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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0345  Monday, 24 April 2006

[1] 	From: 	Donald Bloom <
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	Date: 	Friday, 21 Apr 2006 14:53:58 -0500
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

[2] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
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	Date: 	Saturday, 22 Apr 2006 09:56:29 +0800
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

[3] 	From: 	Jeffrey Jordan <
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	Date: 	Friday, 21 Apr 2006 21:03:55 -0500
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

[4] 	From: 	Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 	Monday, 24 Apr 2006 01:13:15 +0000
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Donald Bloom <
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Date: 		Friday, 21 Apr 2006 14:53:58 -0500
Subject: 17.0337 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

I hope this discussion isn't getting too chaotic, but some things seem 
to have gotten over-looked.

1) There isn't anything in "miching malhecho, it means mischief" to 
indicate that Hamlet is annoyed with the dumbshow. It much more likely 
refers to the mischief that he himself is up to.

2) Likewise, "The players cannot keep counsel; they'll tell all" is 
surely a deliberate irony. That's what actors are supposed to do: speak 
all the lines.

3) The lack of an initial reaction from Claudius need not be a problem 
-- as several list-members have noted. He may be pondering a response; 
he may think it's a coincidence. He surely does not want to give 
credence to the idea that he murdered his brother by flying off the 
handle at a mere dumbshow.

4) He does react mildly after the first scene because it's an obvious 
insult to the queen. This is lese majeste in the lesser sense, and 
should not be allowed, though it constitutes no threat.

5) He reacts more strongly to the poisoning: this is lese majeste in the 
greater sense, treason, and highly dangerous. He is angry, puzzled and 
frightened, and cannot keep control.

I do not claim that this explains everything, nor even that the scene is 
perfectly explicable. Nothing is. But it is, I hope, a good starting (or 
re-starting) point.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Saturday, 22 Apr 2006 09:56:29 +0800
Subject: 17.0337 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

In the posts by David Bishop, Larry Weiss, and Ros King, there is one 
common element, which I agree with entirely. See below:

David Bishop writes: "To believe that the dumbshow would instantly 
provoke a flagrant reaction from this secret criminal requires perhaps 
the nerves of a scholar. An ideal spectator, attentive, empathetic and 
honest, would not make that mistake."

Larry Weiss writes: "But why would he not react?  Claudius does not 
strike me as the type of man who would explain confusing events by 
reference to supernatural phenomena. ... So he would likely chalk it up 
to the kind of coincidence that leads some people to farfetched 
conspiracy theories."

Ros King writes: "If all guilty creatures sitting at a play/movie gave 
themselves away the moment they saw something remotely similar to their 
crime we wouldn't have so many unsolved murders."

The important common element in the above statements is this: None of 
them view the King's negative reaction to the dumb show as an inherently 
contradictory element in the play. Claudius's failure to react to the 
dumb show actually fits in correctly with his character and with the 
psychological forces at work.

In a sense, Claudius denies that the dumb show has anything to do with 
his real act of murder. This is a natural reaction, well accepted in 
medical psychology. Still, as David Bishop also suggests, Claudius does 
get disturbed by it, at least at a subconscious level. Claudius's 
response to the dumb show may be likened to a patient being told for the 
first time that he has a terminal illness. As Prof. Kubler-Ross's 
research shows, the patient's first reaction will be to enter into a 
state of denial.

Normally, the informing doctor would then allow the patient time to work 
through the psychological stages that eventually lead to an acceptance 
of the tragic reality. Here's where the analogy ends. Hamlet is in no 
mood to be kind to Claudius; he does not give him time to adjust. 
Instead, Hamlet begins to taunt Claudius.

Hamlet is thus behaving like an unkind doctor who immediately proceeds 
to impose upon the patient all sorts of logical arguments why he really 
is going to die. We can imagine what will happen. The patient, in all 
likelihood, will react explosively with both anger and fear, just as 
Claudius does.

The key point is this: For the mousetrap to work, it requires a 
combination of the play (including the dumb show) and Hamlet's taunting 
commentary. Hamlet's remarks actually make the mousetrap effective. 
Claudius's initial nonreaction to the dumb show is not a problem at all. 
It is certainly not an inherent contradiction deliberately planted into 
the play by Shakespeare. We should, instead, view Claudius's initial 
nonreaction as evidence of Shakespeare's uncanny insight into human 
behavior.

Kenneth Chan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date: 		Friday, 21 Apr 2006 21:03:55 -0500
Subject: 17.0337 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

Replying to Ros King:

 >But the dumbshow doesn't tell the same story as the play
 >as heard with Hamlet's running commentary. ...

Hamlet's remarks, about the story written in choice Italian, and his 
word "nephew," aren't about the Mousetrap play, but rather the news 
story on which the play is based.  Shakespeare has drawn it that there 
was a real murder, and then the players dramatized it as their play, 
"The Murder of Gonzago."  (As people probably already know, this goes 
back to an actual news event in Europe, the alleged poisoning of the 
Duke of Urbino by his barber, involving a man named Gonzaga.)

