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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: December ::
Gertrude-Ophelia with IMPORTANT Editor's Note
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.2021  Wednesday, 7 December 2005

[1] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 6 Dec 2005 14:24:14 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.2012 Gertrude-Ophelia

[2] 	From: 	Geralyn Horton <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 6 Dec 2005 18:47:51 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1986 Gertrude-Ophelia

[3] 	From: 	John Reed <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 07 Dec 2005 05:23:45 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: Gertrude-Ophelia

[4] 	From: 	Bill Lloyd <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 7 Dec 2005 01:43:55 EST
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.2001 Gertrude-Ophelia

[5] 	From: 	Tom Krause <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 7 Dec 2005 07:53:31 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.2012 Gertrude-Ophelia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 6 Dec 2005 14:24:14 -0600
Subject: 16.2012 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.2012 Gertrude-Ophelia

If I may review things a little:

Imagine you are Jack McCoy, executive assistant district attorney, with 
the following murder cases to try.

King Hamlet by his younger brother, Claudius. Motive: the kingdom and 
the queen. Means: poison. Opportunity: his brother unguardedly sleeping 
in the garden. Evidence: the confession of the accused.

Prince Hamlet by Laertes. Motive: revenge. Means: poisoned sword. 
Opportunity: rigged fencing match. Evidence: witness to planning; 
witness to perpetration; confession of accused.

Queen Gertrude by King Claudius. Accidental while attempting to murder 
Hamlet. Evidence: eyewitness to planning; eyewitness to execution; 
accusation of victim.

King Claudius by Prince Hamlet: Motive: revenge. Means: sword thrust. 
Opportunity: fencing match. Evidence: eyewitness.

Polonius by Prince Hamlet. Motive: accident while attempting to kill 
king. . Means: sword thrust through arras (and through Polonius). 
Opportunity: P hiding in queen's chamber and crying out. Evidence: 
eyewitness; not denied by perpetrator.

Ophelia by Queen Gertrude. Motive: ???. Means: ??? Opportunity: ???

If we had one word in the text indicating that, say, Gertrude lured 
Ophelia down into the river, pushed her under and held her there, we 
might have some reason to consider this idea seriously. If we had one 
word indicating some real motive that the queen might have for killing 
Ophelia-ditto.

It just isn't there.

don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Geralyn Horton <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 6 Dec 2005 18:47:51 -0500
Subject: 16.1986 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1986 Gertrude-Ophelia

John Reed <
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 >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?

I think that there is something to this notion.  But I believe that the 
unlikihood comes from Shakespeare's "something else", not the modern 
reader's.   We (Americans) live in a time and place where "ripped from 
the headlines" plots  in TV series such as Law and Order regularly 
change the gender of the the "perp" from male to female:  there are 
about 3-6 times as many murderous women on TV as there are in "real 
life", and except in cases of child murder, they are not presented as 
different in motivation or degree of wickedness from their male 
counterparts.  Murderousness, by our dramatic conventions if not by our 
crime statistics, is a human attribute, not a gendered one. 
Shakespeare, on the other hand, portrays women who murder as unnatural 
monsters "tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide".  Men may have 
murder, or at least killing, as part of the business of their lives-- 
soldier, ruler, prelate, gentleman whose honor has been impugned, father 
of a disobedient daughter-- these men announce that theirs is a good 
reason, dispatch, and carry on.   But women who kill in WS's plays are 
acting against the Order of Things.   The least strange to Shakespeare, 
apparently, is the mother who kills to advance her child.  That's really 
strange and horrible to me, but evolutionary psychologists claim that it 
is part of our primate heritage, and historically common across 
societies.  Here, as often, I concede that WS is likely wiser than I. 
However, if Shakespeare wanted his actor to play, and his audience to 
perceive, Gertrude as a killer, his usual dramatic practice would be to 
show us her inner tiger, the serpent under her flower, and give us the 
cue to respond with horror and revulsion.

G.L. Horton
<http://www.stagepage.info>

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Reed <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 07 Dec 2005 05:23:45 +0000
Subject: 	Re: Gertrude-Ophelia

There are some very good points that have come up, as well as some 
questions.  It's not often someone takes me seriously enough to ask a 
question, so in turn I'll do my best to get a set of answers out, within 
the time and space requirements we have here.  I'm trying to keep this 
on topic, and believe we have done a good job of it so far.  Thank you all.

Sara Trevisan:

 >>This is my first post on the list.

Really?  You stumbled into a den of vipers.  A trial by fire.

 >>It sounds as if we were dealing with a text which has come to us in
 >>tiny bits and needs to be totally reconstructed.

