The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0728 Tuesday, 22 August 2006
From: Jeffrey Jordan <
Date: Tuesday, 22 Aug 2006 09:47:55 -0500
[Editor's Note: I believe that I have made it clear that I would like a
long rest from postings about theme, plot, and characterization in
general and in Hamlet in particular. I post the following because the
poster believes it necessary to respond to his critics. My considered
hope is that this post does NOT become another thread but remains as a
final retort. -HMC]
I know it's been announced that the "Seattle All-Female Hamlet" thread
has been closed, but I request an opportunity to reply to the idea of
Shakespeare making a mistake. In no way did I intend to suggest that,
and I don't think the notion should be allowed to stand unanswered.
There is no mistake by Shakespeare. Quite the contrary.
Replying to Aaron Azlant.
Jeffrey Jordan wrote:
>... The Lucianus character is actually supposed to be
>the brother. Hamlet's word "nephew" is a mistake by him. ...
Aaron Azlant wrote:
>Wouldn't the mistake in this case be Shakespeare's rather than Hamlet's?
Not at all. Consider the alternatives. If Hamlet had said "brother,"
then the entire Mousetrap audience would have perceived Claudius leaving
a play about a king being killed by his brother. We cannot take it that
the whole audience is dunces. Some people would have wondered about
that, and talked about it. Why would Claudius rush out of a play about
a king being killed by his brother? The whole audience knows Hamlet Sr
was Claudius's brother, and he recently died.
"Brother" would raise the distinct possibility in the story line of
others becoming involved in pursuit of Claudius. However, the story
line has to be "single combat" between Hamlet and Claudius (until
Laertes gets involved.) If Hamlet had correctly said "brother" it would
be a serious threat to the credibility of the story. You couldn't
realistically keep others from becoming involved, against Claudius.
However, Shakespeare had Hamlet say "nephew" by mistake. Then the
audience sees Claudius rush out of a play about a king being killed by
his nephew, as they perceive it. That's a totally different thing. It
raises no suspicion against Claudius, even among the most perceptive in
the audience. It firmly preserves the "single combat" story line.
So, far from being a mistake by Shakespeare, Hamlet's "nephew" blunder
is outstanding stagecraft. In one word, it preserves the focus on
protagonist v antagonist, without the serious possibility of unknown
others in pursuit of Claudius. Nobody perceived that Claudius was
fleeing a play about a king being killed by his brother - except Hamlet,
There's an even further point. The worst tragedies are those we inflict
on ourselves (because, in hindsight, such tragedies were always
avoidable, by ourselves.) When Hamlet says "nephew" he destroys his own
effort to prove Claudius's guilt to the general public. Hamlet arranged
the Mousetrap to show Claudius's guilt to everyone, about Claudius
killing his brother, but then Hamlet ruined it with his own mistake, and
that just because he talked too much. He could have avoided it merely
by keeping his mouth shut. It significantly deepens the personal
tragedy of the hero. He hurt himself.
"Nephew" is brilliant work by Shakespeare. It both preserves the
required story line, firmly, and deepens the hero's tragedy,
significantly. So please dismiss that idea of any mistake by S.
There's no such thing.
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Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
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