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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1671  Tuesday, 7 September 2004

[1]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Sep 2004 23:42:11 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 6 Sep 2004 12:50:49 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Sep 2004 07:57:39 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Cheryl Newton <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 06 Sep 2004 21:28:52 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Monday, 06 Sep 2004 23:42:11 +0800
Subject: 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

Don Bloom writes:

 >"What do you (any of you) mean by the word "mad"? Or insane, crazy,
 >lunatic, etc."

Good question. Do any of us really know? Shakespeare highlights the same
point when he gets Polonius to say (to Claudius and Gertrude):

"Your noble son is mad.
Mad call I it, for to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?"

This, of course, is simplistic nonsense, especially since we know
Hamlet's madness is put on - well, at least to some extent. While there
are some very clear cases of madness in the world, there is nonetheless
a very large grey area between what we call "sanity" and "madness."

Shakespeare repeatedly brings up the issue of "madness" in Hamlet
because he is essentially posing this question to us:

Are we not mad in behaving the way we do? If we continually hide from
our mortality, and from the profound, by indulging in distractions and
by artificially beautifying reality to create a false perception of the
world, are we not mad? When we continually delude ourselves to hide from
the truth, are we really sane?

This, I believe, is an integral part of Shakespeare's spiritual message.

Kenneth Chan
http://www.hamlet.vze.com

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 6 Sep 2004 12:50:49 -0400
Subject: The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan piously unveils the 'deep spiritual message' of Hamlet as
having to do with

 >our tendency to hide from the profound and from the inevitability of
 >death, and how as a result, we waste our lives chasing after
irrelevancies.
 >We continually hide from the truth by artificially beautifying reality and
 >by indulging in distractions.

This doesn't seem particularly 'deep' to me. It sounds exactly like the
sort of trite inanity that vicars and headmasters used to churn out when
I was a lad.

T. Hawkes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 07 Sep 2004 07:57:39 +0800
Subject: 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

John Reed writes:

 >"Same thing for when Hamlet (and Horatio and the boys) see the Ghost as
 >Old Hamlet.  Not only do they see it that way, but it itself claims to
 >be the ghost of Old Hamlet.  It's unanimous: so the text indicates they
 >see it as Old Hamlet, so it is the ghost of Old Hamlet and therefore
 >that's the way the audience sees it, too, yes?  Wait a minute, how do we
 >go from Hamlet seeing it as Old Hamlet to the audience seeing it as Old
 >Hamlet?  I lost the connection somewhere."

I believe no further connection is required. If Shakespeare consistently
presents the ghost as the ghost of Old Hamlet, that is how we should
take it. We should not read too much between the lines or speculate too
much on hidden actions not openly presented by Shakespeare.

This point is often forgotten: In Hamlet, Shakespeare is not reporting
on an actual event in history. It is a work of art and how Shakespeare
presents it is how he wants it. Unlike a news report where we may try to
see beyond a particular reporter's slant or bias, there is no actual
event behind Shakespeare's presentation here.

It is important to realize this because the meaning in Shakespeare's
plays are imparted through our emotional involvement in the drama. The
message is conveyed through what the action of the entire play moves us
to feel. Shakespeare makes us live through it and we learn from the
experience. It is like an initiation. This is what makes the artistry
and the poetry so vital.

Because Shakespeare conveys his messages in this way, he is very
dramatic in making the points that he wants to make. If the ghost is
meant to represent something else, Shakespeare will make that point
obvious. If he does not do so, in all likelihood, it is because that is
not what he wants to convey. If we read too much between the lines and
speculate too much on what is happening behind the scenes, we may well
miss the message of the play as Shakespeare intends.

Kenneth Chan
http://www.hamlet.vze.com

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cheryl Newton <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 06 Sep 2004 21:28:52 -0400
Subject: 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1661 The Meaning of Hamlet

D Bloom <
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 >

 >A query:
 >
 >What do you (any of you) mean by the word "mad"? Or insane, crazy,
 >lunatic, etc.

To me, these words are used on a continuum, from someone in the throes
of ongoing psychosis to someone with a less debilitating, medication
controlled illness.  In general, I see the average population of "sane"
people as having very little understanding of that continuum.  All of us
nuts are nuts all the time, so to speak.  More about that below.  A one
sentence definition: within the vast range of severe/mild, mental
illness is characterized by disruption of the perceptual, emotional and
thought processes.

Larry Weiss <
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 >

 >This may be credible psychology, but as dramaturgy it sucks.
 > I cannot imagine a contemporary
 >audience concluding that this time the ghost is a figment of Hamlet's
 >imagination.

I'm willing to be convinced. ~grin~ But *why* does Shakespeare go such
lengths in the early scenes to establish that *everybody* present can
see & hear the Ghost (hence leading Hamlet apart), & then completely
toss this up in the air to say"Oh, everyone except Gertrude can see him?"

David Cohen <
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 >

 >I don't know what you mean by "static psychosis." .

Thanks for the options. I mean chronic, if I'm following the choices-
ie, a person who would be in a persistent impaired state on more or less
a daily basis if not on appropriate medication.  Hamlet is not
chronically insane.

 >Well, I hope not, given that I (with a colleague) have written the book
 >on  this and other conditions-Willerman & Cohen, Psychopathology, 1990),
 >a graduate level  textbook-and so ought to know at least a little
 >something about psychosis.

Do either of you, like Kay Redfield Jamison, have a mental illness?
(For folks following as we go a bit afield here - Kay PhD has cowritten
one of the definitive texts regarding bipolar illness, & a collection of
"educated reader" books about bi/p, suicide, and related subjects.)

 >. . . Most of us are but mad north north-west..

Most of us who are defined as mentally ill are mad only at certain
angles, at certain times.  We have periods of sanity... which makes us
very scary, because how does a "sane" person know whether the guy in the
bus seat across the aisle is a "nut?"

 >In no way
 >is Hamlet psychotic in the strict sense of the word, at any time and
 >under any wind conditions.  In no way is he borderline.

I agree.

 > Where in the scene with his mother does he show
 >"the exaggerated manic state"?

It has been played that way in several productions, just as the
preceding scene With R&G is played with with wild, exaggerated behaviour.

 >Have you ever seen an exaggerated manic
 >state, which is very crazy and which, in the USA, because it was so
 >crazy, used to be incorrectly diagnosed as schizophrenic?  I bet not.

***bbzzzz you lose*** But maybe you've seen that coming in this post.
I'm bipolar, type II.  It took quite sometime to get set up on the Dx &
right Rxs, so I got to experience the bounces & dives for years.  This
is the point where I could fill the screen with wild & whirling
words.... but I'll behave myself & stay on topic!

Cheryl

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