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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1070  Monday, 17 May 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 May 2004 12:14:47 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 May 2004 12:34:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 May 2004 19:53:47 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 14 May 2004 12:15:36 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 15 May 2004 08:14:49 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

[6]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Sunday, 16 May 2004 16:10:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 14 May 2004 12:14:47 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Graham Bradshaw writes that

"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."

Maybe Hamlet doesn't stop worrying about the Ghost's command. Maybe
instead he approaches the problem from another angle. One aspect of
Hamlet vis a vis the Ghost is the fear that harrows the son both times
they meet and that makes it difficult for young Hamlet to test this
apparition in a way that might seem to disclose proof of its origins.

I appreciate Jay Feldman's parody; as usual, I don't understand the
comments of Sean Lawrence - they seem gratuitous and pointless sarcasm.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Friday, 14 May 2004 12:34:32 -0500
Subject: 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft <
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 > writes,

 >I appreciate the comments of both Don and David. David's first . . .
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 . . .

Rather, I think it would make things more exciting.  Can you imagine
that fifth (missing) Hamletian soliloquy, engaging-perhaps
challenging-God, Providence, the Cosmos, in a debate about the ultimate
scheme of things, the point of man's existence, man's responsibility,
etc.?  What intellectual hay Shakespeare critics would make; think of
the debates, the essays, the books!  Good grief, it is not a matter of
making things easier, but harder, but how much more deeply satisfying.

 >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 . . .

My objection is twofold.  First, imagine removing the four
soliloquies-no soliloquies, lots of action.  How much less of a play
would Hamlet be?  Okay, you don't argue for removing them, but you do
seem to minimize a need for them, at least one that doesn't appear. But
wouldn't the presence of a fifth further your argument, or at least
refine it?  I mean that missing fifth, too, might be inconsistent with
Hamlet's actions,  thus reinforcing your point that, "his words and
actions often conflict or seem to contradict each other."  Or they might
be consistent with his actions, especially after 4.4, which would make
both Hamlet and the play so much richer and more interesting, in
suggesting a major development pre- and post-4.4, as you suggest.

 >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.

Yet as you say, we evaluate those actions against his words, so we need
the words. But all of this is minor, in my untutored view, compared to
the point that nowhere in Hamlet or any other play, does a major
character engage Providence, let alone a personal God, in a debate that
furthers our understanding of the ultimate meaning of man's existence.
Seemingly minor (trivial) exceptions-e.g., a character (e.g. Pericles)
passionately noting that the gods (sounds pagan, "gods") give us good
things, only to snatch them away, or bad things, only to make things
well again-don't do it.  It's not that I think Shakespeare HAD to do it;
I only wish he HAD done it.

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 14 May 2004 19:53:47 +0100
Subject: 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

Graham Bradshaw writes...

 >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.

WS may well have had St Patrick's shrine in Lough Derg, County Donegal
in mind when he wrote this.  The shrine, known as 'St Patrick's
Purgatory' since the 12th century, was believed to be the entrance to
Purgatory itself.  It was famous throughout medieval Europe and pilgrims
travelled from as far away as Hungary.

Peter Bridgman

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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 >
Date:           Friday, 14 May 2004 12:15:36 -0700
Subject: 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

Hi all,

Just a few notes in responses to various responses.

Ed Taft writes,

 >"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?"

Heavens, no.  I'd check their luggage and forge a death warrant for
them, like Hamlet does.

Graham Bradshaw's description of the critical traditional regarding
Hamlet is fascinating, though I'm not sure that it helps his case.

 >"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."

The response is ambiguous, and enough to convince those already
suspecting Claudius and looking to him for signs of guilt, but not those
who aren't paying attention.  I should think that this would be enough,
unless we want Hamlet not only to be convinced of the ghost's honesty,
but also win a plebiscite on the question.

 >"In another sense, for the Mousetrap 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."

No, it needn't be.  And in any case, that would depend on the
production, so we can pretty much give up on finding evidence in the text.

 >"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."

I think it was half a share, which is considerably better than no share
at all.  It doesn't indicate that he's unconvinced, only that he isn't
entirely and unequivocally convinced.  Horatio doesn't strike me as
given to enthusiasms generally.

In any case, I don't think we are expected to see what Hamlet sees, only
to take his word for it.  In all likelihood, we'll be distracted by the
Mousetrap anyway.  We don't see the death warrant that R&G are carrying,
but we trust Hamlet and Horatio not to conspire against us in describing
it.

 >"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:"

Perhaps.  But your version of events also relies on stage directions, as
in the following:

 >"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."

Not really.  Leaving aside the fact that the question-mark exists only
in the folio text (it's a period in Q2 and an exclamation mark in Q1),
an interrogatory can be inflected in several ways.  Besides being a sign
of astonishment, it could also indicate sarcasm or curiosity.

 >"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."

I can't see anything to this effect.  His praying would indicate that
his conscience is moved which, in turn, would make it more likely, not
less, that he gave some sign of it during the play.

Cheers,
Sean.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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 >
Date:           Saturday, 15 May 2004 08:14:49 +0800
Subject: 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

I am grateful to Graham Bradshaw for his detailed history of the debate
on whether or not the mousetrap fails. From his historical account, one
important point should be noted:

The first writer to argue that the Mousetrap fails only did so in 1912,
three centuries after Hamlet first appeared. And the first production to
present the Mousetrap as a failure only appeared in 1965, three and a
half centuries after the original Hamlet production.

