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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1083  Wednesday, 19 May 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 May 2004 11:10:40 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 18 May 2004 09:18:49 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 18 May 2004 11:36:29 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1070 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   David Cohen <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 18 May 2004 14:01:07 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 18 May 2004 14:03:51 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

[6]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 18 May 2004 17:28:58 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

[7]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 May 2004 20:18:30 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 2004 11:10:40 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Sean Lawrence presents the following attempt at a syllogism:

"1. You claim that one sign of Hamlet's testing God is entering into a
duel without examining the foils;

2. Your only evidence that he doesn't examine the foils is that he
doesn't see the poison;

3. Not all poisons are visible;

4. Therefore, there's no reason to think he doesn't examine the foils,
and this argument for Hamlet's suicidal testing of Providence should be
stricken from the list."

No. Your syllogism is self-serving and no more than chop-logic:

1. If Laertes' poison were undetectable, he would have mentioned it to
the king when he enumerates its special properties. (See 4.7.141-49).
Besides, it is called an ointment ("unction").

2. One of the swords is bated and the other (with the poison) unbated.
Hamlet would have seen that had he examined the tips of both swords.

So, let's do a little counter syllogism (this time in proper syllogistic
form):

1. A prudent man in Hamlet's position wouldn't fight Laertes in the
first place.

2. If a prudent man did agree to fight Laertes, he would check the tips
of the foils to see that both were bated.

3. If one is unbated, he would quickly check to see if ointment is on
that tip; and also smell it.

4. Hamlet manifestly does none of these things.

5. Hamlet is NOT acting prudently here; his perusal of the foils is cursory.

The argument stays because it is correct, Sean's sarcasm to the contrary
notwithstanding.

As I stated at the start, Sean's sarcasm is pointless and gratuitous.
Only he can explain why this is so.

YRS,
EMT

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 2004 09:18:49 -0700
Subject: 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft objects that

 >But Sean, you'd be dead if you did that [checked R&G's luggage]!
 >You don't happen to have Old
 >Hamlet's signet ring in your pocket, do you? Seriously, the point is
 >that chance/providence plays the crucial role in this pivotal scene.

On the contrary, I'd just come up with some other way to foil the plot.
  Merely burning the death warrant, throwing it overboard, or replacing
it with anything whatsoever would remove the threat to my life.  For
that matter, I might be able to pry the seal off the old warrant and
stick it on the new one.  Or I could take my chances with no seal, as
long as I've done away with the original warrant.  Providence is just
what Hamlet calls his good luck, retrospectively, but he isn't really
relying on getting lucky.

Yours,
SKL.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 2004 11:36:29 -0500
Subject: 15.1070 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1070 The Murder of Gonzago

David Bishop rather overstates things when he says:

 >"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."

This strikes me as presuming a great deal more credulity (or stupidity)
in the courtiers than seems likely. The earlier part of the "Mousetrap"
is a flagrant insult to the queen, and Hamlet makes sure everyone
catches the parallel. Then a relative murders the king, marries the
queen and takes control of the kingdom. Is anybody going to miss either
suggestion? I think not.

In general terms, everybody is suspicious of sudden deaths, especially
when someone seems to benefit. The more important (powerful, wealthy,
successful) the deceased the more suspicion likely to accrue.

WS does not go into what the courtiers may have thought because that
would have made it a different play, more akin to the history plays or
*Julius Caesar*.But I see no reason to assume that would have been less
suspicious or more gullible than other people in other times and places.

Cheers,
don

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 2004 14:01:07 -0500
Subject: 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft <
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 > writes,

 >David Cohen asserts 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."

That's not quite what I think Hamlet is doing . . . But to answer your
question, surely the nihilism of Macbeth and the despair of Gloucester
qualify as major characters who see the world as absurd (not that
Shakespeare necessarily did).

Of course they do, but where in their nihilism or sense of life's
absurdity (common symptoms of major depression in the verbally gifted)
is the inner debate, the questioning, the attempt to discover the truth.
  In mixing metaphors big time-life as a brief candle, a walking shadow,
a poor player, a tale (told by an idiot)-Macbeth has found his truth,
but not by addressing God or gods, the cosmos, Providence.  He is long
past inner debate, which he had about the immorality of killing Duncan,
not about man's relationship to something greater.  Richard Gloucester
doesn't really debate at all, but rather wallows in self-pity and
rationalization.  Moreover, he has a situational regression to animal
anxiety in the pre-Boswoth dream scene and immediate waking period,
which is not unexpected in psychopaths who, while cold-blooded, seem
otherwise when they feel trapped.  (Many a well meaning psychiatrist has
interpreted their reptilian anxiety as mammalian, and therefor as
indicating a repressed humanity.  To me at least, the interesting
question about Richard is whether he is more than a cold-blooded
psychopath, despite the physical stigmata and cruelty from others that
would seem to excuse it, at least somewhat, and Bosworthian emotionality
that would seem to dilute if not question it-and not about a debate with
Providence regarding the nature of man, his connection with Providence,
or ultimate meaning or lack of meaning of things.