This is not far from my belief.  It comes to us in a few largish bits 
which are incomplete (Q1, Q2, F); these mainly show dialogue, whereas 
the original performance (and subsequent ones) have other attributes 
also.  So the performance has to be filled-in somehow - of course that 
would be true for a modern script as well, one which would almost 
certainly be more complete in the sense of containing more information 
about the author's design for the performance as a whole.  How to 
proceed?  Everybody, rightly, uses the available texts, but they do not 
necessarily start with the text.  They often seem to start with a set of 
assumptions, largely unconscious, about how the play, or any play, 
should be performed properly.  They fill-in largely based on this set of 
beliefs.  Perhaps this is inevitable.  For instance actors frequently 
try to find the essence of a character, and then hammer on it.  Example: 
Anthony Hopkins as Othello in the BBC Othello.  Practically every actor 
nowadays does this to a degree.  They are also very concerned with 
character psychology; this is an aspect of science: psychological 
science, which in turn is part of the Enlightenment Philosophy view of 
reality we have.  These, taken together, might be different from the set 
of emphases present originally.  They almost certainly are, and in a 
number of ways that might really matter.  Modern man likes to defend the 
text as the only source of valid information, with the result that what 
they are really doing is largely defending the set of assumptions, most 
of them unconscious, that go toward creating this normal view of the 
play as it is usually performed and also understood by scholars. 
Different subgroups have different sets of assumptions, so for instance 
the English department -- which creates modern edited versions -- allows 
a much higher incidence of lines spoken aside than does the Drama 
department -- which actually performs the plays.  Nevertheless the range 
of interpretation seems to me to be rather small, especially on 
important points, or ones that might be important, such as whether 
Gertrude killed Ophelia.  To get around this impasse it might be useful 
to take a clue from a technique zoologists use when reconstructing 
fossils: namely, comparative anatomy, although in this context it might 
be better to call it comparative dramatics.  We could reconstruct 
Gertrude's role in Hamlet by comparing her to Macbeth's role in Macbeth, 
particularly in so far as his relationship with Banquo is concerned.  Or 
we might even compare it to something else that came later (the 
defenders of the faith are going to howl over this), such as The Lord of 
the Rings, or The Song of Bernadette.  I will do this later (I don't 
turn into a pumpkin until Friday).  It's not so much the text or the 
lack of it that is too restrictive, but these other assumptions that 
silently feed into the mix.

So far I have tried to avoid arguing for my interpretation, I just 
stated it.  I started off by asking what was so absurd about it, and 
then fielded the usual objections, plus some other ones.  I took that 
approach in order to stimulate discussion, if possible.  And we have had 
some, but now we have, as in chess, time pressure.  Also more than one 
has asked for something more.  You shall have it: tomorrow.  So have 
patience (or if you don't have patience you can look it up on the other 
thread, but I think I can now make a more succinct argument).

Annalisa Castaldo:
 >Why would Gertrude murder Ophelia? Why would Shakespeare
 >concoct this elaborately shielded way of telling us?  Why
 >would he throw in an extra murder by the person who has
 >recently sworn to keep Hamlet's secret and be on his side?
 >Why would he do this, and then never bring it up again?

These are all reasonable questions which, since you are curious, I will 
try to address; but first, I love your name.  You know that...so, to get 
on with it, I detect a hidden supposition: Shakespeare was interested in 
telling us something.  I don't think he was.  He was writing his scripts 
in order to tell his actors something - how the lines were sorted into 
characters, and what the lines were - so they could memorize them 
efficiently.  He wasn't trying to hide anything or be extra-devious, on 
the other hand the goal he must have had lay beyond writing: mounting 
the performance, while at the same time writing as little as possible. 
If a screenwriter nowadays wrote down every essential detail of the 
finished movie (presuming he could see it in his mind ahead of time) the 
resulting document would be long: maybe 500 or a 1000 pages, instead of 
120.  Of course Hamlet can be directed or performed any way one wants, 
but how about that Gertrude?  Kurosawa is reported to have used the 
phrase "It's much better this way." when arguing for a certain point of 
story design (not of course, in reference to this particular point).  I 
like that phraseology.  The play is better if Gertrude kills Ophelia. 
Why?  Give us a chance, my precious, it must give us a chance, sssss, ssss.

M. Yawney:
 >This seems much more organic than imposing ideas on the scripts
 >without any support other than its appeal to one's own imagination.

