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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: May ::
Dating Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0880  Thursday, 5 May 2005

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 May 2005 08:36:53 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

[2]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 May 2005 15:10:58 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

[3]     From:   Bob Grumman <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:58:38 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

[4]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 04 May 2005 21:23:24 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 May 2005 08:36:53 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.0864 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

Edmund Taft writes, "In fact, Hamlet takes a trip back in time from the
Renaissance to the middle ages; he regresses from an enlightened
Renaissance courtier to an image of his father, by the end of the play.
  In short, Egert's got it basically right, and Bill Arnold needs to
listen to what Joe has written."

Gadzooks!  What play these gentlemen do on words!  The play that Joe and
Edmund wish me to listen to is one in their own minds, and not the play
Will Shakespeare wrote.  The play I refer to is *Hamlet* and the
characters they refer to aren't even in the play, nor do they appear on
stage.  They are referenced by words.

Frankly, gentlemen, the Christian, English audience of 1600 did not care
a damn about all that historical subtext.  The audience did not have the
luxury of 400 years of scholarly research.  You cannot be serious!

Let us get to reality, here.  Act One opens with a spirit of a
described, departed king who just happens to be the father of the
protagonist of the drama.  The protagonist is told the Truth: that the
current resident of the throne usurped it by premeditated murder.  That
crime is in willful violation of one of the Judaic-Christian ten
commandments.  Not only that, the perpetrator, the evil Claudius, who is
center stage as antagonist, has coveted his brother's wife!!  Twice:
twice this S-O-B bit the apple!  Not a member of the Christian, English
audience of 1600 gave two hoots about stuff that occurred in Denmark
prior to the play opening in Act One.  What they, groundlings and all,
were confronted with was *Real Drama* between good Prince Hamlet and
evil King Claudius.  Draw your conclusions from this Premise which Will
Shakespeare set before us!  Do not force-feed me some crap from out of
history books which the audience was not privy to.  Do you think Queen
Elizabeth viewing this play said to her retinue: who was this Fortinbras
chap?  Hell, no.  She, like the Globe groundings, were thinking one
thing only: who was this Usurper to the Throne?  How dare him *POISON*
the king?  Thus, there was only one conclusion to this Will Shakespeare
drama: *WHEN* and *HOW* and *WHERE* would Good triumph over Evil?  The
Christian, English audience of 1600 wanted the evil King Claudius to be
slaughtered in front of their eyes and removed from the throne, he
usurped.  Period.

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 May 2005 15:10:58 -0600
Subject: 16.0864 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

Don Bloom quotes Horatio in defense of old Hamlet, and indeed Horatio
indicates that "Valiant" old Hamlet killed old Fortinbras in a fair and
lawful fight.  Still, I think the play is ambivalent about old Hamlet.
Besides repeated suggestions that his ghost might come from hell, there
is his "start[ing] like a guilty thing" (Horatio's words in the same
scene [1.1.148]) when the cock crows.

And I think the play (and therefore Shakespeare if not Shakespeare's
Horatio) is ambivalent about old Hamlet's killing of old Fortinbras too.
  This killing is the first mentioned of many events that contribute to
a pervasive atmosphere of violence and rivalry.  Horatio's words include
one especially slippery phrase: "Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate
Pride." (See the full passage below.)  In context, either the Danish or
the Norwegian monarch could be the one "prick'd on," and the "most
emulate Pride" could likewise belong to either of them.  (In other
words, there are at least four ways to understand the line-Fortinbras's
pride has "prick'd" him on to dare Hamlet to combat; or Fortinbras's
pride has "prick'd" Hamlet on to accept the dare; or Hamlet's pride has
"prick'd" Fortinbras on to make the dare; or Hamlet's pride has
"prick'd" him on to accept it.)  Since "emulate" means, roughly,
"desiring to equal or surpass another," in the end it maybe doesn't
matter whose pride the line refers to: whoever started the rivalry, both
are now imitatively engaged in it.

Though I doubt we are to imagine the ambiguity in Horatio's phrasing as
having been intentional on his part, the uncertainty about whose pride
is pricking on whom helps set the unsettled ethical and emotional tone
of the play.  And, as I've noted, this reference to an event of
rivalrous violence-an event mentioned again near the end of the play, in
the gravedigging scene-starts a pattern that runs through the play.

I don't know that I would call old Hamlet's killing of old Fortinbras
the "primal crime" of the play.  There are other candidates for that,
including Cain's killing of Abel.  Almost all of the violent acts shown
or mentioned in the play are expressions of rivalry or revenge (another
form of imitative violence).  Some are brother against brother (Cain vs.
Abel; Claudius vs.  old Hamlet; young Hamlet vs. Laertes, whom he calls
a "brother"; and old Hamlet vs. old Fortinbras, who could, by
professional courtesy, have called each other "brother monarchs"); some
are nephew against uncle (Hamlet's killing of Claudius; and on one
reading, Lucianus's killing of the Player King); some are attempts to
revenge the death of a father (Pyrrhus's slaughter of old Priam;
Laertes's killing of Hamlet; Hamlet's killing of Claudius; and
Fortinbras's finally successful vendetta against the kingdom of
Denmark); and a couple are random, mistaken, or deflected from the
intended objects (Fortinbras's attack on Poland; Hamlet's killing of
Polonius).  Perhaps rather than speaking of a "primal crime," we might
speak of a primal tendency to enmity and violence, something embedded in
human nature, something so old its origin has been forgotten (like the
"ancient grudge" in Romeo and Juliet).

Needless to say, I don't view the play as presenting the rivalry of old
Hamlet and any of his enemies as simply a case of good versus evil.

