Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1093  Thursday, 20 May 2004

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 May 2004 08:05:27 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 May 2004 08:18:18 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 May 2004 11:49:34 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 May 2004 10:10:14 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 19 May 2004 16:13:08 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 19 May 2004 08:05:27 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes, "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) ...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."

Excuse me?  But aren't you comparing apples to oranges, here?

If Macbeth is your *standard* then he should be compared to Claudius,
not to Hamlet.  What seems to escape your analysis is the fact that in
*Macbeth* Will S. focuses upon the villain of the tragedy and in
*Hamlet* he focuses upon the hero of the tragedy!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 19 May 2004 08:18:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes, "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."

OK: Sheesh!  Nice pun on the word *spirit* in front of debate, but the
rest of your remark is far amiss the mark.

OK: the *GREATNESS* of *Hamlet* as a play is leagues beyond *Macbeth*
and I thought even you accepted *that*, but I guess not.

OK: let us begin again, please?  The spirit/ghost is *IN* the play
*Hamlet* and it is not a play about a *hearsay* informant.  We are not
watching *Terminator* when we watch the play *Hamlet* or read the text.
  We are dealing with a play with a *meta-physical* element because of
the spirit/ghost!  I have purposely put a hyphen into the ancient
Platonic word *metaphysical* to *EMPHASIZE* that the spirit/ghost brings
in the *BEYOND-physical* realm into the play *Hamlet* and no matter how
much you, and others, wish to dismiss the metaphysical aspects of Will
S.'s art, it does not and cannot hold water.  Your bucket has a hole in
it, Sir!

OK: *Hamlet* the play is a metaphysical play.  Got it?  Either you
accept that or not.  If not, then go ahead and play with the play
*Macbeth* which cannot hold a candle to it.  Besides, the last time I
looked, *witches* bore a strange resemblance to ghostly characters, and
by the same token you judge the spirit of Prince Hamlet's father ought
to dismiss it to the trash-bin of history.

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 19 May 2004 11:49:34 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Jay Feldman writes 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!" But Jay, this is how Hamlet, in part,
retells the story to Horatio:

       Hamlet      "Being thus benetted round with villainies -
                    Ere I could make a prologue to my brains -
                    They had begun to play - I sat me down,
                    Devised a new commission, wrote it fair.

-        - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Horatio     "How was this sealed?
Hamlet      "Why, even in that was heaven ordinant.
              I had my father's signet in my purse.
                                     (5.2.29-32, 47-49)

Doesn't it look to you as if Hamlet started writing without any
forethought? So the signet in his purse really is a lucky
(Providential?) afterthought, don't you think?

Moreover, the whole enterprise would have failed without the seal, as
Horatio's central question makes clear.

Kenneth Chan quotes from the Mousetrap scene to argue that it works as
Hamlet intended, but I'd focus on some other lines:

                               [Enter Lucianus]
       Hamlet      "This is one Lucianus, nephew to the King."

After the poisoning, Hamlet adds: "A' poisoned him i' the garden for his
estate. His name's Gonzago. The story is extant, and written in very
choice Italian. You shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of
Gonzago's wife" (3.2.242, 259-62).

Hamlet has screwed up big time. Not only has he announced his own
Oedipal urges; he also has shown Claudius a murder of a king done by a
nephew, not a brother. The only nephew around is Hamlet (!)  So what
does Claudius think at this point? His first thought would be for his
own life, and that first thought would be that Hamlet has announced his
intention to murder Claudius. That's why he rises - or so I think. At
any rate, the test fails because Claudius can draw at least two vastly
different inferences, not one.

Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 19 May 2004 10:10:14 -0700
Subject: 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

Hi Ed,

Your response strikes me as being based on even more unsupported
presumptions.  Just because something's called an unction hardly means
that it's visible.  In fact, the OED definitions imply that unctions are
often spiritual, and Hamlet certainly uses the term metaphorically when
speaking to his mother.  Laertes mentions none of its qualities other
than its deadliness, and even if he made a longer list, there wouldn't
be any reason that its invisibility need be included.  We could reverse
the argument, and ask why Laertes doesn't say that the poison _would_ be
visible on the sword.  If we were to apply to the visibility of the
poison the same sort of test that seems to be being bruited about here
for the visibility of Claudius's guilt --- that it has to be obvious to
everybody --- then even the courtiers would notice the poison, unless,
of course, they're in on the plot.

In any case, checking the blades scrupulously doesn't seem like a
function of prudence, but of paranoia, and Hamlet does check them at
least cursorily, since he notices that "These Foyles haue all a length"
(neither F nor Q2 use a question mark after this statement) and is able
to say that "This likes me well."  He's also prudent enough not to drink
until he's played a bout.

Insofar as he doesn't check the blades more thoroughly, many other
explanations are available.  Claudius suggests that Hamlet is "free of
all contriving", in which case he's acting out of honesty, not suicidal
determination.  Somebody (Don Bloom, perhaps? In any case, thanks.)
pointed out that a scrupulous examination of the foils wouldn't have
been very polite in a "brother's wager".

I'm sorry that my responses keep striking you as sarcastic.  Your claims
always strike me as vaguely insulting in the implicating that everyone
ought to see the obvious truth of what you're saying, when many hundreds
of Shakespeare critics manifestly haven't and don't.

