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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1647  Friday, 3 September 2004

[1]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 07:28:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 07:46:10 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 08:13:07 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Sep 2004 10:12:35 -0400
        Subj:   The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 09:32:17 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

[6]     From:   Tom Krause <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 14:36:20 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

[7]     From:   Jay Feldman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 09:42:03 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

[8]     From:   Cheryl Newton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Sep 2004 17:36:18 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 07:28:42 -0500
Subject: 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

Claude Caspar writes,

 >It is clear that, should Gertrude and the Ghost meet, they must
 >inevitably have a long conversation.

Would Mr. Caspar please explain why there should inevitably *be* a
conversation and why it should inevitably  be long?

L. Swilley

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 07:46:10 -0500
Subject: 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan writes,

 >There are many sections in Hamlet that certainly do not contribute to
 >its main action. These include the following:
 >
 >1) the swearing ritual at the end of Act I;
 >2) Polonius's dialogue with Reynaldo;
 >3) the dramatic recitation on Pyrrhus;
 >4) Hamlet's advice (on acting) to the players;
 >5) the graveyard scene and the dialogue with the gravedigger;
 >6) the dialogue with Osric.

If we excised every part of every play that did not "contribute to its
main action," I think the whole presentation would be over in fifteen
minutes. Every part of a play comments on all the others by the very
fact of its inclusion; it is by that means that the playwright deepens
and broadens the ideas of the work.  For example, in "Hamlet," Polonius'
dialogue with Reynaldo is an extension and examination  - and judgement
- of "by indirection, find direction out,"  an idea that is repeated by
several characters and in many contexts of the play.

L. Swilley

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 08:13:07 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >The recent Trevor Nunn Hamlet at the Old Vic actually had the ghost not
 >present in the closet scene, and Hamlet reacting to unheard lines, clearly
 >intending to imply that the ghost is real but that, Hamlet, at this stage
 >in the play, is well out of his right mind.

In this year's Macbeth at the Stratford Festival, the performer for
Banquo does not appear on stage during the banquet scene. There is a bit
of stage business that suggests the ghost's presence, but for most of
the scene, the effect is similar to the Hamlet described above.

It was the best scene of a production that could have used more ideas.

Jack Heller
Huntington College

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Sep 2004 10:12:35 -0400
Subject:        The Meaning of Hamlet

I am a bit surprised by Kenneth Chan's answer to my question about the
nature of the Ghost. I agree completely with you, Kenneth, with only one
caveat: the ghost may be undergoing temporary purgation (Purgatory) OR
eternal torment (Hell).

Ed Taft

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 09:32:17 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

This topic has already been discussed before. Beyond that, I think a
great many ludicrous non-textual stances have been taken. The take I
have is this: the ghost exists, he exists in the closet scene, others
have seen the ghost. Shakespeare would clearly choose another route to
demonstrate Hamlet's madness if he were indeed mad, ie Ophelia. He would
not have included the ghost in this scene if this were so. But the most
convincing piece of evidence is the construction of the scene itself.
Gertrude asks why Hamlet is acting madly, Hamlet repeatedly asks her if
she sees her deceased husband's ghost, Gertrude clearly states that she
sees nothing and that he is mad (III. iv. 93-130 Oxford). Hamlet says:

                                               Ecstasy?
My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music. It is not madness
That I have uttered. Bring me to the test,
And I the matter will reword, which madness
Would gambol from. Mother, for love of grace
Lay not a flattering unction to your soul
That not your trespass but my madness speaks (130-7).

These are clearly not the words of a madman, nor clues from Shakespeare
towards madness. They are the clearest indication in the entire play
that Hamlet is not, nor never was mad, and that Gertrude is confessed
Hamlet's secret. The rest of the scene deals with religious concepts of
contrition and repentance. They are in verse and other than song, I know
of no character who manifests their madness in verse. Personally, I
think it is rather open and shut case.

Brian Willis

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Krause <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 14:36:20 -0400
Subject: The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan writes:

"There are, in fact, hardly any extraneous lines in the play. They all
either contribute towards moving the action along or towards imparting
its central message.
. . .
"If all of them can be shown to contribute cohesively to the meaning of
the play, shouldn't we then conclude that Shakespeare did indeed
meticulously craft his play to convey a specific message?
. . .
"In the end, it is not our varying opinions that count. It is whether or
not they can be demonstrated decisively to be correct or not."