Bruce Young

P.S.: Horatio's lines:
Our last King,
98: Whose Image euen but now appear'd to vs,
99: Was (as you know) by Fortinbras of Norway,
100: (Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate Pride)
101: Dar'd to the Combate. In which, our Valiant Hamlet,
102: (For so this side of our knowne world esteem'd him)
103: Did slay this Fortinbras: who by a Seal'd Compact,
104: Well ratified by Law, and Heraldrie,
105: Did forfeite (with his life) all those his Lands
106: Which he stood seiz'd on, to the Conqueror:
107: Against the which, a Moity competent
108: Was gaged by our King: which had return'd
109: To the Inheritance of Fortinbras,
110: Had he bin Vanquisher, as by the same Cou'nant
111: And carriage of the Article designe,
112: His fell to Hamlet.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bob Grumman <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 4 May 2005 18:58:38 -0400
Subject: 16.0864 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

 >"I refer Bill Arnold to SHK 16.0702 which encapsulates my reading of the
 >play. To reiterate, the primal crime in this drama is the slaughter of
 >Old Fortinbras by Old Hamlet."

But, according to Don Bloom,

 >A previous posting (by one Horatio) flatly contradicts this
 >
 >Our last King,
 >98: Whose Image euen but now appear'd to vs,
 >99: Was (as you know) by Fortinbras of Norway,
 >100: (Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate Pride)
 >101: Dar'd to the Combate. In which, our Valiant Hamlet,
 >102: (For so this side of our knowne world esteem'd him)
 >103: Did slay this Fortinbras: who by a Seal'd Compact,
 >104: Well ratified by Law, and Heraldrie,
 >105: Did forfeite (with his life) all those his Lands
 >106: Which he stood seiz'd on, to the Conqueror:
 >107: Against the which, a Moity competent
 >108: Was gaged by our King: which had return'd
 >109: To the Inheritance of Fortinbras,
 >110: Had he bin Vanquisher, as by the same Cou'nant
 >111: And carriage of the Article designe,
 >112: His fell to Hamlet.
 >
 >Now, this Horatio chap might be wrong-that it was not a fair fight, that
 >Old Hamlet cheated, that there hadn't been any betting of land on the
 >outcome, that this was all a bit of propaganda cooked up Hamlet's spin
 >doctors to cover up his crime-but I'm inclined to take his word.  He was
 >there, after all. And nobody seems to dispute it, even Young Fortinbras.

Exactly.  And why muddle a sizzling psychological drama about an
individual struggling with his duty as a son (as epicenter of a search
for the meaning of Existence) into some ancient, hardly-touched-upon
version of what the whiteman did to the Injuns?

--Bob G.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Wednesday, 04 May 2005 21:23:24 -0400
Subject: 16.0864 Dating Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0864 Dating Hamlet

Don Bloom adds an aroma of fact to the discussion of what happened to
Fortinbras the Elder. As Don shows, Fortinbras was vanquished by the
elder Hamlet in hand to hand combat. What we see as the unfolding of the
play is then a cycle of battles: Fortinbras had vanquished someone
earlier in coming into possession of his land and then he in turn was
vanquished by Hamlet, the situation and the opening of the play. The
play ends with the lands restored to the house of Fortinbras. It would
seem seem that this cycle is in accord with the words of Ecclesiastes:

     ECC 1:3 What profit hath a man of all his labour
     which he taketh under the sun?

     ECC 1:4 One generation passeth away, and another
     generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

     ECC 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which
     shall be; and that which is done is that which
     shall be done: and there is no new thing under the
     sun.

Joe Egert asserts that the play illustrates that vengeance is against
"Divine law." But in fact, the Bible recognized the role of vengeance in
ancient days as a force to be reckoned with and sought to curb it in
Israel by establishing cities of refuge in which it would be unlawful
for the "redeemer of blood," the avenger, to kill a fleeing mankiller
that had killed accidentally. The guilty deliberate mankiller, on the
other hand, would not be so protected and spared.

Concerning young Hamlet, finding that his uncle murdered his father and
as one who was robbed of his inheritance by his murdering uncle, Hamlet
would have been the lawful avenger of his father and the one who had the
right to bring his uncle to justice. Hamlet had proved his case through
the play Hamlet had staged before the court of Denmark, bringing
Claudius's guilt to light through his reaction witnessed by everyone.
The problem in the play was not that Hamlet had not the right to kill
Claudius, but that he failed to act because he found Claudius at prayer.
  Hamlet thought (wrongly) that Claudius had prayed for forgiveness and
would have escaped in the after life the dire punishment he should have
received, that is, escaped the kind of awful punishment that the senior
Hamlet had spoken of to Hamlet, having been unprepared for death.

In this blunder by Hamlet, born of his overrighteousness, his fatal
flaw, Hamlet extends the life of the wicked Claudius and shortens his
own life, the life of a good man. In this, the play enacts numerous
lines of Ecclesiastes.

And at the end with the "unimproved" Fortinbras walking in unopposed to
take the kingdom of Denmark, the rueful observation of Ecclesiastes is
enacted:

     ECC 2:18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had
     taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto
     the man that shall be after me.

     ECC 2:19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise
     man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my
     labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have
     shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also
     vanity.

It is when it is recognized that the play, Hamlet, is Shakespeare's
dramatization of Ecclesiastes that the true meaning of Shakespeare's
play emerges as it presents the poet's interpretation of the meaning of
this book of the Bible. Hence, the time period of the play as a parable
is meant to be set somewhere in time, all time. That is why the play
partakes of elements of many times. In Shakespeare's interpretation,
justice does indeed triumph as everyone can be seen to have gotten what
his/her deeds have sown as every secret thing is brought into judgment
and the queen, left to heaven. (ECC 12:14  For God shall bring every
work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or
whether it be evil.)

David Basch

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