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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1108  Monday, 24 May 2004

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 May 2004 08:11:28 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 May 2004 08:37:42 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 May 2004 09:56:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet criticism

[4]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 May 2004 07:25:23 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 24 May 2004 01:40:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Friday, 21 May 2004 08:11:28 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago

I must disagree with Kenneth Chan's point that, "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."

Tudor politics were built on paranoia and the ruthless taking of
offense, suppression or punishment of weak connections. Even if it
didn't work, Essex honestly seemed to believe that a performance of
Richard II's deposition would rouse people to depose Elizabeth.
Therefore it seems plausible to me that the audience would expect
Claudius (guilty of regicide or not) to react in anger and fear when his
nephew stands before him and says, "look at this play I've commissioned
which shows a nephew killing his uncle/king for his estate."

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 21 May 2004 08:37:42 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Concerning the Mousetrap, Kenneth Chan responds:

"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."

Claudius is smart. Guilt is not the only reason why Claudius might draw
the inference that the nephew = Hamlet and Gonzago = Claudius. But on a
more basic level, it's important not to mix up what the audience knows
with what Hamlet knows. We know Claudius is guilty (3.1.50-51), but
Hamlet doesn't know. He's in a different position from us.

So Hamlet should be careful about the inferences he makes. But so should we.

Even though Claudius is clearly guilty, why does he rise? I suspect that
he sees BOTH ways in which the play can be applied to him. So he's both
angry and afraid. Even we cannot reduce Claudius's action to one cause
(guilt). So Hamlet certainly cannot do so either.

Interestingly, Kenneth, Hamlet himself begins to come to this
conclusion, I think, a bit later. He chides Guildenstern thus, "'Sblood,
do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?" (3.2.368-9); and
even later, in mocking Polonius, Hamlet illustrates that people can see
the same cloud but interpret its shape differently. We have a glimpse
here of what Hamlet is thinking: (1) It's not so easy to manipulate
smart people; (2) The same phenomenon can be viewed differently by
different people.

In sum, I think the test of Claudius didn't work. And I think Hamlet,
smart as he is, slowly comes to realize it.

Jay Feldman argues that Horatio sees the need for the signet; therefore,
Hamlet would as well. But Horatio is not under the enormous pressure
Hamlet was under at the time, Jay.

As Hamlet retells his story, he emphasizes that he started to copy out
new orders almost automatically (5.2.30-32). In other words, he did NOT
think things through beforehand - or so he seems in the retelling to
emphasize.

Best regards to you both,
Ed

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Friday, 21 May 2004 09:56:35 -0400
Subject:        Re: Hamlet criticism

Re:  The first 150 years of "Hamlet" criticism

I imagine the first place to look is Paul Conklin's "A History of Hamlet
Criticism  1601-1821".  Also, although not chronologically organized, is
Paul Gottschalk's  "The Meanings of Hamlet."  And there is a wealth of
miscellaneous material in Furness' variorum edition.

Tony Burton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 21 May 2004 07:25:23 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes, "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."

OK: use any words you wish to allay what you did, but note you say you
*DID* make a comparison/contrast between Macbeth and Hamlet, and you
*DID* allege that Macbeth is the *GREATER* play, blah, blah, blah.

OK: note my point: Will S. in the play *Macbeth* has a central character
named Macbeth who is the villain of the play and much more comparable to
Claudius in the play *Hamlet*.

OK: Note also, that Will S. in the play *Hamlet* has a central character
named Prince Hamlet who is *NOT* the villain.

OK: Note also, that the two plays are *TOTALLY* different in their
focus, their scope, their complexities, inasmuch as *Macbeth* is an
action-driven play and *Hamlet* is a character-driven play.  I hope you
note the distinction.

OK: also note, that in later years, Will S. tackled the more complex
issues of character in *Hamlet* and that is the reason for its
greatness, far and above and beyond [think *meta-physics* here!] the
minor play *Macbeth*.

OK: note also, that both plays have the *meta-physical* aspects: both
the witches and the spirit/ghost make statements about facts that can
only come from the *nether* world, in the case of the witches they
predict the future, and in the case of the spirit/ghost he discloses the
past.

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

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 24 May 2004 01:40:30 -0400
Subject: 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1101 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft says that those who say the Mousetrap failed quote properly from
the play. I think they leave out some important facts, as, for example,
the fact that Claudius reveals his guilt with his "painted word" speech
in 3.1. The theories of "failure" all seem to ignore this speech, and
its implications.

Ed asks if the ghost comes from purgatory or hell, and if its command to
revenge comes from God. I would say the difference between purgatory and
hell here is immaterial. The more important point, one of the most
important, is that the command to revenge cannot conceivably come from
God, because the Christian God is opposed to personal revenge. This does
not mean that Christians always forgo revenge (far from it); nor does it
mean, necessarily, that Shakespeare was a believing Christian. He was
writing for an audience that shared certain beliefs, more or less, and
this was among them. If you don't know that forgoing revenge is a
central Christian ideal, you can find it out by studying Shakespeare's
plays.

In Hamlet, for example, when Laertes charges in to take revenge on the
king, because he believes the king killed his father, he knows that to
do so he will have to "dare damnation." Leaving aside the oxymoronic
complications of that phrase, the threat of damnation does not come, in
this case, from the possibility that the king might be innocent. Laertes
assumes that he's guilty. He knows that even if the king is guilty, if
he kills him he will probably go to hell.

Why then would Laertes want to take revenge? The short answer is honor.
Along with his wavering Christianity, he also believes in an ethos that
sometimes conflicts with Christianity, which demands that he take
personal revenge on his father's killer, even if that killer is the
king. Hamlet, in part, shares this ethos, which is incarnated in this
play by the ghost. Hamlet also has a deeper moral imagination than
Laertes, an imagination augmented by the ghost's testimony about the
horrors of hell. He does not "dare damnation." Roughly speaking,
Hamlet's problem, and Shakespeare's, is to transform revenge into
justice--a justice of which God could approve. In this I think
Shakespeare and Hamlet, in a complicated and mysterious way, succeed.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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