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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0953  Monday, 26 April 2004

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Saturday, 24 Apr 2004 00:10:16 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0919 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Sunday, 25 Apr 2004 14:26:03 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Saturday, 24 Apr 2004 00:10:16 -0700
Subject: 15.0919 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0919 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft expresses bafflement:

"Sean Lawrence writes that "by avoiding speculations in historical
metaphysics, we give ourselves greater scope to examine the intellectual
and exigent questions surrounding suicide, being and nothingness, ethics
and the Other."

I confess to being baffled by this statement. The inability to pin down
the true origin of the Ghost (and whether it is a good or bad Ghost) is
not a point of speculation but a matter of logic applied to a system of
belief that few in the audience would have questioned."

Not necessarily.  Members of the audience might have included Catholic
or Protestant minorities, or might have held ambivalent views about a
belief so recently declared false.  For that matter, they might have
made the decision on generic, rather than religious grounds.  Most of
us, whatever our upbringing and belief in the afterlife, were willing to
listen to ghost stories as children. Many of us still are.

But all of this has been worked over already.  Your next comments might
better illustrate what I mean:

"On the other hand, I agree with Sean that questions of suicide, being
and not being, ethics, etc. are important, but they are all answered (or
NOT answered) with reference to the Will of God. If Hamlet is doing
God's Will, then he's OK; if he's not, well, hell will receive another
visitor."

 From these comments, it would seem that the question is about to be
answered.  Rather that worrying about the ethics of revenge (and, more
generally, the question of what one owes to the Other, and to which
others), we've effectively shifted the question on to the will of God,
and from thence to whatever sort of theology might or might not be
embraced by a sixteenth-century audience.  I suppose that we can have
fun arguing about it, but it detracts from the philosophical questions.
  Could Hamlet not have an obligation to kill Claudius even if the ghost
were a devil?  For that matter, could he have an obligation to kill
Claudius, even if the Elizabethan audience would not have questioned it?

My real objection is that the question seems to be presented as 1)
founded upon the problem of determining the responses of a 17th century
audience; 2) essentially quite simple.

Why can't the ghost be as complex in his motivations as other
characters?  Why does he have to be, as Hamlet puts it, "a spirit of
health or goblin damn'd"?  For that matter, why can't the audience be
complex and ambivalent in their responses to him?

Do we really want Hamlet to stop asking about "The undiscover'd country
from whose bourn / No traveller returns"?  After all, he could just read
the Apostle's Creed and come to a clear answer.  One of my students
pointed out in her final exam that if we want Hamlet to reflect 17th
century orthodoxy, then the Q1 version of his famous "To be or not to
be" soliloquy would better reflect such views.  But of course that isn't
why we read it.

Yours,
Sean.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Sunday, 25 Apr 2004 14:26:03 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Well, Thomas Larque is right about one point: his most recent post is
even more lengthy than before. Having just ended a marathon session of
paper readings and discussions, I fear my brain must cut to the
essentials and leave unanswered a lot of the minor mistakes that Larque
makes. I will, however, point out that I never categorized the Ghost as
either Protestant or Catholic. I have no idea what its belief system
is/was/might be. Nor does my argument, which Larque never really
confronts, depend on it.

Thomas Larque doesn't seem to understand the word "typical." He draws
upon some lunatic-fringe essays about Ophelia (only one of which I have
read) and tries to make them stand for modern criticism in general.
That's intellectually dishonest and a political tactic, not a scholarly
one. If he wants to make a general point about modern criticism, he is
obliged to make it using truly representative figures and the books and
articles they have written. Why doesn't he do this? Because he can't..

He can't find outlandish claims about Ophelia or Sebastian in the work
of, say, Barton, Taylor, Greenblatt, Dollimore, Bevington, Coursen,
Shapiro, Rackin, Kirsch, Neely, Jones, Novy, Paster, or even Marcus,
though the last of these has much to teach him about his own wholly
inadequate assumptions about the nature of interpretation.  Freshmen in
my English 102 class often make the mistake of using atypical examples
to foster extreme (and wrong) arguments. But when someone pretending to
instruct us all that we are all wrong makes the same mistake, I lose
patience and call a spade a spade.

Thomas Larque also makes the na

 

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