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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1349  Friday, 19 August 2005

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 07:39:30 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1329 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

[2]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 11:57:05 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

[3]     From:   Philip Tomposki <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 13:47:21 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1329 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

[4]     From:   V. K. Inman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 14:45:16 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

[5]     From:   John-Paul Spiro <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Aug 2005 07:09:27 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 07:39:30 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 16.1329 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1329 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

John-Paul Spiro writes, "I can understand why people get passionate (and
thus unreasonable) about 'Merchant.'  But why are so many people so
silly about 'Hamlet'?  Is it because they don't understand the textual
issues, or do the textual issues only make matters more confusing?"

There seems to be eternal debates about Shakespeare which falls in the
broad space between director/actors and readers of the texts.

As a member of SHAKSPER, I find myself mostly in the latter camp.  And I
am not lonely.  I find many in that camp who are passionate and hardly
silly in our adherence to textual matters.

I recently read of a summer month long staging of R&J on Martha's
Vineyard Island.  It was staged outdoors, at night, with a bench as the
only prop.  Characters came and went from the trees, and passing planes
overhead disturbed cues for actors to appear.  But the play went on, for
four weeks.  A half dozen actors played multiple parts.  The play was
cut to two hours.  Shakespeare?

Now, I happen to be a fan of the various spins offs of the original R&J
as appears in text.  And I have been a fan of a few spin offs of MOV and
Hamlet.  Even Macbeth.  I have read MacBird, when it was timely.

However, having said all this, I still admit to textual discussion as a
necessary good/evil when considering Shakespeare as the Brit Bard.

And I do not confuse the textual Shakespeare with director/actor
variants.  It comes with the territory.  C 'est la vie!

Bill Arnold
http://www.cwru.edu/affil/edis/scholars/arnold.htm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 11:57:05 -0400
Subject: 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

John Paul Spiro calls attention to the difficulties of interpreting
Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. As I glean from his comment, he finds
these plays to be like Rorshack tests with readers only able to find in
them their own preoccupations or wishes. It is a denigration of
Shakespeare to think that he wrote off the cuff without careful thought.
Isn't it a bit inconsistent to hang on his every word and then claim
that these words were done casually without thinking in terms of the
whole of his play?

Taking such a tack of Shakespeare's limitations, reducing him to the
level of the commentator criticizing, makes it easy for a commentator to
avoid the obligation to confront what the plays actually tell us or to
see them as coherent wholes with a point of view and a message. This is
not doing justice to Shakespeare.

If anyone had told me ten years ago that my finding that the play Hamlet
is Shakespeare's version of the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes, I would
have laughed in their face. Instead, I am being laughed even as my
critics refuse even to examine the evidence of the many parallels
between the two works that I present in detail. Even supposedly
inconsequential scenes like Hamlet looking at the clouds with Polonius
are significant since Ecclesiastes says, "He who regards the clouds will
not reap," and sure enough this foreshadows the fact that Hamlet won't
reap. Ecclesiastes also asks the question of why the good die young
while evil is long lived and this question finds its answer in the play
as we probe the reasons why the good young Hamlet is done in while evil
Claudius gets to linger on beyond the time when Hamlet should have
dispatched him. The answer is that it is Hamlet's over righteousness
that does him in since he wants perfect retribution for Claudius and
does not kill him when he has the chance. Here Hamlet violates the
warning by Ecclesiastes not to be over righteous. The sheer number of
these parallels must tells us the source of this play, yet the learned
scholars seem to resist this linkage like the plague because, perhaps,
it shows a Shakespeare respectful and honoring of the Bible, something
that doesn't fit their image of him. But by failing to take account of
such things, these commentators create the confusion that they are
supposed to clarify by their scholarly calling.

Perhaps such understanding starts trains of thought for some
commentators about the poet the poet's views that they refuse to
countenance as happens with The Merchant of Venice, the second play that
John Paul Spiro finds hopelessly confused. But is what is happening is
that some commentators don't wish to explode their notions about Jews
and Christians in the play.  As some commentators, gentile incidentally,
have noted, "the character of Shylock contains spiritual gold" and that
"Christian virtue in the play is notable for its absence." Is it such
things that are uncharacteristic of the audiences of Shakespeare's time
and which seem to carry over today that are being shirked? If that is
what is happening, no wonder the play must seem out of joint and
incompetent. And no wonder we get the reductionist comments, reducing
the poet to the level of the critic, about Shakespeare being nothing
more than a hack interested in making money and unconcerned with the
future of his work and its message to the world. For this sets limits on
seeing some of what the poet was addressing and communicating to the world.

