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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Hamlet Puzzles
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0092  Wednesday, 1 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 26 Feb 2006 16:02:10 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles

[2] 	From: 	David Bishop <
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	Date: 	Sunday, 26 Feb 2006 16:03:24 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles

[3] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
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	Date: 	Monday, 27 Feb 2006 10:46:57 +0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles

[4] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Tuesday, 28 Feb 2006 19:22:52 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0063 Hamlet Puzzles


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Sunday, 26 Feb 2006 16:02:10 -0500
Subject: 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles

Steve Sohmer says:

 >Fortinbras' "bedrid" uncle is a peacemaker ... unlike Hamlet's
 >belligerent uncle. But this is only the beginning of the contrast
 >between the two uncles.

Claudius is very much a peacemaker.  He makes peace by preparing for war 
and then offering a diplomatic solution.  Statesmen do the same thing today.

 >For those who are interested in such things, FORTINABRAS is
 >an anagram for A FIRST BORN.

"Fortinbras" is simply a Latinization of "Strong Arms," a Norse-sounding 
name.

 >7) What has Poland to do with anything (such as Polonius's name)?

 >This is a very complex trope which centers on the Pole or de la Pole
 >family who had variegated fortune under the Tudors.

O c'mon!  "Polonius" is a Latin agnomen for someone who overcame Poland.

And this from Basch:

 >Polonius's name has nothing to do with the Polak.

How else does Basch translate the Latin?  Or is it really Hebrew?

 >   (Q10) How did Ophelia die?
 >
 >She accidentally drowns in her delirium.

I thought it was in a stream.

Of course, Hardy is right that

 >Isn't the point the puzzles and NOT the answers?

But a puzzle is no fun if we don't try to find an answer.

[Editor's Note: I was reacting as much to the apparent fact that some 
here seem to have discovered the absolute, irrefutable ONE, true 
interpretation of <I>Hamlet</I>.]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Bishop <
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Date: 		Sunday, 26 Feb 2006 16:03:24 -0500
Subject: 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles

To respond to Hardy, no, the point is not simply the puzzles and not the 
answers. What are "the puzzles" and how and why do they become so? Many 
false problems are proposed, as are many wrong answers and wrong 
interpretations. That doesn't mean that everything falls easily into the 
categories of right and wrong. It's just a place to start weeding.

If the play creates a puzzle the point may certainly be to make the 
audience wonder about it. There may even be hints at an answer. But an 
"answer" which does not recognize how the play creates ambiguity would 
be a wrong answer. The problem is to see the play, as far as is humanly 
possible, as it is: to hold the mirror up to the play. If you're just 
interested in the psychology of critics and performers, then maybe all 
puzzles, answers, or interpretations are created equal. Otherwise not.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Monday, 27 Feb 2006 10:46:57 +0800
Subject: 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0071 Hamlet Puzzles

David Bishop writes:

 >"Perhaps the greatest source of mystery in the play is Hamlet's failure
 >to speak explicitly about the moral drawbacks of revenge."

Good point. Why does Hamlet conspicuously not contemplate the question 
of morality in revenge? It is almost out of character for him not to do 
so. Interestingly, Hamlet's failure to debate this morality issue may be 
explained in a way that also resolves two other crucial mysteries in Hamlet:

1) Why does Hamlet delay his revenge?
2) Why does Shakespeare not make clear the reason for the delay?

All these three questions may be resolved concurrently in the following way:

Hamlet is delaying his revenge because of his inner conscience. Since 
Hamlet himself is not aware of the reason for the delay, it is not 
conscience taken in its usual form that we are considering. It is, 
instead, a more deep seated inner voice that causes him to hesitate, a 
voice that Hamlet fails to bring explicitly to the surface of his 
consciousness.

