The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1664 Thursday, 29 September 2005
From: John Reed <
Date: Thursday, 29 Sep 2005 21:29:32 +0000
Subject: Re: Joshua Logan and Hamlet
Although realizing this thread has had a lot of inactivity recently,
it's still bothering me. So once again I am going to presume upon your
patience with another post, now that I've thought it over a little.
Getting back to the quotation we had to start with:
"A play should take its protagonist through a series of experiences
which lead to a climactic moment...when he learns something about
himself that he could have known all along but has been blind to. This
discovery comes as such an emotionally shattering blow... that it
changes the entire course of his life, and that change must be for the
better... the audience must feel and see the leading man or woman become
wiser and the discovery must happen on stage in front of their eyes...
it is true of Hamlet and Macbeth... You'll find it in every successful
play. For when the protagonist has this revelation, one which raises
his moral stature, the audience can grow vicariously along with him.
Thus, people leave the theater feeling better, healthier minded than
when they arrived."
I like this observation, but again, I don't think it applies to Hamlet
(or Macbeth). Hamlet is active: he's the protagonist. He walks, talks,
thinks, interacts with others, and every once in a while talks directly
to us, letting us know exactly what is going on in that pointy little
head of his. He makes decisions, and then goes on to put them into
practice. It's not enough.
Kenneth Chan might be right when he directs our attention to the
audience. Even the above quotation makes mention of it: "...that change
must be for the better. The audience must feel and see the leading
man...become wiser." In order for the change to qualify as an
anagnorisis, the audience has to validate it - not the character. The
character can decide whatever he wants. For these plays the audience in
question is not necessarily us, but the original audience; the audience
for whom the plays were originally written.
So, any prospective decision considered as a potential anagnorisis has
to go through this filter. I think there are two possibilities. Either
the decision by the character is in agreement with the standards the
audience holds, or goes beyond them. An author might do that; he might
make a new standard (just like a judge might make a new law). But if he
does that it has to be a better, that is to say a higher, standard.
Is anyone going to argue that what Hamlet thinks, decides, and does
towards the end of the play are things that are either in agreement with
the standards the original audience had, or represents something better?
These interludes where Hamlet makes up his mind to do this and that are
not anagnorises. They're more like fake anagnorises; instead of
realizing how bad he is and doing something all of a sudden better (if
possible), Hamlet embraces an evil course of action, which is
progressive (surprise). It is as though he has a series of
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