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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: August ::
The Meaning of Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1614  Tuesday, 31 August 2004

[1]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Aug 2004 21:49:20 -0700
        Subj:   Re: The Meaning of Hamlet

[2]     From:   Kenneth Chan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 15:29:26 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Aug 2004 21:49:20 -0700
Subject:        Re: The Meaning of Hamlet

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).  I think Gertrude sees it as well, although I'm not sure how
she sees it.

Yes, she claims she doesn't see it, directly to Hamlet.  And then she
has a curious line, "Alas, he's mad."  She refers to Hamlet as "he".
Who is she speaking to?  I think she's speaking to the audience.  So it
could be she is denying seeing the Ghost again, this time making the
claim to the audience.  A vain attempt.

Not long ago I finished writing a screenplay to Hamlet (purely for the
fun of it, so don't hold your breath about ever seeing it made), and
after going through with that labor I have the impression one of
Gertrude's characteristics is that she dissembles.   She doesn't want to
be revealed, especially to the audience, as having done anything wrong.
  Seeing the Ghost, especially in the way Hamlet sees it, would remind
her of the things she has done wrong (if any), and she doesn't like it.
  She's on the path of the progression of evil, and having the Ghost
appear just then is hard on her, she doesn't want to be made to feel
G-U-I-L-T-Y, guilty, guilty, guilty.  It might be similar to Macbeth
seeing the "Ghost" of Banquo at the party.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kenneth Chan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 2004 15:29:26 +0800
Subject: 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1605 The Meaning of Hamlet

Dear Claude

The reason why Gertrude does not see the ghost is not really a mystery.
Not everyone can perceive everything under all circumstances, especially
when it involves psychic or mystical phenomena.

The real question is why Shakespeare highlighted this point in the play.
A careful examination of Shakespeare's lines during this episode gives
us a clue. Immediately after failing to see the ghost, Gertrude
concludes that Hamlet is mad and hallucinating. What is Hamlet's response?

He does not seem to wonder why she does not see the ghost. He does not
speculate on whether this inability is the result of being "in sin" or
anything like that. In fact, Hamlet does not seem at all interested in
why she does not see the ghost, or why the ghost does not make himself
visible to her.

Hamlet's response, instead, focuses on something else altogether. Taking
into consideration what the rest of the play is saying, I believe
Shakespeare's purpose for this episode is to enable Hamlet to make
exactly this response. And given that the play aims at encouraging us to
take the spiritual path, Hamlet's response is indeed important.

Instead of wondering why his mother fails to see the ghost, Hamlet
focuses on the danger of her using it as an excuse to avoid reforming
her life. Shakespeare, I believe, is aware that this is a serious
problem in the real world.

On the spiritual path, certain levels of attainment are required before
we can open the door to the inner journey and to spiritual experiences.
While the perception of ghosts does not quite rank in the same category,
it is the dismissive attitude towards such experiences that acts as a
serious hindrance to spiritual progress. It is unwise to prematurely
dismiss mystical experiences - widely described by saints and mystics on
the spiritual path - as psychological aberrations simply because we
cannot experience them at present.

Through Hamlet's response, Shakespeare deliberately makes this point -
i.e. that we should be wary of using this excuse of "madness" to avoid
reforming our own lives. Immediately after this response by Hamlet, the
whole matter concerning Gertrude's failure to see the ghost is quickly
dropped.

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.

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

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