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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1858  Thursday, 10 November 2005

[1] 	From: 	Tony Burton <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 9 Nov 2005 12:12:22 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[2] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 09 Nov 2005 13:01:52 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[3] 	From: 	Bill Arnold <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 9 Nov 2005 19:27:32 -0800 (PST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1837 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tony Burton <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 9 Nov 2005 12:12:22 -0500
Subject: 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

There is a good deal to be said for the suggestions that Hamlet's 
agitation of mind is a sufficient reason to explain why, against all 
physical likelihood, he was stabbing through the arras at Claudius 
rather than Polonius, but they seem to me entirely unnecessary, and they 
inevitably create other problems as well.

I consider the supposed physical unlikelihood to be false in the first 
place, an academic's will o'the wisp growing out of the ever popular 
critical school "If I don't understand it, Shakespeare must have 
goofed.".  Why, after all, does Hamlet come across Claudius in prayer? 
Isn't it because Hamlet is taking the most direct route to his mother's 
chamber, and that Claudius is in the way?  (If I were a card-carrying 
structuralist, I would have Claudius praying in the same space where 
Polonius and he earlier stationed Ophelia in prayer and also in Hamlet's 
path, just on the other side of the central play-within-play scene. 
It's so neat, and full of semiotic possibilities; but what red-blooded 
theoretician believes in that sort of text-based stuff nowadays?)  So, 
Hamlet is not able to continue as planned.  It is entirely logical to 
assume that when he finally arrives, he has taken an alternative, 
indirect and more time-consuming route, perhaps even retracing his steps 
from where he ran across Claudius in order to do so.

 From this perspective, it is not necessary to assume that Hamlet's 
customary good sense is overcome by passion and temporary loss of 
reason.  Indeed if he were (and here is the problem caused by all the 
"agitation of mind" explanations), it would undercut an important 
feature of the chamber scene when, after the ghost reappears, Hamlet is 
forced to refute Gertrude's initial assumption that the specter which 
she does not see is a product of Hamlet's disordered mind.  Hamlet 
quickly and confidently refutes that suggestion and apparently convinces 
Gertrude, who then asks for instruction from him as to what she should 
do next. This act of persuasion would be nearly impossible to carry off, 
with either Gertrude or the theater audience, if either had just seen 
Hamlet truly lose his grip on reality in the matter of stabbing through 
the arras.

Tony

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 09 Nov 2005 13:01:52 -0500
Subject: 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

A closet was a small room adjacent to a bedchamber, which a lady would 
use for sewing, reading and other solitary activities.  It would 
typically be accessed through either a door communicating with the 
common corridor or a private door from the bedchamber.  The latter might 
well be concealed behind an arras.

Presumably, Hamlet would enter the closet from the corridor.  Claudius, 
on the other hand, might enter through the bedchamber.  It is not lunacy 
for Hamlet to believe that Claudius entered the closet from the 
bedchamber after the interview between Hamlet and Gertrude had been 
going on for a while and lay concealed behind the arras.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bill Arnold <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 9 Nov 2005 19:27:32 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 16.1837 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1837 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Alan Pierpoint writes, "'My mother stays,' soliloquizes Hamlet, leaving 
the unwitting Claudius in prayer as he heads, directly it would seem, to 
Gertrude.  Is it reasonable that Claudius could have wrapped up his 
prayer and beamed himself up to the 'closet' ahead of Hamlet?  If it 
isn't reasonable, why did Hamlet suspect that the "rat" behind the arras 
was the King?  What's the usual explanation for this seeming paradox?"

Well, what seems to bother others about the question of revenge or 
justice is not what bothers me.  Let us start with each of us as a 
member of the audience, which we are: whether present at a stage 
performance or a reader of text.

We start with: ACT ONE and a spirit telling Prince Hamlet of a deed 
which demands justice, divine justice as the dichotomy between the 
angels and the demons signifies.  Some call what happens throughout the 
play other than how I see it: Prince Hamlet seeks justice.  As a member 
of the Elizabethan audience, Christian, 1600, I am aware of an injustice 
crying out for justice. The *Spirit* declared it!  Hamlet AND OTHERS saw 
and heard it.

Now: Prince Hamlet is talking with his mother in the Queen's bed chamber 
and I don't know about you but if it were me watching this play and 
putting myself in the moccasins of the prince I would say, wait a 
minute, this is the Queen's chamber, and her ex-husband, my father, has 
been murdered: who is this behind the curtain, maybe, trying to murder 
my mother, or me, spying, whatever?  Zip: run that spy, whoever, person 
through.  You must accept that the text supports a person behind the 
curtain UNKNOWN to me and you as a member of that audience.  The scene 
does NOT state that the prince went DIRECTLY to his mother.  It is an 
event that UNFOLDS later.  That is the nature of the times, a world of 
dark chambers, spirits, and a play based on a premise as stated above, 
with intrigues and dark unknowns, and DRAMATICALLY portrayed in ACT ONE. 
  The whole play of Hamlet is built upon the PREMISE of a MURDER and the 
JUSTICE sought for that event.  Not until the RESOLVE of that premise am 
I as a member of the audience satisfied.  That is the nature of 
Shakespearean plays: and especially this one.

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

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