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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: December ::
Gertrude-Ophelia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.2001  Monday, 5 December 2005

[1] 	From: 	Stephen Rose <
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	Date: 	Friday, 2 Dec 2005 09:33:07 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia

[2] 	From: 	Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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	Date: 	Friday, 2 Dec 2005 09:36:20 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia

[3] 	From: 	Tony Burton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 2 Dec 2005 11:54:37 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia

[4] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Friday, 02 Dec 2005 12:28:30 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1992 Living Characters

[5] 	From: 	John Reed <
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	Date: 	Monday, 05 Dec 2005 03:27:53 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: Gertrude-Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Stephen Rose <
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Date: 		Friday, 2 Dec 2005 09:33:07 -0500
Subject: 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia

John W Kennedy writes:

 >I, for one, find the above paragraph deeply insulting.

Probably the Holiday Season weirdness. Then too maybe Gertrude never 
said she had hopes Hamlet and Ophelia would wed. I am willing to have 
one of WS's great death descriptions stand without imputing murder to 
the speaker. Who killed Falstaff?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date: 		Friday, 2 Dec 2005 09:36:20 -0500
Subject: 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia

  >But I have the feeling by now that lack of evidence or wrong method
 >of reconstruction doesn't really account for the vehemence of the
 >rejection of the idea.  There must be something else, possibly of a
 >more philosophical or religious nature, that leads to the notion that
 >Gertrude could not have killed Ophelia.  I wonder what it is.  It's
 >probably unconscious, or otherwise hidden, but maybe we can ferret
 >it out. "Gertrude could not have killed Ophelia because...."  Because
 >what?

Because Shakespeare did not write it into Hamlet?  Seems to me that's 
the simplest, not unconscious, not hidden... Simply obvious answer.

It's not *there*-- and trying to put it there is neither "scholarly" in 
the sense being discussed in another thread nor appropriate to 
understanding what *is* in the play Shakespeare crafted-in any of the 
extant versions Q/F.

Mari Bonomi

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tony Burton <
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Date: 		Friday, 2 Dec 2005 11:54:37 -0500
Subject: 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1991 Gertrude-Ophelia

The duration of this thread bestirs me from a heretofore overwhelming 
desire merely to lurk.

There is very little beside shallow and misguided reading to support the 
notion that Gertrude murdered Ophelia.  Not that others haven't 
considered it. We need only to look at Marvin Rosenberg's great "The 
Masks of Hamlet" for a reminder that the world at large (represented by 
gravedigger and priest) think it's quite clear that Ophelia killed 
herself, and that it was only royal command that won her corpse the 
dignity of being buried in consecrated ground.  On stage, many Gertrudes 
make it clear that they are fabricating the story, as Rosenberg says: 
"disguising an action that we will learn in the graveyard scene was 
almost certainly a suicide."

To be sure, there is a history of actresses who felt they had to refute 
the potential imputation of failure to rescue the drowning girl, by 
appearing in drenched clothing that presumably reflected her 
unsuccessful attempt to save her, but that solves a problem and answers 
a question that Shakespeare never raises.

I have written (in an essay to appear in the festschrift for the late 
Jim Lusardi titled "Acts of Criticism," and now wending its way towards 
publication; put in your orders now!) that there is a consistent 
"Gertrude pattern" of behavior that includes false reports such as that 
of Ophelia's death, a pattern which is useful to note throughout the 
play but particularly in connection with this episode.  The pattern 
consists of an encounter with present or imminent discord, intervention 
by Gertrude, a conciliatory but false statement of fact by her that 
obscures or denies the reason for discord and includes a proposal to 
restore harmony, all followed by short term success and long term disaster.

You'll have to read the essay to learn the nature of the other elements 
in connection with Ophelia's death report, and all the rest.  But I 
don't for a moment believe on the strength of that dubious report, that 
Gertrude murdered the poor girl.  Even less do I believe that 
Shakespeare would have waited until after carefully establishing his 
plot and counterplot before introducing such an enormous red herring, 
and then ignored its existence.  No, not even as local color for his 
great Scandinavian smorgasbord of death and retribution.

Tony

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Friday, 02 Dec 2005 12:28:30 -0500
Subject: 16.1992 Living Characters
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1992 Living Characters

Don Bloom asks:

 >Does anyone ever say anything good about Claudius?

