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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1063  Friday, 14 May 2004

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 2004 12:22:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 2004 11:57:27 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 2004 15:43:08 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 May 2004 12:30:09 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0928 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 13 May 2004 17:32:06 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 May 2004 12:22:17 -0500
Subject: 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago

 >>. . . . 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.]

Hieronymo is given such interrogatory speeches in The Spanish Tragedy in
3.2, 3.7, and 3.13, though anything like ascertaining "God's will" is
complicated there by a different mechanism from that which obtains in
Hamlet (the pagan frame).

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 May 2004 11:57:27 -0700
Subject: 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago

While Hamlet actually does examine the foils, he does not see any
poison.  But this isn't evidence that he's recklessly ignoring the
possibility, or even trusting Laertes not to play a trick.  After all,
the poison might not be visible.  What do you want him to do, scratch a
lab-rat?

Yours,
Sean.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 May 2004 15:43:08 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

I appreciate the comments of both Don and David. David's first: I think
it would help to put yourself in Hamlet's position. If you do so, it's
easier to see that he should have examined the foils more carefully.
Laertes is angry at him and the king is out to kill him. Surely you and
I would have thought to check the tips. Hamlet should have too, but he
chooses not to - which is my point. Again, suppose that you were sent on
a ship with guys whom you were pretty sure were out to do you in -
somehow. Would you leave everything to chance? I know I wouldn't. But
Hamlet does exactly that - which is my point. But here is your major
objection:

"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."

I understand that you'd like a soliloquy spelling Hamlet's concerns out.
It would make things easier. But I think we are increasingly coming to
see that Hamlet's actions (even more than his words) are the key to
understanding him. As many recent critics have pointed out, his words
and actions often conflict or seem to contradict each other.
Psychologically, he's decided on a course of action from 4.4 on -
there's no need for him to debate things any longer. In a play where the
key word is ACT, having the main character disclose by his actions the
central concerns of the play makes a lot of sense. Having those actions
disclose a meaningful pattern also seems appropriate.

Don Bloom writes:

"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."

I think the only fundamental difference between us is whether or not the
initial question posed by the Ghost (Is revenge God's Will?) is answered
by the play-within-the-play. In my view, it is not resolved then, which
is why, later, Hamlet is still unsure of his course of action.

I appreciate both of your comments.

Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Friday, 14 May 2004 12:30:09 +0900
Subject: 15.0928 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0928 The Murder of Gonzago

Jack Heller asks: "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."

Maybe these details will be helpful.

The first writer to argue that the Mousetrap fails, and that Claudius
does not betray or prove his guilt when he terminates both the
performance and Hamlet's increasingly gross and insulting sideshow, was
the Japanese writer, Shiga Naoya, in his 1912 short story "Claudius's
Diary" (Kurodiasu-no-Nikki) and in his 1913 essay "On Claudius's
Diary--To Funaki Shigeo". (I have heard that an English translation of
the story is to appear in the next Shakespeare Jahrbuch, but I'm not
sure of this.) The first Western writer to argue that the Mousetrap
fails, and that Claudius would have behaved as he does even if he were
as innocent as a lamb, was W. W. Greg, in his famous or notorious essay
"Hamlet's Hallucination"--Modern Language Review 1917. Dover Wilson's
What Happens was written to refute Greg's thesis, as Dover Wilson
explains in his preface "Epistle Dedicatory".

Unfortunately, both Shiga and Greg harnessed or shackled their
impressive arguments about the Mousetrap to other, unimpressive or
downright  silly arguments. Greg's main argument was that the Ghost is
"Hamlet's Hallucination". The obvious objection to that thesis is that
the Ghost is seen eleven times by four different people;  but Greg
maintained that we should regard that fact as "a freak of collective
suggestion. and explain it away as we should any other spook". Shiga's
main argument was that Claudius really is innocent, and didn't murder
King Hamlet. And of course the obvious objection to that is that is that
in 3.3 Claudius admits that his "offence is rank" and "hath the primal
eldest curse upon't": "A brother's murder." Shiga overlooked this.

Game, set and match? Not at all! Claudius's admission of guilt follows
the Mousetrap, and is not heard by any of the play's characters,
including Hamlet. The success of the Mousetrap depends on whatever is
revealed to Hamlet (and the informed, vigilantly attentive Horatio) not
on what the off-stage audience knows. And whatever Hamlet knows, or
thinks he knows, depends on whatever Claudius's response to the
Mousetrap reveals--to Hamlet, Horatio, and perhaps to others.

In another sense, for the Mousetrap is to be the success Hamlet takes it
to be, the evidence of Claudius's guilt must be unequivocally apparent
to Hamlet and to the offstage audience.  That is, we need to see what
Hamlet sees, if we are to believe that Hamlet is justified in his own
conviction that Claudius murdered Hamlet's father and that he can now
"take the ghost's word for a thousand pound". Horatio's "Half a doubt"
suggests that he isn't convinced, but Hamlet ignores that.

