Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: October ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1903  Monday, 18 October 2004

[Editor's Note: Some of today's submissions in this thread have gotten
rather long again. Please let us try to be concise.]

[1]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 2004 08:09:42 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 2004 14:30:58 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   Martin Steward <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 2004 20:32:40 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Colin Cox <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 15 Oct 2004 17:34:04 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 16 Oct 2004 12:52:28 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

[6]     From:   Ken Campbell <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 16 Oct 2004 17:05:35 -0700
        Subj:   The meaning of Hamlet

[7]     From:   Rolland Banker <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 18 Oct 2004 02:47:04 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 2004 08:09:42 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

If one could seriously believe that Hamlet was an alcoholic -- even
after his spiteful condemnation of the imbibing of Claudius and his ilk
-- then maybe we could also advance the thesis that in Hamlet
Shakespeare was offering the initial clinical fodder for a diagnosis of ADD.

Best, S

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 2004 14:30:58 -0400
Subject: 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >Hamlet is courageous, intelligent, and sensitive, and has all the
 >makings of a true philosopher king.

Perhaps, but Denmark was in parlous times, at risk of foreign attack and
beset by divided loyalties at home.  It is not surprising, therefore,
that the electors preferred Claudius, a man of action, to lead them.  I
am drawing no parallels.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 2004 20:32:40 +0100
Subject: The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

Bill Arnold:

"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?"

Maybe. Don't shoot the messenger!

"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?"

No. Eliot felt the play to be "deficient", not the character. The
distinction, I suppose, goes to the heart of the matter.

I mean, witness the absurd length at which Mr. Chan deliberates the
possibility of Hamlet's alcoholism!

Finally - were I a knight of the realm, you should refer to me as "Sir
Martin", not "Sir Steward". Not that I'm a stickler for ceremony, mind.

m

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Colin Cox <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 15 Oct 2004 17:34:04 -0700
Subject: 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >"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."

Burleigh was well reputed for his pithy aphorisms as reflected in
Polonius' advice to his offspring. Also the fishmonger comment can be
attributed to Burleigh.

"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."

Sir Francis, as spymaster, worked very closely with Burleigh but had
been dead for many years at the time of Hamlet. Burleigh was also dead
at this time but his passing would still be in very recent memory.

Colin Cox

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 16 Oct 2004 12:52:28 +0800
Subject: 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

L. Swilley writes:

 >"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."

I certainly agree that Hamlet went into a fury of delight at catching
the conscience of the King. And I also agree it is plausible that, under
this dangerous spell of exultation, Hamlet forgets that he has no public
proof.

The problem, however, with the "lack of public evidence" idea is now
this: There is then no evidence that the problem of public proof is the
cause of Hamlet's delay. In his soliloquies, Hamlet appears not to know
why he delays. Why would Shakespeare make Hamlet appear this way if he
intended public proof to be the key issue?

And now we see that after the "mousetrap," Hamlet acts like he doesn't
care about public proof. Perhaps he forgets himself in his exultation.
But that still leaves this problem: Where then does Shakespeare suggest
that public proof is the main issue? If we accept this as Shakespeare's
intent, we must then conclude that he does a rotten job of conveying it.

Rather than call Hamlet an "artistic failure" again, it may be more
prudent to revise our interpretation of the play. The point is this: if
we accept, instead, that Hamlet delays his revenge because of his inner
conscience, everything now falls into place - every act, every scene,
and in fact, almost every line. All the lines now either move along the
action of the play or contribute in some way to the central spiritual
message. Much of the reasoning for this can be found in my articles at
<http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/excerpt.html>and at
<http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/article2.html>.

Here, I would like to focus on the aspect of the spiritual message
related to Hamlet's "fury of exultation" after the play scene. Actually,
Hamlet's dangerous transformation did not only begin after the "success"
of the mousetrap. It began much earlier - right after his vow of
vengeance - and has been increasing remorselessly since. This
transformation of Hamlet into the dreaded avenger (in the image of the
hellish Pyrrhus) also continues long after the mousetrap, right till the
end of the play.

