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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1290  Wednesday, 16 June 2004

[1]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 2004 05:22:44 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1262 The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   Pamela Richards <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 2004 07:10:35 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1262 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 2004 05:22:44 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1262 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1262 The Murder of Gonzago

Bill Arnold writes:

"OK: it seems to escapes some on SHAKSPER that *Hamlet* the play is a
work of fiction, and that characters in plays, such as the spirit/ghost
of Prince Hamlet's father is a fictional character in a play.  Haven't
you seen *E.T.* or *Star Wars*?"

Yes, Bill, not only is Hamlet fictional, his fictional character lacks
the prescience to anticipate which of his beliefs will have been
rejected by scientists 400 years later.  "You're preaching to the choir
now, Brother Bill."

Regards,
Pamela Richards

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Pamela Richards <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 2004 07:10:35 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1262 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1262 The Murder of Gonzago

David Cohen writes:

 >"You are right about this, except for one thing.
 >There is social psychological research-for the most
 >up-to-date information on this, you'd have to consult
 >an expert in the area of beliefs and behavior,
 >which I am not-that shows how much our beliefs are the
 >EFFECT of our behavior.  So it is not always the case
 >that we consciously formulate beliefs and then act,
 >because we sometimes act rather mindlessly and
 >formulate beliefs afterwards, i.e., I must believe X
 >because I have been behaving as though I believed X.
 >But Hamlet is a highly sensitive introvert, so my
 >guess is that a for the most part, it is beliefs
 >- action, as you say"

I'm certainly not an expert on beliefs and behavior from a psychological
perspective either, but is it not possible to act on beliefs which are
not conscious, and then work to bring them to consciousness later, after
some explanation for our actions is required?

Actually, I'm not referring to beliefs that must be held consciously,
nor to conscious beliefs which must sequentially precede our actions,
nor to beliefs that are articulated.  In Hamlet, the soliloquies are a
device Shakespeare uses to keep us in touch with Hamlet's conscious
personal beliefs.

Yet there is another layer of beliefs which exist with or without
acknowledgement; in fact, once we articulate our own beliefs, we are in
a position to misrepresent, warp or abuse them at will.  Sometimes we
learn more about beliefs from behavior than we do from a person's stated
thoughts.

So for example, a woman has been found with another woman's purse in her
possession.  She can easily say, "I thought it was mine!".  The belief
she states may be her actual belief, or not.  But there's also a good
chance that prior to appropriating the purse, she believed there was
some advantage to her in doing so, regardless of who owned the purse.

If, after seeing evidence that the purse belongs to the other woman, she
returns the purse with apologies and without further argument, her
actions support the hypothesis that there was a misunderstanding
regarding her belief about the ownership of the purse.  We still don't
know what her actual internal beliefs are, but at least we can say her
actions are consistent with the belief she articulated.

If, on the other hand, she is shown that the purse belongs to the other
woman yet she immediately snatches it back and sprints away, her actions
have demonstrated that she believes it is to her advantage to keep the
purse, regardless of its proven ownership.

That's an oversimplification, of course.  We may need to keep adapting
our understanding of a person's beliefs as more of their actions are
revealed.  Shakespeare knows how to thread this needle, and brings his
audience through quite a few fancy stitches in unfolding the tapestry of
Hamlet.  The fencing scene is probably an eye-opener to quite a few
audience members who had been lulled by his early soliloquies into
thinking Hamlet intended to remain passive.

We don't have to use a study of correspondence between beliefs and
actions to judge whether a person is worthy or a criminal or mentally
unbalanced, etc..  We may simply follow the actions of the character to
see if there is indeed a set of beliefs that will consistently explain
their behavior, and if so, what they might be.  The advantage in
studying this correlation is that it helps us comprehend the character's
possible intentions and motivation.

Hamlet warns us he is planning to affect an "antic disposition"; he does
start acting pretty strange.  Some incidences of strangeness may be due
to deliberate dissembling.  Yet some of his odd actions may be evidence
of beliefs Hamlet holds which bear further scrutiny and will give us
clues to his possible intentions and motivation.

Regards,
Pamela Richards

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