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea that Hamlet conveys a spiritual
message, and I think you have a good argument for what that message
might be.  But I think you overstate your case when you say that there
is only one message and that nearly everything in Hamlet combines to
support that message. I don't have your book, and so am very curious to
hear how you interpret the following lines/passages, and how they fit in
with the single spiritual message that you see:

1.  Rosencrantz's reference to the "late innovation" that has caused the
"inhibition" of the tragedians.

2.  Hamlet's reference to the fact that people are paying 20, 40, 100
ducats a piece for Claudius's "picture in little."

3.  Hamlet's characterization of Claudius as "A cutpurse of the empire
and the rule,/ That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,/ And put it
in his pocket!"

As described in my article (posted on this site), I see a consistent
explanation for these (and other) references in a coinage/debasement
hypothesis; i.e. that Shakespeare had something to say about debasement
of the coinage in the play.  Does acceptance of your theory necessarily
mean that mine is wrong, or is there a way they can work side by side?

On the same general subject, what do you make of the "little eyases"
passage, which is present in the Folio but not the second quarto?  Is it
consistent with the spiritual message, or does is it merely a
contemporary reference that distracts attention from the spiritual
message?  Does your theory shed any light on the debate as to whether
the little eyases passage was an addition to the original play, or was
deleted from it?

Tom Krause

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jay Feldman <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Sep 2004 09:42:03 -1000
Subject: 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

Perhaps the ghost has appeared in the chamber scene just as Hamlet's
wildness has led him to the very precipice of madness. Hamlet's speech
to his mother has moved from "sit you down", through a murder, to "words
like daggers" - perhaps he has become quite mad. The ghost's
intervention provides a cooling balm and reminds Hamlet of his original
obligation - the revenge of his father's murder and the requirement to
leave his mother to the thorny pricks in heaven, not those on earth.

Btw, since the ghost can apparently appear at will to Hamlet, and does
so in this scene, why not just a tad earlier to prevent the death of
Polonius?  Perhaps Kenneth Chan is correct, it may not be a nice ghost,
or at the very least not a prescient one, though it seems to know of
matters before, during, and after Hamlet senior's demise. Given that,
and assuming Laertes and Claudius plotted at night, could it not have
overheard their conversation and warned Hamlet to be wary of unabated
cataplasmic foils? But then, what's the point of spoiling a dramatic
though sticky ending where a once goodly prince and a kingdom can both
be lost. Speaking of which, I wonder where Fortinbras would figure in
Bill Arnold's white hat - black hat dichotomy of ghostly interaction?

Finally, I must agree with others that for Gertrude to see the ghost
would terribly fracture the play's kilter forcing it to take an
extraordinary, though VERY interesting, digression.

Regards to all - Jay Feldman

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cheryl Newton <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Sep 2004 17:36:18 -0400
Subject: 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1633 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >Cheryl Newton writes, "I think Gertrude's inability to see the ghost is
 >one of the strongest points in argument of Hamlet's madness."
 >
 >OK: this is faulty logic.  If others saw the spirit of Prince Hamlet's
 >father and drew him to see the spirit, then the spirit was real to
 >others: in the context of the play.
 >
 >Bill Arnold

The bubble in the logic would be the assumption that "mad" is a static
state.  It is rarely so.  Shakespeare, with keen observation of human
behaviour, has written perhaps the first manic-depressive character
(bipolar.)  We sometimes see Hamlet as "sane," especially in his
reactions with Horatio.  We sometimes see him as profoundly depressed
(2b/not2b - & for anyone who argues that scene is not or should not be
played as a genuine reflection on suicide, I refer you again to Campbell
Scott.) And we sometimes see him as wildly manic  - witness the scene
following the play within a play, and, sometimes, an uncontrolled rage
toward Ophelia.  Hamlet is complex, not a cardboard figure.  He can
sanely see the Ghost with Horatio et al, and can insanely "see" a
nonexistence Ghost later in his mother's chamber.

Cheryl

David Cohen <
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 >1. Hamlet is not mad-assuming "mad" means psychotic-at any point in the
 >play, but rather is play acting.

Well - as you say, if we assume madness to be static psychosis, yes.
But that view of mental health is vastly oversimplified.  *g* Most of us
are but mad north north-west.

 >2.  The Ghost is real, given that Horatio et al. and the audience sees it.

On the battlements, true.  But having established that the ghost is
visible to ALL present, Shakespeare then presents us with one who is
not.  And the scene follows directly upon Hamlet's very manic behaviour
after the play.  So I vote that, still in the exaggerated manic state,
he is hallucinating.

Cheryl

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