Dover Wilson thought he had refuted Greg, and his arguments about the
Ghost are very powerful. But his arguments about the Mousetrap are very
poor, and his description of how Claudius behaves reads like a stage
direction for the film Olivier had not yet made: "Terrified by the
thought that 'Hamlet knows it all!" [Claudius] pulls himself to his
feet, and,squealing for light, he totters as fast as his trembling knees
will take him from the terrible, the threatening room. King Mouse has
become a shambling paddock." If Claudius behaved like that, everybody in
the Court would know that he is a murderer." They don't. The Court has
been watching a play about a nephew who murders his royal uncle", and
watching an ever more insulting, threatening Hamlet. From what Polonius,
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern say after the performance, and from
Gertrude's astonished "As kill a king?", it seems pretty clear that they
never suspect that Claudius killed King Hamlet. They think that Hamlet
wants to kill King Claudius.

That is also what Claudius thinks. He certainly does not think that
"Hamlet knows it all!" When he is trying to pray, it is clear that he
supposes that his crime is known only to God.

In theatrical terms Peter Hall's 1965 Royal Shakespeare Company
production was the first to present the Mousetrap as a failure. So did
the later BBC/Time Life production, in which Patrick Stewart plays
Claudius. The idea that the Mousetrap fails gained ground after these
two productions, and is taken for granted by the actor/director Michael
Pennington in his very good book, "Hamlet: A User's Guide."  Both the
Ghost and the Mousetrap are discussed by several writers (including me)
in Bernice W. Kliman's excellent collection, "Approaches to Teaching
Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'" (MLA, 2001).

Of course the issue of whether or not Purgatory exists is related, and
just as important as Hamlet recognises after speaking with the Ghost.
When Horatio says "There's no offence, my lord", Hamlet replies, "Yes,
by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio, / And much offence too..." St
Patrick was the patron saint of Purgatory. Hamlet sees that consequence
of accepting that this was an "honest Ghost". Later, he plans the
Mousetrap to test and establish the Ghost's provenance as well as
Claudius' guilt: his final soliloquy in Act II is explicit about both of
these objective. Notice, after entering their long, very scholarly
arguments, both Dover Wilson and Roland Mushat Frye in (The Renaissance
Hamlet) suppose that doubts about the Ghost's provenance are not settled
even when the play ends. Yet they don't so much as ask why Hamlet
himself stops doubting the Ghost after the Mousetrap--which fails.

Best wishes,
Graham Bradshaw

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Thursday, 13 May 2004 17:32:06 -1000
Subject: 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1058 The Murder of Gonzago

This thread is getting to be fun, I think I'll play too. Let me suggest
that following his departure from Denmark Hamlet may have well decided
to capitulate. He has had little luck carrying out the ghost's
commission, his friends R&J have turned on him, allies Marcellus and
Bernardo have never been heard from again, Ophelia dies of a broken
heart and a lost father, Laertes hates him, and his mother who seemed to
have come to his side seems to have returned to Claudius, reference her
haste to protect him from Laertes' threats: "But not by him!". Perhaps
Hamlet means exactly what he says in his letter to Claudius and like a
good child wants to "ask his pardon" and reconcile their differences.
Suggesting they meet "alone" to reach an agreement that will keep Hamlet
silent about Claudius' regicide in exchange for, say, Hamlet's rule over
Norway. Perhaps the act of writing R&J's death warrant and sealing it
with the royal signet gave Hamlet a sense of the real power he could
achieve by aligning himself with, instead of resisting Claudius. I
wonder if he signed the commission: "Hamlet the Dane"?

So jumping on the pirate ship was not an act of potential suicide,
rather it was a means to effect a quick return to Elsinore. They could
well have been Danish pirates, perhaps recruited from his loving
"general gender" so there was no need to wave a white flag, or spray the
deck with Danegelt. Or if necessary, for his safe return to Elsinore he
might have promised a huge ransom, possibly his "good turn for them", in
the form of a request to Gertrude for money or jewelry via that other
letter we never get to read.  But for the hyperbolic graveyard duel with
Laertes surely Hamlet would have had his proposed private meeting with
the king. Instead we have the duel where Hamlet foresees no danger
because in his mind he is already aligned with Claudius and the court,
hence his very public apology to Laertes. A lapse into his previous
ineffectual rage led him to declaim Claudius during a prior conversation
with Horatio, but that passed quickly, perhaps dissolved by his growing
haughty attitude towards those less noble such as Osric. Of course, once
Claudius' and Laertes' perfidy became apparent, Hamlet flipped back to
his earlier revenge mode, but alas it was too late, that fell sergeant
had already been mustered.

Jay Feldman

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