Doesn't this suggest strongly that it was NOT Shakespeare's intent to
have the Mousetrap interpreted as a failure? If that were his intent,
Shakespeare certainly failed to get the message across, not only in the
way the play was written but also in the way the play was produced
during his time.

Regards,
Kenneth Chan

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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 >
Date:           Sunday, 16 May 2004 16:10:30 -0400
Subject: 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1063 The Murder of Gonzago

Graham Bradshaw writes: "Hamlet himself stops doubting the Ghost after
the Mousetrap-which fails." Since Hamlet says he's using the Mousetrap
to test the truth of the ghost's story, and afterward his doubts have
been laid to rest-"I'll take the ghost's word"-how does the Mousetrap
fail? It would seem to have succeeded, since it reassured Hamlet that
the ghost was telling the truth.

It succeeded in reassuring Hamlet because Claudius could not stand to
watch the scene of the murder. Critics like Greg, or Stanley Cavell, who
say Claudius's failure to say anything about the dumb show shows that
the murder did not happen as depicted, miss just about every relevant
point. The dumbshow is fast and dumb. Ophelia's questions indicate that
no one is entirely certain what's going on. For Claudius to break down
immediately would be implausible. It would, among other things, make
Hamlet's added scene superfluous. The fact that he sees his murder
enacted, and then realizes that the play is fleshing out that initial
sketch, prompts Claudius 's questions, "Have you heard the argument? Is
there no offence in't?" Hamlet understands, as we do, that Claudius here
betrays his uneasy realization of what is coming: "Your Majesty, and we
that have free souls, it touches us not."

Hamlet then, and only then, introduces "Lucianus, nephew to the king."
Though many curious considerers take this to be Hamlet's explicit threat
to kill the king-something like, "Here is a nephew killing a king. I am
the king's nephew. Therefore I intend to kill the king."-no one in the
court, except maybe Claudius, shows any sign of taking Lucianus's
nephewhood as Hamlet's threat of regicide. Knowing all we do, we may
hear an aggressive hint in the killer nephew, but this nephew is about
to kill a kindly king and then get the love of his queen. The point of
the dumbshow, and the overall point of the Mousetrap, is the resemblance
of the murderer to Claudius. On the surface, making Lucianus a nephew is
more like an aggressive joke: a way of insisting, like Hamlet's ironic
emphasis on the distance of the play from life, that this is not
Claudius-Oh no! Of course this is not Claudius! Under the surface, it
expresses Hamlet's fear of coming to resemble Claudius, by becoming a
regicide himself.

The dumbshow reenacts the ghost's story of the murder. The play departs
from what we know of the truth by showing a king eager for his wife to
remarry, and a wife who equates remarriage with murder. Hamlet's pushing
this point about second marriage is particularly offensive. His antic
obnoxiousness, not a threat of murder, gives Claudius cover for his
exit, but we know, as do Hamlet and Horatio, that he left because he was
guilty and could not stand to see any more. We are sure of this because
Shakespeare has already told us that Claudius is guilty, with his
"painted word" speech. Graham Bradshaw writes as if this speech did not
exist. We also could not help, at the time, believing the ghost-any more
than Hamlet could. Claudius's acknowledgment of his guilt in 3.1 tells
us for sure that the ghost was telling the truth. We don't have to watch
Claudius at the Mousetrap to find out if he's guilty. Hamlet's doubt of
the ghost seems half-hearted, since he excoriates himself for not taking
revenge, but whatever doubt he may have had-or whatever plausible excuse
for doubt he may have had--disappears completely after the Mousetrap.
Horatio shows no doubt either-not even half a doubt. His "Half a share"
ups the ante. I'm sure the scholars on this list can easily produce
evidence to show that "a fellowship in a cry of players" fell a cut
below half a share. Responding to Horatio, Hamlet ups the ante again: "A
whole one, I."

As Hamlet tells us, with manic jubilation, the Mousetrap did just what
he wanted it to do. Yet it did fail, in one important way. Claudius did
not, as Hamlet faintly hoped, proclaim his malefactions. Short of that,
blench or walk out as he might, no one but Hamlet and Horatio would have
seen his behavior as exhibiting the guilt of a regicide. As far as
everyone else is concerned, King Hamlet was bitten by a snake, and the
Mousetrap is simply a play about some Viennese intriguer, interrupted
repeatedly by an ill-behaved, perhaps mad, Hamlet, until the king has
had enough, and driven into choler by Hamlet's behavior, walks out,
leaving the court none the wiser. Whether or not Claudius now knows that
Hamlet knows all, he knows that Hamlet is dangerous. But he already knew
that, when he overheard Hamlet say to Ophelia that "all but one-shall
live." That's when he started forming his plot to remove Hamlet. After
the Mousetrap, Hamlet kills Polonius, which drives the threat home.

If we didn't already know-or forgot--that Claudius was guilty, we might
be confused. But since Claudius confirms the ghost's story with his
"painted word" speech, we aren't-or shouldn't be. What possible purpose
would be served if the guilty Claudius, in walking out, did not reveal
his guilt to Hamlet? Theories of the Mousetrap's "failure" suffer not
merely from inaccuracy but from pointlessness. Hamlet clearly indicates
that he sees Claudius betray his guilt by walking out, and since we,
well prepared by Shakespeare to see this, also see it, where is the problem?

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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