Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1215  Tuesday, 8 June 2004

[1]     From:   Pamela Richards <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 06:13:07 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 11:35:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 7 Jun 2004 11:50:07 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Pamela Richards <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 03:56:08 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Pamela Richards <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 05:59:44 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 06:13:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft writes:

 >"Is providence helping Hamlet out as he moves toward
 >revenge? If so, how can we know that? Is the climatic
 >final scene an example of error and chance? Or is it
 >guided by Divine Providence? If so, how?"

These are intriguing questions.  As in so many things, I believe
Shakespeare intended these question to be raised--and left unanswered.
I believe he left it for each of us to decide whether we feel Hamlet's
actions were justified in God's eyes.  I do believe Hamlet felt his
actions were justified, yet as Hamlet himself observes when speaking of
another man's soul: ". .  .how his audit stands who knows save heaven?"

As the audience, we may want God to give Hamlet a clear sign of His
will, but I don't think Shakespeare wanted the same for us.

As for the "sparrow" passage, I believe it demonstrates that Hamlet had
settled an inner resolution on the matter, and was satisfied that he was
embarked on a mission to finally determine the rightful kingship of
Denmark, whether he lived or died.

When they marched to war, Roman legions used to bring birds like eagles
(or even chickens) to provide augury before the battle.  The Romans
frequently overcame enemy armies without bloodshed, by offering to allow
the opposing army to join sides or fight.  It is possible that the
augury provided by the birds (as well as the visual reinforcement of the
sight of the well-equipped Roman army in full regalia) convinced many an
army's commander that joining up was the better option.

Medieval and Renaissance times saw a shift toward notions of chivalry in
battle.  The armies of Kings usually fought to determine divine right to
rule the land they were fighting over.  Augury, however, was still
critical.  Astrologers were typically employed by both sides.  The time
and place of the engagement of the armies was agreed upon in advance,
and this would have been used by the astrologer to draw a chart of the
event.  By the time the battle was engaged, the astrologers of both
sides had already predicted who would win the battle; if both
astrologers were competent, they would both have already determined the
same answer.  Of course, we all know that even if we assume that
astrology is able to give accurate answers, room for human error puts
such predictions at risk.

There is an interesting technical glitch in how this prediction is made;
to give an accurate prediction, the astrologer must know which side is
responsible for making the first move.  The chart does not tell him
this.  So frequently, when the first side to initiate a move was
predicted to have a disadvantage, the battle commenced with taunting and
verbal attempts to provoke the enemy into attacking first.   Sometimes
this phase of provoking the enemy was prolonged over hours, delaying the
start of the battle until late in the day.

The soldiers of both sides, of course, were instructed in whether to
strike first to gain the advantage, or to hold off and force the hand of
the other side in order to gain the advantage.  So the soldiers were in
a position to know that if they had been told to hold off, but if their
side indeed let loose and struck first, they were more likely to lose in
battle.  Psychological advantage (as the Romans had discovered) is very
important to how well armies will fight.  The divine right of kings,
however, was determined by such battles, so soldiers were instructed not
to ignore augury, but rather, if they found themselves in the less
favored position, to defy it and fight to the best of their ability, to
the death.  "Special providence", God's favor toward one king or
another, may still hold sway despite augury.  Since God was the one who
set the stars in motion, God is the only one we can rely on to break the
rules he has established if he so chooses.  So the divine right of kings
would be established through the outcome of battle and advantage in
battle could be predicted through augury, but because the matter
involved the Divine Right of Kings, "special providence" ruled the day.

I believe the augury Hamlet referred to was his sense of an uneasy heart
before the fencing match:

"But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart: but it is
no matter.

HORATIO
Nay, good my lord,--

HAMLET
It is but foolery; but it is such a kind of
gain-giving, as would perhaps trouble a woman.

HORATIO
If your mind dislike any thing, obey it: I will
forestall their repair hither, and say you are not
fit.

HAMLET
Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special
providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is't to leave betimes?"

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 11:35:58 -0500
Subject: 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago

Edmund Taft writes:

 >"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 . . . ."

This makes sense, but if the christianized version of fate (providence)
works its way out (as you say, at the end of Hamlet) remorselessly-if it
can't be changed by good works or prayer-then how is it functionally
different from fate in the pagan sense, and why is it not just as tragic?

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 7 Jun 2004 11:50:07 -0700
Subject: 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago

Ed Taft writes, of Hamlet,

 >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.

But surely this is true of all but the most surreal fiction.  It makes
sense at the time, but in retrospect seems to rely on a lot of
coincidences and implausibilities, rather than relentless logic.

