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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1058  Thursday, 13 May 2004

[1]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 2004 06:55:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 2004 07:58:03 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 May 2004 16:35:39 -0500
        Subj:   Fwd: SHK 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 2004 06:55:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago

New question related to this topic: May I get recommendations for books,
anthologies, or long articles focusing on the 50-150 years of Hamlet
commentary or allusions. For the allusions, I am also interested in how
material in Hamlet is used in the following 40 years of drama. (To note
one study that has been mentioned a few times, I will be reading
Greenblatt's Hamlet in Purgatory in the next few weeks.) My primary
interest is to see what the earliest commentators have said or done with
the ghost and "The Murder of Gonzago." I would like to know if the
earliest audiences concluded that the play caught the conscience of the
king and if the ghost was a goblin damned. Suggestions will be appreciated.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 2004 07:58:03 -0500
Subject: 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago

I hate to get picky but I have some problems with Ed's analyses of
Hamlet's Last Six Acts. To wit:

 >"(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." -- Why should he
 >have a plan? Why bother with one till he figures out what Claudius has
 >in mind? This he does by picking their pockets and reading the sealed
 >orders
 >
 >"(2) Hamlet boards
 >the Pirate ship in the midst of battle - a dangerous, seemingly
 >gratuitous act that could lead to his instant death." -- I have always
 >assumed that that was what happened in a sea-fight -- in the chaos of
 >battle you went where you could fight the most effectively. It is not
 >gratuitous but courageous.
 >
 >"(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?" -- The king is hampered by the fact that Hamlet is
 >the crown prince, has a large faction in the mob and is doted on by the
 >queen. He can't be summarily executed (as in England) but only poisoned
 >in a pot of ale or drowned in a butt of malmsey. Under those
 >circumstances, why should not Hamlet announce his return? They are both
 >pretending that all is on the up and up -- Hamlet the dutiful prince,
 >Claudius the wise and just king. The only alternative would be to shark
 >up a list of lawless resolutes and attempt a coup d'etat.
 >
 >"(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?" -- Asking for what? At
 >this stage why should he give a damn what anybody thinks of him? I do
 >not dispute the idea that Hamlet's mood at this time is weird and fey.
 >He is (as he explains after accepting the duel) certain that he is in
 >the hands of Providence and only waiting for the moment to arrive when
 >he shall attempt what must be attempted.
 >
 >"(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?" -- Laertes is not the better swordsman.
 >Hamlet wins the only two touches that are recorded, and is perhaps
 >cheated out of a third. He is so much superior that Laertes is reduced
 >to cheating in order the get the poison in him.
 >
 >"(6) Examining the tips of the foils is the
 >first thing Hamlet ought to do. He doesn't do it." -- To me the text
 >indicates that the king, Laertes and apparently Osric have formulated a
 >switcheroo. Hamlet gives a cursory inspection and asks idly if the
 >blades have the same length. It would be unmannerly to go over them
 >minutely as if you suspected something. Of course, the king and his tool
 >are in fact base enough to count on and betray this chivalrous trust.

When I review all this I wonder if Ed's and my views are as far apart as
all that. As I said above, Hamlet's mood by the end is very eerie. But I
don't regard it as suicidal -- unless you regard all people as suicidal
who accept the likelihood of their own death but nevertheless press on
with some fatal project. All sorts of people fall into that category:
crazed fanatics, war heroes, martyrs, ordinary people.

Now you can define all such people as suicidal or insane, but I will
dispute either definition. Their mentality is, I believe, quite
different from the classic suicide as well as the classic "madman."
Nonetheless, if that is your definition, you are certainly free to hold it.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 May 2004 16:35:39 -0500
Subject: 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Fwd: SHK 15.1052 The Murder of Gonzago

 >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."

I will question this this is the CENTRAL point, but my bracketed comments]

 >The six actions that Hamlet takes from 4.4 on disclose a pattern . . .

 >(1) Hamlet goes off with R&G without any plan to save himself. . .

[You don't know that.  He intimates he DOES have a plan, as you say, at
the end of 3,4, but even if he doesn't have a specific plan, he doesn't
need one, given that he is confident that he can craftily outwit any
challenge from them ]

 > . . . (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. . .

