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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1681  Wednesday, 8 September 2004

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 07:41:03 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Sep 2004 23:46:43 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 11:09:42 -0500
        Subj:   Fwd: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 20:38:54 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Sep 2004 18:35:30 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

[6]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 21:23:18 -0700
        Subj:   Re: The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 07:41:03 -0500
Subject: 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

Cheryl Newton responds to my query about imprecision in the use of the
word "mad" (and synonymous terms"

"A one sentence definition: within the vast range of severe/mild, mental
illness is characterized by disruption of the perceptual, emotional and
thought processes."

Well, that doesn't quite cover it. I'm not sure what "disruption" means
here, and I'm made uneasy by "processes" and "characterized by" which
I'm not sure mean anything.

But that does at least illustrate the problem.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Sep 2004 23:46:43 +0800
Subject: 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

Terence Hawkes writes:

 >"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."

The profundity of Shakespeare's message lies not in the mere
intellectual acknowledgement of the way we waste our lives chasing after
irrelevancies. The profundity of the message hits us only when we come
to a deep realization of it within us, and when we stop behaving in that
way and actually face up to the profound.

This is what Shakespeare is trying to impart to us in Hamlet, and the
reason why he does not state the message in mere words. The play is
meticulously crafted to make us live through the experience in the hope
that we will come to terms with it at a deep emotional level at the core
of our psyche.

Spiritual truths cannot be gained by mere intellectual understanding or
analysis. They certainly do not come in the form of complicated
intellectual theorems. Spiritual truths are gained by experiential
realizations that are generally ineffable. They come in the form of
mystical experiences that cannot be conveyed to another person in mere
intellectual terms. We simply have to experience it for ourselves.

Thus, what Shakespeare is trying to convey to us at an emotional and
experiential level is the realization that we need to pursue this path.
I fail to see what deeper truth he can impart to us in a play, and I
also fail to see what truth is more crucial than this?

I should also add that what is mentioned above is only part of the
spiritual message in Hamlet. There is another equally important and
related message that is conveyed to us via the transformation of Hamlet
in the pursuit of vengeance. This message is also conveyed to us not as
an intellectual argument or thesis, but as an emotional experience aimed
at touching the inner depths within us.

Deep spiritual truths expressed in mere intellectual terms may appear
simplistic because words simply cannot convey the inner depth of the
experience. Thus, words like "love" and "truth" may appear trite or
inane, but the experience of the profound realization that these words
attempt to convey is anything but that.

Comments and insights from other members of this forum would be most
welcome.

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

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 11:09:42 -0500
Subject: 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Fwd: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

Cheryl Newton <
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 >>. . . 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...

Yes, "most of us who are defined as mentally ill are mad only at certain
angles, at certain times," but we (not so diagnosable) are not all "but
mad north north-west"-unless, by mad, you mean the nutty "crazy" things
that normal people do, either spontaneously  or when they are stressed
out by nasty circumstances

 >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.

Such playing fits the speculation, offered earlier, that Hamlet is
bipolar, perhaps subsyndromal (cyclothymic) rather than full syndromal
BP II or BP I.  This would be consistent with the various qualities of
Hamlet's temperament, from the morose to the hyper-enthusiastic, and
consistent with the implications of your post.  Nevertheless, there's
obviously much more to Hamlet than some imagined diagnosed condition.

David Cohen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 20:38:54 +0100
Subject: 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

Kenneth Chan refers repeatedly to the "message" of Hamlet:

 >. . . an integral part of Shakespeare's spiritual message . . .
 >. . . The message is conveyed through what the action . . .
 >. . .Because Shakespeare conveys his messages in this way . . .
 >. . . we may well miss the message of the play . . .

Only because the SHAKSPER archive appears to indicate that no-one has
mentioned it before, I recommend Brendan Behan's response to a question
about the message of one of his poems: "The message? I'm not a fucking
postman". (Websites across the Internet suggest that the expletive was
"bloody" and the art his drama not his poetry, but I don't believe them.)

Gabriel Egan

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Sep 2004 18:35:30 -0400
Subject: 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1671 The Meaning of Hamlet

Cheryl Newton <
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 >

 >>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.