I note that Jim Blackie does not go along with John Paul Spiro that
Hamlet cannot be properly probed, finding clarification of meaning in
the interpretations of John Dover Wilson, whose insights, by the way, as
I recall, though incomplete, would not be contradictory to Hamlet as
Ecclesiastes. The point is he searches for full coherence and will
eventually find it if he persists. Also, I found Kenneth Chan's comment
on this subject quite perceptive as he urges that "we should hesitate
before rashly leaping to the conclusion that Shakespeare intended his
plays as mere fodder for multiple conflicting interpretations. It may
well be that we have simply not seen the light yet."

But if we throw in the towel about getting to the deepest levels of
these plays because we are afraid of what we will find, we will never
get to that light.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Tomposki <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 13:47:21 -0400
Subject: 16.1329 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1329 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

Kenneth Chan asks:

"Why would Shakespeare deliberately set out to write plays that cater to
multiple conflicting interpretations?"

Perhaps to portrait a character who, like most of us, are full of
contradictions and inconsistencies?  You know, the type of fellow whose
actions, thoughts and emotions defy any attempt by foolish people to fit
them into some neat, tidy Grand Theory.

Philip Tomposki

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           V. K. Inman <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 14:45:16 -0400
Subject: 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

Kenneth Chan wrote in response to John-Paul Spiro

 >"Why would Shakespeare deliberately set out to write plays that cater to
 >multiple conflicting interpretations? What purpose can this serve? Life
 >itself and history provides more than sufficient material for multiple
 >interpretations. Too much material, in fact. So why do we need a play,
 >as well, to provide a foil for indulging in multiple and contradicting
 >interpretations? This does not make sense."

There is a hermeneutics principle at work here that is invalid.  It is
that Shakespeare makes sense.  Certainly, if anything can be gleaned
from centuries of Shakespeare criticism, it must certainly be that his
plays are largely beyond our ability to reduce then to sensible
aphorisms. To say that perhaps Shakespeare intended this is hardly,
"rashly leaping to the conclusion that Shakespeare intended his plays as
mere fodder for multiple conflicting interpretations."   On the other
hand if there is a single, simple, interpretation intended which has not
come to light yet, perhaps Shakespeare intended this be the case-that it
should long be undiscoverable.  In either case looking for a single,
simple, aphoristic interpretation of a Shakespeare play in extremely naive.

V. K. Inman

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John-Paul Spiro <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Aug 2005 07:09:27 -0400
Subject: 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.1339 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

Many people say smart things about both "Merchant" and "Hamlet."  But
too many people feel they have figured the works out and they have The
Answer or The Skeleton Key.  J. Dover Wilson's book is fine, but if you
think he has "resolved" the issue, you need to read the play again.

Kenneth Chan wrote:

 >Why would Shakespeare deliberately set out to write plays that cater
 >to
 >multiple conflicting interpretations? What purpose can this serve?
 >Life
 >itself and history provides more than sufficient material for
 >multiple
 >interpretations. Too much material, in fact. So why do we need a
 >play,
 >as well, to provide a foil for indulging in multiple and
 >contradicting
 >interpretations? This does not make sense.

To paraphrase your questions: "Life is complicated.  Why would
Shakespeare make his plays like that?"

Hmm.  Why would Shakespeare want to write plays that are like life?  I
have no idea.

I do not, however, think the plays are like Rorschach tests or open to
any given interpretation.  There are good interpretations (i.e., based
on what's actually in the texts) and bad ones.  Some people isolate a
few points in the texts and erect a large theory based on those few
points and then say that theory explains everything.  Some people take a
phrase or sentiment from Shakespeare and find a similar phrase or
sentiment in another text and therefore conclude a relation.  Some
people compare an event in a text to an event outside of the text (often
taking place after the text was written)--which can be interesting,
perhaps, but not particularly insightful about the text itself.

Why don't people have more to say about, say, "All's Well That Ends
Well" or "Richard II" or "Coriolanus"?  I have seen far too many
theories that purport to explain Shakespeare's entire characther that
rest on little more than "Hamlet," "Merchant," and/or "The Sonnets."  He
did write a lot of other stuff, y'know.

John-Paul Spiro

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