[Like what?  Rather, it seems to me, he has no choice; he must go by
kingly command, unless he wants to start a revolution. But he can't
because he is an intellectual]

 >(2) Hamlet boards the Pirate ship in the midst of
 >battle - a dangerous, seemingly gratuitous act
 >that could lead to his instant death.

[Where is the evidence that boarding the pirate ship is gratuitous (do
you mean reckless, or impulsive?) and not courageous. Hamlet is, after
all, a gentlemen schooled in the chivalrous arts, and there is nothing
in the text that says that Hamlet was alone.]

 >(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?

[Hamlet may be alone (saying so is then bravado) but not he is not
defenseless.  His best defense is that Claudius can't kill him while he
is in Denmark, which is why the king tried to have the murder done off
shore.  He is the Queen's son, next in line, by Claudius's own public
proclamation, and beloved of the multitude.     As Hamlet can't just
kill Claudius on the word of a ghost or on evidence from "The Moustrap,"
Claudius can't kill Hamlet-all for political reasons.  Hamlet is safest
in Denmark]

 >(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?

[Hamlet's main motive isn't to taunt, but to express his self-identity
(as The Dane), confess his true feeling for Ophelia, and to prove that
his love as as good as-better than-any brother's. That may be taken as
taunting, but it is meant primarily as self-justification, in my opinion]

 >(5) Laertes is the better swordsman, by all accounts,
 >no matter how much practice Hamlet claims he has had recently . . .

[Well, I disagree with the latter point.  Hamlet says that he has been
in continual practice while Laertes has been in France (presumably
luxuriating), which, along with feelings of self-confidence, gives
Hamlet the sense that he will win ("I shall win at the odds").]

 >Why accept such a duel? Would you fight Rocky Marciano in his prime?

[This is an inappropriate analogy, assuming by "you," you mean some
wimpy intellectual academic 90-pound "four-eyed" weakling type.  The
proper analogy is if you are as talented and almost as well trained as
Rocky, and if, while Rocky has been in France luxuriating, you have been
in continual training.]

 >(6) Examining the tips of the foils is the first thing Hamlet ought to
do. He doesn't do it.

[Of course he doesn't do it.  Why should he, when the normal assumption
is that Laertes is a justly outraged opponent, but a chivalrous
gentleman?  It is absurd to think that Laertes would pull a Claudian
trick, and it is to Hamlet's nobility that he never gives it a thought]

 >See the pattern? Hamlet is going in harm's way, and on purpose.

[No, not on purpose in the neurotic sense of being driven by a death
wish, which IS a gratuitous concept, scientifically speaking, but in the
trivial sense of talking risks.  At worst, you could call Hamlet
reckless, even irresponsible-he does have what we might call a character
disorder-but not really suicidal (neurotic), for all his earlier
experimentation with disingenuous suicidal ideation. ]

 > . . . 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.

[neither]

 >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 . . .

[Here he says Heaven, with a capital H, which suggests God, but only
here, if I recall, and even here, it may be a casual (gratuitous)
expression of foresight or even luck, put in religious form in a moment
of religious feeling (prelogical pleasure) but expressing no religious
belief, in the sense that Matthew Baynham was articulating a few days
ago.  Otherwise Hamlet speaks of providence (even when speaking of that
sparrow-even knowing that it is a Biblical image ) with a small p, whose
first meaning given by my Onions and Crystal & Crystal is foresight, not
fate (direction) . Hamlet does speak of a divinity that shapes our ends,
but this, like so much else, may be rhetorical rather than truly
spiritual.   But none of this comes close to my final objection]

 >. . . . 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.

[Then where is a soliloquy in which Hamlet speaks to Heaven, or tries to
engage Heaven in some sort of religious debate?  The absence of such a
soliloquy in the world's greatest soliloquizer is perhaps the best
evidence that you may be on the wrong track pushing primarily a
religious rather than psychological (characterological) interpretation
of Hamlet, for all the ghostly and other religious rhetoric and imagery.]

David Cohen

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