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 15.1124  Wednesday, 26 May 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 25 May 2004 10:06:40 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 25 May 2004 13:19:53 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1118 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 25 May 2004 10:06:40 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Kenneth Chan writes:

"I agree, though, with Ed Taft that Claudius probably "sees BOTH ways in
which the play can be applied to him" and that he is both angry and
afraid. Nonetheless, Hamlet would still consider this a success for his
Mousetrap. His concern is simply to check whether Claudius is guilty or not.

I think one reason why we have a disagreement over the Mousetrap is that
my interpretation is generally focused on trying to read Shakespeare's
intent from the way the play is presented. This tends to narrow the
possibilities considerably. On the other hand, if we interpret the play
just from the facts that can be gleaned from the text, many more
interpretations will, of course, become feasible."

Concerning Kenneth's first paragraph: I can only conclude that Claudius
sees both possibilities because, as a member of the audience, I know
Claudius is guilty. Hamlet can suspect that Claudius sees it both ways,
but, given what Hamlet knows (as opposed to what he suspects), it's
quite possible that Claudius is only angry at Hamlet's implied threat
against his kingship. Again, I think the point is how difficult it is to
prove what Claudius is reacting to. You don't usually want to kill
someone because they are possibly - even probably - guilty. From
Hamlet's perspective, that's what he's left with. Folks who have a hard
time with Hamlet's inaction during Claudius's prayer scene might think
of this point as a kind of powerful subtext restraining Hamlet.

Kenneth's second paragraph is admirably stated and presents a crux that
haunts contemporary criticism (like a ghost?). To what extent should
interpretation be limited by stage history and our own sense of the
possibilities/limits of the stage? I think that Shakespeareans are
greatly divided on this issue, and I believe that a lot depends on
whether or not scholars think that Shakespeare wrote for posterity as
well as for his contemporary audiences watching his plays. It is too
often missed that numerous playwrights attempt both, including Ben
Jonson, Shakespeare's contemporary. That tells you which side of the
fence I'm on. Kenneth is probably on the other side.

Best,
Ed

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 25 May 2004 13:19:53 -0500
Subject: 15.1118 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1118 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 > writes,

 >David Bishop writes: "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."

Ed, there is much that I don't understand in what you say about Hamlet.
  What is honorable in not confronting Claudius, man to man, despite the
danger to life and liberty-or killing him out of conviction, political
consequences and mortal danger notwithstanding?  What is honorable in
killing Claudius only at the end, when life is ebbing anyway, after
discovering the plot and the poisoning of Gertrude?  His actions are
frenetic, vengeful, but honorable?

Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius while the king kneels at prayer,
and should have: an easy kill, and there an end, but not for Hamlet.
Even if he should not kill Claudius at that moment because such a deed
were unchivalrous (like Achilles having unarmed Hector slaughtered), he
thinks not of that.  Rather, about to do the deed, he backs off with a
head full of act-inhibiting sophistry about how a kill during prayer
will help Claudius' soul to heaven.  Nonsense or worse, dishonest
nonsense.  This brightest, most intuitive young man in Western Europe, a
man who can utter some of the great soliloquies of all time and can,
Mini-Cooper-like, run cognitive and verbal circles around anyone, surely
knows what we lesser creatures and Claudius well know: that the prayers
of a murderer who continues to enjoy the fruits of a vile deed are
fraudulent and thus religiously nugatory.

In a sense, Hamlet is like Claudius, for both are disingenuous.
Claudius' words fly up but his thoughts remain below; Hamlet's thoughts
(of revenge) fly up yet his resolve remains below, mere potential, or
perhaps self-deluding fantasy.  For Claudius, words without thoughts
never to heaven go; for Hamlet, words without resolve never to
(honorable) action go.  Moreover, both men know they are moral frauds.
This is evident in their soliloquies.

Hamlet's personality is more hysterical than heroic; throughout most of
the play, he is, as we say, all talk (and fantasy) and no action,
whether suicidal or homicidal, the homicide of Polonius, which indicates
neither skill nor honor, notwithstanding.  His pathological inability in
fact to "drink hot blood" makes him worse than an underachiever.  "By
his delay," says Shakespeare critic John Alvis, "Hamlet has contributed
to his mother's death, and by his own imprudent decisions he has made
himself responsible for the murder of Polonius, the consequent madness
and death of Ophelia, and the deaths of (probably guiltless) Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern."  So I wonder, what is honorable about a man who has
so dishonored himself with his friends (in not honestly confronting
their allegiance to Claudius and trying to reform them) and worse, with
his love (with whom he behaves most dishonorably), and  whose
over-intellectualized procrastination eventuates in so much unnecessary
death?  One could even ask what is honorable about a man who has
dishonored the ghost who had re-ignited Hamlet's vow to bring Claudius
to terms while warning him not to harm his mother?

Therefore I don't understand how, "honorable action is at the center of
the play . . . ."  Perhaps  you could clarify what you mean by "honorable."

David Cohen

_______________________________________________________________
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.