21:16:14 -0400
Subject: 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0873 The Murder of Gonzago

Peter Bridgeman wondered about my characterization of Hamlet as "a play
that plainly mocked that preposterous untenable Catholic doctrine of
Purgatory" and says "The only references to purgatory are made by the
Ghost in 1.5.  Perhaps Jack would point out what is mocking in these
lines.  I only find them chilling....."

I too find the Ghost's description chilling--chilling, creepy, gruesome.
But I did not have these lines in mind when I said that the play mocked
that the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Purgatory is untenable because,
as Peter points out in his new message, it was erased from the
Protestant cosmology in 1549. Everybody in the theater knows it is
untenable. Whether many or any care is another matter.

Here Alan Horn warns us that people's attitudes about Purgatory & other
doctrines would have been "ambivalent" since "Religious identities were
still in flux in England at the turn of the seventeenth century. And the
theater was a place where, within limits, social and ideological
conflicts could be safely represented."

I agree on all points.

But I must assume that the censors were censoring something, and, as is
the case in most campaigns against heterodoxy, somebody was censoring
the censors. So here I go supposing that at least any obvious traces of
Catholic belief, other than those being satirized, would have been
caught by some official or other.

That assumption may be my error, but give me a little tether to respond
to Peter's new concern: "If Shakespeare sympathised with the Protestant
theologians, surely he would have shown us that the Ghost's account was
unreliable by revealing the king's innocence.... By the end of the play
there is nothing to contradict Old Hamlet's account of his own murder.
And by implication, there is nothing to contradict Old Hamlet's account
that he is doing time in purgatory.  Again, we see Shakespeare going as
far as he dared to go in his Catholic sympathies without getting his
play banned."

I say (as Alan does) that the Ghost could be infernal and still be
giving Hamlet an accurate account of Old Hamlet's murder.

First, the Ghost says sure I'll speak, and, kid, when I'm done, you will
be "bound" to "revenge." Then it says a word or two about Purgatory
(which officially does not exist), followed by the old device, Gee, if I
could tell you what it's really like, I mean really, your blood would
freeze, your eyes would pop out, your hair would stand on end like
quills. But I am forbidden to tell you about the really truly scary
horrible spooky awful dreadful stuff that goes on there--but if I could,
would you ever be scared out of your garters!

Surely by now the mind of the melancholy youth is concentrated on a
worse scene of horror than the Ghost could ever describe. Especially
since the Ghost has said Hamlet is bound to revenge his father once he
hears what happened to his father. What happened to my father? Well, he
was murdered foully and most unnaturally, and it is your job to revenge
him. Then comes the tripartite injunction which the Ghost imposes on Hamlet:

[1]Let not the royal bed of Denmark be
A couch for luxury and damn

 

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