Shakespeare gives prominence to the delay because he wants to emphasize 
that Hamlet's course of action is morally dubious. Shakespeare actually 
does not try to conceal this meaning until the end; he took great pains 
to suggest it, right from the beginning of the play. What Shakespeare 
could not do, however, was to allow Hamlet to state it explicitly - for 
a very good reason. If Hamlet had recognized the cause of his delay, it 
would have altered the course of the action and defeated Shakespeare's 
main purpose in the play.

Shakespeare's aim is not to have Hamlet intellectually argue out the 
question of whether or not it is immoral to wreak vengeance. His 
intention is to have the audience find the answer to this question in 
the experience of the entire play, in its totality. This is 
Shakespeare's method of conveying his message, and it is the most 
effective way to do so. Shakespeare makes us live through it so that we 
learn through our emotional involvement and our experience of it.

If Hamlet had recognized intellectually that a moral issue was causing 
his delay, he would certainly have argued it out with himself. It would 
have been completely out of character for him not to do so. But to have 
him conduct an intellectual debate on the issue would have totally 
defeated Shakespeare's purpose, which was to show and not merely tell, 
why seeking revenge is a moral disaster.

To do that, Shakespeare needs Hamlet to follow the course of action in 
the play. If Hamlet had debated the moral issue with himself, he would 
either conclude that it is morally acceptable, which would contradict 
what Shakespeare wanted to convey, or he would conclude that it is 
morally wrong and abandon his course of vengeance. Since neither 
alternative is conducive to Shakespeare's plan, he allows Hamlet to 
delay without explicitly debating the moral issue.

And so, Shakespeare has Hamlet make the same mistake that Brutus makes 
in Julius Caesar; this is the reason Julius Caesar is mentioned on three 
separate occasions in Hamlet. Like Brutus, Hamlet fails to align himself 
with the divine and does not flow with the Tao. Hamlet ignores his inner 
voice, his deep conscience telling him that his course of action is 
wrong, that seeking vengeance amounts to taking the dark path to moral 
destruction. His inner promptings do cause him to delay, but he does not 
recognize why, so he tragically follows the route to spiritual desecration.

Now Shakespeare is able to achieve his purpose. By the dramatic 
portrayal of Hamlet's transformation along this terrible path of 
vengeance, Shakespeare forces his audience to experience why revenge is 
wrong.

Those interested in a more detailed discussion on this point can find it 
at http://homepage.mac.com/sapphirestudios/qod/excerpt.html

With best wishes,
Kenneth Chan

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 28 Feb 2006 19:22:52 +0000
Subject: 17.0063 Hamlet Puzzles
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0063 Hamlet Puzzles

      >(14) Why does Horatio the true and more suicidal friend and skeptic
     >use the optative in the "flights of angels" speech? (This seems the
     >only survival of Kyd's post-mortem speech where Andrea and Revenge
     >apportion out rewards and punishments after the revenge is carried
     >out, in richly in favor of the revengers.)

Hamlet's "optative" Ascension raises the hoary question: will Hamlet's 
soul be saved, damned, or refined in Purgatory's pit?

Cut to the scene from the classic noir OUT OF THE PAST between Kathy 
(Jane Greer) and Jeff (Robert Mitchum):

               KATHY: I don't wanna die!
              JEFF: Neither do I, baby. But if I have to, I'm gonna die 
last.

Flash back to HAMLET's Denmark. If we posit the Ghost, demanding lethal 
retribution, as the true conduit of God's Will, then Hamlet has acceded 
to that Will at the cost of his own life by executing the murderer 
Claudius. Hamlet has in effect born witness to the Faith and suffered 
martyrdom for it. Such martyrdom constitutes in Christian doctrine a 
baptism of blood, or BAPTISMUS SANGUINIS, where ALL prior sins are 
forgiven and ALL penalties are remitted.

And so, the martyred Hamlet races directly up to Heaven (no pit stops 
along the way!) to the swingin' trumpets of Hawkes' Louis 
Fortinbras---one more Saint come marchin' in!

Hamlet, after all, has died last.

Joe Egert


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