The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1317 Wednesday, 18 June 2004
From: Pamela Richards <
Date: Thursday, 17 Jun 2004 15:00:22 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 15.1301 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment: Re: SHK 15.1301 The Murder of Gonzago
David Cohen asks:
>"Where do you see it, how do you see it, by what
>divination? How do you know if what you "see" isn't,
>mirror-like, a reflection of your own fantasy?"
This is indeed a significant point. I am glad you brought it up.
I admit to simplifying the process of "seeing" beliefs through actions
in my previous post. "Seeing" beliefs through actions unfold in the
play can indeed be as simple as viewing the play as an audience member,
or as complex as viewing the play with the intention to translate it
into another language, while being careful to preserve the rudiments of
its initial effect.
If we are talking about:
what Shakespeare's audience "sees",
what we as a modern audience "see",
what someone who is versed in history "sees",
what a literary critic "sees",
what someone who approaches the text to translate it into another
each of these cases is distinct, and marked not only by the prevalent
culture and the preconceptions of each group named, but also by the
intentions of that group in viewing the events. We cannot assume these
viewpoints are similar.
Most of Hamlet's original audience probably had, for the most part, very
pure motivations. They wanted to spend an afternoon being entertained.
They watched the play unfold without any prescience, forewarning, or
literary analysis: unless they had a friend among the cast who had
revealed "spoilers" or significant details of the plot, they embarked on
a voyage of discovery strictly through sensory/temporal experience and
found new thrills at each turn of the plot. We have read and re-read
his plays many times, so for us moderns it may be easy to forget that it
was this audience to which Shakespeare addressed his play.
What we as a modern audience "see" when we watch the action of Hamlet
unfold is probably more structured and pre-conceived than the view of
Hamlet's original audience. We have had the benefit of centuries of
scholarship on the subject; most of are exposed to the study Hamlet in
high school or college. In addition to the possible motivation of
viewing "Hamlet" for pleasure, we may be attending the play as an
assignment: our motivation being to improve our grades. Or conversely,
our motivation may be to demonstrate a degree of educational or cultural
achievement. We may earn our living as an actor, director, or
professional dramturge and have our financial benefit in mind as we view
the play. Yet, at the same time that our motivations have altered, many
of the preconceptions of Shakespeare's original audience have been
eradicated over time and replaced with current-day commonplaces which
form unquestioned presuppositions and inexorably affect the "view" we
form of the events taking place before us.
So we can suppose that Hamlet's first audience and our modern audience
are watching a series of events which have a significance distinct to
each group; in short, they "see" different things.
Because I am interested in language translation, one tool I would like
to develop is the ability to "see" Hamlet through the eyes of his
original audience. So let's say my intention is to study the play with
the goal of conveying its content and intent in another language. If I
were assigned to translate Shakespeare, I would probably be working with
a team of translators who would have specialized expertise in various
fields, but as a member of the team it would be my obligation to
understand the play to the best of my own ability nevertheless.
In my work, I would be protected from "seeing" Hamlet in the mirror of
my own personal beliefs by adhering to language translation principles
Understand and convey the author's intention;
Understand the historical/political/cultural climate of the time when he
Understand the preconceptions his audience carried;
Understand the more probable reactions of the author's original audience
to this work.
In addition to the touchstones of history, culture, and political
climate, working with the rest of the translation team would prevent me
from exclusive fascination with the "mirror" of my own individual
beliefs and serve to keep me "seeing" the action of the play in its
original cultural/historic context.
Another touchstone that keeps me grounded when "seeing" the action of
the play is the quest for a broad exposure to written materials
published prior to the opening of the play. Granted not all of
Shakespeare's audience members were literate, yet these documents form a
collective of common knowledge that would have resonated with audience
members, particularly when we can demonstrate the use of an allusion to
such published materials within the text of the play.
In some ways, as you say, elements of the "belief demonstrated through
action" approach might seem similar to those of a psychoanalyst. Yet I
am looking not only at the action of the play, but also I am looking
simultaneously at the most plausible reaction of the original audience
to that action. I want to "see" what they most likely "saw" in these
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