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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: November ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1966  Tuesday, 16 November 2004

[1]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 15:37:51 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 19:04:05 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 18:08:21 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1944 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Reg Grouse <
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        Date:   Monday, 01 Nov 2004 13:44:02 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 15:37:51 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet

My background is theological (UTS NYC too long ago to mention. Various
published exhortations and screeds in Christian Century and the now
defunct Nibuhr journal Christianity and Crisis.  Teethed on a
Niebuhr-Tillich-Barth neo-orthodox ethos pacifier. Kenneth Chan somehow
reminds me a bit of Erich Fromm-resolute in his moral (I will not add
-istic) humanism. The arguments he makes about Hamlet could as easily be
made about the Henry 4-5 plays as Goddard essentially does.  I think
where this becomes a mite tendentious when it's insisted that we (if we
read aright) are privy to the pov of the author of the play. I think we
are all entitled to our own pov of the pov of the author and mine is
that Shakespeare happily transcends anything anyone might put out as an
explication if his intent or meaning. I take it that is why he is often
seen as having been without a peer in representing life as it is --
something that defies systemization and continually defeats all systems
that would enclose meaning. I think Mark Taylor's apposite NYT op ed
following the death of Jacques Derrida is a good answer to this sort of
thinking.

Cheers, S

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 19:04:05 -0400
Subject: 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet

John Reed <
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 >What is a through line, and why is it important?

That which in a plot, or a character, makes it all hang together as
something with a beginning, a middle, an end, and enough in between to
make a whole. Sometimes called a "spine".

A play without a through-line is boring. A character without a
through-line is unactable.

(Usual qualifications for special cases apply.)

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 28 Oct 2004 18:08:21 -0500
Subject: 15.1944 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1944 The Meaning of Hamlet

Ken Campbell responds to my complaint about Gertrude-as-boozer:

"I apologize to Don Bloom for offending but you took my "seems" as an
"is".  Actors, I would hope, never become didactic about their
interpretative craft.  These plays would soon become very dull to
perform if there were only 100 different ways to approach them.  I agree
that arbitrary posturing imposed on a text is arrogant, for the actors
first responsibility is to serve the play. However, I believe over the
last several postings I have made a case for an interesting through line
that pays off at the climax.  You may not like it but as an artist I
don't much care what some academic thinks of my concept before he has
seen it played.

"It is Baptista's overt favoritism for Bianca and the absence of her
mother that "seems" to drive Kate mad, or not."

As an artist in what is (more or less) a non-totalitarian society, you
have a perfect right to imagine any through-lines or back-stories you
want, to include them in a stage production, and to post them here
(provided you don't cross any of Hardy's guidelines).

But when you enter an academic or scholastic or humanistic arena you are
liable to get slammed good and hard if you don't put up some facts.

The Gertrude theory struck me as one totally lacking them. As such I
fail to see its merit in this arena.

The Baptista-as-abuser theory is similar. A little bit of fact (he says
some cutting things about Kate) is used to ignore or explain away a vast
deal of fact (the half-insane violence of her observed behavior). It is,
I suppose, attractive to some to exonerate her for what she does by
accusing Baptista of imaginary brutalities inflicted on her. But wishing
them to exist doesn't make them exist.

Imaginary facts aren't.

Cheers
don

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Reg Grouse <
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Date:           Monday, 01 Nov 2004 13:44:02 +1000
Subject: 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1951 The Meaning of Hamlet

I have read with interest the posts on the subject of Hamlet's delay in
killing Claudius.  This topic has been set as a question in most
examinations for secondary schools over the past fifteen years.  A young
neighbour approached me some five years ago with a plea to give him some
help with Hamlet because his examination was being held in one week's
time and he had done very little work on it.  We went through the play
for one hour each morning for the week.  We touched on the subject of
Hamlet's delay and in answer to his question I suggested that the answer
might be in the text for that is all we have.

 >From the first Hamlet aside (A little more than kin and less than
kind) there is a carefully veiled hostility to his mother and the King
ending with the ''Seems', madam? Nay, it is.'  and, 'But I have that
within which passes show. . .'  In the following soliloquy we learn why
it 'seems so particular with him'.  He begins by regretting that the
Everlasting had fixed his cannon 'gainst self-slaughter, continues by
lamenting that his mother had married within a month of his father's
death and ends with 'But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue'.
Shakespeare seems to be presenting him as one who looks deeply into his
own psyche. More acutely than he did with Richard II.  We might ask what
kind of personality is Shakespeare portraying.  His protagonist is
looking inwardly, expressing suicidal tendencies and indicating that he
must not speak about his problems.

Certainly we could not class him as an extrovert.  An extrovert would
act as Laertes did when he heard that his father had been killed.  He
gathered some support and challenged the King; action before thought.
Shakespeare presents Hamlet as a very contrasting character to Laertes.
  He shows us an intelligent, sensitive young man who thinks carefully
before he acts unless he is reacting to a danger.  I am suggesting that
it is Hamlet's introversion that Shakespeare is displaying.  This would
account for his delay in killing the King.

While extroverts have all the fun and do not take life too seriously,
introverts think deeply and seriously about life and its meaning and
they look inwardly at their own motivations.  Perhaps like Shakespeare
himself.  They have also what might be called a golden quality,
sensitivity.  Extroverts have trouble understanding introverts lack of
decision.  They see the quick solution and dive straight in.  They make
many mistakes, but for the most part they are not embarrassed by them.
They take the consequences and try again.

If we care to look at Hamlet in this context, we see a highly sensitive
character being spied upon by people he thought he could trust.
Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, his school friends, are willing to lie to
him in pretending to be his confidants, Polonius is a compulsive spy not
only on Hamlet but he even spies on his own son which I have no doubt
Shakespeare thought was the most despicable thing a father could do.
Then the most unkindest cut of all was when he finds Ophelia is also
planted by her father to deceive him.  He has only one friend with
integrity, Horatio, and he tells him so:

                                           Give me that man
That is not passions slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart.
As I do thee.

I realise that we all see what we want to see in our criticisms and this
is as it should be.  For my part I am forever amazed at Shakespeare's
sensitivity to each of his character's distinctive personality.  He is
so consistent in this that we can find examples amongst our friends
albeit in miniature of most characters we meet in the histories or
tragedies.  It is this human quality which I believe was Shakespeare's
great contribution to renaissance literature and nowhere is it better
displayed than in Hamlet.  Shakespeare more effectively than others
picked up and forwarded the growth of humanism from the Italian and
French renaissance artists and contributed greatly to the
liberal-humanist philosophy of the English universities, or as Harold
Bloom puts it to 'The Invention of the Human'.

I mention this philosophy because it leaves the discussion in the domain
of empiricism where it belongs rather than removing it to the intangible
heights of spiritualism.

Cheers,
Reg.

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