In Act 2, we are provided, in his dialogues, with a glimpse of Hamlet's
mind filled with images of death and decay, the mind of a tormented soul
trapped in a dark prison that inexorably closes in. Hamlet has been led
there by the mandate of vengeance and by his incessant condemnation of
his mother. In Act 3, his transformation continues, and manifests itself
in his savage treatment of Ophelia in the "nunnery" scene, and again in
his taunting remarks to her during the play scene. After the mousetrap,
he gets worse and even the thought of killing his mother enters his mind
(which he has to suppress). In the next scene, he even rejects his
chance for revenge because he would rather unleash an eternity of
suffering onto Claudius. Then, in the closet scene, he even taunts the
poor Polonius after accidentally slaying him.

If his behavior at this point had been caused by the euphoria over the
mousetrap, the accidental killing of Polonius would surely have sobered
him up. But that is not the reason for his brutal behavior; Hamlet has,
instead, been transformed (gradually but remorselessly) into the image
of Pyrrhus, the dreaded avenger.

After the death of Polonius, not only does Hamlet not sober up, he
actually gets worse. He now indulges in the macabre antics of hiding
Polonius's body and taunts him in his remarks to the King and others. In
Act 5, Hamlet appears less unstable but he is not any better. He
grapples in fury with Laertes at the gravesite, and clearly displays his
callous nature in describing how he despatched Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern to their doom. Here, he explicitly expresses his lack of
remorse in sending his former school friends to their sudden death
without any shriving time. This is particularly chilling because Hamlet
is stating this when he is calm and stable; he is not putting on an
antic disposition, and is not being affected by any sudden emotional
disturbance. Thus his statement reflects what the real Hamlet had become.

Through Hamlet's dreadful transformation, Shakespeare, in effect, warns
us about the danger of vengeance. If we accept the truth of our
mortality and confront the profound (which is necessary on the spiritual
path), seeking revenge is disastrous. Among the characters in the play,
Hamlet stands out as the only one who faces the truth of his mortality
without flinching. Coupling this with the burden of revenge, however, is
catastrophic. Hamlet's inner conscience tells him so, and causes his
delay; but unfortunately he fails to explicitly acknowledge why he
delays. That is the real tragedy.

Think about Hamlet's situation, or better still, simulate it: If we
seriously contemplate our mortality and accept we are going to die, and
then superimpose upon this an atmosphere of condemnation and vengeance,
what do we have left? Accepting the truth of our mortal situation,
without arming ourselves with the spiritual attributes of love and
compassion, leaves us with nothing but a desperately futile and cold
world. It is the prison that Hamlet describes in Act 2. That is Hamlet's
main problem, and it remorselessly transforms him into the dreaded
avenger, one intent on cruelty and the infliction of pain.

The play thus demonstrates categorically that the spiritual path and the
path of vengeance are mutually exclusive. We cannot pursue both at the
same time. That is why revenge is wrong. In Hamlet, Shakespeare sets out
to make us experience this for ourselves; and that is why Hamlet is such
an astounding piece of art. Not only is it remarkable for its haunting
poetic brilliance, it conveys a profound spiritual message that is
unique in the field of literature.

Why then is it so difficult for us to accept that Hamlet is not an
"artistic failure" but an artistic miracle? Why is it so difficult to
accept that Shakespeare has meticulously crafted the play to convey a
profound spiritual message (when this can be so clearly demonstrated)?
Surely, it is time we gave Shakespeare the credit that is long overdue.

Perhaps it may come as a shock to some, but Shakespeare has not only
meticulously crafted Hamlet to convey a specific message - there is
sufficient evidence to suggest that all his other plays are crafted in
the same way. Each play conveys a message related to a different aspect
of the spiritual path. The plays practically form a cohesive whole.

How Shakespeare is able to produce these astonishing works with such
deep spiritual insight brings us back to an earlier point: Shakespeare,
I believe, is a highly spiritual person who has actually undertaken the
arduous task of transforming himself to match the spiritual ideal he
perceives. If we follow this path, we will also encounter the same
spiritual principles he attempts to convey in his plays. That,
undoubtedly, is the best way for us to understand his work, and also the
best way to prove for ourselves that Shakespeare speaks the truth.

