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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: November ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.2026  Monday, 29 November 2004

[Editor's Note: I would appreciate it if contributors to this thread
would make an effort to bring it to a conclusion very soon.]

From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Sunday, 28 Nov 2004 22:06:25 -0800
Subject:        Re: The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth:  We've had holidays and outages and weather spells, and through
all that I've been thinking, thinking about Buddhist Shakespeare.

There are quite a few specific points being claimed that I happen to
agree with, such as Hamlet is morally wrong to kill Claudius by reason
of revenge, and I might even agree to the more general idea that Hamlet
is wrong to kill Claudius - on the grounds of revenge or any other (at
least those presented in the play).  Both of us might, nay, are,
approaching the play from a viewpoint more strongly slanted to the
spiritual than is usual in the 20th century - especially among people,
as we have on this forum, who are more highly educated than normal.  At
least that is true of the majority who probably adhere to Enlightenment
Philosophy as a controlling theory of reality.  I'm not sure about those
who are Jewish, but I suspect they are approaching the story with their
own basic suppositions, differing from those of everybody else, and they
are probably spiritually based, too - just different in specifics.

However, it seems your whole approach, although idiosyncratically yours,
and which might be fairly described as Buddhist (with overtones of
something else, I'm not sure what), is something you are not content to
offer as a mere alternative, but one which you seem to be claiming as
not only true, but more true than everyone else's, indeed is congruent
with Shakespeare's intentions.  Well, I'm not sure I agree with that
claim (if it really is what is being claimed).  It is hard to be sure
what Shakespeare meant or said, since what we have is a record of what
his characters said.  Maybe that's obvious.  However it is one of my
idiosyncratic beliefs that most of the communication being shared by
author and audience takes the form of tacit assumptions, the most
important of which are at a deep level: theory of reality; in other
words, the religious level.  I wonder if you've been looking at David
Basch's thread on Jewish Shakespeare?  I have the impression he's not
really serious about it, just having fun.  But it's quite a different
view than yours, seemingly.  Very detailed, too.

So I am not inclined to accept the restriction that we should confine
our analysis and discussion to what Shakespeare said.  It unreasonably
restricts the domain of counterargument - this is the same maneuver the
Enlightenment Philosophers make.  It defends not so much the truth, but
the standard, modern explanation (or anybody's explanation who tries to
make the exclusion).  "Facts" of course are interesting, but it is
easily possible to come to opposite conclusions based on the same facts:
lawyers do it all the time.   Suppose we were interested, not in Hamlet,
but in Koi no Omoni (Japan, 15th century).  If a record of what the
author thought existed, by way of explaining his theory of drama,
aesthetics, reality, whatever, it might be useful to read it, and not
only read it, but take it into consideration.  As it happens, Zeami
actually did write such a document, and it has survived (On the Art of
the Noh Drama).  Unhappily Shakespeare did not write a similar, but
lacking that we might seek something more indirect, such as, oh, the
Prayer book, for instance.  There might be others.

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Hardy M. Cook, 
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