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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1699  Friday, 10 September 2004

[1]     From:   R. A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 Sep 2004 08:27:14 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Sep 2004 08:20:25 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

[3]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 Sep 2004 00:10:11 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

[4]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Friday, 10 Sep 2004 00:14:56 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

[5]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 09 Sep 2004 13:45:24 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

[Editor's Note: This thread appears to be coming toward its useful end.
I encourage all who wish to submit closing statements.]


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 Sep 2004 08:27:14 -0500
Subject: 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >I can, on the other hand, offer plenty of evidence that Shakespeare did
 >meticulously craft Hamlet to convey a specific message.

And I can, perhaps, offer plenty of specific evidence that Shakespeare
meticulously crafted Hamlet to convey a different, contradictory
message, or a different message that is oblique to the message you
produce. This is one of the reasons Shakespeare critics have given over,
at least in the main, that general sort of endeavor. Though reading the
play from varying perspectives may be useful in many ways, proclaiming
one's own perspective paramount has not proven useful over the years.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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 >
Date:           Thursday, 9 Sep 2004 08:20:25 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

True for both author and reader, methinks -- that if it is a work of
sufficient -- depth, complexity, your word -- then both author and
reader will experience multiple reactions and give the lie to there
being any specific interpretation, but also to the notion that there is
no meaning or message. I long ago banged a wall with my fist and cried
out too many truths!

Example: From Hiv1 -- Falstaff's speech on honor has an explicit meaning
for me today that is utterly valif (methinks) regardless of what WS may
have intended.

Cheers, S

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Sep 2004 00:10:11 +0800
Subject: 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

R. A. Cantrell writes:

 >"I suppose that if K. Chan has his way, Hamlet and a few other of the
 >canon will become known as "The Essay Plays." "

I sincerely hope we do not continue to abide by comments like that by
Samuel Johnson, who wrote that Shakespeare "sacrifices virtue to
convenience and is so much more careful to please than to instruct that
he seems to write without any moral purpose." Surely we will be doing
Shakespeare a great injustice if we continue believing statements of
this nature when they can be clearly shown to be untrue.

The central spiritual message in Hamlet resonates through the entire
play, and is repeatedly echoed by Shakespeare, scene after scene, with
unmistakable consistency. Please look at the evidence. The message in
Hamlet can be summarized in the form of five inter-related themes:

1) The need to recognize the mystery world we are all in and the
importance of accepting the inevitability of death and facing the profound.

2) Our propensity, instead, to hide from the truth by indulging in
distractions and by artificially beautifying what is rotten inside.

3) How as a result of being false to ourselves in this way, we end up
being false to others.

4) The question we need to ask of whether we are not, in fact, mad in
doing all this.

5) Why revenge and condemnation of others is wrong, and how an
acceptance of reality and the inevitability of death, coupled with this
frame of mind, is a disaster.

The evidence for the above being the central themes in Hamlet can be
found in my book "Quintessence of Dust." See  http://www.hamlet.vze.com
. If you do not wish to read the book, I will be happy to explain the
relevant sections, as required, on this forum.

I am open to changing my mind, but I do need a reason for doing so. So
if there is good reason why any of the above themes should not be
considered as part of the message in Hamlet, I would be grateful if it
can be explained to me. The themes have nothing to do with "my wanting
to have it my way" - truly, my wishes are irrelevant. The text of the
play speaks for itself.

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

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Sep 2004 00:14:56 +0800
Subject: 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

D Bloom writes:

 >"Kenneth Chan responding to T. Hawkes:
 >
 >"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."
 >
 >To borrow from Daffy Duck, I have a pronoun problem here. What is the
 >referent of "it" in "a deep realization of it"? If "profundity" then the
 >sentence is circular: we realize the profundity only when we realize the
 >profundity. I am confident that's not what's meant, but "message" as a
 >referent also leaves me perplexed. Since "profound" means "deep" we
 >would appear to have another circular sentence: "the depth of the
 >message hits us only when we come to a deep realization of the message."

Thank you, Don, for pointing out the problem above. My sincere apologies
for not being clear. The "it" actually refers to "the message." Let me
explain.

There are many levels of knowing. We can understand something at an
intellectual level and yet not "realize" it to the extent that it
transforms our behavior. Here is an example: While most of us would
readily acknowledge that "we all die," we may still behave as though we
live forever. This means we have not actually "realized" this truth.

Spiritual truths need to be realized deeply. A mere intellectual
acknowledgement is inadequate, and the truth may then even appear trite.
An experiential realization of a spiritual truth is actually a
life-changing experience - the very core of our being is shaken and
transformed. This is what an initiation is meant to achieve.

Shakespeare's plays are designed to provide something akin to an
initiation. The message is conveyed to us not in mere words (since a
textbook would suffice for that purpose), but as an emotional experience
that is targeted at transforming our being. To a certain extent, we
learn because we live through the experience.

D Bloom writes:

 >"I have a similar problem with "that way" which I guess refers to the
 >process of wasting time by chasing after irrelevancies. I have no idea
 >what are the irrelevancies (money? women / men? power? fame? your
 >disobedient dog?), nor in what way they are irrelevant, nor why we
 >mustn't chase them.
 >I won't go into my problems with "face up to the profound." "

Again, my apologies for not being clear. "That way" does refer to "the
process of wasting time chasing after irrelevancies." We would naturally
stop behaving "that way" when we attain an actual "realization" of our
mortality and of the nature of our existence.

Also, when we continue on the quest for truth with this deep realization
(not just an intellectual acknowledgement) in place, we will then be
"facing up to the profound." This is an experience that actually cannot
be conveyed intellectually; we simply have to experience it for ourselves.

Furthermore, when we attain the realization of the truth of our
mortality and of the nature of our existence, what is "irrelevant" will
then become obvious. If you ask the reason for this, I think it is best
for me to quote Feste: "Troth, sir, I can yield you none without words;
and words are grown so false, I am loath to prove reason with them."

As Shakespeare recognizes, words have severe limitations, and this is
particularly evident in attempts to convey spiritual truths and
experiences, much of which is simply ineffable. That is why
Shakespeare's messages are seldom stated in mere words. His plays are
designed to convey meaning through our emotional involvement in the
whole action. This offers us the best chance of actually realizing the
message.

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

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 09 Sep 2004 13:45:24 -0400
Subject: 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1690 The Meaning of Hamlet

 >This seems a
 >more interesting reading of the part than some I have seen in which
 >Gertrude is simply unaware of what is going on because she is constantly
 >sloshed and hence dies because she drinks anything to hand!

I have seen only one performance like this (in London about 20 years
ago, with Ian McKellan I think), and it was an epiphany.  I can no
longer imagine Gertrude as anything but a lush.  This portrayal gives
real significance to "to the manner born."   It provides some
explanation for Gertrude's florid description of Ophelia's death, which
she could not have witnessed.  In the performance I saw, Gertrude had a
carafe and goblet, which she kept refilling and draining during this scene.

Most of all, it adds a poignancy to Gertrude's death.  Claudius, from
across the stage, calls out "Gertrude, do not drink" and she responds to
what we have come to understand is probably a household commonplace with
what may be a customary response: "I will my lord; I pray you pardon me."

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