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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
What Happens in "Hamlet"
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1357  Monday, 22 August 2005

[1] 	From: 	Hugh Grady <
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	Date: 	Friday, 19 Aug 2005 11:06:11 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1345 What Happens in "Hamlet"

[2] 	From: 	Jim Blackie <
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	Date: 	Friday, 19 Aug 2005 12:20:58 -0400 (EDT)
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 16.1345 What Happens in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hugh Grady <
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Date: 		Friday, 19 Aug 2005 11:06:11 -0500
Subject: 16.1345 What Happens in "Hamlet"
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1345 What Happens in "Hamlet"

Listmembers still buying Dover Wilson's goods on Hamlet after all the 
years owe it to themselves to read our colleague Terence Hawke's bravura 
analysis of the myriad of subtexts behind Wilson's obsessive attempts to 
throw a net of one-pointed logic around the undecidabilities of this 
great play. See his "That Shakespeherian Rag."

--Hugh

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jim Blackie <
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Date: 		Friday, 19 Aug 2005 12:20:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 16.1345 What Happens in Hamlet
Comment: 	RE: SHK 16.1345 What Happens in Hamlet

Sorry for my failure to explain Wilson's premises, but I thought only I 
had been unfamiliar with his work, a position, I now see, was rather 
foolish. Wilson holds, mainly, that upon establishing for himself that 
the ghost was, in fact, real, Hamlet goes about doing exactly what the 
ghost asks. 1- avenge his murder 2- protect his mother and leave her 
judgment to heaven.

To do one while ensuring the other is difficult, for if he were to 
expose Claudius, the Queen would be implicated. His problem begins with 
both Horatio and Marcellus seeing the ghost and needing to have them 
kept quiet. Horatio can be counted upon, but Marcellus needs to be 
"frightened" by having the ghost from the cellarage demand the 3 oaths 
of silence. Marcellus would be most likely to adhere to the oath if he 
swore by a figure from hell. Therefore, while Hamlet knew it was the 
ghost of his father, he cavorts and calls for "old mole" and "truepenny" 
to aid him. This was based on Wilson's study of Elizabethan belief in 
the spiritual world and the supernatural and urges his reader (me) to 
consider it in that context.

Further, Hamlet is shown as exhibiting various states of mind to 
different characters to hide his intentions and reasons behind his 
melancholia. To his mother and uncle/father he shows depression due to 
the loss of his father and o'er hasty marriage of those primaries. To 
Polonius & Ophelia he seems distracted for love of Ophelia. To 
Marcellus, he seems perhaps the mere puppet of a demon of hell (I'm 
overstating this somewhat in a very brief synopsis). To 
Claudius-later-on, and to R&G, he displays anger/madness at being 
usurped from his rightful throne.

What Hamlet wants is to let Claudius know that the secret is out, that 
he, Hamlet, will avenge the murder at such time that Gertrude will be 
spared judgment and (apropos of the post player-king's murder and 
Claudius' attempt at solitary prayer) Claudius will be propelled to hell 
after his death - to kill him prior to his receiving absolution.

He follows each position with great care and detail and I'm not doing 
justice in my poor attempt at relating in a short message the entirety 
of his volume. But the impact I felt most is his approach at taking only 
what is written into the play's text and not adding subjective 
inferences - of reading the play but keeping it within context of 
Elizabethan time frames. What did the audience understand 
things/statements to mean? How would they comprehend X or Y? He reminds 
us that the play was meant to be "heard" and not read, thereby resulting 
in very different positions in the audience than that of the reader. The 
most obvious reminder he gives was also lost on me until pointed out... 
that the character in Act 1 scene 1 doesn't know what will happen in Act 
IV. Of course, how simple, but I have argues my points of various plays, 
most recently a discussion of Twelfth Night, building my case of 
character analysis using such faulty reasoning that asked why Orsino did 
(something) when late in the play he says (something) - as if Orsino 
already knew the outcome of the play going in --- (Again, this is better 
explained by Mr. Wilson).

I just wanted to point out there are several obvious considerations that 
must be maintained when reading such a play, that are either obvious or 
common sense, but that escaped me in my "wisdom" as I pontificated and 
built my arguments on a foundation of what turned out to be sand.

This basic philosophies I discovered initially in his slim volume "The 
Fortunes of Falstaff" and was captivated at once. His work on Hamlet, 
however, detailed all the play and made me see it in ways I'd never 
thought of before. If you haven't read one or the other of these books I 
can only urge you to spend some time with Mr. Wilson. Written in the 
early 1930's, I think they are both classics of analysis and 
scholarship. I've bought anything I can find that he has written and 
look forward to reading more.

I especially like reading the messages here and, impressed by the 
knowledge base, would be interested to hear anyone's opinion on Wilson. 
Is it just me?

Jim Blackie

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