As Shakespeare did it in Hamlet, there was a "real" news story, the 
poisoning of the Duke of Vienna, by his nephew.  The Duke's name, 
Gonzago, his wife, Baptista.  It was this news report that Hamlet read 
in Italian.

The players dramatized that "real" news story as their play, "The Murder 
of Gonzago," where they made it a King and Queen, with the brother as 
the killer.  The players "promoted" the Duke and Duchess, and brought it 
more into the family, as often happens in fiction based on fact.

So when Hamlet mentions the Duke and Duchess, and nephew, he's referring 
to the "real" news report, not the Mousetrap/Murder of Gonzago play. 
Beg pardon if you already knew that, which you probably did, but it's 
often misunderstood, so I decided to mention it.

Replying to Kenneth Chan:

 >I find it doubtful that Shakespeare would have left that
 >important point - that Claudius could not see the key
 >element of the dumb show - embedded only in implicit
 >staging directions. Surely Shakespeare would have
 >realized that most people would then miss the point
 >completely (which is the case). Also, even if Claudius
 >could not see exactly how the King was poisoned in
 >the ear, the dumb show should still resemble the murder
 >sufficiently.

Since the surviving printings of the playscript are all we have, any 
information about staging for the Dumb Show, to the extent it exists at 
all, is necessarily embedded implicitly in the dialogue (and the express 
Hamlet stage directions.)  It was no problem when the author was alive, 
and Hamlet was supplemented by a conversational milieu that included its 
author.  He was there to explain it, and could leave things implicit in 
dialogue, with no real worry about it.   General conversation on Hamlet 
would explain things, as word went around.  So yes, at the time he could 
leave things implicit in the playscript, with no concern about people 
remaining uninformed.  It's quite different now, without him as part of 
the conversation, and with no written explanations of his plays that 
have survived, if any ever existed.

As to Claudius's murder of his brother resembling the one in the Dumb 
Show, the effect is entirely lost if Claudius can't see that it's poison 
in the ear, and thinks that the killer may have cut the King's throat, 
because he can't see the hand.  Claudius has to see the details of the 
vial and the ear to identify with the show; that's mandatory.  He won't 
react otherwise (as indeed he doesn't.)

I know this thread began on the general subject of dumb shows, so 
before talking any more Hamlet I have to ask our editor, Mr. Cook, 
whether that's permitted on this thread.  I'm aware of the desire to 
keep threads on topic, and I know I'm already an offender.

[Editor's Note: That threads evolve, moving from one area of 
concentration to another, is not one of my concerns; however, when I 
announced in February <http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2006/0000.html> 
that to regain the academic focus of the
early days of the SHAKSPER I intended to post only messages that I 
believe were of interest to the academic community, I was implicitly 
restricting posts that treated fictional characters as if they were REAL 
(Hamlet's reading knowledge of Italian, for example). My point is that 
for the most part discussions of characters and of their motivations, of 
themes or of the ULTIMATE meanings of particular plays or poems are not 
generally relevant to current academic interests in Shakespeare studies 
and are thus areas of discussion that I would like to avoid here.]

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Monday, 24 Apr 2006 01:13:15 +0000
Subject: 17.0337 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0337 Dumbshows?

Ros King believes Hamlet's choric commentary deliberately alerts 
Claudius that the Prince "intends to take revenge - which in a sense he 
does perfectly by poisoning him through the ear in this way."

Is Ros King suggesting Hamlet finally dispatches Claudius by pouring 
poison into his ear, and not his mouth. Has any production used such a 
mode of execution for the final act?

David Bishop contends, "no one else knows of the crime except Hamlet and 
Horatio--and they were told."

The problem, of course, is that Hamlet does not know for sure. The 
dumbshow and Mousetrap are designed to test not only Claudius' response 
but the Ghost's veracity and damnability as well. In fact the Mousetrap 
may be seen as a re-play of the Ghost's own dumbshow and crime report 
for Hamlet's (?)benefit. Yet Hamlet's own (guilty?) prophetic soul may 
have lured the Ghost into charging Hamlet with his avenging task. Does 
the Ghost reflect Hamlet's own guilty desires for regicide, incest, and 
estate? Do both suffer Purgatory? Indeed, Claudius poses what may be the 
central issue explored by the tragedy: Is there no offense in the 
argument of vengeance? See how the Ghost flees from the light at the 
choric crow of Chanticleer. See how he flees, "like a guilty thing," 
both from the cruciform sword hilt raised by Hamlet in oath and from 
Marcellus' partisan cross. Here's a picture of that partisan. You decide:

http://hea-www.harvard.edu/~fine/Fun/polearms.html

Regards,
Joe Egert

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