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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1101  Friday, 21 May 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 May 2004 11:11:01 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 May 2004 11:02:57 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 May 2004 00:43:47 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 May 2004 14:22:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 May 2004 15:17:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

[6]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 May 2004 16:06:11 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 May 2004 11:11:01 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

In his initial post on the Mousetrap, David Bishop asks:

"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?"

This question deserves an answer. But first, I'd suggest that an
observation which challenges a settled or cherished view of
Shakespeare's purpose is not necessarily therefore wrong. It might be
that the settled or cherished view is wrong, right?

Those who see the Mousetrap as a failure are not inaccurate; they quote
from the play properly. More important, one of the major concerns of
_Hamlet_, in my view, is the difficulty of knowing the truth before
acting.  That difficulty is illustrated in a two-fold way by the
Mousetrap scene. First, even if it works, it does not really tell Hamlet
what he needs to know. He needs to know not only that the Ghost is
telling the truth, but also that the Ghost's command is sanctioned by
Heaven. Second, the Mousetrap does not work: Claudius may rise in anger
for two reasons, not one. He may see the play as an image of Old
Hamlet's murder or as a message of Hamlet's intent towards the new king.
In fact, he may see both.

In effect, the problems with the Mousetrap mirror our problems with the
play: Is the Ghost from Purgatory or Hell? Is Hamlet mad or feigning
madness? Should Hamlet effect revenge or not? Is Fortinbras a revenger
or not?  Did Gertrude fool around with Claudius before Old Hamlet died
or not?  Was Ophelia properly buried or not? And so on.

It's not a stretch to posit that all of these difficulties are
intentional, and that Shakespeare intended them as illustrations of the
difficulties of ascertaining the real truth in a fallen world before
taking action.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 May 2004 11:02:57 -0500
Subject: 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

Bill Arnold <
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 > writes,

 >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?

No

 > If Macbeth is your *standard* . . .

It isn't, and I never said it was.  Macbeth is no more my "standard"
than is Hamlet or Richard III.

 > . . .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!

It escaped my analysis because, while an obvious fact, it is irrelevant
to that analysis.

My point was a simple and focused one, offered in response to Ed Taft's
provocative point about Hamlet and God after 4.4: the absence of an
inner dialogue in the form of a soliloquy about man's connection to
Providence and its implication for behavior.  I contrasted Macbeth and
Hamlet, only because these (and Richard III) were either part of my
original point (Hamlet) or part of someone else's point (Macbeth and
Richard III), to which I felt some obligation to respond.  I didn't
offer Macbeth as any standard, so I don't see the relevance of a
Macbeth/Claudius comparison, though I suppose, in knight's-move fashion,
we could go there if you like. Please, let's not.

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Friday, 21 May 2004 00:43:47 +0800
Subject: 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft writes:

 >"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."

There are many ways of interpreting this scene in Hamlet. One problem
with the above analysis, however, is the assumption that Claudius would
draw inferences from the play regardless of whether or not he is guilty.
Unless he suffers from paranoia or is actually guilty, why should he be
drawing inferences? It is only a play, and an innocent Claudius would
probably find the connection between him and the play rather weak.

If Claudius is not guilty, the murder of a king in the play will have
little relevance to him. The fact that the murder is done by the nephew,
and not the brother, makes the connection even weaker. And the words,
"poisoned him i'the garden for his estate" should have little significance.

Thus, if the King is not guilty, the whole scene should have little
effect on him. It is, after all, only a play. Why should the King be
drawing inferences at all? If he is doing so, in all probability, it is
because he is actually guilty - and that is why I believe the Mousetrap
does work.

Regards,
Kenneth Chan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 May 2004 14:22:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

I should quit posting when I cannot participate. My questions last week
led to a fascinating history of a strain of Hamlet criticism from Graham
Bradshaw and a useful off-list suggest from Jay Feldman for a look at
The Masks of Hamlet. I am grateful, and fortunately for me, my mistake
led to such useful suggestions.

What I meant to ask, and will now, is for recommendations for reading on
the first 50-150 years of Hamlet critcism and/or allusions (1600-1750 or
to Samuel Johnson), especially any anthology of primary sources. I left
"first" out of the question when I posted it earlier.

Suggestions will be appreciated.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 May 2004 15:17:35 -0500
Subject: 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

Bill Arnold <
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 > writes,
 >
 >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*
. . .

I'm sure one can argue about which play is "better," though I would not
use the phrase "leagues beyond" to compare one great play with another.
  Simply put, I see Hamlet as better than Macbeth, just not "leagues
better."  You can see that in the last sentence of my paragraph that you
cite above: "without the ghost, we would still have a great play, a play
whose greatness is comparable to that of, say, Macbeth's."  If removing
the ghost still yields a play whose greatness is comparable to that of
Macbeth (which I believe is a great play), then obviously Hamlet
unmolested is is a greater play.

