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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1799  Tuesday, 25 October 2005

[1] 	From: 	John-Paul Spiro <
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	Date: 	Friday, 21 Oct 2005 09:53:01 -0400
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[2] 	From: 	Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 	Friday, 21 Oct 2005 10:42:29 -0400
	Subj: 	Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[3] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 22 Oct 2005 08:57:24 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

[4] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 23 Oct 2005 23:13:50 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John-Paul Spiro <
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Date: 		Friday, 21 Oct 2005 09:53:01 -0400
Subject: 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

What, exactly, is to be gained by killing Claudius?  What makes this 
"justice"?  If regicide is bad, then why should Hamlet do it, too?  If 
killing a family member is bad, then why should Hamlet do it, too?  If 
taking a husband from Gertrude is bad, then why should Hamlet do it, too?

The play further complicates the question by making it clear that Hamlet 
does not like Claudius personally, that Hamlet stands to personally gain 
by killing Claudius, and that honoring one's father is not always the 
same as behaving justly.

Hamlet does eventually accept that he's gotta do what he's gotta do, and 
his acceptance of his fate is also, as David Bishop implies, done in a 
state of possible madness.  In a sense, he stops caring about whether or 
not the act is just or beneficial, and he just does it because it has to 
be done.  There are parallels to this kind of thinking in Ecclesiastes, 
but I don't think Ecclesiastes suggests that one should not be concerned 
with justice.  (However, it does suggest that one will never be 
certain.)  A better parallel may be found in the Bhagavad-Gita, wherein 
Krishna assures Arjuna that he must kill members of his own family and 
he shouldn't worry about whether or not it's against the law or 
beneficial to himself.

I don't mean to suggest that Shakespeare read the Bhagavad-Gita, though 
I am willing to consider the existence of secret Hindu sects in or near 
Warwickshire because, as far as I know, their existence has not been 
disproved.  I am also willing to accept common authorship between the 
Gita and the Hebrew Scriptures.

John-Paul Spiro

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Friday, 21 Oct 2005 10:42:29 -0400
Subject: 	Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

In responding to Kenneth Chan, David Bishop suggests

 >"first, that there seems something self-deceptive about an argument 
that involves
 >using the Christian God to take revenge for you. Hamlet later mentions
 >the futility of trying 'to circumvent God.'"

In a word: Yes. In fact, the turning point of the play seems to be the 
stabbing of Polonius, which occurs spontaneously, under high emotion and 
extreme stress, and which seems to be an act of pure aggression. 
Afterwards, Hamlet rationalizes his act by revising the past and 
claiming that he has acted as the agent of God.

It has not been observed, to my knowledge, that the rest of the play 
turns the Polonius episode on its head. First, Hamlet constructs an 
elaborate rationalization: he is acting at the behest of and in concert 
with Providence. Once he comes to truly believe that, then he kills the 
king. It's the Polonius episode in reverse.

What this means, of course, is that Hamlet may well have justice on his 
mind, but the central question is: in killing Claudius was Hamlet doing 
the Will of God? I'm afraid that the answer is "No" - and here, I 
believe, David Bishop and I part company.

Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Saturday, 22 Oct 2005 08:57:24 -0500
Subject: 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

David Bishop cites Kenneth Chan: "[I]in the prayer scene and the closet 
scene Hamlet seems willing to kill Claudius without public proof of his 
crime."

Did I miss something?

How could he possibly have public proof of such a crime? Isn't that why 
he's required to turn to the ugly and forbidden business of private 
revenge? Isn't that, in a sense, the point of the play - the 
impossibility of public proof?

Cheers,
don

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Sunday, 23 Oct 2005 23:13:50 +0000
Subject: 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1786 Hamlet: Revenge or Justice?

Ed Taft asks: "Well, it would seem that Old Fortinbras would pass along 
his need for revenge to young Fortinbras, no?"

Maybe not, Ed.

The cloud looming over young Hamlet's legitimacy (see 
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2005/1379.html ) hangs over young 
Fortinbras' as well. Both are named after their legal father in 
accordance with levirate law. Is Old Norway both uncle and natural 
father to young Fortinbras? Is impotent bedridden Norway now paying for 
the sins of his prime like Uther in the Arthurian saga? Or is he being 
slowly poisoned to death? Can Hamlet here see "the image of my cause in 
the portraiture of his" in this hall of mirrors?

Ed Taft continues: "...Joe is on to something but needs different terms: 
Hamlet's psychomachia is a conflict between skeptical Renaissance 
humanism, on the one hand, and Medieval notions of honor, on the other."

I wholeheartedly agree with Ed on this enervating humanist doubt tearing 
at Hamlet, as detailed in earlier posts (especially 
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2005/0980.html and 
http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2005/1453.html ). The moral abyss of 
Machiavelli's godless materialism lurks behind the gentle humanism of 
Erasmus and Montaigne (as in Marlowe's case). The Reformation challenge 
could not help but subject all verities to Minerva's searching gaze.

Ed's timeframe appears to me too constricted. Medieval notions of honor 
developed out of ancient pagan codes with their lust for bloodsport and 
their sacred duty of blood vengeance by a surviving heir for a murdered 
father. Christianity, expecting ere long the Second Coming, harbored 
from birth profound contempt for the World and its ways. Early Emperors, 
seeing such contempt as a threat to their Empire, responded often 
brutally to this growing sect.  Christian shepherds, competing with 
pagan cults for Gentile recruits, dressed their new faith in borrowed 
robes, adapting pagan ritual and doctrine for allure. The Jews, now a 
lost cause for the missionaries, rejected what they saw as blasphemous 
idolatry with its blood sacrifice of a "human" scapeLamb and, after 
Paul, its antinomian degeneration. Nor could the Jews forgive, in the 
Jewish wars with the Imperial Beast, the early Christians' pro-Roman 
neutrality--a stance reflected in the Gospels. To Jewish eyes, these 
Christians fiddled while Jerusalem fell.

Christianity's outreach to the Gentiles succeeded, of course, beyond all 
measure. Primordial aggressive energies, when not turned against the 
Self in monkish abasement and self-denial, were channeled by the 
Medieval church into blood-drenched Grail quests, i.e., holy crusades of 
conquest against Saracen and Jew. The Church's growing corruption and 
venality (indulgences, etc.), could, however, no longer be ignored. The 
Renaissance drive back to the Sources and their Prime Author led 
inexorably to Reformation assaults on both Romist mercenary corruptions 
and pagan excrescences of yore, thus undermining the Church's mediating 
role, but also unmooring her congregants, now floating on a sea of 
anomie and doubt. Hamlet embodies all these currents.

Finally, David Bishop remarks: "Joe Egert has discerned two of what I 
call Hamlet's clashing ideals [the heroic and the Christian]. He misses 
the third [the political]."

After sampling David's always interesting posts and onlline to me, I 
sometimes find myself confused by his "overlapping" meaning of "revenge" 
and "justice." I also wonder if his third, or political, ideal may be 
superfluous, it being so firmly rooted in the other two.

Regards to all,
Joe Egert

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