I'm not sure if I can explain what I mean without an example, and
they're too common to really list.  Review the action of the movie
_Titanic_, for instance, and you'll find that everyone gets into and out
of strange problems far too often for it all to just be coincidence.  In
fact, on re-watching the film, or even summarizing it, the events seem
rather laughable.  While watching it in a cinema, though, it's fairly
gripping.

Yours,
SKL.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 03:56:08 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes:

 >"It's what most people have in mind when they speak of
 >their free will: more formally the application of
 >conscious rational powers to formulate "intelligent"
 >actions free of influences external to our conscious
 >selves, including unpredictable chance events.  If
 >free will in this sense is an illusion, than our
 >belief that we can do whatever we want to do is a
 >delusion."

It is important to establish the parameters of the discussion, I think.
  I believe we were attempting to address what might have been
Shakespeare's or Hamlet's beliefs about augury, providence, fate and
free will.  The statements I suggested as describing current-day belief
systems seem to have been largely compatable with your own, with the
exceptions and corrections you noted.  But we must move away from those
beliefs if we are to gain an appreciation of the many ways Shakespeare
intended to move his audience.

There are many ways to study Shakespeare, and they all can yield
marvelous fruits.  The one I am proposing involves placing the play in
the light of historical/cultural beliefs that Shakespeare might have
addressed when he wrote.  Whether or not we share those beliefs is not
the issue; but it is my position that it is crucial to comprehend those
older beliefs in order to gain the full impact of the play as it was
written.

As Shakespeare said in the words of Hamlet,

 >". . .playing, whose end, both at the first and now,
 >was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to
 >nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own
 >image, and the very age and body of the time his form
 >and pressure."

Certainly Shakespeare's works can be studied apart from their cultural
and historic context.  Yet when we study this way, we remove "the very
age and body of the time his form and pressure"; still holding "the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own
image".  The study reverts to one which reflects to us more of our own
personal beliefs and personality, while substantially diminishing our
appreciation of what the play meant to Shakespeare and his audience.  We
have transformed the mirror contained in the play into a Rorschach test
of our own belief systems.

I look forward to continuing this discussion in response to your points,
but I will post another message, as this one is likely to become overly
lengthy.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 05:59:44 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1187 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes:

 >"It's what most people have in mind when they speak of
 >their free will:  more formally the application of
 >conscious rational powers to formulate
 >"intelligent" actions free of influences external to
 >our conscious selves, including unpredictable chance
 >events.  If free will in this sense is an illusion,
 >than our belief that we can do whatever we want
 >to do is a delusion."

Yes, the belief that "we can do whatever we want to do" absolutely is a
delusion according to early modern English standards.  When the outcomes
we experience are not covered by the workings of Fate, which is thought
to be an incontrovertible force  leading from one event to another
without responding to our intervention, we have providence (or God's
workings in history) to intervene, which will only be accomplished
through 1) fervent prayer: perhaps, if God likes us and our ideas; or 2)
when God has something special he wants to accomplish and initiates an
intervention on our behalf.  Of course, those of a certain belief have
acess to the use of magic, but even magical acts are not a guarantee of
getting what we want.  Fate or, particularly, providence could easily be
stronger than magic.

While we are on the topic, would you please elucidate the difference
betweeen "believing we can do anything we want to do" and "magical
thinking?"  I'm having trouble distinguishing them.

 >"The first question is about what we do;
 >the second is about what we are:
 >
 >[2]  To what extent is our will free from the
 >controlling influences of our unique biology and
 >childhood conditioning"?
 >
 >Here's a more troublesome question, indeed, for the
 >possibility that we have no free will-that the belief
 >that we are free to be whatever we
 >want to be is a delusion-invokes the specter of
 >genetic and other biological determinism (tyranny from
 >within), as well as the specter of early
 >environmental, including parental, determinism
 >(tyranny from without)."

Yes, I agree.  I think "the belief we can be what we want to be is a
delusion" is a not specter at all; as far as Renaissance thinking is
concerned, it's a given.  This is the point I was referring to when I
said that you and I may agree more than you think.  But now that we
discuss the matter, it is possible that I have misunderstood your actual
beliefs.

One of the things that makes the beliefs of the Renaissance perhaps more
complex than the simplified notions of fate and free will we have been
discussing is that there was a belief in an "inner man", and an "outer
man."

To put it simply, the inner man makes the choices and the outer man
carries out those choices and experiences the consequence of those
choices, good or bad.  The outcome of those choices bears a completely
arbitrary relationship to our intentions and actions, and is determined
in almost all cases by Fate.

