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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: December ::
Dying Unshriven
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1077  Tuesday, 5 December 2006

[1]  From:     Cheryl Newton <
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    Date:     Saturday, 02 Dec 2006 16:33:58 -0500
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

[2]  From:     Jeffrey Jordan <
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    Date:     Saturday, 2 Dec 2006 18:33:42 -0600
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[3]  From:     William Godshalk <
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    Date:     Saturday, 02 Dec 2006 20:43:19 -0500
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

[4]  From:     Louis Swilley <
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    Date:     Sunday, 3 Dec 2006 08:08:03 -0600
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

[5]  From:     Joseph Egert <
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    Date:     Sunday, 03 Dec 2006 20:35:20 +0000
    Subj:     RE: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

[6]  From:     Kenneth Chan <
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    Date:     Monday, 04 Dec 2006 07:13:00 +0800
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

[7]  From:     Edmund Taft <
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    Date:     Monday, 4 Dec 2006 11:18:46 -0500
    Subj:     Dying Unshriven


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Cheryl Newton <
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Date:         Saturday, 02 Dec 2006 16:33:58 -0500
Subject: 17.1072 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

 >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. (Paul E. Doniger)..

Horatio says, "So R & G go to it."  His shock is answered by Hamlet's 
response that they had "made love" to their mission to deliver him for 
execution. Had Horatio responded in an offhand or even approving tone, 
Hamlet would have had no need to justify himself.

Cheryl Newton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date:         Saturday, 2 Dec 2006 18:33:42 -0600
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

Replying to Louis Swilley.

 >... 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, ...

Well, they all die unshriven. There's no cleric at the fencing match to 
take confessions, nor is there one at Ophelia's brook side, apparently, 
and there's none for Polonius.

Hamlet, Ophelia, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, R & G, King Hamlet, no 
shriving time allowed, for any of them.  Perhaps Yorick?? There's 
considerable irony in Hamlet's specification of "no shriving time" for R 
& G, since none of them gets any ministration, including Hamlet, 
himself. Hamlet's specification, for R & G, comes back against him, 
also, as it turns out.

The higher concept in the play is that there's a divinity that shapes 
our ends. One can't schedule one's death by appointment, especially when 
it's death by criminal act, or accident.  If there's a cleric handy at 
such a time, it's luck, or a decision of the divinity.

In respect to religious doctrine, it could easily be read, as far as the 
drama of Hamlet goes, as anti-Roman Catholic. Since some higher power 
decides when men die, it's up to the higher power, not men's church 
doctrine, whether a cleric is at hand. The play makes significant use of 
the Roman Catholic concept, but gives it no control of the flow of 
events, except to frustrate Hamlet in the Prayer Scene (with great 
irony, again.) How much of the Bard's personal religious view to read 
into that is, as always, optional (and hazardous.) It's clear enough the 
R.C. concept of confession and last rites, was not generally convenient 
for his ideas of drama, anyway, at least not enough to "shape the end" 
of Hamlet.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         William Godshalk <
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Date:         Saturday, 02 Dec 2006 20:43:19 -0500
Subject: 17.1072 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

I'd like to add a brief note to the topic of dying unshriven. In The 
Unfortunate Traveler (1594), Nashe tells the story of Cutwolf who has 
murdered the "emperor of homicides, Esdras of Granada." Esdras has slain 
Cutwolf's only brother. Cutwolf claims, contra Portia, that the "farther 
we wade in revenge, the nearer come we to the throne of the Almighty. To 
his scepter it is properly ascribed." Cutwolf, holding Esdras at 
gunpoint, encourages him to renounce his baptism and to "commit 
Italian-like violence on the highest seals of religion." At this 
conjuncture Cultwolf shoots him in the throat so that "he might never 
speak after, or repent him." (I quote from Merritt Lawless, ed. 
Elizabethan Prose Fiction, 542-547.)

In comparison with Cutwolf, Hamlet comes across as saintly.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Louis Swilley <
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Date:         Sunday, 3 Dec 2006 08:08:03 -0600
Subject: 17.1072 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

Paul E. Doniger <
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 >

 >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

Hamlet's response to Horatio's "So Guildenstern, etc." is telling. He 
says, "Why, man, they did make love to this employment. They are not 
near my conscience, etc." This is a defense of his actions before a man 
whose remark has suggested criticism of his act, and a need for that 
defense.  (There is a somewhat comparable exchange of lines between 
Buckingham and Richard in "Richard III" (III, i, 191-193).  As Olivier 
wonderfully interprets the line, "somewhat we will do", it is a 
recognition by Richard that his "Chop off his head, man" has gone over 
the top with Buckingham, whose horrified reaction to that line brings 
Richard to its modification with "Somewhat we will do." 