I have a few good things to say about Claudius. He is a capable king in 
handling international situations, something that commends him to his 
people. Second, I am touched by his love for Gertrude. Though he is 
power hungry, he is not entirely ruthless since he considers her in 
making his plans, having a soft touch toward one he loves. He also has a 
conscience, wishing he could repent but finds it impossible since he 
cannot divest himself of Gertrude and the kingdom, for which he 
murdered. Poor guy! Gertrude had been too much of a snare for him just 
as Ecclesiastes warns:

     ECC 7:26 And I find more bitter than death the woman,
     whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands:
     whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner
     shall be taken by her.

If I am correct and Hamlet is a parable illustrating the wisdom of 
Ecclesiastes, another of the very many such illustrations in the play, 
we would infer that Gertrude is not merely all sweets but is 
manipulative in the extreme and had allowed herself to be an 
irresistible temptation to Claudius. He can't escape from her because he 
is a sinner, power hungry, capable of evil to get what he wants. The 
combination is fatal for him, like flame to the moth. You don't need 
Ecclesiastes to read this into the play, but his words help to guide 
thinking.

The ghost implies Gertrude's collusion in events. But since she stayed 
behind the line of overt evil, allowing herself to be the bait that 
entrapped Claudius, not willing to realize that she was playing around 
dynamite, a man's powerful emotions, the ghost advises that she be left 
to heaven, being innocent in the eyes of men but guilty in the eyes of 
Heaven.

David Basch

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Reed <
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Date: 		Monday, 05 Dec 2005 03:27:53 +0000
Subject: 	Re: Gertrude-Ophelia

Maybe it would be fair to state that most people who are more familiar 
than average with the works of Shakespeare obtained that familiarity 
within the context of an academic environment.  That might not be an 
advantage in all cases.

Larry Weiss: "To begin with, one's in the play and the other isn't."

I'd be more agreeable to this if it were rephrased slightly, as "To 
begin with, one's in [the record of the performance of] the [original] 
play [as we now have it] and the other isn't."  Or, "To begin with, 
one's in the play [as it is currently performed] and the other isn't." 
This returns us to the same irritable problem we've had before: the 
extent to which the texts, as we now have them, are reflective of the 
play, the play as originally performed.  The Folio - and the Quartos, if 
available - give a good record of the dialogue (I know some of it is 
monologue but to avoid unfamiliar and more cumbersome terminology I'll 
just say dialogue like everyone else) but a bad record of anything else, 
such as wardrobe, make-up, and so on...and action.  We don't know the 
action, so we don't know a large part, a very non-trivial part, of what 
was performed.  So we might not know all the ideas being communicated to 
the original audience, since some of them could be coming from the 
action alone, or could be coming from the interaction between the action 
and the dialogue.  And some of those might even be important ideas.

Bill Arnold: "The answer is, to scholars, a *huge* difference: textual! 
  The text of the play *Macbeth* supports the conclusion whereas the 
play *Hamlet* does not.  Therefore, it is *absurd* to draw the 
conclusion.  That is, unless you can *prove* the conclusion, textually."

I see this kind of reasoning trotted out all over the place, and I'm 
baffled by it.  Why is it thought these kinds of considerations are so 
important?  They might be important if one is playing this kind of 
academic game with the subject, that I understand.  But suppose you're 
not a scholar, but, for instance, an actor or an audience member; that 
is, someone interested in the performance for other reasons than those 
that scholars might have?  Actors and directors come up with stuff they 
put in the plays all the time that isn't provable by reference to the 
text, and their doing so rarely causes problems or objections 
(especially since rarely is the nerve to do anything too unusual 
displayed).  Although I have read that the English department and the 
Drama department approach the plays fundamentally differently, I don't 
think that difference accounts for what we're talking about here.  What 
we're talking about is the ultimate standard, if any, that is to be used 
to determine the truth of the matter.  The matter, then, is how the play 
was originally performed to the original audience.  The explanation Mr. 
Arnold has given is clear, but it depends on at least one hidden 
assumption.  I presume that hidden assumption would be something like: 
"It matters not whether you are a scholar, an actor, or anything else, 
but the standard for evaluating suggestions regarding how to reconstruct 
the performance is always the same: no suggestion is allowed that is 
simultaneously important, and not clearly supported by the dialogue." 
Surely this is too restrictive.  The dialogue, even a perfect record of 
it, might not indicate all the original action.  So the possibility 
remains that on this basis alone there could be some ideas, and some of 
them important, that are not recoverable by using this kind of scholarly 
standard.  And yet, at least in this particular case, the word "absurd" 
is used, as well as others nearly as strong.  Maybe that really means 
the conclusion has no meaning under the rules?  Or it might mean there 
is something about this particular conclusion that is for some other 
reason repellant: for instance it might conflict with some assumption or 
other we have now about women, queens, plot, character, emotion, or the 
fundamental nature of reality.  I wonder what it is?  Otherwise some 
other term besides "absurd" could have been used, such as "intriguing," 
"possible," or even "unlikely."

