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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
A Claudius Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0645  Wednesday, 6 April 2005

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Apr 2005 11:22:39 -0400
        Subj:   A Claudius Question

[2]     From:   Julia Griffin <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Apr 2005 11:38:48 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Apr 2005 17:34:39 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

[4]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Apr 2005 13:51:08 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

[5]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Apr 2005 17:05:27 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

[6]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Apr 2005 17:31:54 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Apr 2005 11:22:39 -0400
Subject:        A Claudius Question

Robin Hamilton writes of 5.1.254FF. : "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." Yes, but. . . .

Why should Hamlet be so irritated? After all, we often use "overblown
rhetoric" when we say good-bye forever to a loved one, right? Hamlet is
actually picking a fight with Laertes, and he obliges by trying to
strangle Hamlet, as lines 260ff. indicate. The two young men have to be
separated or apparently they would have come to blows.

What is Hamlet up to? - especially since Laertes is thought to be the
better fencer/fighter. Hamlet may well be mad here, but it's madness
with a method, as I've argued before. He is testing Providence. If he
acts outrageously enough, he may get himself killed. If so, he has
proved that it is NOT God's Will that he kill Claudius. Of course, he
must pay with his life.

This is ingenious. But it may also be mad!

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Julia Griffin <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Apr 2005 11:38:48 -0400
Subject: 16.0634 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

"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" (Robin Hamilton).

Isn't Hamlet's "thorough irritation" itself an indication of some sort
of mental instability?  Not to see the outrageousness of parodying the
hysterical grief of Laertes at his sister's funeral?  "What is the
reason that you use me thus?" suggests it too - well, could it just
possibly be that you have killed my father and driven my sister to
insanity and pseudo-suicide, or perhaps that you now demand star-billing
while she is being buried?  "I loved Ophelia": at least, I'm not going
to be out-grieved by anyone else, even though I will never mention her
again and apparently feel no responsibility for her death.  (It's true I
did forget myself to good Laertes; but then his rhetoric was so
annoying.  Was't Hamlet wrong'd Laertes?  Never Hamlet.)

On the legitimacy issue: given that this is apparently an elective
monarchy, are we sure what Fortinbras's "rights of memory" are? Just the
right to be a candidate?  Horatio seems to think that Hamlet's "dying
voice" will encourage others to vote for him, but is Fortinbras hinting
at a different sort of procedure?

Julia

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Apr 2005 17:34:39 +0100
Subject: 16.0634 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

I'm not saying this is right, all I'm saying is that it's possible to
stage a version of +Hamlet+ where the Prince isn't totally
bats-in-the-belfry barking mad.

         Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

It WORKS, and unless you want to dismiss the audience and elect another  ...

             <sigh>

The Wee M'Greegor

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Apr 2005 13:51:08 -0500
Subject: 16.0634 A Claudius Question
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

Robin Hamilton responding (If, in fact, Hamlet was asserting that he was
king, it was he, not Claudius, who was usurping.) says

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

Exactly. We're getting into that "none dare call it treason" thing. Or,
the habit of kings during the Wars of the Roses to backdate their reigns
so that the old king's supporters could be accused of treason. Or the
situation in England, whereby to many Catholics Mary of Scotland was the
actual queen of England and Elizabeth, a bastard and a usurper. Or, all
that "king over the water business" with the dispossessed Stuarts. (Or
more recently, there are any number of people who feel that George W.
Bush did not win the election of 2000, but rather that it was stolen for
him by his brother, the governor of Florida, whose electoral votes
determined the matter.)

In the case of Claudius, one may begin with the premise that a man who
placed himself in the position of gaining a kingship through the
cold-blooded murder of the incumbent is not a legitimate king no matter
how many elections he won or how you admire his foreign policy. Or you
may hold a set of values in which murder does not disqualify a person
from that (or any) office.

But let's not argue about values as if they were facts.

don

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Apr 2005 17:05:27 -0400
Subject: 16.0634 A Claudius Question
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

 >>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?

