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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: August ::
Mistake
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0728  Tuesday, 22 August 2006

From: 		Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 22 Aug 2006 09:47:55 -0500
Subject: 	Mistake

[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, 
and Horatio.

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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