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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: May ::
Dating Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0934  Wednesday, 18 May 2005

From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 May 2005 10:44:45 -0400
Subject:        Dating Hamlet

In answer to Don Bloom's queries:

The older, coarser values are the illustrated by both Old Fortinbras and
Old Hamlet, who put the acquisition of land before anything else,
including the welfare of their own people and their own kingdoms. The
newer, Renaissance values are incarnated in Hamlet himself: his
friendship with Horatio, his greeting to the players, the Hamlet Ophelia
remembers at the end of 3.1. But as the play goes on, Hamlet himself
grows coarser, as is generally acknowledged by critics, for example, in
his treatment of R&G.

It's true enough that the 20th Century has nothing to brag about in
terms of blood spilt, but that's not a point Shakespeare could make. He
died too soon. But he does make an analogous, tragic point: throughout
history, primal crimes and the havoc associated with them keep
recurring, undermining our hopes for a new, better future.

That point, by the way, is not only a powerful one but about as orthodox
as you can get: we live in a fallen world, and attempts to regain Eden
are doomed from the start. (Don should like that point, if nothing else!)

Hamlet's memories of his father might seem to argue against Old Hamlet
being paired with Old Fortinbras as exemplars of Medieval values, but
not so. As in the history plays, memory tricks us by idealizing the
past. The true import of Hamlet's memories of his father is that they
reveal how dissatisfied young Hamlet is with the present order of things
- especially with Claudius and Gertrude. Dissatisfaction with the
present leads to idealizing the past.

No, Claudius does not represent Renaissance Humanism. It's hard to know
what his value structure is, if any. But he does actually copy Old
Hamlet's crime, a point often missed. Just like Old Hamlet, Claudius is
ready to do anything to gain the kingdom (and the Queen!). That's just
another reason why the primal crime in the play is Old Hamlet's.

Ed Taft

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