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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: May ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1129  Thursday, 27 May 2004

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 May 2004 07:31:27 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 May 2004 06:12:02 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 May 2004 12:29:50 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 May 2004 13:39:26 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 May 2004 00:27:58 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 May 2004 07:31:27 -0500
Subject: 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago

 >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.

How does this "notwithstanding" work? Do you just mean that it's
unskilled and dishonorable action? Or that it somehow isn't really
action? Put another way: what is the understanding here of meaning of
the act of Hamlet's stabbing someone (Claudius? Polonius?) through the
arras?

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 May 2004 06:12:02 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes, "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?...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...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...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."

OK: you are not on sound ground nor invoking sound reasoning here.  You
use the word *religion* in a generic sense, and no religion is generic
but partakes of particulars.  As I have stated, even Christianity has
many sects.  And we are still *not* agreed as scholars upon whether or
not Hamlet the character is using Catholicism or Protestantism, or some
other sect, as his guiding principle.  I dare say you do not understand
the basic tenet of *forgiveness* in Christianity in the broadest sense
in which Claudius' act of prayer is invoking with his God, nor why
Hamlet the character might so give it weight, and wait.

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

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 May 2004 12:29:50 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen disagrees that Hamlet is honorable and wonders how in the
world I could write such a thing. Actually, I was quoting David Bishop,
but I also went on to say that I had no fundamental disagreement with
him, so it's a moot point.

In effect, David Cohen's negative view of Hamlet the man has a long
critical history, in part based on an Aristotelian view that Hamlet must
have a flaw (or flaws), and in part on the American preference for "men
of action," a point of view that stresses how neurotic, sissified, and
over-intellectual Hamlet can seem at times to be. He's not Gary Cooper
or John Wayne. Or Henry V, either - at least, not until after 4.4.

I respect this view but think it's wrong. To my mind, _Hamlet_ is
basically the world's first (and best) detective story. Shakespeare
gives Hamlet a task that seems impossible: he must somehow discover (1)
whether or not Claudius is guilty of regicide and (2) if that's true,
whether or not vengeance is sanctioned by the Will of Heaven.  Even Sam
Spade or Sherlock Holmes would blanch at such a task. But Hamlet never
gives up; he also never acts prematurely (even in the case of Polonius,
but I digress).  He can't act after the Mousetrap because its result is
(for him) inconclusive; thus, he can't kill Claudius while praying
because his rationalizations mask the fact that Hamlet has not yet
conclusively proven Claudius' guilt. His soliloquy at the end of 4.4 is
the key; he has come to a complete dead end; all of his efforts have
failed so far.

That's when Hamlet begins thinking about the mission of a soldier, the
special circumstances a soldier finds himself in, and the concept of
what, in such circumstances, constitutes "honorable" action. As Hamlet
tells us,

                                                 Examples gross as earth
exhort me:
                                                 Witness this army of
such mass and charge,
                                                 Led by a delicate and
tender prince,
                                                 Whose spirit with
divine ambition puff'd
                                                 Makes mouths at the
invisible event,
                                                 Exposing what is mortal
and unsure
                                                 To all that fortune,
death, and danger dare,
                                                 Even for an eggshell.
(4.4.47-54)

In effect, Fortinbras and his soldiers become Hamlet's model. War
confers special circumstances that determine what constitutes
"honorable" action. In time of war, soldiers must, of necessity, shelve
whatever doubts they have about the mission or the commander. Their duty
is to follow orders and to go repeatedly in harm's way to try to achieve
their objective.

In so doing, they necessarily tempt fate. They must put their own love
of their lives aside and proceed with a kind of recklessness and courage
that would seem foolhardy in ordinary circumstances.

In effect, Hamlet's actions from 4.4 on show that he has adopted this
model of action -- and for good reasons, I might add. The Ghost appears
first in armor, a general giving orders to his son, the soldier who must
carry them out. The orders are difficult, and Hamlet has many doubts
about both the command and originator of the command. But the way to
proceed is to act like a good soldier because his circumstances resemble
those in wartime. So, like a warrior, Hamlet will go in harm's way, risk
his life, and tempt fate. If fate/fortune (Providence?) kills him before
the mission is accomplished, then he will know that vengeance was not
foreordained; if, however, fate spares him and leads him by the nose to
the point where he can and should kill Claudius, why then
fortune/Providence was guiding him all along, and he will carry out the
orders given him.

