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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: October ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1889  Friday, 15 October 2004

[1]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 15:13:53 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Edward Brown <
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        Date:   Saturday, 09 Oct 2004 11:38:31 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 16:23:14 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 2004 06:51:05 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 14 Oct 2004 15:13:46 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 15:13:53 +0100
Subject: 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

Bill Arnold writes ...

 >... recently in another thread, someone suggested that
 >Polonius was "The First Minister of State" and I queried the truth and
 >certainty of that statement.  Where are the Shakesperean scholars on
 >this query?

I've read (can't remember where, and don't have books with me) that the
character of Polonius is a satire on William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who
was first minister of state.  Having said that, the scene in which
Polonius sends Reynaldo to Paris to spy on his son would suggest
spymaster Francis Walsingham, who of course sent Marlowe abroad to spy
for the state.

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edward Brown <
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Date:           Saturday, 09 Oct 2004 11:38:31 -0500
Subject: 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

Contra Michael Wood, as far as I know Marlowe never killed anybody.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 16:23:14 -0500
Subject: 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan write,

 >L. Swilley writes:
 >
 >>"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."
 >
 >The problem with this argument is that Hamlet actually did not delay
 >until he had public evidence against Claudius. He already set out to
 >kill him after the play-within-a-play scene. Hamlet rejected his first
 >opportunity to do so because he did not want to send Claudius to heaven.
 >He certainly took what he thought was his second opportunity (only he
 >ended up killing the wrong man behind the arras). All this suggests that
 >Hamlet was not at all concerned about public evidence.

The play-within-the-play has convinced Hamlet that the Ghost was
"honest" (it has not *necessarily* so convinced Horatio, by the way, and
this is especially open to interpretation). Hamlet is now jubilant,
triumphant: he sings, faces down Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and mocks
Polonius; whereas he might have solicited their aid, called on Horatio,
who is right there beside him,  to speak about the first appearance of
the Ghost, noted to them the King's extraordinary conduct at the play -
  and might thus have begun to bring about a public justice.

But, no, he wants to "do it himself," this first indicated by his having
those who have seen the Ghost  swear that they will not tell of it; this
explaining, too,  the presence of Horatio who is there in the play like
an unacknowledged and unused sentinel,waiting to be called on but never
employed. (The point is made strongly by the contrasting Claudius, a man
who calls in others several times to help him accomplish his will.)

Immediately after the play-within-the-play is interrupted, it is in, as
I say, in a jubilant  mood, revelling in his certainty, that Hamlet
proceeds to Claudius at apparent prayer - then decides not to kill him
because he wants more than his life, he wants his damnation. Then he
kills Polonius, thinking him Claudius. Having earlier suppressed that
desire to kill, the later opportunity - the person behind the arras
seeming to be Claudius -  is now, especially since it occurs while he is
in a rage with Gertrude, irresistible.  My point here is that everything
since Hamlet's seeing the retreat of Claudius ("Give me some light!
Away!") has put the Prince in a fury of delight in his discovery and he
is eager to act *at once*; he is not thinking clearly because of this,
for it would otherwise be obvious to him that Claudius' sudden retreat
from the play-within-the-play cannot alone provide the *public* proof of
his crime.  ("Why did you kill the King?" "Because he killed my father."
"How do you know?" "The Ghost told me. And it was proven by Claudius'
suddenly leaving the play." "Might he not just have had a sudden attack
of indigestion?" ..."Oh.")

That Claudius must be brought to *public*  justice by Prince Hamlet is a
term that hangs over the play like an aura.  It is the heart of the
matter here that this Prince is given the opportunity to train himself
in acting as a king must act - objectively, dispassionately, to bring
about justice, rather than madly, in a fury of personal revenge.
Hamlet's particular flaw is his  inability to keep these two dimensions
separate.  Hamlet's motive for resisting the killing of Claudius at
prayer and his rash deed of stabbing into the arras are evidence that he
has failed this test.

L. Swilley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 2004 06:51:05 +0800
Subject: 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

Ken Campbell writes:

 >"All the behaviors of an alcoholic are exhibited in Hamlet.  Depression,
 >indecisiveness, impulsivity..."

Hamlet an alcoholic? - now that's an original and interesting thought.

A few things don't quite add up though. First, if Hamlet is prone to
drinking, why doesn't the King, Queen, or Polonius think of alcoholism
as a possible cause of Hamlet's "madness"? They certainly discuss
possible reasons, but alcoholism is not mentioned; which means that
Shakespeare chooses not to highlight it.

Also, based on Ophelia's account of Hamlet as "the expectancy and rose
of the fair state," Hamlet's behavior must have been impeccable prior to
his father's death. It is unlikely that his alcoholism develops all of a
sudden.

Most significantly, alcoholism cannot explain why Hamlet delayed his
revenge. Why did he not, at an earlier time, simply swig enough of the
stuff to quell his inhibitions and finish off Claudius?

Ken Campbell writes:

 >"Also why just before the Ghost reveals himself to Hamlet does Hamlet say
 >...
 >So, oft it chances in particular men,
 >That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
 >As, in their birth,-wherein they are not guilty,
 >Since nature cannot choose his origin,-
 >By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
 >Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
 >
 >Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
 >The form of plausive manners; that these men,
 >Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
 >Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,
 >
 >Their virtues else, be they as pure as grace,
 >As infinite as man may undergo,
 >Shall in the general censure take corruption
 >From that particular fault: the dram of [ev l]
 >Doth all the noble substance of a doubt,
 >To his own scandal.
 >Isn't he talking about himself."

This passage is significant. Although it follows directly after Hamlet's
complaint about drinking, the "vicious mole of nature" is clearly not
just referring to alcohol indulgence. Shakespeare takes great pains to
stress this by including all the lines from "As, in their birth ..." to
"Being nature's livery, or fortune's star".

What is significant is that the passage comes immediately before Hamlet
encounters the ghost. Shakespeare places it here, I believe, because the
passage refers to exactly what is about to happen to Hamlet himself.
Hamlet is about to encounter that "dram of evil" that will wreck all the
noble substance in him. It is the poison of revenge.

This interpretation is consistent with what follows in the entire play.
Hamlet is courageous, intelligent, and sensitive, and has all the
makings of a true philosopher king. Yet something goes terribly wrong:
driven by the mandate of vengeance, he remorselessly transforms into a
brutal and callous being - one who can ridicule the slain Polonius and
indulge in the macabre antics of hiding his body, and one who can
dispatch his former friends (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) to their doom
without a hint of remorse.

This passage before Hamlet's encounter with the ghost is, thus, yet
another illustration of how Shakespeare has meticulously crafted the
entire play to convey a specific spiritual message.

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

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 14 Oct 2004 15:13:46 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1876 The Meaning of Hamlet

Martin Steward writes, "T S Eliot was the first to use the phrase
objective correlative, with reference to Hamlet, pointing out that there
wasn't one: 'this is precisely what is deficient in Hamlet.'"

Let me get this straight, Sir Steward.  Just because Sir Eliot found
Prince Hamlet lacking an *objective correlative* the rest of us are to
conclude what?  That Sir Eliot was lacking in perspicacity?   Or that
Shakespeare was lacking insight to provide his character with an
objective correlative to somehow make Prince Hamlet non-deficient in the
mind of Sir Eliot, who as I understand was myopic, anyway?

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


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