My wider worry is that your characterology conflates matters of
intention (Hamlet is subjecting Providence to an examination) with
matters of psychology that have much subtler explanations.  Hamlet may
be fatalistic, or courageous, or honest, or some combination of the
above.  Such a combination would follow from the existential
resolvedness of being-towards-death, or the psychological complex of
relations towards the mother, or the sociological problem of how to take
the place of an adult while being permanently labelled as "the young
prince".  Making this a matter of intention conjures the image of Hamlet
secretly attempting to do something contrary to his overt intention,
while never directly admitting it to the audience or himself in a
soliloquy.  It's the characterological equivalent of a political
conspiracy theory, a claim that a person or group is really doing
something hidden and contrary to what they claim to be doing and what
most people would take them to be doing.

Characterological intentionality (if I will be permitted a neologism) is
a symptom of over-simplification, which also turns up elsewhere in your
arguments.  The mousetrap either succeeds or fails, for instance:  it
can't partially succeed, or succeed in showing Claudius's guilt but only
to some people, or earn Hamlet half a share, without that half-share
being equivalent either to a whole one or to none at all.  Fortinbras's
army is either "a list of resolutes" or an organized army, but not "a
list of resolutes" who have nevertheless been marshalled into "this Army
of such masse and charge".  (And in fact, as I showed by reference to
the employment of mercenaries in the Renaissance, "armies of mass of
charge" were normally marshalled from "lists of resolutes").

This is all unfortunate, because the wider issues you're looking at, the
function of Providence in the play for instance, clearly merit study and
have a great deal of philosophical and psychological importance.  The
place of Providence would raise questions about whether Hamlet is
actually free, for instance, and about whether the position of man in
the world is similar to that of a character on stage, and what freedom
is possible in the face of destiny and ultimately death, or whether we
should nevertheless admire characters for their actions on stage, since
they, like us, have the same ultimate destiny.  Reducing it to a
death-wish, proven by reference to Hamlet not examining the foils, just
mires us in this swamp of arguments about whether Hamlet ought to see
(or smell) the poison.

Similarly, your earlier argument that the old characters are using the
younger characters, and that this includes the ghost recruiting Hamlet,
is indeed quite interesting.  However, the implication that the ghost is
actually a devil, and is lying about his metaphysical fate in order to
tempt Hamlet to damnation, crosses the line into conspiracy theory, made
weaker by its reliance on the hidden (but intended) motives of fictive
characters compounded by assumptions about audience response.

Yours,
SKL

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Wednesday, 19 May 2004 16:13:08 -0400
Subject: 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1083 The Murder of Gonzago

Don Bloom says I overstate the courtiers' credulity, or gullibility, in
saying that the Mousetrap raises no suspicion in their minds that
Claudius killed the king. One reason it must raise suspicions is that
the earlier part was "a flagrant insult to the queen." I did say that
Hamlet's pushing the point about second marriage was particularly
obnoxious, though I would hesitate to call it a flagrant insult. That
perhaps would be overstating the case, if only slightly. So the play is
not "simply a play about a Viennese intriguer" but a vehicle Hamlet uses
to insult the queen. Fair enough.

But what about the courtiers' alleged suspicions, aroused by the
Mousetrap, that Claudius murdered his brother? Don Bloom sees no more
evidence of this suspicion than I do, but says it must exist, though
Shakespeare left it out of the play. First they must be suspicious
because any king's death is inherently suspicious. Second, "a relative
murders the king" etc., and they could not have missed the parallel.

I would simply disagree with the first point. People, even kings, died
all the time, and their deaths did not always raise suspicions, even in
the real world. Also, in this case, I take it that the ear of Denmark is
rankly abused by the false story because they believe it. The ghost
comes back to tell the truth. One might say that Hamlet's own suspicion,
in his prophetic soul, must be shared by the court, but I can only say I
don't see any indication of that, nor any reason to assume, in this
case, what Shakespeare does not say. On the contrary, the fact that the
court would be unlikely to believe the ghost's story without further
proof is Hamlet's major problem.

The unmissable parallel with the murder is also a difficult case to
make.  Not only have we been told by Shakespeare that the court believes
a different story about the king's death, but in this case Hamlet says
the murderer is the king's nephew. Had he said he was his brother the
Mousetrap might be seen as a more direct accusation. As for the killer's
nephewhood as a threat, as I said before I find that both implausible
and pointless.

What would be the point of thinking that the Mousetrap, specifically,
raises suspicions that a) Claudius killed his brother or b) that Hamlet
intends to kill Claudius? In the first case, no evidence of this
suspicion appears. In the second case, the threat from Hamlet is
established by his madness, his insulting behavior, and definitively by
his killing of Polonius. In watching the play, I think we stay focused
on the effect of the Mousetrap on Claudius, not on any such purported
suspicions in the courtiers. Again, Hamlet's problem is that the court
has no suspicions at all.

Finally, the Mousetrap may be said to fail if its purpose was to make
Claudius proclaim his malefactions. That remains only a faint hope,
barely hinted at. Hamlet's behavior, we might say, does inhibit that
potential revelation. If Hamlet had sat silently Claudius might have
revealed his guilt to all. But I doubt it. It would at least have left
Claudius with no obvious excuse for walking out, though he could surely
have found one. What Hamlet's behavior shows us, first of all, is that
he actually does believe Claudius is guilty. There's something fishy
about the "doubt" that leads to the test. But on the surface, Hamlet's
major, explicitly stated purpose is to test Claudius's guilt for
himself. Despite his interference, the test succeeds. Then he tells us
it has succeeded--as we have seen for ourselves.

I generally agree with Kenneth Chan, though I would point out that
Hamlet's words do provide Claudius with his excuse for walking out. His
words are both mad and hostile, but not taken as an explicit threat to
the king (otherwise he would presumably be arrested), any more than the
Mousetrap is taken by the court as an accusation of murder.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.