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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1202  Monday, 7 June 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Friday, 04 Jun 2004 10:16:23 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Scot Zarela <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Jun 2004 09:13:22 -0700
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Friday, 04 Jun 2004 10:16:23 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes:

"Why call providence fate?  Your questions ("Is providence helping
Hamlet out as he moves toward revenge? ") suggest that providence can
help (or hinder) a person, i.e., that it is personal, that it cares.
Fate, at least to me, is what is-in the tragic view, a remorseless
playing out of things, which cannot be altered.  Mixing the two terms
seems to me at least not to be helpful."

For OE poets, fate ("wyrd") was a double concept. On the one hand, its
heroic, pagan meaning was chance or luck. If chance went against you,
the result was a remorseless cutting of the string of life in a way and
at a time that could not be controlled. On the other hand, after being
Christianized, the word also meant providence: God's Will working
through fallen time. The ambiguity of the concept persisted into the
Renaissance, even though the word itself remained only in variant forms,
e.g., "weird."

Fate, fortune, providence: these words and their associated meanings are
central to the ending of Hamlet, in my view. If you want to see what I
mean, take a look at the climatic ending of the play, especially (but
not only) the sword fight between Laertes and Hamlet.

Odds and the laying of odds is the context Shakespeare gives for the
fight itself. How probable is it that this fight would include (1) a
double disarm? and (2) the exchange of weapons? How often does this
usually happen? Moreover, the exchange of weapons allows Hamlet to not
only stab the king but kill him. Plus, the "handy" cup allows Hamlet to
finish Claudius off. The sudden, unexpected death of Gertrude, plus the
sudden confession and death of Laertes, give Hamlet just the information
he needs (exactly when he needs it) to kill the king not just out of
revenge but also for other, different motives.

There's much more to say, but if we look BACK on the action, it can seem
to be wholly providential: Providence is working in concert with Hamlet
to finish off the king. Looked at as it happens, the action on the stage
can seem entirely plausible, even the double disarm if it is staged in a
way that makes sense.

What is going on here? A whole lot, I'd argue. But for the sake of
brevity (the soul of wit), I think that the Renaissance audience would
leave the play wondering if indeed Providence was at work in the final
scene. Or has the whole play been a series of terrible accidents based
on human frailties and mistakes? Or are both true at the same time?

At the end of Hamlet, the stage looks like a battlefield strewn with
corpses. Is this the result of madness? Or of Providence working through
Hamlet and (unknowingly) through others? That, to my mind, is the 64
Thousand Dollar Question.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scot Zarela <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Jun 2004 09:13:22 -0700
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

Who says Lucianus is the nephew of Gonzago?  Not Hamlet.  He tells us
Gonzago is "the Duke," and Lucianus is "nephew to the King."

-- Scot

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