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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: October ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1854  Thursday, 7 October 2004

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 07:48:24 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 08:57:07 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 08:05:15 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 09:55:58 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841  The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Cheryl Newton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 11:49:41 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

[6]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 23:51:31 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

[7]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 23:57:43 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

[8]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 13:59:36 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 07:48:24 -0500
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan wrote,

 >Also, if Hamlet's delay was simply due to the problem of proof, why did
 >Shakespeare not make this clear? Why not just spell it out? Shakespeare,
 >instead, gave the impression that Hamlet himself was unsure why he was
 >delaying. This suggests that the real reason for the delay is something
 >else.

I cannot defend it, but I like to believe that Hamlet delays because he
does not have public evidence of Claudius' crime - without which his
killing of Claudius will throw the state into turmoil and shatter his
own claim to the throne - until the last scene, where that crime is
defined surprisingly as one against Hamlet himself, not against his
father. And if we remember, in "Romeo and Juliet," that Capulet tells
Paris he will not force his daughter into marriage - then later attempts
to do just that, we can find no explanation for Capulet's change of
mind, but in the fact of Tybalt's death and its consequences for the
family, and thus the urgency of Juliet's marriage to secure its
continuance. Like this issue in "Hamlet", the reason for Capulet's
change of mind is not expressed; we have to supply it. Just so, I think,
in "Hamlet," we are required to supply reasonable explanations for his
delay. It must be allowed, however, that the critical line quoted in
this present exchange suggests a further complication: that Hamlet
actually questions his indecision without coming to the "answer" I offer
above.

L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 08:57:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >"Kenneth, if you are right, then why doesn't Hamlet confront Claudius
 >right after the bedroom scene and kill him? Why does it take more than
 >another act for Hamlet to finally act?"

I'm not Kenneth, and I don't entirely believe the "Hamlet doesn't delay"
argument (he keeps telling us he's delaying, so he at least sees a
problem). However, I have no difficulty seeing an unbroken line between
the killing of Polonius and the final scene. Hamlet leaves to dispose of
the body and Claudius enters, almost at his heels (the tradition of
starting a new scene here is misleading; Gertrude remains on stage and
thus no time passes). What does Claudius do? Immediately send R&G to
arrest him. When Hamlet enters he says "Safely stowed" so he has just
finished dealing with Polonius' body, and he is immediately chased,
captured and bundled off to England.

In F, you could argue that if he has the freedom to soliloquize, he
could manage to slip off back to the castle and kill Claudius, but even
that is stretching things, and he has no such chance in Q2. It is not
until he returns that he has freedom to act, and his delay then seems to
me not hesitation to act as absolute confidence in Providence to provide
him the means and time (which it does).

Annalisa Castaldo

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 08:05:15 -0500
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

With all due respect, I think a reminder is in order about the lack of
solitude that a monarch maintained and the orders against carrying
weapons in the monarch's presence.

Claudius is alone when Hamlet sees him praying because . . . he's
praying, and doing so not in a moment of simple piety but of spiritual
agony. The private chapel and Gertrude's bedroom are about the only
places he's likely to be alone and unguarded.

Hamlet has a sword in his hands because he's (a) the prince and (b)
crazy. We can assume that it will be taken from him at the king's order
(or Polonius's backed by the king) once things calm down.

He doesn't charge off to kill the king right after his discussion with
his mother because he's emotionally exhausted and sickened at heart, and
because the king will almost certainly have guards and noblemen around
him once more.

His hope that the man he has stabbed through the arras is his uncle
causes a different problem. It could be the author's mistake -- that he
forgot how little time he left from Hamlet's observation of his uncle
praying to his wild stab through the arras. Shakespeare has a lot of
these little glitches.

On the other hand it may have been done consciously as an irony: Hamlet
strikes wildly and, instead of resolving his problem, kills the wrong
man, leaving the one problem intact and adding another one. If he had
thought carefully he would have realized what we, in our armchairs,
realize: it could be the king only by the unlikely event of Claudius
pelting through the palace and reaching Gertrude's bedroom by another
door that connected to the area behind the arras. Of course, Hamlet does
not think carefully. But why should we expect him to?

I may, of course, be mistaken about my first two points (solitude and
sword), but that was what I learned long ago. If more recent scholarship
has countered that impression, I would appreciate hearing about it.

