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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1168  Tuesday, 1 June 2004

[1]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 May 2004 12:14:47 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 May 2004 14:35:05 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 May 2004 17:42:18 -0500
        Subj:   Should Hamlet have killed the praying Claudius?

[4]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Monday, 31 May 2004 22:16:13 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Monday, 31 May 2004 12:14:47 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago

Bill Arnold writes of Pamela Richards' quote:

 >Evil spirits, who could
 >masquerade as a great variety of things, and who
 >were not bound to tell
 >the truth; and unhappy ghosts of the departed dead.
 >Hamlet's ghost
 >could fit into only the last two of these
 >categories...Although in our
 >day and age, fundamentalist Protestants may
 >automatically suspect that
 >ghosts are evil spirits...."
 >
 >OK: putting aside the significance of Agrippa's book
 >to Will S.'s play
 >*Hamlet* we are left with your citations and
 >conclusions: two above with
 >which I have more than a slight quibble.  Ready?
 >first, if the
 >spirit/ghost of Prince Hamlet's father told the
 >*Truth* as I suspect the
 >play suggests he did, then Agrippa's second type
 >fits, and the
 >apparition in ACT ONE of *Hamlet* was an *angel* and
 >therefore a good
 >spirit; and second, I daresay your views on
 >so-called "fundamentalist
 >Protestants" is highly suspect.

Bill, I don't know how productive it would be to argue with you.  I
respect your point of view, and I think you are entitled to it.  I
promise to defend your right to hold your own view.  I don't agree with
it, though.  As one who was born and raised a fundamentalist Protestant,
and who is attempting to be judicious enough to throw the qualifier
"may" into the claim above, I feel entitled to my point of view as well.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Monday, 31 May 2004 14:35:05 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes:

 >"You don't include in you list biological limits on
 >free will, that is, inner limitations as powerful as
 >outer for any consideration of just how limited our
 >free will really is.  Consider: Two 30-year-old
 >identical twins separated at birth and raised in
 >different countries were asked about their personal
 >habits.  Interviewed separately, they both proved
 >to be compulsively neat, precise, meticulous,
 >punctual, and obsessed with cleanliness, all to
 >pathological excess. Asked for an explanation,
 >one twin answered "My mother.  When I was growing up,
 >she kept the house perfectly ordered.  She insisted on
 >every little thing being returned to its proper place
 >|.  I learned from her.  What else could I do?"
 >Convincing enough except that when asked the same
 >question, the other twin answered, "The reason is
 >quite simple.  I'm reacting to my mother
 >who is an absolute slob."

Yes, you are right.  I agree with you 100% on that.  Genetics can be
another factor in the free-will vs.  fate continuum.  In fact, I think
that you and I may agree on this matter more than we disagree.

 >"In what sense did those twins have free will?  In
 >what sense do we?  Simply talking about choices is not
 >proof of free will, for we can imagine a far-separated
 >identical twin, adoptively reared in different
 >environments yet making the same choices. Where's the
 >free will in that?"

Are we to infer that because they follow distinctly similar patterns
with regard to tidiness and cleanliness, that these two individuals have
never had to make a choice that will affect their lives?  Tidiness and
cleanliness are only one small part of a person's life.  There are many
other choices human beings are called on to make in addition to this
one.  And although these individuals may seem inflexible in this one
area, does that necessarily mean they are completely incapable of any
degree of change in other areas?

 >"I appreciate the dignity part, but I don't understand
 >the God part.  Perhaps the Renaissance Humanists were
 >insufficiently aware of substantial heritability of
 >traits, though the evidence within their own families
 >was right in front of their noses.  Incidentally, the
 >heritabilities, though high are not 100%, which leaves
 >room for prenatal influences as well as social
 >conditioning(e.g., from parents) and current
 >exigencies (e.g., from peers).  But there is no more
 >free will in such external influences than in the
 >internal (genetic, prenatal)
 >kind."

I think I must be off the point.  Have I made an erroneous assumption?
Are we talking about what Shakespeare or Hamlet could have believed, or
are we talking about your own beliefs?  Or may we grant that Shakespeare
and Hamlet lived in a different time of history than you and I do, were
exposed to different teachings and experiences, and were themselves
subject to a whole host of environmental factors that no longer exist?

 >"The business of how all this relates to God seems to
 >me an entirely different matter, of faith."

