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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1262  Monday, 14 June 2004

[1]     From:   Stephen C. Rose <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Jun 2004 09:53:30 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1247 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Friday, 11 Jun 2004 12:24:12 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1247 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Jun 2004 02:50:43 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Saturday, 12 Jun 2004 10:40:17 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen C. Rose <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Jun 2004 09:53:30 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1247 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1247 The Murder of Gonzago

Thanks for the SJ Quote.

What is true IS the endless argument.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Friday, 11 Jun 2004 12:24:12 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1247 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1247 The Murder of Gonzago

In response to Pamela Richards, below:

 >"I used topics like "current-day beliefs"  "what David
 >Cohen may believe" and "an augurer's view" to
 >emphasize that I was not attempting to argue
 >"truth", but to contrast belief systems.

David Cohen says:

 >"Well, this is my problem, what seems to be endless
 >argument rather than an attempt to find out was is
 >true.  That is why I prefer scientific findings, with
 >their rich implications, then what seems like
 >fruitless arguments over whose arguments, ideation,
 >imagery, and fantasies are best.  If the discussion is
 >merely the latter, well, I must defer to my
 >betters and keep quiet.  If the former, then perhaps
 >we can make progress."

I find it fascinating, if inexplicable, that of all the kinds of
psychological studies that exist, apparently there are very few that
touch on belief systems as a factor underlying behavior.  We might for a
moment assume that in most human beings who are not suffering from
pathology, beliefs are one factor that are taken into consideration when
a person makes a choice about how to behave.  In fact, someone who is
mentally unbalanced could still have a belief system, which although it
corresponded poorly to reality or what we might call "truth", served to
motivate his actions.  I think that forensic "profilers" deal with these
and other factors to learn about and anticipate the behavior of their
subjects.

But instead of examining some hypothetical subject of "profiling" as an
example of this principle, we might return to the topic of Shakespeare's
play as a mirror of life for a moment and place a few of Hamlet's
apparent underlying beliefs under the microscope to see if he
demonstrates the principle of correspondence between belief and behavior.

1)  Hamlet believes that a person can see a ghost and still be sane.

Action:  Hamlet interrogates the guards and Horatio about the appearance
of the ghost.  After speaking to them, he decides to wait to see the
ghost himself instead of calling for help in apprehending those who have
seen the ghost or requesting that they seek medical treatment.

What's the point?  Shakespeare does not argue the "truth" of whether
people see ghosts or not.  Neither does Hamlet.  Hamlet acts according
to his beliefs, not according to any standard of "truth" which we can
demonstrate or not demonstrate.  Shakespeare is wise to construct for
Hamlet a belief system that corresponds with the most widely-held
beliefs of his audience.  This makes Hamlet a protagonist who is much
easier for them to identify with.

2) Hamlet believes that an apparent "ghost" could have honest
motivations or evil ones, and could give him true information, or false
information.

Action:  This is the belief that inspires Hamlet to set the "Moustrap"
in motion.  Again, the belief itself is not called into question by
Shakespeare or Hamlet.  There is no search for "truth" on this point.

3) Hamlet believes that someone hiding behind a curtain and calling out
an alarm to the guards is a risk to his life, and that he does not have
time to test his hypothesis before he takes action.

Action:  This is the belief that most likely precipitated Hamlet killing
Polonius.

4) Hamlet believes that if his uncle prays, he can be forgiven and go to
Heaven.  Furthermore, Hamlet believes that sending a murderer to Heaven
is not adequate revenge.

Action:  This is the belief which Hamlet states prevents him from
killing his uncle while at prayer.

We could go on.  I wonder how many items of the short list of beliefs
named above would be shared by those applying research in the field of
psychology to determine "truth?"

Or, if we divorce Hamlet as Shakespeare wrote him from his beliefs and
force him to live consistently with modern-day beliefs shared by you and
other psychological researchers, let us be prepared to see some "antic"
behaviors that will be very hard to explain.

Is it true that there is no branch of the science of psychology that
looks into the belief structures of individuals or societies to help
explain behavior?  It does seem like such a ripe field for study.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Jun 2004 02:50:43 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1202 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen quotes Pamela Richards, below:

">And do you find anything especially remarkable or
 >significant in this fact, apart from
  >the quality of Shakespeare's duplication of nature?"

David Cohen responds:

"Isn't that enough?"

and quotes Samuel Johnson:

"This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare,
that his drama is the mirror of life."

If you set out to enjoy what you find in Shakespeare, his genuis in
duplicating nature is certainly enough and more for any of us.  That is
one way of looking at the plays.

I suggest there are many more ways of looking at the plays as well.
Some approach the plays in a literary manner, and interpret them in the
context of many years of literary tradition.  You and I probably both
approach the text in non-literary ways, but each of us seems to have
entirely different goals in mind.

