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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: May ::
About Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1022  Friday, 27 May 2005

[1]     From:   Scot Zarela <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 May 2005 10:28:20 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 16.0995 About Hamlet

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 May 2005 14:48:35 -0400
        Subj:   About Hamlet

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 May 2005 14:48:35 -0400
        Subj:   About Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Scot Zarela <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 May 2005 10:28:20 -0700
Subject: About Hamlet
Comment:        SHK 16.0995 About Hamlet

"Put on him what forgeries you will."  I think an audience (or an
audience of one, a reader) might catch wind of a suspicion that Polonius
forged the letter he attributes to Hamlet.  But have we anything solid
to make it more than a suspicion?  Elliott Stone suggests a motive:
"Polonius is very anxious that Hamlet is to be thought to be in love
with his daughter."  (It's clear to me-am I wrong? -- that Polonius is
anxious about this because he believes it to be true:  believes Hamlet
really is in love with Ophelia.  But in any case ....)  Would Polonius
fake evidence to put his point across?  I don't think so:  he speaks
very upright principles; admittedly he's a politician, but the
"forgeries" he recommends to Reynaldo are comparatively slight, and
intended to be done in loose talk, by innuendo, and without lasting
damage.  But to establish falsehood as truth, with forged letters (and
forged signature-of the Prince, no less) is to step beyond politics into
something plainly wicked.  At least Polonius would have to wrestle (or
sidestep) his conscience before committing the sin:  a scene Shakespeare
ought to have provided-unless the letter is from Hamlet.

Elliott Stone again suggests "look[ing] at the letter in terms of
Hamlet's speech ... and then compar[ing] it to Polonius's speech with
its overblown verbosity and circuitous digressions."  While doing that,
we should remember that one doesn't write as one speaks.  Hamlet would
have been trying to fit his heart to the genre of a courtly love letter
(his protest about his lack of success can be a genre element too).  We
should also remember that Polonius doesn't read aloud the whole
letter-"etc" can cover many shuffling pages.  What we do hear strikes my
ear as credibly princely, especially given Hamlet's young age.  How it
strikes my ear seems to me the right kind of test, rather than more
minute anatomizing.  Scientific Criticism must allow the on-the-fly
manner proper to hearing a play.

-- Scot

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 May 2005 13:50:13 -0400
Subject:        About Hamlet

Jim Carroll writes,

"My reading of history gave me the impression that kings have always had
friendships with others far below their class, for example Henry II and
Thomas Becket, who was the son of a merchant."

Sure. If a king were to associate with those only of his own rank, he'd
have to leave the country to find a friend! But look at the end of 1.5
for example. Hamlet wants them all to go together, to NOT stand on the
order of their leaving. The way I've seen it played, he puts his
shoulders around all of them and they walk off together.

Now maybe Henry did the same thing in a royal group that included
Becket, but I doubt it.

The sense of the ending of 1.5 is that friendship trumps rank. That
seems, to me anyway, something rather unusual.

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 May 2005 14:48:35 -0400
Subject:        About Hamlet

Dear Don:

    1. Erasmus's views on kingship seem to me to have had a profound
effect. I don't doubt that Elizabeth and James could be as cruel as
those who went before them, but both practiced a policy of tending to
their own gardens. As you doubtless know, James fancied himself a
"peacemaker," and Elizabeth did not particularly want any "foreign
entanglements," either personally or politically. That's why, for
example, she kept the hot-headed Philip Sidney at bay or in marginal
conflicts that amounted to little. She was none too pleased with having
to deal with the Irish too.

    2. As for friendship, it's hard to imagine that anyone in the middle
ages would or could write "On Friendship," as Michel de Montaigne did.
Spenser echoes this idea in Book 4 of FQ, and so does Sidney in A&S when
a friend (Sonnet 21) tells him point blank that loving Stella is bad for
him. And, of course, Shakespeare's sonnets are in part about friendship
that goes sour.

Now, there's a difference between a literary emphasis on friendship and
hard evidence that people practiced it or cultivated it more in the
Renaissance. I can't prove the latter; no one can. But regardless, the
character Hamlet seems in the first part of the play to regard it
highly. It's one of the reasons we like him as a character.

One and two, above, seem to me to be rather ordinary observations, and
that's why I don't see the need for such resistance.

Ed

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