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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Hamlet Puzzles
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0102  Thursday, 2 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	Bill Arnold <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 1 Mar 2006 16:25:00 -0800 (PST)
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0092 Hamlet Puzzles

[2] 	From: 	David Basch <
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	Date: 	Thursday, 02 Mar 2006 10:53:16 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0092 Hamlet Puzzles


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bill Arnold <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 1 Mar 2006 16:25:00 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 17.0092 Hamlet Puzzles
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0092 Hamlet Puzzles

Hardy M. Cook writes,

 >"[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>.]"

I, personally, am very pleased to see Hardy Cook offering up his 
comments. And I hope he keeps them coming.

As to Hamlet the play by Shakespeare: it is the most discussed play in 
the lexicon of the Bard, agreed?  And although I agree with Hardy Cook 
that there is not one irrefutable true interpretation of it, I must add 
this caveat:

There is SOME truth to the play.  There is the BIG picture that Act I 
underscores that the old king is dead and murdered by his brother.  The 
son of the old king just happens to be, in Shakespeare's play, the 
protagonist of the drama.

Dramatically, we find the protagonist grappling with this truth: a 
murder dispatched his old man.  Dum-de-dum-dumm!  And I do NOT mean DUMB.

This is a fact of the PREMISE of the play readers and audience members 
alike grapple with.  Claudius is a murderer and the old King Hamlet was 
his victim.

Now, there is SOME truth to Act II in which the murderer PRETENDS to be 
king: forget the fact that he has married the widow, forget Laertes and 
Ophelia and Polonius and all the minor details.  The truth IS:  Act I 
and Act II have forever caused DISCUSSION of this MOST DISCUSSED Hamlet 
play by Shakespeare because of the PREMISE and the PRETENSE.

I will leave the details to the detail folk.  And I hope this comment is 
accepted in the spirit of scholarship it is meant: scholars worldwide 
seem to accept these BIG PICTURE truths.  Not a scholarly book or paper 
I have read on Hamlet the play by Shakespeare would shakes these simple 
truths about Acts I and II.

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

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Basch <
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Date: 		Thursday, 02 Mar 2006 10:53:16 -0500
Subject: 17.0092 Hamlet Puzzles
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0092 Hamlet Puzzles

It is altogether clear that anything focused on minutely and alone can 
bring forth varying interpretations from an observer. That is the 
essence of the Rorschach test, in which the observer adds himself to his 
interpretation of an ambiguous object. That is what tends to happen with 
a complex play. The tendency is for the observer to seize on parts and 
to see them in a context that immediately makes sense and then to 
project this on to an overall interpretation that may be inconsistent 
and at odds with other parts of the play. But while recognizing this 
pitfall in reacting to Hamlet, can anyone imagine that Shakespeare had 
no overarching interpretation in mind when he wrote this play?

Not being at the level of Shakespeare, we have a tough time getting at 
this whole that the poet is communicating. Like the seven year old boy 
sent to watch his sister with her boyfriend sitting in the parlor with 
its new rug, when he sees that the two have their pants down, he 
excitedly runs to warn his mother that they are about to make "a dooty" 
on the new rug. The lad's observation is consistent with the facts but 
is faulty since the lad has bumped up against the upper level of his 
understanding of human nature.  Similarly, we can expect many 
suboptimized interpretations of Hamlet that fail to comprehend the 
essence of the action because of the limitations of the interpreter.

We see this in the many responses to Hamlet that attempt to wrest 
meaning to fit subjective interpretations. Take, for example, Larry 
Weiss's interpretation of the name "Fortinbras." Larry wrote in response 
to the observation that the name is an anagram of "a first born" that he 
sees ""Fortinbras" as "simply a Latinization of 'Strong Arms,' a 
Norse-sounding name," and would take it as that. Yet both 
interpretations can be true in the context of still another 
interpretation that would see the "brass" in "Fortinbras" as its most 
significant aspect in the context of the play's description of him as 
the "unimproved Fortinbras." What is being called to attention by 
Shakespeare through the name is that this is an untried young man. Yet 
he falls heir to the throne of Denmark. This makes full sense of Hamlet 
as a dramatization of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. For as Ecclesiastes 
2:18-19 tells:

    Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the
    sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be
    after me.

    And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet
    shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured,
    and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is
    also vanity.

This, I submit, is the essence of the play Hamlet, whose theme is "man 
under the sun," and the vanity of life pursued with the false goals of 
power and glory as uppermost ends. This further fits with the Hebrew 
word for sun, "HAMA," and with HAMlet's name, which contains "HAM" in it 
and "HAMa" when it is provided with a vowel that is assumed in reading 
consonants in Hebrew. The fact is that Hamlet is essentially a good man 
with a fatal flaw that does him in, a flaw pointed out by Ecclesiastes 
in men who are "over righteous and wise overmuch, "a formula for tragic 
self destruction.

Larry Weiss also quips about a Hebrew interpretation of PoLoNius. While 
many would relate "Pol" to Poland and even as a name which connotes one 
who "overcame Poland," the name has a different significance when 
related to a controversy in the Talmud that is a direct parallel to what 
happens to Polonius in the play where he is killed when Hamlet mistakes 
him for Claudius behind the arras. In the Talmudic controversy, the 
rabbis ask the question as to whether in a situation If A means to kill 
B but instead accidentally kills "PLoNi", is the killer guilty of 
murder? The term "PLoNi" is actually used in this Talmudic discussion 
and is a generality that means "a certain so and so." The similarity of 
names, "Polonius" and "Ploni" would then be Shakespeare's way of calling 
attention to this Talmudic controversy as significant to the play, which 
it is.

It is significant since many assert that Hamlet is guilty of murder in 
killing Polonius and this would explain this as the reason for his death 
in the play as his punishment in terms of measure for measure. But Rabbi 
Shimon absolves such a killer of murder since he did not intend to kill 
Ploni and the Bible specifically refers to murderers as having the 
intention of killing their victim. If that ruling is taken seriously as 
applying to Hamlet, we must then look for another reason why Hamlet 
merits the death penalty and this is to be found, as some interpreters 
have indeed found, in some other deed of Hamlet. This too relates back 
again to a verse from Ecclesiastes and is further evidence that the 
marvelous kingdom and characters that Shakespeare visualized in his play 
were crafted for the purpose of displaying a parable that is a large 
panorama illustrating the wisdom of Ecclesiastes as applied to an 
intricate world.

I remain astonished that despite the many parallels of events in Hamlet 
to elements in Ecclesiastes that you won't find scholars crediting this 
as the source of the play. I have yet to hear reasons expressed why this 
very pregnant observation should be ruled out, as though Shakespeare 
would have been ignorant of this book of the Bible and did not quote 
from it or allude to it in many of his other works. And as to his 
knowledge of arcane aspects of the Talmud, how does anyone know for 
certain the poet's reach during the years of his living in cosmopolitan 
London?

Even Hardy Cook in his comment brings up a parallel to the Ecclesiastes 
when he mentions Maynard Mack's observation that "this play is 
distinctly in the interrogative mode?" In fact, like Ecclesiastes with 
his many questions posed at its very beginning, the play opens with a 
series of questions as the characters confront the inexplicable on the 
ramparts of Elsinore, the same kinds of inexplicable events in life that 
Ecclesiastes mentions.

David Basch

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