David Cohen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 2004 14:03:51 -0500
Subject: 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

Bill Arnold <
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 > writes,

 >David Cohen  writes, "First, imagine removing the four soliloquies-no
 >soliloquies, lots of action.  How much less of a play would Hamlet be?"
 >
 >OK: why don't we just cut to the quick?  Imagine the play *Hamlet*
 >without the spirit/ghost?  Now, there is a twist!

Let me offer an idea, in the spirit of debate, assuming that our
standard of excellence is literary rather than popularity-most people
would rather see a ghost than hear a soliloquy; hell, most would
probably rather see a ghost than a naked person-and of course assuming
that Shakespeare would do the re-write:

Hamlet without the ghost would be a better play than Hamlet without the
soliloquies.

Without the ghost, an informer could just as well stir up Hamlet's
emotions and intellect, and reveal his inadequacies of character, just
as well; without the ghost, we would still have a great play, a play
whose greatness is comparable to that of, say, Macbeth's. Without the
soliloquies, we would have action without a rich context of inner life
that would make Hamlet a good (though now surely overlong) play; it
would no longer be a great play in the sense that Macbeth is great.  Of
course, by eliminating one or the other, your loose a lot.  That
notwithstanding, if you could retain only one, would it be the ghost or
the soliloquies.

One note further:  Could you not argue the reverse with Macbeth: you
simply cannot eliminate the witches (whose ghost-like prophesies are
essential to the play, not to mention they are so cool!), but you could
eliminate the soliloquies.  Eliminating "brief candle" would be a
terrible blow, but the play would still be great-or would it?  My
feeling is that the soliloquies and witches are relatively more integral
to the greatness of Macbeth than are the soliloquies and ghost to the
greatness of Hamlet.

David Cohen

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 2004 17:28:58 -1000
Subject: 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft says to Sean Lawrence:

 >But Sean, you'd be dead if you did that! You don't happen to have Old
 >Hamlet's signet ring in your pocket, do you? Seriously, the point is
 >that chance/providence plays the crucial role in this pivotal scene.

To which I suggest that Hamlet did not rewrite the commission and then
think "Oh darn, how will I seal them? Look here in my purse, heaven has
been provident, my father's seal!". Rather, the only reason he chose
this course was because he knew he had his father's signet. Otherwise
there were endless alternatives he could have taken to deal with the R&G
threat from conking them on the head while they slept and tossing them
overboard to defanging them by just hiding the document as future
evidence. After they arrived in England who would the king listen to,
Prince Hamlet or R&G? The very important point, IMO, is that Hamlet
chose to punish his two former friends with death, shriving time not
allowed. Hamlet seems to have taken on the complexion of Claudius with
his command for execution, a command to murder two relatively innocent
sycophants who it have not sincerely conspired against him or done him
real harm.

Jay Feldman

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 19 May 2004 20:18:30 +0800
Subject: 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1079 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft writes:

 >"Finally, I'd suggest to David Bishop that Graham Bradshaw is right that
 >the Mousetrap fails. Throughout the first four acts, all of Hamlet's
 >tests fail, despite their brilliance, because personal concerns keep
 >intruding. . . . So it is with the Mousetrap, which might have worked
 >had Hamlet kept his mouth shut and just let the play do its job."

I don't think Hamlet actually jeopardized the success of the Mousetrap
with his words. If the King was truly innocent, those words would only
have annoyed him at most. It would not have caused him to react the way
he did.

Let us look again at what Hamlet actually said. For example,

"Tis a knavish piece of work, but what o'that? Your Majesty, and we that
have free souls, it touches us not. Let the galled jade wince, our
withers are unwrung."

If the King was actually not guilty, these would only be wild and
whirling words from Hamlet. They would not constitute a threat at all.
Hamlet also said:

"Begin murderer. Leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come, the croaking
raven doth bellow for revenge."

Again, this would not be a threat at all if the King was not guilty. The
talk of revenge here would be meaningless.

Hamlet may actually have enhanced the Mousetrap, because his words take
on a very sinister tone if, and only if, the king was actually guilty.
And we know he was guilty.

Regards,
Kenneth Chan

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