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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
A Claudius Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0634  Tuesday, 5 April 2005

From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Apr 2005 17:55:19 +0100
Subject: 16.0621 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0621 A Claudius Question

 >>Hamlet, after his return from his voyage to
 >>England, says:  "This is I, Hamlet the Dane" (5.1), asserting his-in
 >>whatever terms -- status as the *legitimate* ruler of Denmark.

         [K -- I withdraw "legitimate".]

 >Sorry, Robin, this line does not alter the legal situation.

I entirely agree, Larry, but what I'm suggesting is that more important
than the technical legalities (elective monarchy, primogeniture, English
Common Law and the rights of a murderer to profit from his crime), all
of which have been argued again and again on SHAKSPER, is the dramatic
movement of the play.

Crudely, at the beginning Hamlet casts himself as a private person, at
the end he sees himself in a public role.

Histrionic or otherwise, what else *can* the phrase, "This is I, Hamlet
the Dane," signify other than a claim to authority?

         "I'm Hamlet the Dane, not Hamlet the drawer in an Eastcheap tavern"

???
 >He could
 >claim to be emperor, but it wouldn't make him such.  This sort of
 >grandiosity is typical of Hamlet at this stage of the play, like piling
 >Pelion on Ossa, and may be symptomatic of mental illness.

Trust you to put your finger on the crucial passage!

I ground my teeth over this till eventually (working with Barry Hawkins
on a series of staged-scenes for a sixth-form conference on Hamlet),
found my own answer.

For once (and I'm usually more page than stage) acting this out makes it
clear.  Hamlet isn't mad, it's more that he's thoroughly irritated (to
say the least) over Laertes' behaviour in Ophelia's grave, and parodies
Laertes' overblown rhetoric.

 >If, in fact, Hamlet was asserting that he was king, it was he, not
 >Claudius, who was usurping.

This only applies if Claudius was a *legitimate* king in the first place
-- or did Malcolm "usurp" Macbeth?

Robin Hamilton

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