Then you must know the difference between hypomania and mania.  I have
often seen Hamlet played as if he were in the hypomanic phase
(especially in the closet scene), but never in the throes of full mania.
  If he were played that way, it would be so far over the top that it
would be laughed off the stage.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Tuesday, 7 Sep 2004 21:23:18 -0700
Subject:        Re: The Meaning of Hamlet

Regarding Kenneth Chan's post on the appearance of the Ghost, I wonder
if it is really true that Shakespeare presents the Ghost in a consistent
fashion.  I also wonder whether it is (or was) not openly presented as
something else.  Once again I see the text, and Shakespeare's
intentions, trotted out as reasons justifying a particular view (in this
case what the Ghost looks like to the audience).  I don't have much
patience with this text idea, even if I have heard it often enough.
What seems to be happening is that the text, as we have it, is
multiplied by a series of other ideas - a lot of them tacit assumptions
- which leads to a product that might be described as the standard
interpretation, or maybe rather a domain of approximately standard
interpretations, and then: if anyone comes up with a different
interpretation (or as in this case, since I haven't made any
interpretations, only posing a question) the variant is dismissed as
being merely speculative, or not in accord with the text, or not
supported by the text (and therefore inadmissible), when the variant is
actually the result of changing a tacit assumption (or whatever).  What
I am interested in, however, is not the standard interpretation, but
rather interesting variants (accurate or not - and how would we know?)
and especially these pesky little tacit assumptions.  And a lot of them
aren't little.  Besides, everyone changes the text all the time: for
instance by transposing the action to a foreign time, such as when Orson
Welles did Julius Caesar set in a twentieth century fascist state.
Another example, particularly appropriate to Hamlet, is cutting the text
- the Spoken Text (most people call it dialogue).  Cutting the text is
certainly changing the text.  Nobody gets upset over that.  However
there is a lot of upset, almost universal, regarding even posing the
question of what that Ghost looks like.  Looks like to the audience, of
course, not to the boys.  So the upset would seem to be not the result
of introducing something that is inconsistent with the text, but for
some other reason, perhaps something more fundamental?  Could there be
anything more fundamental than the text?  Sure there could.

I think one of your (not unique to you of course) hidden suppositions is
that the text, or texts, as we have them, represent a complete set of
specifications for the performance, the original performance.  That is a
highly dubious assumption.  We're not sure we even have a complete set
of specifications regarding the dialogue.  For instance what if we only
had Q1 of Hamlet, not Q2 or F?  Same thing with Othello: we have a Q1
and an F, and they're a little different.  Making the simplifying
assumption they both (Othello Q1 & F) derive from a common original (a
lot of people are going to be tempted to question this one) it means if
we only had one of them, we'd be missing a number of interesting
passages.  And if we're interested in action, well, we have hardly any
information on that anywhere.  Are you going to tell me anytime anyone
introduces action into a live performance that that isn't justified?
This might seem like a trivial point, but it's not to me.  Most of the
action obviously derivable from the dialogue was derived a long time
ago.  So I wonder if Shakespeare ever did anything unobvious?  They did
something unobvious in The Sound of Music.  There is an interesting
relationship between the dialogue (the song) in the number "Sixteen
Going on Seventeen" and the action.  I carried around an inaccurate
thought about that relationship for 30 years, which is the amount of
time elapsed between hearing the number and seeing it in movie form.  If
that kind of thing could happen in a modern movie it might have happened
on occasion in Shakespeare.  So I'm going to stand on my previous
question: how do we go from Hamlet seeing the Ghost as Old Hamlet to the
audience seeing it that way?  That connection is not obvious to me.  And
this is a point that really matters.  What I would have preferred to see
is something in the text that is unequivocal, but I don't see any such
thing.  It would be great if we had a specification for wardrobe or
make-up surviving, or especially both at the same time: that would seem
to settle the matter (especially if the wardrobe specification specified
the Ghost as appearing as something other than Old Hamlet).  But we
don't have that wardrobe specification.  That Shakespeare didn't write
one because it would be redundant is one interpretation, one that is
probably consistent with certain tacit assumptions rampant in modern
drama, but it's not the only one that might be made.

Could the Ghost have appeared (as itself, as perceived by the audience)
when Polonius thinks it is Reynaldo?  How about the Gravedigger?

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