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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
Dumbshows?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0387  Wednesday, 3 May 2006

[Editor's Note: With the power vested in me as the one who giveth SHAKSPER 
and the one who taketh it away, I hereby announce that Friday, May 5, 
2006, will be the last day for discussion of this topic on the SHAKSPER 
listserv. If you have anything more to say, please say it now or forever 
hold your peace. Further discussion may, of course, continue among the 
participants in private or on the Hamlet Blog Place, wherever that may be. 
Goeth in peace.]

[1] 	From: 	Cary Dean Barney <
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 	Date: 	Tuesday, 2 May 2006 16:08:17 +0200
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0375 Dumbshows?

[2] 	From: 	Kenneth Chan <
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 	Date: 	Tuesday, 02 May 2006 23:25:35 +0800
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0379 Dumbshows?

[3] 	From: 	Jeffrey Jordan <
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 	Date: 	Wednesday, 3 May 2006 04:44:11 -0500
 	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0375 Dumbshows?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Cary Dean Barney <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 2 May 2006 16:08:17 +0200
Subject: 17.0375 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0375 Dumbshows?

I've never understood the problem critics have had with Claudius' 
"non-response" to the dumbshow.  The dumbshow signals to Claudius that 
somebody, presumably Hamlet, is on to him.  Rather than "respond" he 
contains himself, perhaps bracing himself for the fuller version, which 
finally overwhelms him.  It's a silent war with Hamlet, who's basically 
challenging Claudius to keep his cool.  It's a thrilling moment for the 
actor playing Claudius, and I'm always sorry to see it cut in production.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Kenneth Chan <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 02 May 2006 23:25:35 +0800
Subject: 17.0379 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0379 Dumbshows?

Philip Tomposki writes: "I cannot image anything more tedious than a 
production that would adhere to a completely 'consistent' interpretation."

Actually, the question I posed was not about whether we find inconsistency 
interesting or not. The question was really this: Is it logical to insist 
that Shakespeare deliberately planted an inconsistency when there is no 
evidence that he did so? Surely we cannot insist that Shakespeare 
deliberately made his own play inconsistent just because we find it 
interesting.

Kenneth Chan

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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 >
Date: 		Wednesday, 3 May 2006 04:44:11 -0500
Subject: 17.0375 Dumbshows?
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0375 Dumbshows?

Replying to Kenneth Chan.

>I believe this is a gross misunderstanding of what
> is meant by the statement that we should not treat
>"fictional characters as if they were real." What is
>meant by that statement is that we are not to treat
>the characters the same way we would treat real
>people in an historical account of an event that
>actually happened. ...

That becomes an especially interesting comment in respect to the fact that 
the original title was "The Tragical *History* of Hamlet..."   The title 
was in the style of the times, but it does pretty clearly convey that the 
audience is supposed to envision the characters and events as a real 
history.

That's for the audience in general, though, and an analyst, or commentator 
or editor, is not supposed to be an average audience member.  It raises a 
difficult question, and creates a dilemma, as to how far a commentator 
should go in trying to shatter the illusion of reality, and point out 
sternly that it's only fiction, versus "going with the flow" and speaking 
of the characters the way an average audience member would.  If an editor 
is too strict with the former, he's going to alienate himself from his own 
readers, and render himself irrelevant.  A commentator who doesn't express 
a feeling for Hamlet as a personality, isn't going to connect with an 
audience that does, and will not, himself, have a proper appreciation of 
what he's trying to discuss.  If somebody doesn't "feel" for Hamlet, he 
should be doing something else.

We need to consider what S intended, as to how much we're supposed to see 
Claudius as real, and I think that's an easy question to answer.   S 
intended his audience to see Claudius as a fully real person for two 
hours, or four hours, or for however long it takes to see or read the 
play.  Any author wants his audience to see his characters as real for the 
duration of the play.  But then, I can't imagine S wanted his audience to 
continue to think of Claudius as a real person after the play was over. 
Only somebody with a problem would expect to meet Claudius walking down 
the street.  It all comes down to context.

In the context of the play, itself, (with the context fully understood,) 
it does seem legitimate to speak of Claudius as a person, but only to the 
extent the dialogue guides us in that direction.  S told us, with his 
dialogue, how we're supposed to see Claudius as real, within the play. 
The problem is, to express that in our own words.  We're allowed to add 
our own "dialogue" only up to the point where we begin to mischaracterize 
Claudius, as S created him, and it's hard to tell the exact point where 
we'd begin to mischaracterize him.