An interesting question.  Malcolm was the rightful king of Scotland only
if Duncan's constitutional innovation of making him Prince of Cumberland
and heir apparent had been effective.  Otherwise, the more-or-less
elective system made Macbeth the legitimate king and Malcolm's
assumption of the throne as the result of civil war was treasonable and
a usurpation.

Macbeth's and Claudius's situations are highly analogous.  And let us
not forget that they were contemporaries.  The English king who succored
Malcolm and was to execute Hamlet was the same guy -- Edward the Confessor.

In both cases the elected king had secretly murdered his predecessor,
and knowledge of this was presumably kept from the electors.  (Actually,
in Macbeth it appears that it was an open secret.  The thanes in the
play were at least highly suspicious.)  Let us consider what effect this
might have had on the legitimacy of the election:

The English common law principle that a murderer may not profit from his
crime is inapplicable to the situation for two reasons:

(1) There is no reason to assume that it was the medieval law of Denmark
or Scotland.  Indeed, there is no authority of which I am aware that the
doctrine applied even in England during Saxon times.  (2)  More
importantly, as a practical matter the principle did not apply to
succession to the throne.  Henry IV and Edward IV were both implicated
in the murders of their predecessors.  But that did not make them any
the less sovereign.  They could be removed only by being defeated in a
civil war, not by the judgment of a court.

So this leaves the question of whether the elections were invalid
because of the secret murders.  The operative issue is the secrecy, not
the murder.  We can imagine a candidate acknowledging that he did away
with the incumbent king.  (Undoubtedly he would offer a good reason for
doing so, but this is of no moment.)  If he were elected despite the
confession, there would be no issue of his legitimacy.  So does his
concealment of the crime make a difference?  Unless there were a
constitutional mechanism for undoing the election, the answer would have
to be "no."  No one else would have the authority to call himself king;
so it would take a civil war to reverse the result.
To illustrate the practical point, suppose that Lyndon Johnson had
arranged for the assassination of John Kennedy.  Suppose that this fact
were discovered after his own election in 1964.  Would that have made
Barry Goldwater president?  Of course not.  Johnson would have remained
president until he was impeached and two thirds of the Senate voted to
remove him from office.  And then his handpicked Vice President (Hubert
Humphrey), who was elected with him, would have succeeded.  In other
words, the results of the election would not have been overturned
because the electors had been kept in the dark about the murder.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Apr 2005 17:31:54 -0400
Subject: 16.0634 A Claudius Question
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0634 A Claudius Question

Robin Hamilton wrote:

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

Eh. Probably. In both cases.

When the play, Hamlet, opens, there is nothing particularly unusual in
stepson Hamlet's behavior. I've been a charming stepchild myself, and
that sulking churlishness is just par for the course. NOBODY is
questioning Claudius' ascension to the throne. Not till that vengeful,
selfish, nasty-minded Ghost shows up. And even then it's only Hamlet.

Achieving a throne by enterprising murder of a close relative is not
uncommon, and was, in fact, noted as a drawback to what I've been
calling an aethling system but is really known as the Celtic Law of
Tanistry. Whether or not the achieved throne was held legitimately
pretty much depended on whether or not one kept holding on to it. And
whether or not one really wanted to make a fuss over every little thing.
(Not to mention, but I will, that I'm convinced it's how Alexander the
Great got to be so great. So this has been going on a looooooooooong time.)

As for Malcolm, well, I don't like to be a gossip (such a liar) but I
have heard the rumor that his daddy and mommy weren't married and that
mommy was...well...low. Which would make even a primogeniture claim for
Malcolm a bit...worthless. Shakespeare didn't choose to use this bit of
tittle tattle, so we really can't apply it to the play, but
historically? Malcolm was no hero to Scotland.

http://mccarthy.montana.com/Glossary.html

http://www.electricscotland.com/history/home3.htm

http://www.siol-nan-gaidheal.com/inchbare.htm

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