Why so prejudiced against imagination?  Wasn't it Einstein who said, 
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." ?  Besides, it seems 
better to do that than what is usually done, using one's own unconscious 
beliefs.  What about dreams, are they a good source of ideas?  Before 
you say no, I remind you that Kekule, who discovered the structure of 
the benzene ring, came to that idea while dreaming.  Not only that, but 
directors impose their ideas on the scripts without any support all the 
time, for instance, when Hamlet is set in nineteenth century Denmark, or 
Othello in 1940s Venice.  And, thank you for your reference to Dessen, I 
might check it out.

Annalisa Castaldo:
 >I find both of these explanations problematic for the same reason:
 >they assume that there is a single correct version of the play and we
 >should all be aware of it.

Suppose instead of an eyewitness account we had a videotape of it (this 
is just a thought experiment).  Would that make any difference to you? 
Or what if we had a manuscript with much more annotation on it than is 
usually printed?  Or what if we had just the first two acts, and then 
all of a sudden somebody discovered the rest of the play?  More 
information about such things would be exciting to some.  The zoologists 
get excited about discovering more complete specimens where once they 
only had fragments, such as the case of that fish, that living fossil, 
the coelacanth.  But I'm sympathetic to your misgivings about a single 
correct version.  In Jacques Ellul's book The Technological Society, he 
observed that one of the strongest characteristics of our technological 
society is its search for the one best means to do anything and 
everything.  What I'm trying to get at, on the other hand, is not a 
notion of one version being necessarily and technically better than all 
others, but that a version where Gertrude kills Ophelia would have more 
meaning in certain contexts than others, and very probably would have 
had more meaning - more dramatic impact, and more resonance with 
accepted audience values - then than now.  Gertrude killing Ophelia to 
us looks just plain wrong, wacky, almost.  Setting the story in the 
nineteenth century conversely seems like no big deal.  I look at it just 
the reverse.

Sara Trevisan:
 >[T]hat statement cannot be falsified, which is against the principles
 >of science, research and literary criticism...Otherwise anyone could say
 >anything about any text, prescinding from any textual, philological,
 >cultural references whatsoever.

Ordinarily I wouldn't respond twice to the same poster in the same post, 
but for rude virgins I will graciously make an exception.  The point you 
raise is one that has interested me also.  I can't help but notice, 
especially after reading The Technological Society, that the scientific 
way of thinking has ascended to the very highest level of prestige in 
our society, and has also penetrated into every institution, especially 
the educational establishment.  What is so wrong about the notion that 
anyone could say anything about anything?  Isn't that a technique Edward 
deBono advocates in his Lateral Thinking books?  I think he says even a 
known wrong idea can be advanced (profitably) in order to forge a bridge 
to a solution.

In addition to being technical, the Technological Society is also 
regimented in the extreme.  Everyone is constantly in a state of 
readiness to analyze, and eventually to judge (especially teachers). 
You can't even play a game of football without referees throwing flags 
all over the place.  If I were to try to state the Prime Directive of 
our society, it might be something like, "Apply the Law."  You are 
accusing me of using an unapproved method of inquiry, and maybe I am But 
I'm not so sure scientific or academic thinking is so supreme as it 
makes itself out to be.  It is one way of looking at our world, not 
necessarily the best way.  Not only that but what else is it reminiscent 
of?   The Pharisees; something like "Apply the Law" might do well as 
their Prime Directive also, so I sometimes wonder whether Enlightenment 
Philosophy were a derivative of Jewish thought, in the sense of being a 
direct descendant of it.  Well Hamlet wasn't written by a Pharisee, but 
rather someone more closely akin to J.R.R. Tolkien.

They came out with a movie version of The Lord of the Rings not long ago 
(in case anybody forgot).  I disliked it intensely.  It had its 
strengths and weaknesses, of course, but unfortunately for me its 
strengths were trivial and tended to be budget related, like special 
effects and wardrobe, and its weaknesses were fundamental.  They drained 
all the spirituality out of the story.  I know this because it so 
happens we have Tolkien's novel version to compare to, as well as his 
commentary on it.  Well, I also, again unhappily for me, dislike 
attending performances of plays written by Shakespeare for exactly the 
same reason: from the little evidence available in the text, they appear 
to drain all or almost all of the spirituality from them.  I would not 
be surprised if the cause is the same: the modern directors have a 
different set of values at the fundamental level, and are not concerned 
with the spiritual, being more concerned with psychology, or whatever it 
is - something in harmony with Enlightenment Philosophy, ultimately.  So 
I therefore guess that the original performances were skewed more toward 
the spiritual in their manner of presentation - and this might have 
been, check, probably was, represented in areas of the production that 
we have little evidence of, such as wardrobe and action, especially if 
Elizabethan conventions in these areas differ from our own (for example, 
in the nature of disguises).  What we have here, on this thread, is a 
full-blown case of paradigm conflict (like the oxygen and phlogiston 
theories of combustion).  So I will present my case tomorrow.  It will 
have to be a little indirect, since anything easy and obvious based 
strictly on the text was figured out a long time ago.