But I find I'm talking Characters, which is a different thread, so back to 
the Dumb Show.

This is the devil of it at the Dumb Show, though.  The dialogue S gave to 
Claudius in response is: nothing.  S gave us no characterization at that 
exact point.  He either didn't think it was necessary, or he kept Claudius 
silent for a reason.  One has to suspect there's a reason, it's 
irresistible.

I see no merit in the idea that Claudius was talking to Gertrude and 
didn't see the D.S.  Talking to somebody is *Dialogue*, but there isn't 
any from the author's hand.  If S had wanted us to think Claudius was 
talking to Gertrude, he would have put a line in the play for that, and 
probably an interesting line.  There's no such line in the play.  Those 
who think Claudius was talking to Gertrude are trying to add their own 
dialogue lines to the play, which is not a legitimate thing to do.  It's 
S's play, and only his lines count for any onstage event.  (One could 
imagine dialogue for Laertes in Paris, offstage, but not Claudius at the 
D.S., onstage.)  As S wrote Hamlet, Claudius is not talking to Gertrude 
there, nor to anybody else.  The correct explanation has to be otherwise.

Your own conclusion does have some plausibility.  S did give Claudius a 
line expressing denial, at the fencing match, where Claudius says he's 
only hurt.  That's after Laertes revealed the plot against  Hamlet, and 
said Hamlet was holding the poisoned foil.  So, Claudius had to know his 
wound was probably fatal.  It's clear enough that S took some care with 
that dialogue, so Claudius couldn't have, oh dear, missed the point. 
Sorry.  It's valid to ascribe denial to Claudius at that later spot in the 
play, anyway, at the fencing match.  So, yes, it's legitimate to consider 
if he's in denial at the D.S., since S did that elsewhere with him.  Your 
idea is a possibility that deserves to be on the list, in my opinion.  It 
does have some dialogue support, not at that moment, but later in the 
play.  It's worth considering.

I happen to like my own conclusion.  Big surprise.  No matter how S drew 
Claudius's personality, he isn't going to react to things he can't see. 
It's patent that S was using that concept in the play, of what people see 
versus what they don't, with Gertrude and the Ghost being the salient 
example.  Apply that at the D.S., and it directly accounts for Claudius 
not having any particular reaction.  I do find some evidence, based on the 
dialogue, that Hamlet has accidentally turned the D.S. so Claudius can't 
see essential detail.  He can't see the prisoner's hand, is my conclusion. 
The weakness of my own conclusion is that it's complicated, in bringing 
together dialogue from various passages, and of course it's interpretive, 
like anything else.  But it doesn't require imagining dialogue that S 
didn't write, nor does it require delving into Claudius's personality. 
It's a theatrical solution, about what the "audience," Claudius, can see. 
And I do think discussion of Hamlet too often concentrates only on the 
words on paper, with too little attention to the theatricality.   People 
end up trying to do only text analysis of something that's more than words 
on paper.

But I do have to say that perhaps the most direct solution is that S left 
it up to the actor onstage, whether the real stage in performance, or the 
stage of the imagination, in reading.  Perhaps Claudius is supposed to 
squirm in his chair, bite his lip, glance around furtively, etc.  A good 
actor can show very well that he's bothered, without saying anything. 
It's reasonable for the other characters not to notice, because if they're 
not looking at the D.S.  They're looking at Hamlet.  The way S set it up, 
Hamlet is the competing center of attention, not Claudius.  Hamlet said 
he'd rivet his eyes to Claudius's face, but S isn't having him do that 
while he talks to Ophelia.  Can't be.  Ophelia has diverted Hamlet. 
That's quite clear, as I read it.  There's Horatio, but it's reasonable to 
put Horatio behind Claudius.  Horatio is a lower status individual, so 
he'll end up behind the v.i.p.'s, and not be able to see Claudius's face. 
It can work, to have Claudius react non-verbally, and the other characters 
not notice.  The scene can be played convincingly like that.  This is also 
a kind of theatrical solution, which deserves a place on the list, 
although I wouldn't personally give it the top spot.

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