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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1825  Friday, 4 November 2005

From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Thursday, 03 Nov 2005 18:00:56 +0000
Subject: 16.1811 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1811 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Responding to Ed Taft's contention that Hamlet's smiting of Claudius is 
not the Will of God, David Bishop writes, "One aspect of God's will is 
clear: the Christian God opposes personal revenge."

As did His Father before Him, at least in the Beginning. To later 
Christian shepherds, the Hebrew Ur-God of GENESIS 4 was unaccountably 
forgiving of First Murderer Cain's crime against his brother Abel, an 
early Christ figure. As posthumous agents of human "justice", they 
sentenced Cain to endless torment in Hell's deepest pit. Not only did 
God, like a good minister, seek to dissuade Cain from sin before his 
crime; He protected him with His mark (a hedging crown, perhaps?) from 
human justice or revenge, personal or collective, enabling him to found 
civil society where "wild justice" could be tamed. Anyone harming Cain 
would be repaid sevenfold. The Ur-God does not prevent his time of life 
nor does He deny him free will, seeking perhaps to guide His ultimate 
prodigal toward sincere penance and salvation of his soul. In IMITATIO 
DEI, young Hamlet ministers to his mother Gertrude, though with 
questionable lasting success.

Claudius' lament in his attempt at prayer, that his offense "hath the 
primal eldest curse upon't/ A brother's murder", may be glossed in more 
than one way. Every deliberate homicide in the human family may be seen 
as a fratricide--this being the ineradicable curse on our "old stock."
Or, more likely, the curse may be God's punishment for Cain's 
fratricide, namely, "vagabondage" for life and beyond. RICHARD II's 
Bolingbroke, IN IMITATIO DEI, sentences Richard's murderer Exton: "With 
Cain go wander through shades of night,/ And never show thy head by day 
nor light." Who, in HAMLET, is doomed to "walk the night"? What 
"extravagant and erring spirit" flees the light of day and, perhaps, 
Marcellus' "partisan" cross? Is King Hamlet being punished, like Cain, 
for our tragedy's First Slaying of a brother monarch? Does the sevenfold 
punishment for Claudius' crime now include the deaths of Polonius, 
Ophelia, Rosenkrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and 
Hamlet himself?

Yet GENESIS 4 does not end with Cain himself. Will humanity, in the form 
of his descendant Lamech, learn from God to spare the criminal his life 
and guide him toward repentance and possibly salvation? Instead, God's 
mercy emboldens Lamech to murder at will, feeling he will be protected 
as well. The moral anarchy from God's leniency, as in Vincentio's 
Vienna, spreads like a plague. God will now temper his mercy with 
death-dealing retribution.

The Flood is at hand.

Joe Egert

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