Cheers,
don

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Wednesday, 6 Oct 2004 09:55:58 EDT
Subject: 15.1841  The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841  The Meaning of Hamlet

 ><<why doesn't Hamlet confront Claudius
 >right after the bedroom scene and kill him? Why does it take more than
 >another act for Hamlet to finally act?>>

Presumably after killing an innocent man who is also the father of the
woman he loves, saying everything in his full heart to the mother he
loves and undoiong her in the process, seeing his father's ghost and
realising that his mother does not see it, thereby leading him no to
question once again whether the ghost is from heaven or hell as well as
whether he (Hamlet) is sane has preoccupied him somewhat.

Ted Dykstra

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cheryl Newton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 11:49:41 -0400
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

R. A. Cantrell <
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 >No, Hamlet is a fictional character who can be made to do anything at
 >all; could then, can now.

No: a well written fictional character cannot be "made" to do anything.
S/he has to have a consistent cluster of behaviors to be believable.
Or, quoting someone whose name escapes my memory: "If the character is
inconsistent, he must be consistently inconsistent."

Cheryl

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 23:51:31 +0800
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

Peter Bridgman writes:

 >"Kenneth Chan writes ...
 >>Given that Hamlet did rashly kill Polonius in the next scene (while
 >>mistaking him for the King), we can probably conclude that he would have
 >>killed Claudius here had he not been at prayer.
 >
 >I agree, except we cannot be certain that Hamlet mistakes Polonius for
 >the King.  If Hamlet leaves Claudius at prayer and goes straight to his
 >mother's chamber, then he knows it isn't his uncle behind the arras."

I agree we cannot be sure that Hamlet mistakes Polonius for the King.
However, we also do not know that Hamlet went straight to his mother's
chamber after leaving Claudius; so it is possible he did make that mistake.

On the other hand, It is also possible that Hamlet was in such a wild
state of mind that he acted simply on the chance that it might be
Claudius behind the arras.

Regards,
Kenneth Chan
http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/index.html

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 23:57:43 +0800
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

Edmund Taft writes:

 >"Kenneth, if you are right, then why doesn't Hamlet confront Claudius
 >right after the bedroom scene and kill him? Why does it take more than
 >another act for Hamlet to finally act?"

I believe all sorts of practical reasons can now be cited for this
further delay. After accidentally killing Polonius, Hamlet is hardly in
a position to confront Claudius and kill him. Hamlet might not even know
where Claudius is at that time. And after Claudius learns of Polonius's
fate, he would surely be foolish allow Hamlet the chance to confront him
alone.

Regards,
Kenneth Chan
http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/index.html

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 06 Oct 2004 13:59:36 -0400
Subject: 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1841 The Meaning of Hamlet

Peter Bridgman <
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 >

 >If Hamlet leaves Claudius at prayer and goes straight to his
 >mother's chamber, then he knows it isn't his uncle behind the arras.

I don't believe we have sufficient data for this conclusion.

Kenneth Chan <
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 >

 >John W. Kennedy writes:
 >>>"In his own words: "I do not know why yet I live to say this thing's
 >to do, Sith
 >>>I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do't." If Hamlet had
 >>>been delaying because of the lack of proof, why would he say this?
 >>
 >>Because he is human?"
 >
 >I think the question should really be "Why did Shakespeare write this
 >line?" The play is not an event reported by Shakespeare.

It is one, within the fiction.

 >It is fictional
 >drama crafted by him - he can make Hamlet say whatever he wants him to
 >say. So if Shakespeare means to convey the idea that Hamlet delayed
 >because of lack of proof, why would he write this line?

Because he is a subtler artist than that.

R. A. Cantrell <
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 >

 >>>Hamlet does not even mention the need for proof in the other soliloquy
 >>>on the delay. There, he again appears not to know why he delayed. In his
 >>>own words: "I do not know why yet I live to say this thing's to do, Sith
 >>>I have cause, and will, and strength, and means to do't." If Hamlet had
 >>>been delaying because of the lack of proof, why would he say this?

 >>Because he is human?

 >No, Hamlet is a fictional character who can be made to do anything at
 >all; could then, can now.

Remind me not to see any plays you should write in future.

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