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

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ken Campbell <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 16 Oct 2004 17:05:35 -0700
Subject:        The meaning of Hamlet

Mr. Chan writes "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"?

Because they are both heavy drinking functioning alcoholics as was
Hamlets father.

"They certainly discuss possible reasons, but alcoholism is not
mentioned; which means that Shakespeare chooses not to highlight it."

Shakespeare does highlight Claudius' drinking right before Hamlets first
soliloquy

This gentle and unforc'd accord of Hamlet
Sits smiling to my heart; in grace whereof,
No jocund health that Denmark drinks to-day
But the great cannon to the clouds shall tell,
And the King's rouse the heaven shall bruit again,
Respeaking earthly thunder. Come away.

To which Hamlet alone replies

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!
Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd
His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!

The Wedding feast of Canan is echoed too.  Where water was changed to
wine at the bidding of Jesus' mother who he obeyed against his will.

Why has Horatio who has been at court long enough to have seen the ghost
with Marcellus and Bernardo not seen Hamlet?  Has Hamlet been absent
from court?  Shut up in his chamber perhaps.

Horatio. A truant disposition, good my lord.
   Hamlet. I would not hear your enemy say so,
Nor shall you do my ear that violence
To make it truster of your own report
Against yourself. I know you are no truant.
But what is your affair in Elsinore?
We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.   1622 Quarto "We'll teach
you for to drink ere you depart"

To teach a truant to drink deep?  Why?  Because  Hamlet is going to the
Kings party tonight?  I don't think so!

"Mr. Chan also writes "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."

I agree.

Mr. Chan writes "It is unlikely that his alcoholism develops all of a
sudden."

There are many traumatic experiences which bring on alcohol abuse. In
PTSD for instance self medication is one of the prime symptoms.

Why in the next scene does Laertes say to Ophelia about Hamlet

The canker galls the infants of the spring
Too oft before their buttons be disclos'd,
And in the morn and liquid dew of youth
Contagious blastments are most imminent.

Polonius is even stronger.

I would not, in plain terms, from this time forth
Have you so slander any moment leisure
As to give words or talk with the Lord Hamlet.
Look to't, I charge you. Come your ways.

What do they see in Hamlet that makes them warn Ophelia off him, now?

OK! We know Claudius drinks because he is getting blasted while the boys
are on the platform waiting for the ghost.

The King doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swagg'ring upspring reels,
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettledrum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge.

This next passage

  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'erleavens
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 eale
Doth all the noble substance of a dout

To his own scandal.

Mr. Chan writes "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?"  It is clearly stated here that the "dram" a measure still
used when ordering a drink in England of "eale" or ale. [1605 quarto]
Which creates (self)doubt in the mind about his own innate goodness.

The ghost also tells us it is his habit to take a nap in the afternoon,
sounds like he liked to sleep off a liquid lunch.

Hamlet warns his friends that he will put on an antic disposition at the
end of the ghost scene so I am not in any way suggesting that he really
goes mad from alcohol but it might act as an impediment to his taking
action "as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to his
revenge.

His boozing in Denmark is like the Gravedigger says about Hamlets
madness "Twill not be seen in him there, there the men are as mad as he"

Mr. Chan writes.

  "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."

So if the message is spiritual, it might have to do with a more liquid
form of spirits.

All the best,
J. Kenneth Campbell

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Rolland Banker <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 18 Oct 2004 02:47:04 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 15.1889 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan says about the mole speech before the Ghost's appearance:

"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."

The passage could just as well indicate Shakespeare's debt to Montaigne
and his essay On Cruelty where he quotes Horace's Satires about a
'beautiful body...having a few moles."

Later Shakespeare references Montaigne's essay On the Affection of
Fathers for their Children in his whole TO BE OR NOT TO BE exploration.

"Now cracks a noble heart." says Horatio and we understand as Montaigne
said, "We should indeed make some concessions to the simple authority of
the common laws of Nature but not allow ourselves to be swept
tyrannously away by her: Reason alone must govern our inclinations."

Of course, with Shakespeare, so much is packed into the play and plays
that everyone can bring his own topographical bag of ideas and walk away
with all kinds of goodies: spiritual or otherwise.

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.