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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1754  Monday, 17 October 2005

[1] 	From: 	Tony Burton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 14 Oct 2005 09:06:26 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[2] 	From: 	Tony Burton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 14 Oct 2005 09:06:26 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[3] 	From: 	Tony Burton <
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	Date: 	Friday, 14 Oct 2005 09:06:26 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tony Burton <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Oct 2005 09:06:26 -0400
Subject: 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Bill Arnold asks: Was Hamlet only out for revenge in the eyes of 
Shakespeare's audience and therefore, hardly  heroic?  Or was he a hero 
who sought justice in the fullest meaning of the word as defined by 
Socrates, in Plato's Republic?  Did Shakespeare's  contemporaries, 
frankly, give a damn about this philosophical question?

I think the issue was a hot one to Shakespeare's contemporaries, but 
that the dichotomy between revenge and justice is anachronistic and 
misoeading.  Shakespeare and other contemporaries often used the words 
interchangeably.  In echoing the famous Biblical image of the earth 
crying out after the murder of Abel for divine justice against Cain 
(frequently alluded to in theatrical texts, including Claudius's slip in 
"Hamlet"), Shakespeare invokes the image on different occasions, using 
each of the two words interchangeably:

in King John:

	               The earth hath not a hole to hide this deed
                        Murder as hating what himself hath done
                        Doth lay it open to urge on revenge

and in Richard II

                         Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's dries,
                         Even from the tonguless caverns of the earth,
                         To me for justice and rough chastisement;

As far as I can tell, it was Bacon's essay On Revenge, published later 
but perhaps written much earlier and more than likely reflecting public 
interest and an ongoing discourse, which set up the idea that revenge 
was "a kind of wild justice."  In apparent consequence, "justice" 
assumed the sense of something institutional, impartial, and 
appropriate, leaving "revenge" as individual, socially disruptive, 
passionate, and excessive.  Other selections from Shakespeare's usage 
suggest that "justice" reflected the cosmic/divine viewpoint and 
"revenge" had to do with its execution and effect upon the transgressor. 
  But I don't have too much faith in this after-the-text metaphysics. 
Shakespeare delighted in multivalent words and situations, and Bill 
Arnold has pointed out one of the best.  It presents rich complexity for 
"Hamlet" and its interpretation, either in bright stage-lit performance 
or the murky grottos of academe.

Grotesquely,
Tony Burton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		D Bloom <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Oct 2005 09:26:08 -0500
Subject: 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Bill Arnold asks, vis a vis the matters of revenge and justice in 
"Hamlet": "Did Shakespeare's contemporaries, frankly, give a damn about 
this philosophical question?"

It is hard to imagine a culture that did not concern itself with justice 
(including revenge). In fact, justice and a system of meting it out 
could be considered one of the defining points of culture.

Whether they gave a damn about it as a philosophical proposition is much 
less likely, since only a relative handful would think in terms of such 
propositions.

Fortunately, the play deals with a situation not a proposition. Hamlet 
has a ghost on his hands, a vow that he's made, the practical problem of 
killing a king, and the psychological problem of doing something 
irrevocable that he doesn't want to have to do. Anyone will give a damn 
about that if it's staged adequately.

Cheers,
don

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Stephen Rose <
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Date: 		Saturday, 15 Oct 2005 11:27:22 +0200
Subject: 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1747 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

I am not sure Shakespeare gave a damn. I read H all the time and keep 
coming back to the old story which in S's hands brought pleasure to the 
multitudes. In his treatment justice and revenge mingle in H's mind and 
the fertile mind of the author plays on the instrument of the 
beleaguered Dane and the ambiguity betwixt revenge and justice is but 
one of the themes that accounts for the play's enduring interest.  Cheers, S

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