The idea (if it is an idea) that the dialogue is always and everywhere 
indicative of not only the action but of all the important ideas 
communicated to the audience in the original setting is probably false.

M. Yawney: "The difference is in Shakespeare's dramaturgical practice." 
  I'm sure there might be many opinions of what Shakespeare's 
dramaturgical practice actually was.  "Shakespeare does not conceal 
major plot points or leave the action ambiguous."  Perhaps I would feel 
more inclined to believe this statement if, again, it were reworded 
slightly: "[The instructor shall enforce the opinion that] Shakespeare 
does not conceal major plot points or leave the action ambiguous [in 
order to maintain the proper atmosphere in class, and to enable 
examinations to be given and graded]."  "There are issues of motive and 
character that he does leave ambiguous, but the only unclear plot points 
are found in corrupt texts of his play."  I think if you cracked open 
one of the Variorum editions you would find people arguing, down through 
the centuries, the ambiguities in the texts, ad nauseam.  The idea the 
plays are, or should be, clear to us in their essentials relies on at 
least two other points: the printed dialogue as we have it reflects the 
original performance: it is sufficient to render what was clear to the 
original audience also clear to us, and Shakespeare was always clear on 
essential points to the original audience.  He might not have been. 
According to Ingmar Bergman, the story style he first worked under was 
imported to Sweden from the United States (Hollywood).  He wrote, "This 
technique was extremely obvious, almost rigid; the audience must never 
have the slightest doubt where they were in a story.  Nor could there be 
any doubt about who was who, and the transitions between various points 
of the story were to be treated with care.  High points should be 
allotted and placed at specific places in the script, and the 
culmination had to be saved for the end."  It is not impossible some of 
our current opinions regarding what Shakespeare's technique was are 
instead reflective of the imperatives of the school system as it is now, 
the world view that produced it, and the style of most drama done in our 
popular culture, especially movies.

Geralyn Horton: "Macbeth reveals that he is planning the murder, hires 
men to carry it out, confesses it to us afterwards.  Big difference!" 
Thank you, this is a difference.  Macbeth is a major character, and we 
might expect more evidence pointing out his actions than those of a 
supporting character.  In other words this difference is more of a 
practical matter of textual interpretation.  What I was trying to get at 
was whether there was any theoretical, dramatic, or moral difference 
between the two cases.

Margaret Litvin: "...the extrajudicial killing rigged to look like 
accident or suicide;"  Now that's interesting.  "Very interesting," one 
might say.  Was there any previous extrajudicial killing rigged to look 
like something else?  What was the motive for that, for goodness sake?

The dialogue we have does not indicate the whole performance, only most 
of it.  The anagnorisis (and subsequent behavior) of a supporting 
character might be something that falls in the gap.  Such might be the 
case with Gertrude.  Recognizing it from our foreign perspective might 
depend on our understanding what the audience expects, which in turn is 
a function of what the audience believes ahead of time, especially at a 
fundamental level.  Need I observe that nowadays most educated people in 
the West have a completely different view of reality than did the 
Elizabethan audience?  So something like this - Gertrude killing Ophelia 
- might have been understandable or even acceptable (as part of the 
story), or even expected -- to them; whereas as to us it might seem 
unacceptable or even absurd.

I appreciate nobody pointing out as a difference that Macbeth merely 
ordered Banquo's death and Gertrude, if she killed Ophelia, did it with 
her own hands.

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