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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: December ::
Dying Unshriven
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1072  Saturday, 2 December 2006

[1]     From:     Paul E. Doniger <
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    Date:     Thursday, 30 Nov 2006 16:14:04 -0800 (PST)
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[2]     From:     John W. Kennedy <
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    Date:     Thursday, 30 Nov 2006 20:14:17 -0500
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[3]     From:     Arthur Lindley <
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    Date:     Friday, 1 Dec 2006 09:07:08 +0000
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[4]     From:     Donald Bloom <
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    Date:     Friday, 1 Dec 2006 07:49:03 -0600
    Subj:     RE: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[5]     From:     Hugh Grady <
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    Date:     Friday, 1 Dec 2006 09:25:43 -0500
    Subj:     RE: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[6]     From:     Edmund Taft <
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    Date:     Friday, 1 Dec 2006 10:42:45 -0500
    Subj:     Dying Unshriven

[7]     From:     David Evett <
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    Date:     Friday, 1 Dec 2006 11:13:46 -0500
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:         Thursday, 30 Nov 2006 16:14:04 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

Louis Swilley wrote: "What is to be made of Hamlet's calm attitude on 
his return to Elsinore - after the butchering of R. and G., (about 
which, by the way, Horatio is horrified.)"

I am curious what evidence you find for Horatio reacting so strongly. He 
seems quite calm in 5.2 when Hamlet describes how he dispatched R&G: 
"How was this sealed?" ('this' being the letter Hamlet composed that 
condemned R&G, and "So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't" (5.2.47 & 
5.2.55). And there the discussion ends. There appears to be no horror in 
these lines.

Can you clarify your point for me? Thanks,

Paul E. Doniger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John W. Kennedy <
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Date:         Thursday, 30 Nov 2006 20:14:17 -0500
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

Louis Swilley <
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 >An old friend and I were today discussing "Hamlet" for the
 >umpteenth time. One of the points introduced made me aware
 >for the first time (shame!) of the three repetitions of the idea of
 >one dying unshriven. The Ghost protests that he was so served
 >by Claudius; later, Hamlet backs off from killing Claudius because
 >he prefers to catch him in an unshriven state,  "kicking his heels at
 >heaven"; this is followed his ugly treatment of Rosencrantz and
 >Guildenstern whom he sends to their death "no shriving time allowed."
 >(It would appear that Hamlet's conduct in these last two events is
 >expressly against the logical extension of the Ghost's restraining remark
 >to Hamlet about Gertrude, "Leave her to heaven.")

It is /an/ extension, I suppose; I do not see that it is a "logical" one.

 >Then what is to be made of Hamlet's calm attitude on his return to
 >Elsinore - after the butchering of R. and G., (about which, by the
 >way, Horatio is horrified.)

His "horror" seems singularly understated and short-lived. A better case 
could be made for Shakespeare's own distaste, assuming F1 to be a 
revision of Q2, with its addition of the line
             
                  Why man, they did make loue to this imployment

 >Then the whole play shows Hamlet trying to bring Claudius to
 >justice for the murder of his father, yet it is not that issue, but
 >Claudius' successful plot against the prince's life that destroys
 >him. This is in the public order. I suppose we may say that, by
 >this means, Claudius' crime is one against the state, rather than
 >the object of personal revenge. It would be seriously irresponsible
 >of a prince to act out of personal revenge rather than for correction
 >of the public order.

If one believes in the "tragic flaw" interpretation of  ???????, one 
might place it upon the prayer scene.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Arthur Lindley <
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Date:         Friday, 1 Dec 2006 09:07:08 +0000
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

My immediate reaction is that you can't separate the two matters: the 
public issue of the usurpation of Denmark's kingship begins with 
Gertrude's private, secret change of heart.  Does Claudius take her to 
get the kingdom or does he take the kingdom in order to keep her?  Does 
he know which it is?  What customarily happens in revenge tragedy, as 
here, is that any initial separation of public issues from private is 
dissolved by the act that precipitates revenge.  I'm hard put to 
remember any revenger who acts purely from public motives, assuming that 
there is such a thing.
 
Regards,
Arthur Lindley

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Donald Bloom <
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Date:         Friday, 1 Dec 2006 07:49:03 -0600
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     RE: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

We have down this road several times in the past, and it may be just the 
sort of thing Hardy is trying to avoid in his revised List, however -

In "Hamlet" even more than in most of the plays you tend to find what 
you look for, and say more about yourself than about the title character 
or any of the others; however -

The facts LS cites are indisputable. What they mean as to religion or 
morality is. According to Christian teaching revenge is forbidden. 
According to custom or tradition it is required, at least of a 
gentleman. Within the play, the second seems to be in force - if the 
ghost is an honest ghost and the normal Christian ban is lifted. But 
some don't think they are. We have, thus, two conflicting moralities - 
one which forbids Hamlet to seek revenge and one which requires him to 
do so - with the added complication of the ambiguous ghost.

