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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1623  Wednesday, 1 September 2004

[1]     From:   Cheryl Newton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 09:10:28 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 09:19:20 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 09:42:52 -0400
        Subj:   The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 07:20:42 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1614 The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 16:01:45 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

[6]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 16:12:37 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1614 The Meaning of Hamlet

[7]     From:   Tom Krause <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 1 Sep 2004 0:10:45 -0400
        Subj:   The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cheryl Newton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 09:10:28 -0400
Subject: 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

I think Gertrude's inability to see the ghost is one of the strongest
points in argument of Hamlet's madness.  Everyone present sees the ghost
on the battlements.  Presumably, everyone could also hear him since he
leads Hamlet away for their conversation.

But Gertrude hears & sees nothing - calling Hamlet's vision the coinage
of his brain.

Cheryl

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 09:19:20 -0400
Subject: 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

Claude Caspar <
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 >Why can't Gertrude see the ghost in the bedroom scene?

It would seem that Hamlet is not sane in the closet scene.

Objection #1:  Ghosts do not exist in reality.

Objection #2:  The fact that Hamlet sees the ghost while Gertrude does
not shows that Hamlet is hallucinating.

Objection #3:  The ghost represents only his fevered thoughts, even as
in other cases in Shakespeare, such as the ghosts in /Julius Caesar/ and
/Richard III./

But I say:  "Touching this vision here,
It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you."

It is clear that, should Gertrude and the Ghost meet, they must
inevitably have a long conversation. But this conversation would run
quite against the clear necessity of dramatic tension in this scene.
Therefore, Shakespeare, wisely, did not wish to write a passage between
Gertrude and the Ghost.  And this apparent discrepancy can be justified
by the simple fact that, according to all report, whether admitted
fiction or purported truth, ghosts are (as they say) spooky.

Answer to Objection #1:  Many things that do not exist in reality
nevertheless exist in Shakespeare, from the seacoast of Bohemia to the
gods of the heathen.  We must accept these things even as we accept the
other fictions of Theatre, or the entire enterprise fails.

Answer to Objection #2:  Other characters have seen the ghost, the
audience has seen and heard the ghost, and the ghost has conveyed to
Hamlet true information that the Prince can have obtained only by
supernatural means.  Occam's razor demands that we accept the
supernatural means that Shakespeare gives us, rather than imagine one of
our own.

Answer to Objection #3:  While we may interpret a ghost a representing
only a character's internal torment, Shakespeare says nothing of this.
Beyond which, see the answer to Objection #2.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 09:42:52 -0400
Subject:        The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan correctly observes,

"Immediately after failing to see the ghost, Gertrude concludes that
Hamlet is mad and hallucinating."

Of course. And this is clearly what the Ghost wants her to conclude. As
a result, Hamlet must immediately work to convince her that he is sane
and work doubly hard to get her to repent and to win her over to his side.

Now, Kenneth, what does that tell us about the Ghost?

Ed

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 07:20:42 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1614 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1614 The Meaning of Hamlet

John Reed writes, "Here we go again, talking about Gertrude and the
Ghost.  In this scene we have four dramatically significant entities:
Hamlet, the Ghost, Gertrude, and the audience.   I think I showed
earlier that in Shakespeare Character Appearance is a potential
variable.  Maybe this scene is one of those times.  I have the feeling,
anyway, that the Ghost appears to the audience as it "really" is
(whatever that is), and that it appears to Hamlet in the fashion that it
claims to be (as Hamlet's father)."

OK: what your "feeling" is, is not that important.  What your inferences
are based on the text matters.

OK: in the text, in Act I, others see the spirit of Prince Hamlet's
father.  So, there is no doubt that the spirit is viable for *all* to
see.  In fact, if you take the truth and certainty of the *whole* text
into consideration, then you would note that it was others who summoned
Prince Hamlet to come and see the spirit of his father with his own eyes.

OK: I reiterate that to adjudicate the madness vs. not madness of Prince
Hamlet, analysis must take the *whole* text into consideration and not
just an isolated line, scene or even act.  *The whole truth, nothing but
the truth, so help you, God," in your final analysis and explication.

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

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 16:01:45 +0100
Subject: 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

Claude Caspar asks ...

 >Why can't Gertrude see the ghost in the bedroom scene?

Recent film versions have got round this problem by having the Ghost
visible only to Hamlet throughout the play, as in Macbeth and Banquo's
ghost.  The problem with doing this is that the play becomes a
psychological thriller; it becomes film noir.

Peter Bridgman

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 16:12:37 +0100
Subject: 15.1614 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1614 The Meaning of Hamlet

John Reed writes ...

 >Here we go again, talking about Gertrude and the Ghost.

Indeed.  Hamlet seems to be an obsession with SHAKSPERians.  Perhaps
Hardy should rename this the Online Hamlet Conference?

Peter Bridgman

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Krause <
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Date:           Wednesday, 1 Sep 2004 0:10:45 -0400
Subject:        The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan writes:

"In interpreting Shakespeare, I believe it is helpful to work on the
premise that Shakespeare does have something important to say in his
plays and that he meticulously crafts them to convey specific messages.
We should, therefore, try to interpret each part of his plays in the
context of what the rest of the play is saying. The different parts, I
believe, are meant to form a cohesive whole."

I can't quite agree that he "meticulously crafts them to convey specific
messages" and that different parts of the play "are meant to form a
cohesive whole." In some cases, he seems to have crafted them - not
particularly meticulously - to convey multiple messages on multiple
levels with an attendant loss of cohesiveness (see my posted article on
Hamlet and Measure for Measure).

The reason that Gertrude doesn't see the ghost may be as simple as that
Shakespeare wanted to be sure to drive home the various debasement
references in that scene - from Hamlet's showing his mother coins,
including a debased Claudius coin, to Hamlet's calling Claudius a
"cutpurse."  Thus, it was important for Shakespeare to have Gertrude
say:  "This is the very coinage of your brain"; and he didn't much care
about the implications of whether or not she sees the ghost.

To phrase the point as a broader question: do you reject all possible
interpretations of Hamlet -- or parts of Hamlet -- other than the
spiritual one you propose?

Tom

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