If you come to the text already subscribing to a preconceived system of
"truths" with an intention of proving your "truths", no matter how
scientific, well-documented, or psychological they may be, you will find
there what you had expected to see because you are looking into a
mirror.  While looking into the mirror of life, you will find the same
truths that you find in life just as anyone else will find the "truths"
to which they already subscribe.  This process fascinates, but it brings
us no closer to determining objective "truth" if that is indeed your
goal.  Your own set of "truths" applied to the text is insular and
self-referencing because Hamlet lives only in the mirror.  We can't
submit samples of Hamlet's blood for DNA analysis to demonstrate the
effects of genetics on his behavior.

There are, of course, many alternate ways of looking at the plays.  One
is to apply the science of words (linguistics) which allows us to derive
meaning from the text which may be close to the author's original
intention.

If we approach the text as "applied linguists"--for example, as a
translator would, there are several principles we must keep in mind.  In
the careful analysis of any historic document, we must consider:

The time the piece was written.
The political, cultural, and historic setting in which it was written.
The audience to whom it was addressed.
The intention of the author in writing the document.

It is the author's audience to which he addresses his play; therefore
understanding the cultural and historic context of the plays is crucial
to understanding the perceptions of of the author's audience and the
nature of his communication with them.

In applying linguistic science to the plays, we find the structure of
the plays provides clues which guide us to conclusions about the
possible motivations of the characters in the plays, and the author
himself.  The reason I tend to harp on the subject of beliefs is that
beliefs stand at the juxtaposition of history, culture, and the
characters' motivation.  They cannot be examined directly unless the
character states them, but they can often be inferred if we undertake a
careful study of the culture and times of the setting of the play in the
context of the play's action.  The characters' beliefs (or, to a great
extent, those of the audience) are the lynchpin of the action and
intention of the characters, and unravelling them provides an important
key to understanding the meaning of the author's words, and his likely
intention in communicating with the audience.

I doubt if I will be able to persuade you to look at the text from this
perspective, since it is probably counter to your inclination, training,
and interest.  On the other hand, I am quite sure you will not be able
to convince me that you can demonstrate your objective "truths" about
human behavior by using the plays as a proving ground devoid of historic
and cultural context.

If we are both determined to be satisfied to enjoy the plays as
entertainment, I think we can both settle back, suspend our disbelief,
and prepare to be enchanted.  But if we are set on proving something to
one another based on contradictory goals, objectives, and methodology,
we do not appear to be sitting in the same theatre.  C'est la guerre.

I raise a toast to the entertainment of

"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."

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Saturday, 12 Jun 2004 10:40:17 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen informs us that

"The point can be applied to characters like Othello, for the power of
the Iagos of this world depend on the psychology of their victims.  The
locus of explanation cannot simply be the Skinnerian "outside," a fact
upon which the heroic ship of Skinnerianism has foundered."

Yes and no. As I'm sure you know, Skinner would argue that thinking does
not cause action - that's a fundamental mistake that we humans make. We
think AND act: action is not a by-product of will, volition, or thought;
it is shaped by the environment, period. So, in the case of Othello,
what happens (Skinner believes) is that once Iago begins to shape
Othello's environment, Othello's feelings and thoughts naturally follow
suit and conform to whatever belief system is reinforced by the
surrounding environment.

With all due respect, Skinner is in no way the simpleton you make him
out to be. Proof that Skinner has made an important point is as easy as
comparing the 60's to the 90's. In the 60's, liberal thought was
everywhere and young people were almost automatically liberals. In the
go-go 90's, the climate (the environment) had reversed, and, low and
behold, the values of the young also reversed, and "conservative" was
the cool thing to be. Or just consider (remember?) what high school is
like: lemmings over the cliff, right? - and just about all of us would
follow.

I'm not a Skinnerian, but I greatly admire Skinner and think that he has
made important contributions to Psychology. I appreciate your points
about "reversion to type" and/or "instinctive drift," but a Skinnerian,
I imagine, would counter that these observations simply mean that the
environment needs to be strong, not weak, if the proper behavior is to
be steadily maintained. I'll give you two better counter instances, or
so I think. Consider alcoholics. As I understand it, Skinnerian
principles have not succeeded in making alcoholics into moderate, social
drinkers. The problem seems to be that there is a strong genetic
component in this disease, perhaps an example of "reversion to type."
Another instance would be stuttering, which neither Freud nor Adler not
Horney nor Skinner was able to cure. Now we think (rightly, I believe)
that this problem is really a slight

misfiring of the nervous system, again, perhaps genetic in origin, and,
as with alcoholism, with an environmental "trigger." These two examples
show the limitations of Skinner, but also, paradoxically, his strength.
For, these examples illustrate that the vast majority of us, those of us
without genetic defects, will respond much as Skinner predicts we will.

Sociobiology or evolutionary psychology is the newest thing, and it is
in some ways impressive, in other ways, an extended apology for whatever
constitutes the status quo. So it therefore has to be viewed
skeptically: it can justify any wrong by claiming that that wrong is
biologically determined over hundreds of thousands of years and
therefore cannot (or should not) be changed. But I'd like to hear more
about you view of _Hamlet_:

1. What are the two sides of Hamlet's personality?
2. Why is Hamlet dishonorable, in your view?
3. What evidence shows that Hamlet's actions are unfree/determined?
4. And last, determined by what?

Ed Taft

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