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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: November ::
Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1896  Wednesday, 16 November 2005

[Editor's Note: Further discussion of this topic should be conducted off 
list between those who are interested.]

[1] 	From: 	Jim Blackie <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 15 Nov 2005 12:16:47 -0800 (PST)
	Subj: 	Re: Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[2] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 16 Nov 2005 08:27:11 +0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1886 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jim Blackie <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 15 Nov 2005 12:16:47 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 	Re: Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

From: Kenneth Chan " ...why then would Shakespeare repeatedly make the 
suggestion to the audience that the messenger of this "divine" call 
(i.e. the ghost) may be anything but divine?

"If this suggestion is made only once, we may pass it off as a chance 
occurrence. This, however, is not the case. The suggestion is made many 
times, and the ghost himself also informs us that he is no angel. 
Furthermore, in case we still miss the point, Shakespeare drives home 
this impression (i.e. the dubious nature of the ghost) by making the 
ghost cry out repeatedly from below (the traditional location of hell) 
during the eerie swearing ritual."

I think this leads us around the barn one more time, never settling on 
or agreeing upon a satisfactory answer for all. It is my belief that in 
Hamlet we are never really sure of anything as it pertains to the ghost. 
The best we can do is to try examining alternatives.

The ghost calls from the cellarage - meaning he is:

1) a demon (living in hell), or

2) just playing one, (as they say in commercials) and, as suggested by 
Dover Wilson as a possible reason for the "ventriloquism," the motive is 
scaring the pants off the soldier Marcellus who would think he was 
swearing to a demon, or

3) a (Catholic) soul in purgatory in a process of having his sins burned 
from him, or

4) an hallucination.

We can remove #4 as "unreasonable" or even silly

We can reason that if #3, then the spirit, while having his sins burned 
from him (very Catholic and not conformant to Protestant Elizabethan 
society) INCITES another sin to be committed by his very own son - this 
is equally illogical or unreasonable

We can perhaps agree to #2, but that only argues what the ghost is 
pretending to be, rather than what it is

We can accept #1 as reasonable, for though the ghost knows much about 
the dead king's life and actions related to the crime, surely a "demon" 
would have that same knowledge (we have, some of us at least, seen "The 
Exorcist" with similar notions explored ; ) )

So while #1 cannot be proved the intended or only solution, I'll be 
damn'd (no pun intended. Well, actually it was) if I can figure any 
other that works.

If we accept #2, we still have the idea that "something" is pretending 
to be something else. Perhaps that is all we need to know.

My uncertainty on this is what drives me back again and again and again 
to find something new. I keep thinking it has something to do with the 
perception of life after death with Catholicism contrasted against 
Protestantism, but I can not get any further along with this.  My brain 
is probably just not up to it. Then again, maybe WS never wanted logic 
used when viewing his play onstage, no? The Play's the thing.

Jim Blackie

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 16 Nov 2005 08:27:11 +0800
Subject: 16.1886 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1886 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Bill Arnold writes:

 > "Given, in Act III, Scene III, when King Claudius fesses up to the
 >Spirit of Truth, Before The Christian Audience, his crime of murder
 >of his brother King Hamlet and Resolves the Premise that he was
 >guilty, leaving No Doubt with the audience, and us as readers of the
 >text, ..."

Hamlet is a play centered on the problem of revenge. The question it 
poses is not the question of Claudius's guilt. The question the play 
poses is really this: Given that Claudius is guilty (he definitely is), 
is revenge the correct course of action to take? In other words, is it 
correct for us to take justice into our own hands?

Bill Arnold cites the Bible numerous times, but completely omits that 
fact that Jesus repeatedly spoke against taking revenge into our own 
hands. Thus the Bible cannot be used as justification for claiming that 
the play supports the act of revenge. As Jesus says: "Let he who is 
without sin cast the first stone." Hamlet himself actually echoes this 
sentiment: "Use every man after his desert, and who shall escape whipping?"

If we interpret Hamlet in its entirety, and not just selected portions 
of it, it is clear that the play portrays the error of revenge. What 
makes Hamlet invaluable as a message for humanity, however, is that the 
play not only tells us that revenge is wrong, it also tells us why.

The entire play is meticulously crafted for this purpose. Every part of 
it fits. We must refrain from perpetuating the error of assuming that 
Shakespeare's plays have no intended meaning, and thus refrain from 
using this wrong assumption to justify the practice of basing our 
interpretations on only selected portions of his plays, while omitting 
other large portions that do not fit in with our interpretation.

It is time we acknowledge the incredible depth of Shakespeare's genius 
in carefully crafting his plays as deep messages for the betterment of 
humanity.

With best wishes,
Kenneth Chan
http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod

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