The question of "shriving time" would appear to be essentially Roman 
Catholic: that is, the amount of time suffering the agonies of Purgatory 
could be lessened if one had time to repent to a priest. Being denied it 
is therefore a double-punishment: death in this world and extended 
suffering in the next. I suspect that this is not good Catholic 
doctrine, but I'm not going to research its precise error unless 
compelled to.

Even so, that is only the appearance. Does Shakespeare believe it? Does 
he expect his audience to believe it? I believe we can assume that he 
and they would recognize it as specifically Roman Catholic and thus 
irrelevant to themselves as Anglicans. But do he and they so regard it? 
On the other hand, is he merely adding it in as some coloration of the 
Early Middle Ages?

To quote Viola, "O Time thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a 
knot for me t'untie."

I go into it just this much because I believe Hardy does not want us to 
go into it at all, except as a matter for the kind of research that I 
mentioned not planning to do. We like Hamlet so we accept the ghost's 
word and work out ways of exonerating him in the death of R & G. We hate 
Hamlet so we pour over every real or imaginary violation of rigid 
morality. Who needs that kind of discussion?

Cheers,
don

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hugh Grady <
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Date:         Friday, 1 Dec 2006 09:25:43 -0500
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     RE: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

In an on-gong draft of a chapter on Hamlet, I wrote on this issue the 
following:

Hamlet's explicitly expressed motivation for foregoing his momentary 
advantage [of killing Caludius at prayer] is one of the moments of the 
play when its archaic, medieval material surfaces in Hamlet's own 
subjectivity.[i] The reason he gives for the deferral is as savage as 
the preceding imagery of hell and night. His decidedly un-Christian 
desire not just to execute his father's murderer and Denmark's usurper 
but to damn him as well is at once highly expressionistic and 
theologically puzzling. Eighteenth-century critics were shocked and 
dismayed by Hamlet's passion here. Samuel Johnson, for example, found 
Hamlet's explanation for his delay "too horrible to be read or to be 
uttered" (Johnson 990). Beginning with the Romantics, critics tended to 
discount these words, arguing that they are a pretext for Hamlet's 
hesitation to kill. In the twentieth century, J. Dover Wilson also 
thought that Hamlet's explanation for foregoing revenge was a "pretext" 
(246), but one which "no Elizabethan would have thought of questioning" 
(245). But taking a completely different tack, Arthur McGee argued that 
these Catholic resonances were signals to the original audience that 
Hamlet's mission was flawed, that the Ghost was entrapping him, 
successfully tempting him to effectuate his own damnation at a moment of 
weakness. And deliberately willing the damnation of another was a 
grievous sin for both Catholic and Protestant theologians, so that 
Hamlet seems in that light to be courting the loss of his own soul.

But it is impossible, I believe, to map such moments -the executed order 
of "not shriving time allowed" for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern repeats 
the same deed- into a key to the play's overall significance. Rather, we 
might say, they are moments of "madness," the archaic material 
expressive of primal emotions and extreme stress. In that way, these 
moments function as fragmented allegories in Benjamin's sense-in this 
case, they are fragments that evoke feeling and atmosphere; they are 
evocative of the rage and cold resolve of a revenge-hero, moments when 
Hamlet is not far from Hieronimo or Marlowe's Barabas. We see a world 
not only emptied of meaning but open to the forces of hell and damnation 
as well. Significantly, Hamlet situates the moment in a direful nighttime:

'Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood,
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. (3.2.358-62)

It is as if, at this moment, Hamlet has plunged over the beetling cliff 
into madness, and yet the feeling it evokes is as much relief at his 
apparent resolution as horror at its savagery. Again, as in the figure 
of the beetling cliff, the images depict boundaries giving way, borders 
dissolving: graves "yawn" and hell "breathes out/Contagion". The image 
of drinking hot blood is a kind of inverted, diabolical Eucharist. 
Hamlet seems entrapped; from one moral perspective (Christian) he is 
damning himself, but from another (Machiavellian/pagan) he is empowered: 
he is finally preparing himself for the bloody necessities of carrying 
out his princely duty. Of course, what follows from this vivid dramatic 
build-up is-another deferral, perhaps the most ambiguous one of all.

 [i] Ari

 

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