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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: March ::
Historical Accuracy
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0132  Tuesday, 7 March 2006

[1] 	From: 	Tom Simone <
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	Date: 	Monday, 06 Mar 2006 11:14:53 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0124 Historical Accuracy

[2] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Monday, 6 Mar 2006 11:17:23 -0700
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0124 Historical Accuracy

[3] 	From: 	Philip Tomposki <
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	Date: 	Monday, 06 Mar 2006 14:24:58 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: Historical Accuracy


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Tom Simone <
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Date: 		Monday, 06 Mar 2006 11:14:53 -0500
Subject: 17.0124 Historical Accuracy
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0124 Historical Accuracy

Hamlet says to Horatio in 5.2 "He that hath kill'd my king and whored my 
mother, Popp'd in between the election and my hopes." And in 1.2 
Claudius points to the nobles who have gone along with his rule.

This indicates a fairly clear knowledge that they do things differently 
in Denmark and that Shakespeare had some sense of the electoral process 
behind Claudius's kingship.

Best,
Tom Simone

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Monday, 6 Mar 2006 11:17:23 -0700
Subject: 17.0124 Historical Accuracy
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0124 Historical Accuracy

Jim Blackie wonders whether Shakespeare would have known about the 
political and sociological details of the times and places he wrote 
about or, if he had known, would have cared.

Certainly there's evidence that Shakespeare often ignores such details 
or gives only enough of them to provide a vague sense of locale or 
period.  Yet in some plays based on historical sources (e.g., Plutarch), 
he uses details about customs, etc., plentifully.

On the question of Denmark as an elective monarchy, at least two 
passages in "Hamlet" suggest that is what Shakespeare had in mind:

(1) "He hath . . . / Popp'd in between the election and my choice"
(5.2.64-65).

(2) "I do prophesy th' election lights / On Fortinbras, he has my dying
voice" (5.2.355-56).

In both passages "election" may mean simply "the process of choosing." 
Yet both imply that someone is doing the choosing (these would be the 
"electors"), and in the second passage, when Hamlet votes for 
Fortinbras, he implies that his will be one among several voices 
required to make the choice.

Where Shakespeare might have gotten the idea of some sort of "election" 
involving multiple "voices" I'm not sure.

Bruce Young

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Philip Tomposki <
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Date: 		Monday, 06 Mar 2006 14:24:58 -0500
Subject: 	RE: Historical Accuracy

Jim Blackie writes:

"...Would Will have known the form of government in Denmark at the time 
of this play? Or, more probable to me, at least, would he not use his 
knowledge of the current time and place upon which to base his rationale 
for the theft of throne?"

Elective monarchies were not unknown at the time.  Two of the continents 
largest states, the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian 
Commonwealth, both elected their monarchs.  Since S doesn't bother to 
explain this to his audience, which he customarily does when presenting 
something out of the ordinary, it is not unreasonable to presume that 
the existence of such monarchies was generally know.

Whether Denmark is presented as an elective monarchy in "Saxo 
Grammaticus", Belleforest's 'Histoires Tragiques' or the 'Ur-Hamlet' is, 
perhaps, beside the point.  S was no stickler for historical accuracy, 
and I believe this, like many other 'puzzles' in Hamlet, have more to do 
with dramaturgy than history or hidden meanings.   The plot requires 
that Claudius be seen as a legitimate king, so the Denmark of 'Hamlet' 
elects its kings.

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