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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: August ::
Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1369  Tuesday, 23 August 2005

[1] 	From: 	Alan Pierpoint <
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	Date: 	Monday, 22 Aug 2005 13:45:05 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

[2] 	From: 	V. K. Inman <
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	Date: 	Monday, 22 Aug 2005 19:17:47 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

[3] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 23 Aug 2005 19:59:26 +0000
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Alan Pierpoint <
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Date: 		Monday, 22 Aug 2005 13:45:05 -0400
Subject: 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

Kenneth Chan writes:  "Why then, you ask, have [Shakespeare's] messages 
been missed over the centuries?  The answer is surprisingly easy to 
state.  We miss [them] because we do not wish to hear them.  They hurt."

Point taken.  But I think there remains the danger that an interpreter 
of, say, Hamlet, may fearlessly embrace such a "message" and miss the 
larger point, or points.  I have in mind Olivier, whose interpretation 
perhaps reflected the disrepute into which
hand-wringing inaction in the face of crisis had fallen, post holocaust 
and WWII.  As I recall, his film begins with the "So oft it chances in 
particular men" speech in voiceover and proceeds to state, baldly, that 
the play is about a man who can't make up his mind.  That view once had 
currency and has textual support throughout the play.  But it led, I 
think, to a reductive interpretation of the role, and an unsatisfying 
film.   -Alan Pierpoint

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		V. K. Inman <
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Date: 		Monday, 22 Aug 2005 19:17:47 -0400
Subject: 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al.

Kenneth Chan writes:

 >This failure to confront our own mortality is one reason why we have
 >missed the meaning of Hamlet for so long. We miss it because the message
 >hurts and we do not wish to hear it.

V. K. Inman responds:

This sounds like a personal attack.  Are you saying since you are able 
to confront your own mortality and I am not, you understand Hamlet and I 
do not?

Kenneth Chan writes:

 >rashly leaping to the conclusion that Shakespeare intended his plays as
 >mere fodder for multiple conflicting interpretations.

V. K. Inman responds:

This is an egregious overstatement.  No one is 'rashly leaping' and no 
one has even remotely implied that Shakespeare intended his plays as 
'mere fodder'!

Such statements belong in the realm of Madison Avenue advertising and 
Washington politics.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 23 Aug 2005 19:59:26 +0000
Subject: 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al
Comment: 	Re: SHK 16.1358 Shylock, Hamlet, et al

Fellow resolutes:

Myth and mystery surround the birth of young Hamlet.

In a a play teeming with allusions to bastard-born and incest-bred gods 
and mortals, demi and im, surely Hamlet's own legitimacy becomes deeply 
suspect to us and to himself.

WHO then is Hamlet's father?

Fasten your diving suits, crew--we're going down below.

Is Hamlet's natural father Polonius?

Polonius after all played "the mighty Julius" assassinated by his 
natural(?) son Brutus. Hamlet goes on to smite Polonius as Old Hamlet 
smote the Polacks. Are the Prince and Ophelia then brother and sister by 
half, born to the same father, be he Polonius, Claudius, or Old Hamlet 
himself? If so. has Ophelia succumbed to Hamlet's advances? Would she in 
time have tendered Polonius a "fool" had not her culture-bound gown 
dragged her down to a watery grave. Shown "the steep and thorny way to 
heaven" by her departing brother Laertes, Ophelia cautions him to reck 
his own "rede" in Paris, home of lusty chivalry. Has Hamlet, in this 
hall of mirrors, recked his own rede in preaching to Gertrude? Has the 
Prince impressed the "signet in my purse" upon docile Ophelia (another 
Caelia?) to sire yet another counterfeit? (The Prince's forgery may echo 
the DONATION OF CONSTANTINE  with its healing of the Emperor's leprosy, 
a forgery exposed by the Humanist Valle as a crude attempt by the 
Catholic Church to usurp temporal authority--an allusion perhaps to 
Tudor usurpation of religious authority.)

Is Claudius Hamlet's natural father?