On a side note, this seems to me like a much more healthy model of how
events play out in reality than the idea that "we can do whatever we
want to do." Where did that one come from, I wonder?  It seems much more
reasonable to say that "we can attempt to do whatever we want to
do"--and the results are not guaranteed.  "You pays your money, you
takes your chances."  Yet regardless of how reasonable you or I think it
is, or how much current day thinking is at odds with it, this attitude
toward fate is much more likely to describe that of Shakespeare's audience.

Back to the inner and outer man:

Regardless of the tribulations affecting the outer man at any given
time, it is the responsibility of Mankind to consistently nurture the
inner man; to make choices which will cause changes in the soul for the
better.  The degree of change of which each soul is capable may be
variable; your obsessive-compulsive twins may be capable of only
incremental changes in the areas of sacrificing tidiness and cleanliness
for the benefit of others (if that could be conceivable); other
individuals may make heroic leaps in their lifetime transformation of
the inner man.  It does not matter so much that the soul changes to a
certain degree; it is more important that the soul transforms itself
into something "better" and not "worse".

 >"Forgive me, but I do not subscribe to the augury
 >business, except in the sense that we can all make
 >predictions, some of us better than others,
 >based on knowledge of persons and things."

Forgive me, but we were discussing Hamlet's and Shakespeare's possible
belief systems, not yours.  We are attempting to look at the meaning of
Fate, free will, special providence, augury, and God's will in the
"sparrow" passage, unless I am mistaken.

 >" >B.  If you, using augury, contradict my belief in
 >my ability to bring
 > >about an event by making a contrary prediction, you
 >are preventing
 >the
 > >exercise of my free will.
 >
 >I would say that this example merely demonstrates the
 >kinds of external influences that support the view
 >that that there is no free will, however real it may
 >seem."

If by "free will" you mean that there exists in the universe a guarantee
that I will get what I intend to get, then there is clearly no "free
will" according to Renaissance thinking.  If by "free will" you mean
that a person has a choice about how to respond to the situation in
which they find themselves, then the concept of "free will" was alive
and flourishing in the Renaissance era, and was indeed the hallmark of
humanity and the foundation of Renaissance philosophy.

 > >C.  Fate (or at least belief in it, combined with a
 >contradictory
 > >prediction) prevents free will.
 >
 >"I still don't know what you mean my fate.  If by
 >fate, you mean how things fall out-whatever ill be
 >will be-then it is a trivial concept except perhaps in
 >some deep philosophical sense, e.g., why is there
 >anything rather than nothing.  If by fate, you mean
 >something more personal, e.g., Providence, then all
 >you are doing is introducing yet another constraining
 >external influence (social, divine, astrological,
 >etc), which supports the view that there is no free
 >will."

Yes, and yes.

There was an expression Shakespeare used in Hamlet in the speech of one
of the clowns: "Will he, nill he".  It means, whether he chooses it or
not.  It's also the origin of the expression, "willy-nilly", describing
an event that is arbitrary.  That can describe fate, from our mortal
perspective.  We cannot see much sense in the way events play out at
times; but we have a limited perspective.

Here is the story of the stars and how they were believed to affect us
which illustrates some prevalent Renaissance ideas about fate and augury:

In the beginning, God set in motion the stars (which would include the
planets, considered "wandering stars").  He set them in their places as
signs of the seasons.  In one sense, they are the great timekeepers; in
another, God endowed the stars with the power to affect the affairs of
human beings, hence imposing on mankind for all eternity His will: in a
word, fate. We are all one with the universe; this is illustrated by the
hermetic saying, "As above, so below."  That which moves in Heaven (the
planets) moves here on earth (the affairs of men) as well.

Yet early modern society as a rule also acknowledged that God might
intervene into his otherwise remote-controlled scheme of events in
special circumstances.  This leaves ideological room for providence, or
special acts of God.  Yet we cannot take the workings of providence for
granted, either.  Simply because we pray does not obligate the Creator
to comply with our demands; and yet, even without prayer, God may choose
to break his own rules on our behalf if it serves his purpose.

Since God had relegated to the planets the task of bringing about
worldly events, some creative folks took the option of calling on the
planets themselves for intervention by timing events to coincide with
the machinations of the planets; this was rather widely practiced and
thought of as "natural magic" as opposed to witchcraft.

Then there was always the option of appealing to other creatures who God
had given dominion on the earth; evil spirits or demons.  This is
considered witchcraft; such actions are often seen as an attempt to
counteract fate.  Since they worked in opposition to God's will, witches
were inherently suspect.

With your indulgence, I will continue the discussion on another post.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.