Bill: I see ya.  Though I do not recognize your authority to enforce 
your thinking rules, I realize no offense is intended.  None taken.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bill Lloyd <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 7 Dec 2005 01:43:55 EST
Subject: 16.2001 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.2001 Gertrude-Ophelia

I'm a little puzzled that no one on this thread has mentioned Mistress 
Quickly's murder of Falstaff. Was it her own idea, or was it at Ancient 
Pistol's instigation? Financial motives on her part, sexual jealousy on his.

Bill Lloyd

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tom Krause <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 7 Dec 2005 07:53:31 -0500
Subject: 16.2012 Gertrude-Ophelia
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.2012 Gertrude-Ophelia

Larry Weiss writes:

 >All cockeyed notions are legitimatized if we just say "the text is
 >missing."  Shylock probably had numerous asides and soliloquies
 >in which he laid out how he was cleverly scheming for Jessica to
 >inherit his wealth. Angelo was costumed as a somewhat bedraggled
 >gold coin."

With Hardy's (and everyone else's indulgence), I'm going to give this 
mole one last whack.  Here's hoping that he stays underground for a while.

In his last sentence above, Larry snippily alludes yet again (in an 
unrelated thread, for the second time in three days) to my contention 
that, consistent with the economic themes and coinage references that 
other scholars have recognized in Measure for Measure, the play contains 
certain references to debasement of the coinage.  Check any edition of 
Measure for Measure and you will see that the editors are unanimous in 
their view that Shakespeare repeatedly punned Angelo with the "Angel" 
gold coin, and that these references often occur hand in hand with 
testing imagery.  There is no lack of textual support for the theory, 
and I've never supported it by saying that "the text is missing."

 >From his comments, it's fairly clear that Larry has
 >read neither my article nor any of the relevant literature.

I do not see any need to further debate this on SHAKSPER.  Hardy's 
archives are already brimming with more than a megabyte of text on this 
topic, and everyone that I know personally who has reviewed those 
threads has said that I made my case and that the few legitimate (among 
many illogical and illegitimate) points made by my opponents are fully 
addressed in the article.  Anyone wishing to understand the theory can 
either flip through those threads here on SHAKSPER, take the guided tour 
on my website, www.wmshakespeare.com (if it's available), or participate 
in the discussion at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/shakespearescoinage/.

I encourage Larry in particular to set forth his substantive position 
(if there is one behind all the catty remarks) at 
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/shakespearescoinage/.  I for one would be 
very interested to hear which of the many wild-eyed arguments from the 
old thread Larry (who did not participate substantively in that thread) 
found persuasive.  Was it the one that concluded that because my theory 
was "unfalsifiable," it must be wrong?  Or the one that said that 
because the Earl of Oxford didn't write the plays, the plays can't 
contain a debasement theme?  How about the one that said that because a 
"Mariana" appeared in a play that almost featured a bed-trick about ten 
years before Measure for Measure came out, Measure for Measure's Mariana 
*must* have been named for that Mariana?

As for the subject of this thread, I can't disagree with Larry and 
others who somewhat tautologically point out that a theory without 
"textual" support is unprovable.  But there are enough questions about 
Ophelia's death (suicide? accident?) and Gertrude's character 
(complicit? innocent?) to yield a reasonable inference that Shakespeare 
realized that the play could be produced to cast suspicion-or even 
guilt-on Gertrude.  Whether he *actually* realized (much less intended) 
this seems to me to be unknowable.

Tom Krause

[Editor's Note: I find Tom Krause's suggestion above one of the most 
refreshing I have heard in some time. Tom has set up a Yahoo group "to 
discuss the theories set forth in the paper "A Picture in Little Is 
Worth a Thousand Words: Debasement in Hamlet and Measure for Measure," 
available and described in detail at www.wmshakespeare.com" (Group 
Description: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/shakespearescoinage/). 
Rather than revisiting his theories when the opportunity appears on 
SHAKSPER, Tom has chosen to shift discussion to a Yahoo group. I 
encourage others to follow his lead and example. I will personally 
announce any such groups on SHAKSPER and will even consider establishing 
a page on the SHAKSPER website with links to Groups that have spun off 
from SHAKSPER discussions. When such a group exists, members can refer 
others to the group rather than repeating their argument every time the 
occasion arises on SHAKSPER. A Win-Win situation for all.]


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