Claudius more than once calls Hamlet "son," the object of a "dearest 
father['s]" love. Arthurian lore (favored propoganda of the Tudor 
Henries) suffuses this play. The worldly Centaur-like Norman cavalier 
Lamord/Lamond may recall Malory's LE MORTE D'ARTHUR as well as the 
Bastard Conqueror William . The three generations of Arthur's line (from 
Uther to Arthur to Mordred) are here condensed into two, but expanded 
laterally into multiple parent/child dyads. In Thomas Hughes' earlier 
play, THE MISFORTUNES OF ARTHUR (1588), Uther, magically assuming the 
Duke of Cornwall Gorlois' shape, impregnates the latter's wife with the 
noble bastard Arthur before murdering the Duke. Cornwall's ghost, like 
that of Old Hamlet, cries out for revenge. Arthur then incestuously 
sires the avenger Mordred (like Hamlet, both son and nephew to the king) 
through his sister Anna Morgause. For this sin Arthur is cuckolded by 
his wife Guinevere and son Mordred, leading to the death of both father 
and son in personal combat. The myths, both classical and medieval, are 
filled with fathers, often usurpers themselves, contriving against their 
sons fated to overthrow them. Does "unworthiest siege" (Act4Sc7) recall 
the "Perilous Siege" of the Table Round? Does Hamlet's sea voyage to 
England (intended to kill him) echo the prophesied avenger Mordred's 
planned disposal at sea, still an infant? Is "Claudius" reminiscent of 
"King Claudas" in the Arthur legends? Does Gertrude, like Isolde, fail 
the magic cup's test of fidelity before succumbing to its poison? At 
play's end Gorlois' ghost is left standing and gloating over the end of 
Uther's line. Is young Hamlet, like Mordred, (each "subject to his 
birth") the avenging Sun god Helios, born at Solstice(?) of Hyperion and 
his sister Thaia, to overcome the wintry Claudian night?

Is Hamlet's birth a Nativity?

Marcellus illuminates the "Saviour's birth" in glowing colors. Does 
Hamlet come, like Jesus, to set the time right at the cost of his own 
mortal life. Like his Saviour, Hamlet begins his brief ministry at age 
thirty. Like Jesus at Gethsemane, Hamlet suffers intense relentless 
psychomachia. Has the devil indeed "assumed a pleasing shape" as Old 
Hamlet, armored in the "unholy suit" of war and imploring the "unholy 
suit" of blood revenge (His apparel hath indeed proclaimed the man). 
Medieval monk and Reforming humanist alike decried this death-linked 
honor code. Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth's tutor, impugned these 
chivalric values as nothing but "open manslaughter and bold bawdry." 
Like Satan at Gethsemane, the Ghost tempts Hamlet with absolute royal 
dominion-- only heed his commandment to slaughter Claudius. Or does 
Shakespeare, by including the Saviour's birth among so many bastard 
allusions, parody the Virgin Birth itself. Jesus, whose own purported 
ancestry included incest and adultery, then becomes the archetypal Good 
Bastard, spotlighted by the alienated bastard-born of England to counter 
their country's oppressive propoganda.

Reflecting its psychomachia,the play consistently opposes gods and 
demigods like Hercules to the passion-driven man-beasts, be they 
centaur, satyr, or mermaid. The Hercules analogy is especially apt. 
Zeus, in the shape of mortal Alcmena's husband Amphitryon, sires through 
her the Greek hero. Sound familiar? Still an infant, Hercules slays the 
serpents sent against him by Hera (the Centaurs' sponsor). His life is 
spent in heroic adventures, often overcoming wild man-beasts, like the 
drunken Centaurs, and restoring order, though he too is subject to 
murderous fits of madness. In the end, his mortal half succumbs to 
poison originating from his own arrow, the revenge of a slain Centaur 
inadvertently aided by young Lichas (Laertes?). Zeus raises up his now 
fully immortal son to Olympus, to be joined later perhaps by Jesus and 
Hamlet amid flights of angels.

Finally, the key to Hamlet's birth may lie in its timing. The 
Gravedigger stresses young Hamlet was born "that day that our last King 
Hamlet o'ercame Fortinbras." The Ghost wears "the very armour he had on/ 
When he the ambitious Norway combated." The primal crime of this drama? 
Yes. A foul unnatural murder "as in the best it is"? Yes. But is there more?

Shakespeare scatters his clues throughout the play. Hamlet speaks of his 
"prophetic" "immortal" soul. The Ghost labels the official version of 
his death a "forged process." Hamlet calls his own forgery a "changeling 
never known."

Changeling?

Has the "fairy" taken? Has the "planet" struck? Has the "witch" charmed?

On that fateful day of Hamlet's birth the immortal soul of slaughtered 
King Fortinbras migrated across the sea, infusing itself into the 
newborn Prince, now an avenger destined to bring down the Danish royal 
house and restore the Fortinbras line to power. Plato believed the new 
host would not remember the soul's earlier lives. Is this vengeful soul 
that "vicious mole of Nature" fated to overcome Hamlet's Wittenberg 
conscience? The Old Ghost is himself a forged process, called out in 
disguise by this prophetic reincarnated soul within. "Lamord" may recall 
the "Lemures", the unexorcised Roman spirits of the dead. For Old 
Fortinbras, like Gorlois at play's end, the time has at last been set right.

Regards,
Joe Egert

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