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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: April ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0989  Friday, 30 April 2004

[1]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 13:15:50 -0500
        Subj:   Fwd: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 15:09:47 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   David Friedberg <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 17:34:34 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 18:04:35 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Maria Concolato <
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        Date:   Friday, 30 Apr 2004 07:23:05 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 13:15:50 -0500
Subject: 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Fwd: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed, I'll suggest that whatever, as you say, "is going on here," it must
involve the idea of free will vs. determinism.  In the following,
Shakespeare (through Hamlet) seems ambivalent, suggesting both free will
and determinism in just two lines.  Consider HAMLET 5, 2:

. . . . we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow.

"There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow" suggests we lack
free will, while "we defy augury" suggests that we have it-yet only
augury in the sense of occasional fallible predictions made by ordinary
people, for instance, betting on the outcome of a duel between Hamlet
and Laertes.  It is quite different for the mysterious kind of augury
made by professional fortune tellers (Cymbeline), seers (Julius Caesar;
Troilus and Cressida), or supernatural characters (Macbeth) whose
auguries, however mysteriously expressed, are accurate to the last
detail.  We-at least the characters-do NOT defy that kind of augury.
And how does that kind of augury comport with the idea that we have free
will?  It doesn't.  I find no convincing evidence in the text of the 37
plays that Shakespeare truly believed that augury or Providence =
Christian God, nor how any of this fosters free will rather than
determinism.  Moreover, I find that the majority of text about free will
versus determinism seems to favor determinism by external factors (e.g.,
stars, gods, providence, fortune, and those mysterious factors of time
and chance) and internal factors of biology (best examples involving
"adoption studies" concerning Perdita and the sons of Cymbeline).  In short:

Through experimenting in many plays with both sides of the question,
Shakespeare seems to favor this idea: Despite what we imagine, much of
what we do is mere marionette-like with strings controlled by various
internal and external factors of chance and necessity beyond our
conscious selves that limit our free will.  Those factors that we must
ignore or deny to have the sense of free will include our inevitable
life cycle from birth to death, the irremediable fact of aging, the
impermanence of things held dear, such as friendships, the evidence that
life is full of chance events, that our biology is imperious, that gods
are arbitrary, and finally, that our lives are absurd if indeed we live
in an indifferent universe.

In sum, I have trouble with the idea that "ascertaining God's Will is
the central intellectual problem in the play" from 4.4.  But if it is,
it just as likely suggests (with a lot of other text) that there is no
"God's will."

David Cohen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 15:09:47 -0500
Subject: 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft offers these summaries of "what Hamlet does." I will note in
passing that the phraseology is somewhat loaded, but will let it pass

1. He boards the ship bound for England, even though he strongly
suspects that R&G have orders to somehow get rid of him.
2. He boards the Pirate ship, even though such an action might mean his
death.
3. He returns to Denmark and announces in a letter to the king that he
is back, "naked" and "alone."
4. He enrages and insults Laertes during Ophelia's burial.
5. He later accepts a duel with the more skilled Laertes.
6. He avoids examining the foils before the fight.

As for his words during this time, he is obsessed with death and Providence.

1. He has no choice. His negotiated settlement with the king demands it.
His best play is to go along with it, and try to outfox the king - which
he does.
2. So might not-boarding it. In any case, it is just the thing that a
man of action (like Fortinbras or his father) would doubtless have done.
3. Where else is he to go? He still has the same problem (he has killed
a royal counselor under legally dubious circumstances) and the same
leverage (he is the sole direct heir). The negotiated settlement is
cancelled, so he might as well return to Elsinore and start scheming again.
4. Yes, he does. He dislikes Laertes (as well he might) and finds his
ostentation obnoxious.
5. Yes, he does. Except he doesn't think that Laertes is necessarily
more skilled (and he's right). Everyone knows that there is something
very smelly about the fencing match. Horatio remarks on it, but Hamlet
prevents him from putting it off. "There is special providence in the
fall of a sparrow," and Hamlet senses that one or more featherless
bipeds will fall in the next few minutes.
6. He asks about them and receives assurance. Shakespeare does not tell
us whether or not Osric has been suborned to go along with foil-swap
that allows Laertes to obtain an unbated and poisoned blade. Considering
the state of Hamlet's mind just before the duel he probably didn't think
much about it: Providence was felling sparrows, and he might be a victor
or a victor or both.

Ed's got this set up evidently to play into his demonic-Hamlet theory,
and perhaps has set us up so that he can pounce on our responses. So be
it. It's an open forum, and he is certainly a better pouncer than most,
so I offer these poor mice for beheading.

My only proviso is that he show something really wrong with them,
something that makes them inadequate for understanding Hamlet in the
last part of the play.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Friedberg <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 17:34:34 -0400
Subject: 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

Wrong David answering.

I suggest that Hamlet has confused himself with God.

David Friedberg

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 29 Apr 2004 18:04:35 -0700
Subject: 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft summarizes Hamlet's career:

Here, in chronological order, is Hamlet's part in the plot as the play
draws to a close:

1. He boards the ship bound for England, even though he strongly
suspects that R&G have orders to somehow get rid of him.
2. He boards the Pirate ship, even though such an action might mean his
death.
3. He returns to Denmark and announces in a letter to the king that he
is back, "naked" and "alone."
4. He enrages and insults Laertes during Ophelia's burial.
5. He later accepts a duel with the more skilled Laertes.
6. He avoids examining the foils before the fight.

This is really fairly simple.  While you might be trying to suggest some
sort of unconscious (or not) death wish, the quick answer is that Hamlet
has accepted that being-in-the-world is being-towards-death, as
Heidegger would later put it.  Being "naked" and "alone" is an
understanding of the human condition.  And accepting one's mortality is
a prerequisite to courageous action.

Finally, there's some debate about whether Laertes is more skilled; as I
recall, Hamlet makes two before Laertes makes one.  For that matter, he
tries to mollify Laertes before fighting him, though I suppose that we
can call his efforts at diplomacy ironically enraging, if one is so
determined.

And he does examine the foils, at least briefly, concluding that "This
likes me well, these foiles haue all a length".

Yours,
SKL.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Maria Concolato <
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Date:           Friday, 30 Apr 2004 07:23:05 +0200
Subject: 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0982 The Murder of Gonzago

I have been through the many interventions on The Murder of Gonzago  I
hadn't been able to read before. I would like to repeat a suggestion
that has already been made. Greenblatt's Hamlet in Purgatory contains,
in my opinion, the richest discussion of the problem, after Sister
Miriam Joseph's Discerning the Ghost In Hamlet (PMLA, LXXVI, 1961,
493-502), specially regarding "God's Will" as "the central intellectual
problem'. Wouldn't it be useful to consider them? Thanks. Maria Concolato

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