L.S.

John W. Kennedy <
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 >

 >Louis Swilley wrote:
 >>
 >>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

See my response to Mr. Doniger, above.  L.S.

Arthur Lindley <
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 >

 >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.

Hamlet's private "need" for revenge is satisfied by an opportunity to 
bring Claudius to public justice.  L. S.

Donald Bloom <
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 >

 >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?

Isn't it rather what *Hamlet* thinks, though that be thought ridiculous 
by an audience?  I think a person who seeks out a lion and stands before 
him while the animal is charging is a damned fool. But that is not what 
Francis Macomber thinks; *that* is, for him, a required act of courage 
which he must not shirk. L. S.

 >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?

Is liking or hating Hamlet an issue?  I thought we were to fear for 
ourselves and pity him. Then, from Hamlet's perspective, the Ghost is 
telling the truth (as Hamlet finally concludes), and it is Hamlet's 
*belief* that moves him; whatever *we* conclude about the Ghost is a 
secondary matter.  L. S.

Edmund Taft <
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 >

 >I'd suggest that Hamlet's "calmness" comes across as eerie to many
 >readers and playgoers. Perhaps he is mad?

If he is, he has lost all moral responsibility and is no more than the 
mad Ophelia.  L. S.

 >Second, Hamlet's exact motivation for killing Claudius is hard to
 >figure out. In part, it could be the Queen's death from poison, which
 >gives the prince a new reason for killing the king.

Whatever Hamlet's motivation may be - and it looks to be personal 
revenge - he is provided a public revelation and an occasion for public 
justice. In addition to the Queen's death from Claudius' poison - 
something Claudius tried to prevent, by the way - Hamlet's own imminent 
death is further (and greater) evidence of Claudius' crime. The dying 
Laertes testifies against the King: Claudius has plotted against and 
murdered a prince of the realm.  L. S.

 >A public murder may deserve a
 >public response, and that's what Claudius gets when Hamlet kills him.
 >Still, his motives seem mixed to me. Elsewhere, I have argued that
 >Hamlet thinks by the end of the play that he is the instrument of 
Providence.

It is as though, at the moment of Hamlet's killing Claudius, he is 
provided a proper *public* motive for the execution,  a kind of 
salvation from his uglier motive.  L.S.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert <
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Date:         Sunday, 03 Dec 2006 20:35:20 +0000
Subject: 17.1065 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     RE: SHK 17.1065 Dying Unshriven

On dying unshriven in HAMLET, Louis Swilley notes the "Ghost's 
restraining remark to Hamlet about Gertrude, 'Leave her to heaven.'"

Was Heaven then "ordinant" in the unshriven(?) unnatural exit of 
Gertrude and Ophelia, or merely permissive? Given the mystery of God's 
Judgment in using minister and scourge, angel and demon to guide and 
tempt, can we ever truly distinguish between a fate foreordained and a 
fate merely permitted? between punishment and sacrifice?

Darkly yours,
Joe Egert

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Kenneth Chan <
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 >
Date:         Monday, 04 Dec 2006 07:13:00 +0800
Subject: 17.1072 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1072 Dying Unshriven

Donald Bloom writes:

 >"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"

This is definitely true if we selectively use only the portions of the 
play that suits our interpretation, while ignoring the rest. On the 
other hand, if we have to fit our interpretation to the entire play - 
every portion of it, without leaving anything out - we will find that 
there is actually very little room for multiple varying interpretations. 
Then, and only then, will we come close to the meaning of the play as 
Shakespeare intended.

Kenneth Chan

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Edmund Taft <
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 >
Date:         Monday, 4 Dec 2006 11:18:46 -0500
Subject:     Dying Unshriven

Hugh Grady's discussion of moments of madness in Hamlet suggests to me 
that the two episodes he analyzes (Claudius at prayer and the killing of 
R&G) may well be more of a "key" than Hugh allows. I wonder if they are 
meant to point towards the ending of the play? Hamlet is "mad" at 
Claudius, R, and G in the sense of "angry," but his inaction in one case 
(Claudius) and his action in the other (R&G) can be seen as "mad" in the 
sense of mentally unbalanced - insane.  It's quite possible that 
Shakespeare's hero has undergone so much stress and anxiety by play's 
end that he has become Ophelia's double (or she his) - with the only 
difference that Ophelia turns her anger and madness inward while Hamlet 
points both towards the king. If so, this would strongly suggest that 
_Hamlet_ finally focuses on aggressive impulses and how they manifest 
themselves, how they are engendered, and whom they hurt.

Just a thought.

Ed Taft 

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