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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1052  Wednesday, 12 May 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 May 2004 10:55:11 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 May 2004 20:23:02 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1043 The Murder of Gonzago

From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 May 2004 10:55:11 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

First, my apologies for not responding to David Cohen and others sooner.
Unfortunately, the technical staff at Marshall

was flummoxed by the Sasser virus, which infected and reinfected our
system over and over again. Apparently patch instructions were not
carried out properly. At any rate, it took a week to fix, and I didn't
want to infect Hardy's system or all of his readers'. Now, on to
business: David Cohen writes:

"I believe that all the points Don Bloom offers in response to Ed Taft's
six points are reasonable but how do they-or Ed's six, for that
matter-go to Ed's provocative basic point, namely that, "ascertaining
God's Will is the central intellectual problem in the play . . . what I
think the play from 4.4 on is primarily about."

The six actions that Hamlet takes from 4.4 on disclose a pattern, the
meaning of which is what I want to get at. Put simply, Hamlet has
embarked on a series of actions that purposefully heighten the potential
harm and danger to him, including his death. Let's look at them one by
one. (1) Hamlet goes off with R&G without any plan to save himself (in
contradiction to what he tells his mother at the end of 3.4). He knows
that R&G mean him no good, but he takes no preventative measures,
relying on Providence, if on anything, to save him. (2) Hamlet boards
the Pirate ship in the midst of battle - a dangerous, seemingly
gratuitous act that could lead to his instant death. (3) That Hamlet
returns to Denmark is not the issue: the issue is why does he announce
his return to the king in a letter that discloses that he is alone and
basically defenseless? - especially since Hamlet knows the king is
gunning for him now?  (4) Laertes is in the midst of profound grief at
Ophelia's burial and angry at Hamlet for killing their father and
indirectly causing Ophelia's death. For Hamlet to taunt Laertes as he
does is asking for it! Why does Hamlet do this? (5) Laertes is the
better swordsman, by all accounts, no matter how much practice Hamlet
claims he has had recently. Why accept such a duel? Would you fight
Rocky Marciano in his prime? (6) Examining the tips of the foils is the
first thing Hamlet ought to do. He doesn't do it.

See the pattern? Hamlet is going in harm's way, and on purpose. The
questions to begin answering are where did he get this idea? and what is
his purpose? As to the latter question, one could assume that (1) Hamlet
has gone crazy or (2) he has a death wish.

These might, finally, be right. But maybe not. Remember what he tells
Horatio about the trip to England: when Hamlet finds the old king's
impress in his pocket, Hamlet thinks that Providence has taken a hand in
helping to save him. Then, Hamlet does his part by rewriting the orders
that guarantee the deaths of R&G. Hamlet seems to think that Providence
intervened to save him (so he could effect revenge?). If we look at the
whole series of Hamlet's actions from 4.4 on, they can been seen as
attempts to interrogate Providence in order to ascertain God's Will.
After all, the very definition of Providence is God'w Will working
through fallen time - and both Hamlet and the audience knew that
perfectly well.

Specifically, Hamlet seems to be doing two things. First, he has
brilliantly figured out how to prove a negative, which, it is said,
cannot be done! If his death-defying actions lead to his death before he
kills Claudius, then Hamlet will have proven that it is NOT God's Will
for him to effect revenge. Of course, he will pay for it with his life,
but Hamlet seems to have decided that that is the price he must
potentially pay, and he seems willing to risk it. Second, these risky
actions come one right after another: it's clear that soon he will meet
his end, one way or another. In effect, he is using his free will to
force the hand of Providence. Hamlet knows that his act, if it
eventuates, must be soon. Psychically, he can't take much more.

That's enough for starters. There's more, including a whole other side
of the issue (that David Cohen may find more agreeable), but in essence
the above argument shows why I think that all of the play from 4.4 on is
about attempting to discover God's Will. Also, the play from 4.4 on
shows why Don Bloom is wrong. Whether or not the Ghost represents the
Will of Heaven is not "unimportant" (!); it's central to the conclusion
of this play!

Ed Taft

From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 May 2004 20:23:02 +0100
Subject: 15.1043 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1043 The Murder of Gonzago

Bill Arnold writes...

 >... in the play *Hamlet* the opening scene ACT I posits a spirit of the
 >*Father* from the other realm, and his statements and those of the *Son*
 >suggest to me that the play turns on New Testament knowledge.  Thus, it
 >behooves scholars so interested in the play to investigate the NT

There certainly are New Testament allusions in Hamlet 1.1, but these are
allusions to Christ's resurrection, rather than to any passages where
Christ talks of his father in heaven.  The whole scene seems to have
something of the atmosphere of the angel appearing to the "watch"
outside the tomb...

'His countenaunce was lyke lyghtnyng, and his rayment white as snowe.
And for feare of him, the kepers were astonyed, and became as dead men'
(Matthew 28, 3-4, Bishops Bible)

We are also reminded of the night of Christ's arrest:  'And Peter sayde:
Man I wote not what thou sayest. And immediatlye whyle he yet spake, the
Cocke crewe. And the Lorde turned backe, & loked vpon Peter: And Peter
remembred the worde of the Lorde, howe he hadde sayde vnto hym, before
the Cocke crowe thou shalt denie me thrise.'  (Luke 22, 60-61) .

'BARNARDO:  It was about to speak when the cock crew.
HORATIO:  And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons'

I find these lines interesting too...

'BARNARDO:  Looks it not like the king?...
HORATIO:  Most like.  It harrows me with fear and wonder'.

'Most like' is of course not the same as 'He is the king'.  After his
resurrection, Christ appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but
they don't recognise him at first because he is in a slightly different

Peter Bridgman

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