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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0920  Wednesday, 21 April 2004

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 2004 08:08:21 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 20 Apr 2004 08:25:25 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?

[3]     From:   Cheryl Newton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 21 Apr 2004 00:35:57 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 2004 08:08:21 -0500
Subject: 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?

Alberto Cacicedo asks,

 >I can't say I've ever thought of Fortinbras as the conqueror of Denmark
 >at the end of the play.  It doesn't seem likely at first thought,
 >however.

Clumsy though his appearance may be, Fortinbras more or less *inherits*
Denmark, as though he were the "other" Hamlet, the dead prince who
wanted so to be like him.

 >At the same time, I don't think that Horatio is so
 >straightforwardly uncompromised and innocent.  What's he doing in
 >Elsinore in the first place, hanging out with the soldiers in the
 >taverns?

Well, he *says* he came to Elsinore to attend Old Hamlet's funeral.

 >Why does it take him so long to approach Hamlet?  Does he see
 >the appearance of the ghost as an opportunity to reintroduce himself to
 >Hamlet, and so go from tavern to court?  Has he taken advantage of that
 >opportunity so that by 4.5 he's giving advice to Gertrude about
 >receiving Ophelia in her madness?  What is Horatio doing in the rest of
 >4.5, in fact?  What does he mean by "Why, what a king is this!" in 5.2.62?

I have thought that Horatio adds to the problem of the play by hanging
fire too long with his needed advice to Hamlet, the only person the
Prince really trusts; that's Horatio's contribution to the tragedy.
(Hamlet's tragedy is, of course, that of a man - unlike Claudius - who
fails to make proper use of his friends. This is another form of the
argument of "Richard II" and the parts of "Henry IV" that the
God-appointed ruler is incompetent, the usurper the better ruler.)  And
doesn't Horatio's delay match Hamlet's, their likeness stressed in
Hamlet's "heart of hearts" speech to him?

The play's treatment of Horatio, like that of Fortinbras, might be
considered dramatically failing of its mark, but poetically completing
the argument of the play; although the event is unlikely, its occurence
closes a "shape".  The director and actors must provide the dramatic
closures that the play suggests but offers only logically/poetically.

          [L. Swilley]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 20 Apr 2004 08:25:25 -0500
Subject: 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?

Alberto Cacicedo inquires about Horatio:

"What's he doing in
Elsinore in the first place, hanging out with the soldiers in the
taverns?  Why does it take him so long to approach Hamlet?  Does he see
the appearance of the ghost as an opportunity to reintroduce himself to
Hamlet, and so go from tavern to court?  Has he taken advantage of that
opportunity so that by 4.5 he's giving advice to Gertrude about
receiving Ophelia in her madness?  What is Horatio doing in the rest of
4.5, in fact?  What does he mean by "Why, what a king is this!" in
5.2.62?"

Yes, Horatio remains something of a puzzle but less so if you remember
that he belongs to the great Medieval and Renaissance tradition of the
pure (and frequently poor) scholars or "clerkes" - what Arthur Koestler
called the "sacred cows." They were stateless and, if you will,
"classless," frequently accorded great respect and generally allowed to
go their own ways (unless, of course, they assumed some political
office). Had he not been a prince, Hamlet might well have become one.

If I were doing Horatio I would create a back-story on these lines. My
best friend's beloved father has died suddenly, so I follow him (not
riding post-haste as he does) from Wittenberg to Elsinore to honor the
king's memory and help my friend as best I can. I find the situation
disturbing and embarrassing. The king's brother has gained the throne in
place of my friend, and has married his brother's widow in a
disgracefully short span of time. My friend is in paroxysms of grief,
anger and shame, so I don't intrude on him right away but wait to find
an appropriate moment in which he could deal with an old friend from
school in such humiliating circumstances. I am given a room in the
castle as a wandering scholar and a friend of the prince, and then
solicited by the guards to advise them on the appearance of a ghost in
the form of the late king. I doubt the ghost, then discover its reality.
  The ghost provides both the excuse and the necessity for my obtruding
on the distraught prince.

My hanging about Elsinore after Hamlet's departure is perhaps equally
mysterious, but requires no more explanation than that the relative
comforts of the castle momentarily outweigh the pure, scholarly
bleakness of a garret in Wittenberg.

Of course, Horatio also seems to be turning into something of a court
advisor, but this is something many "clerkes" did, and many more tried
to. Perhaps he expects Hamlet to return from England soon and feels he
needs to be on hand in that event.

The latter point, though, is a vagueness built into that whole aspect of
the plot. Although we are given full information on Claudius's real, but
secret, intentions (summary execution of the prince), what the official
plan is remains somewhat vague. Hamlet's job is apparently to pressure
the English tributaries into ponying up their overdue taxes - something
that shouldn't take more than a few weeks or months. Is it assumed that
the rumors about killing of Polonius will have run their course and that
Hamlet can resume his position as heir apparent? Is everyone in a state
of denial, not thinking about it because there is no real answer to the
dilemma?

The two key players evidently don't care. Hamlet has blown his chance to
kill his uncle, and instead given him warning as to his intentions. He
needs some time to start over. Claudius, knowing the secret plan,
doesn't worry about the weak logic of the cover story. In a few days it
will be irrelevant.

Whether these plot problems simply didn't occur to WS, or whether he let
them go, knowing that audiences don't really care as long as the story
doesn't get too far-fetched but does move along briskly, or whether it
was some combination of both, we can't tell. And since they only bother
us when we think too hard about the plays, they probably don't matter. A
dull play with everything worked out logically to a nicety would never
have generated so much scholarship or so many productions.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cheryl Newton <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 21 Apr 2004 00:35:57 -0400
Subject: 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0906 Fortinbras: bad boy, bad boy?

I imagine most audience members wouldn't mind seeing Osric shoot.
Abigail: was there an audience response - or what was your own reaction
- to, after all the slaughter, seeing Horatio in danger?

I step to the defense of Horatio. Kurt Vonnegut Jr refers to him as
"sane & decent," & Northrop Frye cites him as the example of the man
Shakespeare thought Hamlet should be - temperate, loyal yet honest to a
fault, learned.  As a Stoic, he would use the tavern for visiting rather
than excessive drinking.  As a commoner who seems genuinely surprised by
the depth of Hamlet's affection for him, he would be out of place
knocking at the palace gate to ask if the Prince was free to visit.
Instead he felt he had no business there until the appearance of the
Ghost lead him to contact Hamlet.  Why hadn't he gone back to
Wittenberg? <smile> Well, he did say he had a truant disposition.

He doesn't have the fawning nature of one currying favor, like Osric &
R&G.  Or if he does, he's too subtle for both Hamlet & me.  Instead, he
remains respectful but critical: "So R&G go to it? ...  You will lose
this wager.  ....do it not."  The "What a king is this?" remark seems to
me to be his naivet

 

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