To my mind, this is Hamlet's most brilliant plan. In effect, he can act
like a good soldier and, at the same time, test Providence to see if it
will save/protect/guide him. If it does, then he knows that vengeance is
sanctioned, and he will, given the occasion, know his course. This plan,
to my mind, explains Hamlet's strange actions near the end of the play.
I don't claim that Hamlet's approach is foolproof - that's another big
discussion. But I do claim that it can be seen as honorable.

Perhaps I should let the cat out of the bag a bit and also end by saying
that it also may be an attempt to discover the undiscoverable.

Ed Taft

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 May 2004 13:39:26 -0400
Subject: The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        SHK 15.1124 The Murder of Gonzago

How does David Cohen know that Hamlet is the ' brightest, most intuitive
young man in Western Europe'?

T. Hawkes

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 May 2004 00:27:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

 >Shakespeare threads the needle in the Mousetrap
 >play. He gives the doubting Hamlet a ploy that may
 >produce public proof of the crime, while the faithful
 >Hamlet (faithful to the ghost) has to screw it up so
 >that
 >the proof remains private, leaving him in almost the
 >same position he was in before. Except that now
 >Claudius knows he knows-or knows something close
 >enough to that to take action. As Hamlet also now
 >supposedly knows enough to take action, and
 >therefore drifts off obediently to his mother's
 >closet.
 >
 >On the main track of the play, Claudius shows his
 >guilt to the real audience, who already knew he was
 >guilty, but not to the court, who see the king
 >offended by the insolently antic Hamlet. Hamlet won't
 >get public proof of the king's guilt before he leaves
 >for England. The revenging Hamlet does break through
 >his inhibitions and try to kill the king when he is
 >aggravated to near-madness and thinks he's found the
 >king hiding and spying behind the arras-an act that
 >has no relish of salvation in't. Afterwards, he
 >expends his alibi on Polonius. In the
 >end, of course, he does get proof of Claudius' s
 >crimes, first in the commission (strictly speaking,
 >proof only of criminal intent), and then
 >in the poison whose action is testified to by Laertes
 >and proved by his own death.
 >
 >Claudius walks out of the Mousetrap play because he
 >can't stand to see his crime acted out, and the pain
 >it gives him makes plausible, with a duality worthy of
 >Hamlet, both his attempt to repent and his plot to
 >have Hamlet killed. Guilt is the obvious reason he
 >walks out. I don't think we should get over subtle
 >about that.
 >
 >Best wishes,
 >David Bishop

I wonder if anyone has considered the significance of the title of the
play Hamlet has produced--"The Moustrap"?  Yes, he intended to catch the
conscience of the King in his trap--but another significance may be that
in revealing his knowledge to Claudius, Hamlet stepped in as the
mousebait, deliberately choosing to draw the King's fire, as it were.
He knows that a confrontation with Claudius is necessary.  If he
provokes the conflict rather than waiting for Claudius to attack
unheradled, he is better able prepare to "catch the mouse" at the
opportune time.

I believe Hamlet is on the alert from this point onward, awaiting some
attack from Claudius.  Why else read the dispatch R&G carried?  Why else
return from the journey to England?  Why else send the threatening note
to Claudius?  Why the evident readiness to face death in the final act:
  "If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now;
if it be not now, yet it will come--the readiness is all."

Having primed the King to make the first move, Hamlet is ready--and the
King, if he then undertakes an attack to murder Hamlet, is necessarily
spiritually unready for death.  Readiness is the point of the game.
Hamlet Sr. died "unanel'd"--unready.  Hamlet prepares to send Claudius
to the same fate.

Of course, there may be numerous responses to the "why elses", but which
of them serve to move the plot along?  I agree with the poster who
stated that Hamlet is better judged by his actions than his words.
Hamlet, in this play, transforms himself from a man of thoughts to a man
of action before our eyes.  "The Moustrap", in my opinion, marks the
beginning of that process.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

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