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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
A Claudius Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0566  Friday, 25 March 2005

[1]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 21:49:49 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0558 A Claudius Question

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 17:26:10 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0558 A Claudius Question

[3]     From:   John Briggs <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 22:35:33 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0558 A Claudius Question

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 13:49:09 -0500
        Subj:   A Claudius Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 21:49:49 -0000
Subject: 16.0558 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0558 A Claudius Question

David Basch

 >All this and more is to be found in Ecclesiastes as source material that
 >shaped Shakespeare's vision of Hamlet and I would suggest its study to
 >members of the list if they would wish to understand where this play is
 >coming from.

I think it was Larry Weiss who suggested that David Basch extend his
reading matter beyond Shakespeare, the O.T. and the Talmud.  If he were
to do so, he might find even stronger sources for Hamlet than
Ecclesiastes.  For example, here are some lines from 'The Christian
Directory' by Robert Persons SJ, published (and immediately banned) in
1585  ...

"that body, which was before so delicately entertained ... whereupon the
wind might not be suffered to blow, nor the sun to shine ... is left for
a prey to be devoured of worms"

"[this earth is] enriched with inestimable and endless treasures, and
yet itself standing, or hanging rather, with all this weight and poise,
in the midst of the air, as a little ball without prop or pillar"

"[death it is which] layeth truly before us, what a man is, how frail
and miserable a creature, how fond and vain in the haughtiness of his
cogitations while he is in health and prosperity.  It is the true glass
that representeth a man as he is indeed: other glasses are false and
counterfeit".

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 17:26:10 -0500
Subject: 16.0558 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0558 A Claudius Question

 >And O.J. was acquitted, so you ought to go out tomorrow and play
 >golf with him.

I never said that Claudius was innocent; only that he had been duly
elected and Hamlet was not.  Had I been an elector and charged with
entrusting the safety and well-being of my country to either a bipolar
indecisive immature twit or a mature stable intelligent and probably
proven leader, I would not have hesitated to make the same choice.  In
the event, Claudius showed himself to be a wise and effective ruler.
History is replete with examples of usurpers who were far superior to
the monarchs or candidates they overthrew (which usually meant
"killed").  We need go no further than the Canon to find Henry IV and
Edward IV, and arguments could even be made in favor of John and the
historical Richard III.

 >The rightful king was usurped his role to assume the throne
 >because his uncle, older and wiser, and malignant to boot, killed his
 >father and usurped his nephew's right.

Again, I repeat:  Hamlet had no "right."  His descent from the dead king
might have given him the inside track, but the electors could legally
have chosen some other nobleman.  Hamlet was no more the sole legitimate
successor than was Claudius, Polonius, Laertes, Cornelius, Voltimand or,
God save the mark, Osric.

 >You gloss the FACT that Claudius would not have killed his
 >brother if it were not an elective office.

Is this an argument in favor of hereditary succession?

And this from Basch:

 >many of the observations and lessons of Ecclesiastes that appear in
 >this play that they will wonder why this source has not been considered
 >as the forerunner of the play, the so-called missing "Ur-Hamlet" that so
 >many scholars have sought, which guided Shakespeare's shaping of his
 >material and from which he drew his play's overall structure and essence.

The same sort of sanctimonious oracular bullshit can be found in the
Epistles of Paul, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Mahabarata and the
epic of Gilgamesh.  Were they sources as well?

And, for your information Mr. Basch, the ur-Hamlet is not a mysterious
grail but a predecessor play referred to in contemporary Elizabethan
writings.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Briggs <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 22:35:33 -0000
Subject: 16.0558 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0558 A Claudius Question

There is a certain unreality to discussing whether in the fictional
world of "Hamlet" the succession to the crown is by primogeniture or
election.  It all depends on whether Shakespeare was following - or even
aware of - the actual historical circumstances.  But has anyone
considered whether it might have been Gertrude who had originally
inherited the crown?  It is not as if the situation would have seemed
particularly unusual to Shakespeare - England had a Queen regnant at the
time.  In the previous reign, Philip had become King of England (and
inherited the title "Defender of the Faith" - one he used for the rest
of his life) upon his marriage to Mary - although Parliament would only
allow him to be King-consort, despite Mary's wishes. His father, the
Emperor Charles V, had become King Charles I of Castile in 1506 upon the
death of his father, the Archduke Philip (King Philip I of Castile, by
right of his wife), and his mother's incapacity (he became King Charles
I of Spain in 1516 when he - or they - succeeded to the throne of
Aragon).  Charles was to remain technically joint monarch with his
demented mother for the rest of her long life (he abdicated less than a
year after her death).

If this was the situation in the fictional Denmark (depending on whether
or not women could rule in their own right), Hamlet might reasonably
have expected to receive the title of king, and at least a share of
power, had his mother not remarried.

John Briggs

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 13:49:09 -0500
Subject:        A Claudius Question

Don Bloom writes:

"There is, however, the question of the response to the play. Most
people (I believe) feel sympathy for Hamlet, and want him to "win" (to
gain the justice that has been denied). They are inclined to exonerate
him for his misdeeds (such as killing Polonius), to be frustrated when
he is frustrated, and to grieve when he dies. But they also sense that
he has been corrupted by the process of seeking revenge, that the
admirable young philosopher has become little better than Claudius or
Laertes by the end, and that it is-sadly-fitting that he die with the
others.

There would be no play-or at least no great tragedy-without the
ambiguity as to Hamlet's moral position. And that is what readers and
viewers find in it."

This is admirably stated. And there are other such questions: (1) Is
Hamlet sane or insane in Act 5?  The parallels between him and Ophelia
suggest that he may end much as she does.

(2) What loving father (re: Old Hamlet) would put his son through such
an ordeal and completely blot his future? (3) Is the Ghost from
purgatory or hell? (4) Is revenge worth the cost?

Only a reading based on special pleading can get rid of these questions.
I might also add for Bill Arnold's benefit that I drove a bus at 17 and
a jeep at 23. At 24 I commanded a swift boat and later served as Officer
of the Deck for an LSD. At 26 I did the same on a destroyer. These days,
I drive a Toyota. But I admit I don't have an operator's license to
drive a 16 wheeler. Does he?

Ed Taft

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