Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0329  Thursday, 20 April 2006

[1] 	From: 	Barbara D. Palmer <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 16:21:20 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

[2] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 11:18:40 +0800
	Subj: 	The Dumb Show Problem in Hamlet

[3] 	From: 	Markus Marti <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 07:58:20 +0200
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0324 Dumbshows?

[4] 	From: 	Jeffrey Jordan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date: 	Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 01:36:13 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0324 Dumbshows?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Barbara D. Palmer <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Wednesday, 19 Apr 2006 16:21:20 -0400
Subject: 17.0318 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0318 Dumbshows?

When confronted with the problems implied by the dumbshow's duplication 
of The Mousetrap (e.g., Claudius' and Gertrude's reaction to the 
dumbshow), my students this semester suggested that Hamlet himself does 
not know that the players are going to do the dumbshow and consequently 
is horrified at their preview of features to come.  The dumbshow precis 
may be the fashion among city players, but Hamlet is out of touch ("How 
chances it they travel?"). His responses to Ophelia's "What means this, 
my lord?"--"Marry, this' miching mallico; it means mischief"--and his 
reaction to the Prologue's entrance--"We shall know by this fellow.  The 
players cannot keep counsel; they'll tell all"--suggest that he is not 
amused by the premature dumbshow, which, with its uncharacteristically 
long stage direction but no lines, was not in his script.

Barbara D. Palmer
University of Mary Washington

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date: 		Thursday, 20 Apr 2006 11:18:40 +0800
Subject: 	The Dumb Show Problem in Hamlet

A discussion on dumb shows would probably be incomplete if we do not 
look directly at the one important dumb show in Shakespeare, i.e. that 
found in Hamlet. I hope, therefore, that I may be permitted to discuss, 
at this time, the problem this particular dumb show creates. The 
academic debate over it has spanned almost an entire century.

Why does Shakespeare include the dumb show in Hamlet, especially since 
it leads directly to the problem of the King's non-reaction to it? Is 
the dumb show meant to do this deliberately, and if so, why? Below, I 
have summarized three important academic arguments over this problem.

W. W. Greg starts the ball rolling in his 1917 article, "Hamlet's 
Hallucination," where he argues that the King's negative reaction to the 
dumb show means that the mousetrap has failed, and consequently that the 
Ghost's speech must be interpreted as nothing but a figment of Hamlet's 
overwrought imagination. According to Greg, Claudius's failure to react 
"not merely threatens the logical structure of one of the most crucial 
scenes of the play, but reduces it to meaningless confusion."

Dover Wilson's "What Happens in Hamlet" then attempts to rescue the 
situation by arguing that Shakespeare required the staging of the dumb 
show in order to inform the audience of the coming mousetrap, so that 
they can follow the drama properly. Dover Wilson further contends that 
Shakespeare arranges for the King and Queen to be in close conversation 
at the time of the dumb show. Because of that conversation, Claudius 
pays no attention to the dumb show and hence fails to react.

Terence Hawkes, responding in his article "Telmah," contends however (if 
I understand him correctly) that it is by design that there is "an 
ever-present potential challenge and contradiction within and implied by 
the text" of Hamlet. The King's negative reaction to the dumb show is 
thus considered as a deliberate artistic device to turn "Hamlet" 
decisively into "Telmah," the name coined for the play's inherent 
opposing direction. Hawkes further contends that it is pointless to 
attempt reconciling the text under any single interpretation because 
there is simply no primary interpretation intended by Shakespeare. Also, 
according to Hawkes, "the mousetrap marks Hamlet's most recursive moment."

What I would like to bring up here is that there is actually one other 
possible reason why Shakespeare may have included the dumb show and then 
have Claudius not react to it. This reason has not been considered in 
the above three commentaries, and is a reason that would, in fact, alter 
the whole complexion of the problem. This possible explanation for the 
King's failure to react has to be taken into consideration because of 
two compelling reasons:

1) It tells us that Claudius's non-reaction to the dumb show is actually 
what one should expect of a real person in that same situation. Thus we 
may have, here, yet another instance of Shakespeare's brilliant and 
uncanny insight into human behavior.

2) This reason for the King's failure to react also fits in perfectly 
with one of the central themes of Hamlet, a theme that echoes 
incessantly through the whole play. Claudius's non-reaction may thus be 
seen as part of a comprehensive and cohesive artistic design 

 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.