If this is how you see the matter, or even how you and I both see it, we
still cannot extrapolate from it how Shakespeare or Hamlet viewed God's
will, man's free will, and fate in the face of augury.

 >"I would love to know how you know what is "clearly
 >fated" (choice is not evidence of fate or free will),
 >or what you mean by :"permitted a choice"?  Permitted
 >by what: genes, circumstances, God?"

I think perhaps I would be more fair to you to withdraw that statement,
as it is based on an experience which you do not share.  Just as your
understanding of psychology and sociology is based on experiences which
I do not share, and is not pertinent to the issue at hand.

But, on the other hand, perhaps it would be cowardly of me to back down
on that statement now, and unfair to you in another sense.  Since the
topic is augury and not psychology, I will put my short-lived reputation
as a person who loves logic on this august list right on the line and
tell you what I meant.

I practice astrology, of the variety that was most commonly used in the
time of Shakespeare.  I consider it a form of augury.  By looking at the
positions of the planets on the chart, we can usually (allowing for
human error) see if an event will proceed smoothly to its conclusion, if
it will be halted by factors outside the individual's control, if it
will result in the person making a decision to strike in a new
direction; and even if it will be achieved, but lead to disaster.  There
are sometimes indications on the chart that lead us to conclude that the
individual is facing a decision that may go either way.  But the funny
thing is, granted that the person is "permitted" (in this case, the
"stars" say so) to make that decision, we still can get a good idea of
how the thing will turn out.  And even if that person is convinced in
the here and now that it's what they want, often the outcome proves
undesirable in the end.

In working with figures of the stars, my experience is that in our day
and age, most people seem to believe that their "free will" means that
they can decide what they want, and as long as they want it intensely
enough, they will get it, and live happily ever after.  I'm not sure how
this idea has crept into our society.  It's like a little sister to the
"fairy tale ending."  I think you and I would be in agreement that this
resembles some sort of delusion:  I don't know what the psychological
description of this is, but "magical thinking" comes to mind.

Now I know these individuals cannot buy into this fairy tale entirely,
or why would they ask me for a prediction?  So perhaps on a different
level of consciousness they know this "if I want it bad enough, my 'free
will' will make it happen" wish is not true.  But people in our culture
certainly seem to want to believe it.

Now I will grant you that I see a far greater number of charts which
involve "percieved" free will than I see charts which involve actual
free will.  The conditions that indicate actual free will in the stars
simply do not happen very often.  I'd say about 1% of the time.  Perhaps
that's not even statistically significant.

The point I am making about "free will" is this:  just because a
decision is made and something is ardently hoped for, does not guarantee
that even if it happens, the outcome will be desirable.  At the same
time, although you may think what I am saying sounds "grim", it was a
commonly-held belief in the time of Renaissance Humanism that it was the
act of making the decision itself that ennobles us--not its outcome, or
how pleased we are with it.  And we all make many, many choices, the
outcome of which may be fated, or not.  If we can apply that thinking,
it's a no-lose situation.  That's why the Renaissance Humanist finds
mankind so inspiring; and why, even in the face of what is likely to be
a poor outcome, he can find serenity.

A Humanist believes that to make a choice is to be given the power to
transform our very selves.

To his great consolation, if Hamlet was a Humanist, he probably thought
of the afterlife in a very different way than most of us do.  With all
of his talk about vengance, damning, and killing without shriving, if
Hamlet was a true Humanist, he believed that humans are capable of
choice, change, and transformation even in the afterlife.

As for Macbeth, it seemed he attempted to justify his choices by the
augury he had recieved.  There's a man who worked the magic of Humanism
backwards and transformed himself into something very ugly indeed.  If
he was fated to take these actions, and had never met the witches, would
he have been bold enough to move forward with his choices?  My opinion
is that he would have made the same choices with the witches, or without
them.  Inevitability does not negate responsibility: either way, they
were still his choices to make.  The workings of his conscience and
will, however faulty those instruments were nor how inflated by pleasing
prediction, happened in his own soul, not in anyone else's.  No one else
needs to be responsible for them.

There was a famous astrologer who published a prediction of the Great
Fire of London (1666) about twenty years in advance, down to the year
and month.  Instead of heeding his warning and preparing for the
disaster, officials dragged the astrologer along to an investigation
after the fact, demanding to know his whereabouts at the time the fire
started.  This kind of "kill the messenger" thinking does not negate the
responsibility of the baker--even though he may not have been born yet
when the prediction was made.  Perhaps if he had not been the one
responsible, someone else would have started the fire.  But it is a moot
issue.  The baker, it is supposed, should have watched his fires.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 31 May 2004 17:42:18 -0500
Subject:        Should Hamlet have killed the praying Claudius?

