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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1228  Wednesday, 9 June 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 08 Jun 2004 12:34:34 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 11:37:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 11:38:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 11:40:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

[5]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 15:18:43 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 08 Jun 2004 12:34:34 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen asks "[I]f 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?"

The answer, such as it is, can be found in an earlier Shakespeare play,
_Romeo and Juliet_, where the lovers are "star-crossed," that is, fated
to die, as a way to end the feud between the warring families.
Nonetheless, neither Romeo nor Juliet seems to lack free will or the
ability to make choices. Free will and fate coexist: that the latter
operates does not mean that the former does not.

This is at least a paradox, more probably what Christianity would call a
mystery. Scientifically, it makes no sense, which is probably your
point, but theologicans would counter by positing that God's control
derives from the fact that He is all-knowing and works in mysterious
ways that transcend our limited notions of causality based on space and
time.

As for the pivotal fencing match, there is where the improbability of
the action becomes manifest and has to be dealt with by stage business.
The odds of a double disarm, followed by each man then gaining access to
the other' foil are astronomical, to say the least. So, have we seen
Providence in action? Or just a case of something happening for which
there are mighty long odds? Or, if chance is somehow controlled by
Providence, have we just seen both?

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 11:37:40 -0500
Subject: 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

Pamela Richards <
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 > writes,

 >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.

They may not be distinguishable, but they may.  Believing that we can do
anything we want may be a quite rational, normal inference from a
naturally biased (self-serving) evaluation of our actions (selectively
recalling our successes, forgetting our failures), though the inference
is false.  Magical thinking, typical of children, those given to
irrationality, and the outright mentally ill, is believing that we can
affect things from afar by mere thinking or symbolic action: as I said,
sticking pins in an effigy to affect a person; also insuring that
something terrible won't happen by certain ritualistic behavior, e.g.,
counting, touching, cleaning, as in OCD

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 11:38:59 -0500
Subject: 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

Pamela Richards <
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 > writes,

 >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 believe that we can profit from both perspectives, and that it is
wrong to speak of the more modern, psychological approach as mere
reverting to personal, subjective thinking, "a Rorschach test of our own
belief systems."  I object to the latter imagery, in particular, because
the Rorschach has little to no validity.  Fact is, there is much in
Shakespeare that comports with modern psychological research-the
scientific kind not the gobble-de-gook Rorschach kind-and the scientific
findings, with the insights they bring, when properly explicated, can be
as interesting-perhaps more because more definitive and less
ambiguous-as what one finds with other perspectives.  And it is most
definitely not just a matter of our personal beliefs.

David Cohen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 11:40:15 -0500
Subject: 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

Pamela Richards <
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 > writes,

 >. . . 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.

Well and good, if you want to call what happens with outer man "fated,"
but why not also call "fated" what happens with the inner man, with his
intentions?   It is the great insight from modern psychological research
in the laboratory and in the field (e.g., with twins) that  we may have
no free will (1) to formulate choices (however they do or don't get
realized) or(2) to determine our psychological destiny (we cannot be
whatever we put our mind to be, contra the self-help gurus).

 >On a side note, this seems to me like a much more healthy model . . .

I assume you mean valid 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.

Yes, you are right: bad phraseology.  But again, the interesting
question is what determines our intentions,  We believe we are free to
make them, but are we, I mean from of the determining influences of our
biology and social conditioning, never mind current events.  For me, the
illusion of free will is most interesting. Imagine an experiment in
which you merely push a button whenever you chose while the experimenter
monitors your distinctive brain waves and records how fast you make a
decision to push the button.  If you are like other people, you take 0.2
seconds, on average, to push the button after you decide to do so.

Here's the amazing thing: Your brain has generated a spike of activity
0.3 second before you consciously decided to push the button.  It takes
about a third of a second for your brain to get the conscious you
going-your brain decides first-and it takes another fifth of a second
for the conscious you to complete the act-you decide second.  Your sense
of voluntary action follows your brain's decision, so in what sense do
you-the conscious you-have free will in your choice?  If this finding is
a fit model for thinking about human behavior in general then there we
have a serious problem inferring free will from choices.  I think the
Player King in the "play within the play" of Hamlet  has got it only
partly true when he says:

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own . . . .

     PLAYER KING
     Hamlet, Act 3, scene 2, 221-223

I say only partly true because, while our devices may be overthrown by
external events, the 0.3 finding suggests that even our thoughts aren't
ours in any personal sense-rather they are our brain's.

 >"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.

Not so.  You had extensively described what you do and believe (all that
augury business) and I was responding to that.  My interest and
expertise, such as it is, lies in psychological approaches.
Nevertheless, I am always happy to learn more about Elizabethan times
and how that illuminates Shakespeare.

 >" >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.

In a nutshell, by free will, we can mean (1) freedom to act on our
wills, that is, freedom from other people's wills (and of course other
factors); (2) freedom to formulated choices, however they turn out, that
is freedom from the constraining influences of our biology and social
conditioning; (3) freedom to determine what we are, our psychological
destiny, that is, freedom to be whatever we want to be, again free from
the constraining influences of our biology and social conditioning.  We
can easily demonstrate that we have a degree of free will in the first
sense, i.e., we have more free will than does a child, whose  will is
often frustrated by adults, but less  free will than does a psychopath,
who is heedless of others.  We may well suspect that we have no free
will in either the sense of (2) or (3).  What Renaissance people and
some of us may call fate, others might call other things, including
determinism (e.g., genetic) and chance events that can affect our
environment as well as our biology:

So, oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As, in their birth-wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin-
By the o'ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason,
Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens
The form of plausive manners, that these men,
Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect,
Being nature's livery, or fortune's star,-
Their virtues else-be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as man may undergo-
Shall in the general censure take corruption
 From that particular fault: . . . .

     HAMLET
     Hamlet, Act 1, scene 4, 21-36

But note: Determinism has the advantage of being testable.

 >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.

That is why certain kinds of research are so important.  They enhance
our perspective, make us smarter, and make the world no less wondrous
for revealing mechanisms that used to be thought of as merely mysterious
or metaphysical.

David Cohen

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 8 Jun 2004 15:18:43 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1215 The Murder of Gonzago

Pamela Richards writes, "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."

OK: what is your source or sources for all this *augury* business from
ancient history?

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

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