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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1866  Saturday, 12 November 2005

[1] 	From: 	Stephen Rose <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 10 Nov 2005 11:30:38 -0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1858 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[2] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
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	Date: 	Friday, 11 Nov 2005 09:59:19 +0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[3] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Friday, 11 Nov 2005 08:08:55 -0500
	Subj: 	Hamlet: Revenge or Justice


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Stephen Rose <
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Date: 		Thursday, 10 Nov 2005 11:30:38 -0800
Subject: 16.1858 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1858 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Tony's note has an enjoyable persuasiveness. Think about jumping to 
conclusions. You are thinking one thing -- can't kill the sucker -- he 
is praying. Hamlet is ready. Arras! Must be the king. The wish is father 
to the thought. Jump and conclude. Normal human behavior. Cheers, S

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Friday, 11 Nov 2005 09:59:19 +0800
Subject: 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1847 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Bill Arnold writes:

 >"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."

If the play is about a divine call to correct an injustice, why is the 
messenger of this "divine" call repeatedly portrayed by Shakespeare as 
anything but divine?

Already in the opening scene, Shakespeare stresses that the ghost is an 
"erring spirit" that has to hie to his confine upon the crowing of the 
cock. In Scene 2, Shakespeare repeats the same point in Horatio's 
narration of the event to Hamlet. And in Scene 5, Shakespeare reminds us 
of this nature of the ghost yet again. The ghost's very first words 
inform us that he is no angel, and hence that his counsel is suspect.

It is typical of Shakespeare to continually repeat his point and he does 
this for a purpose. Hamlet is not a play about a divine call to correct 
an injustice. It is a play centered on the problem of revenge and why 
revenge is the wrong course of action.

If we view Hamlet in its entirety, and not omit any part of the play in 
our interpretation, this point becomes very clear. What is crucial is 
this: If we view Hamlet in this light, every single part of the play now 
becomes relevant to the message. Everything fits. Shakespeare has 
meticulously crafted every part of Hamlet for a very specific purpose. 
The dubious nature of the ghost is only a small part of the complete 
cohesive structure that stresses the error of revenge.

I have written an entire book on the evidence for this, so I won't 
repeat myself here. Much of this evidence, however, is freely available 
at http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod

Shakespeare's plays are all designed to impart deep messages for the 
betterment of humanity. If we do not give due consideration to this 
fact, we may fail to appreciate the priceless gift that Shakespeare has 
left us. That would be a real tragedy.

With best wishes,
Kenneth Chan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Friday, 11 Nov 2005 08:08:55 -0500
Subject: 	Hamlet: Revenge or Justice

 >"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."

Tony Burton suffers a momentary lapse from his customary good sense in 
the passage above. There's no doubt that Hamlet acts first and thinks 
afterwards in the slaying of Polonius. In fact, both Polonius and Hamlet 
act on instinct, without thinking, the former by imprudently crying out 
from behind the curtain, and the latter by giving no thought to what he 
is doing: "How now? A rat? Dead for a ducat, dead!" (3.4.25). Polonius 
acts out of fear and Hamlet responds with an act of pure aggression, 
compounded by the stress of events. Neither one thinks - at all - which 
is Shakespeare's point. Revenge, even when it misfires, MUST be an act 
of pure, unthinking aggression, for no thinking person would carry it 
out, given the inevitable consequences, both for the agressee and the 
aggressor.  Later in the scene, Hamlet tries to rationalize away what he 
has done, claiming, with no evidence, that somehow he has acted out 
God's Will. But this is pure baloney. He just can't face what he 
actually did. He killed a man in hot blood - period. That's what he did.

Hamlet gathers himself later on and tries to convince Gertrude that he 
is sane. But that doesn't change the fact that he was momentarily out of 
control earlier when he killed Polonius. As the play progresses, these 
"out-of-control" episodes increase: witness Hamlet's baiting of Laertes 
at Ophelia's grave, or his taunting of the king by letter once he 
returns from his ship voyage. Another uncontrollable impulse is 
struggling to get free - and it does, at play's end, where Hamlet 
finally kills the king in another towering fit of passion.

In short, revenge is the triumph of passion over everything else. That's 
why, among other things, it is un-Christian, lawless, and self-damning.

Ed Taft

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