 > David Cohen writes, "...Hamlet has a chance to kill Claudius while the
 >king
 >kneels at prayer, and should have: an easy kill, and there an end, but
 >not for Hamlet...Rather, about to do the deed, he backs off with a head
 >full of act-inhibiting sophistry about how a kill during prayer will
 >help Claudius' soul to heaven.  Nonsense or worse, dishonest nonsense..."

And David Bishop wrote,

 >He [Shakespeare] gives the doubting Hamlet a ploy that may
 >produce public proof of the crime, while the faithful
 >Hamlet (faithful to the ghost) has to screw it up so
 >that
 >the proof remains private, leaving him in almost the
 >same position he was in before. Except that now
 >Claudius knows he knows-or knows something close
 >enough to that to take action. ... Hamlet won't
 >get public proof of the king's guilt before he leaves
 >for England...... In the
 >end, of course, [Hamlet] does get proof of Claudius' s
 >crimes, first in the commission (strictly speaking,
 >proof only of criminal intent), and then
 >i the poison whose action is testified to by Laertes
 >and proved by his own death...

Mr. Bishop is right; the operative words here are "public" and
"private." Hamlet should certainly NOT have killed Claudius while the
latter was at prayer, nor at any time during which Hamlet could not
demonstrate to the court and community that Claudius was guilty. Hamlet
is a prince of the realm; his actions have consequent results for the
whole country; he cannot indulge his personal feelings for revenge when
they are not at least coupled with a princely act of justice. Too, can
we imagine the scene that would follow for Hamlet, should he have given
way to the desire to stab Claudius while at prayer?

The Court: But why did you kill your uncle?

Hamlet: He murdered my father?

The Court: How do you know?

Hamlet: The ghost of my father told me, and then you see how he reacted
at the play.

The Court: Oh...a ghost told you...

(Then, of course, Hamlet's rashly stabbing into the arras, thinking
Claudius there, and the shattering results there from, make the point I
present above, but in another way.)

           [L. Swilley]

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 31 May 2004 22:16:13 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1155 The Murder of Gonzago

In a thought-provoking post, David Bishop affirms:

 >"Finally, the Mousetrap may be said to fail if its
 >purpose was to make Claudius proclaim his
 >malefactions. That remains only a faint hope, barely
 >hinted at."

I agree entirely.  To expect Claudius to openly reveal his guilt and
confess his crime is to expect far too much of "The Moustrap".  Here's
Hamlet on the subject in II ii:

 >". . . I have heard
 >That guilty creatures sitting at a play
 >Have by the very cunning of the scene
 >Been struck so to the soul that presently
 >They have proclaim'd their malefactions;
 >For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
 >With most miraculous organ."

Hamlet does not say he expects Claudius to definitively announce his
guilt verbally.  "Murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most
miraculous organ."  So murder may show itself through the further
actions of the guilty party.  Actions, after all, speak louder than
words.

Later, Hamlet is speaking to Horatio before the play begins in III.ii:

"One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father's death:
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe mine uncle: if his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen. . . "

I submit that "in one speech" may refer to the speech of Hamlet or an
actor elaborating on the scene as it unfolds, rather than referring to
Claudius confessing his guilt "in one speech".

Regarding Hamlet's beliefs about the efficacy of drama: at the
University, Hamlet was quite likely exposed to the usual Renaissance
curriculum, which would have included the works of an author named
Giordano Bruno, who is cited below:

"There are three gates through which the hunter of souls [animarum
venator] ventures to bind: vision, hearing and mind or imagination. If
it happens that someone passes through all three of these gates, he
binds most powerfully and ties down most tightly."

"He who enters through the gate of hearing is armed with his voice and
with speech, the son of voice. He who enters through the gate of vision
is armed with suitable forms, gestures, motions and figures. He who
enters through the gate of the imagination, mind and reason is armed
with customs and the arts."

"A General Account of Bonding" from _Cause, Principle and Unity_, ed.
Blackwell & Lucca (Cambridge, 1997) page 155.

The image of the animarum venator, the "hunter of souls", is apt to the
purpose of "The Moustrap." Perhaps it also reveals something of
Shakespeare's fascination with the captivating muse of drama, and our own.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

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