Incidentally, to celebrate Hamlet as "leagues better" than Macbeth seems
to insult the genius of Shakespeare, which is clearly evident in
Macbeth.  Perhaps you should define what you mean by "leagues." (Below,
you say Macbeth cannot hold a candle to Hamlet.  I think it can, though
its candle is considerably briefer.)  Therefore, my question to you:

Do you think that Macbeth is a great play?  I do.  If you do too, than
are we comparing a great play (Macbeth) to a REALLY great play (Hamlet).
  If not, then why not-I mean, what makes Macbeth "leagues" worse than
Hamlet, what makes it unable to hold a candle?  All this is besides my
original point, but okay, it seems we must go down this road to gain a
little clarification, which I don't mind because I think it raises an
important-dare I say, deep?-question.  What makes a play, or any other
form, great?  Why is Hamlet greater-is it greater?-than Macbeth?  Is it
a matter of which comes to grips more effectively, esthetically more
pleasingly the deepest human questions (insight) or has the greatest
impact on culture (revolutionary aspect) or the is the most versatile?

According to psychologists Philip Jackson and Samuel Messick, true
creativity involves something more than being clever and inventive,
novel and imaginative.  Creativity is also apposite, meaning so
appropriate, so fitting, so truthful, that it has the hand print of
necessity.  It is also transformative, meaning that it forces a new,
unconventional view eliciting not so much surprise and laughter as
reflection and wonder.  Finally, creativity is poetic, meaning that it
expresses ideas in an especially concentrated, imaginative, and powerful
way, perhaps you will agree, as in Hamlet's "the readiness is all," and
Macbeth's "Life's but a waking shadow . . . ."   Why is Beethoven's 9th
greater-is it greater?-than Mahler's 2nd ("The Resurrection"), or why is
Bartok's Music for String, Percussion, and Celeste greater-is it
greater?-than Martinu's Double Concerto?  What makes the play of words
or the play of notes greater in the one work compared to the other?  Is
there something quantifiable-questionnaire-measurable novelty or
complexity or the power to stimulate imagery or emotion, for instance,
and in novel ways, or something more objectively measurable, say
neuropsychological responsiveness, e.g., a certain pattern of EEG
recognizable in more parts of the brain-or is it merely a vague matter
of culture or intuition?   I once asked Isaac Stern (after a concert)
why Beethoven was greater than Mahler, and he couldn't say, except that
it was a matter of personal feeling.  It was a disappointing answer from
such a great musician, but there it was. So, (a) what is it that makes
Hamlet a work of genius and (b) what puts it so far above Macbeth?

 >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 . . .

I don't wish to dismiss anything.  It's just that what you say seems
obvious, while being quite beside the point of my question. Again you
have misread a simple (you might call it simple-minded) thought
experiment.  Of course the metaphysical element is essential to the
greatness of Hamlet.  So, too, are the soliloquies.  I merely wondered
which was more essential to the greatness of the play, and then
wondered, incidentally and merely to sharpen the question, if that
question could be put to Macbeth, that is, which element-the witches
(metaphysical) or soliloquies-was more essential to the greatness of
Macbeth.  There was nothing in my question about comparing the greatness
of the two plays, though apparently that is what you thought I was doing.

Thinking about those questions led me to the idea that, these days with
metaphysics taking a back seat to psychology, the soliloquies are more
essential than the ghost to the greatness of Hamlet though, clearly,
deleting the metaphysical would be a great blow, perhaps reducing the
play from super-greatness to greatness.  However, I suspect that in
Elizabethan times, the reverse would be true: that the metaphysical
(ghost) would be more essential to Hamlet's greatness.  It seems
different with Macbeth because, now as in Elizabethan times, the
metaphysical and psychological (soliloquies) are equally essential, that
is, more integral to the greatness of the play-again, whether Macbeth is
as great a play as Hamlet or not is irrelevant here.   In any case, my
thought experiment was an innocent (you might say, naive) suggestion.
Frankly, I think it would make a great essay exam question.  Think of
how a student could display knowledge of Shakespeare and brilliance of
thought.  As for me, I am perfectly happy to be shown the errors of my ways.

David Cohen

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 20 May 2004 16:06:11 -1000
Subject: 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1093 The Murder of Gonzago

 >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.

In response to Ed Taft's question above, let me say if Horatio was smart
enough to realize the importance of the seal, surely so too was Hamlet.
I cannot imagine that he decided to forge a new commission without first
knowing he had the signet in his purse. That it was there may have been
providential or just good luck. Either way, IMO, it served to direct
Hamlet's decision.

Jay Feldman

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