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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: January ::
Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0012  Monday, 7 January 2008

From:		Scott Shepherd <
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Date:		Monday, 7 Jan 2008 02:56:23 -0500
Subject: 19.0006 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0006 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

 >Scott Shepherd's comments quibble with the perfect
 >wholeness of my interpretation, but do not offer a
 >reasonable alternative, or any alternative at all.

To clarify what I am suggesting, in the hopes that it might be regarded 
as an alternative:

Hamlet never becomes aware of the spies. His outburst is a genuine cri 
de coeur, not a performance, and it is the villain who has the upper 
hand in this scene, not the hero.

I do think the idea that Hamlet detects the spies is an invention, but 
not one created by anyone on this list. It's at least as old as "What 
Happens in Hamlet" (1935) and surely older. Does anyone know if it shows 
up earlier?

It seems to me concealment in Shakespeare is like disguise: It works 
unfailingly until the hidden person reveals himself. For a character to 
quietly see through an eavesdropping trap, and not even tell us so in an 
aside, is downright un-Shakespearean. Can anyone think of another 
example like this, where a deception is penetrated by sheer 
perceptiveness, without physical exposure of the deceiver? Without any 
overt indication to the audience?

I know the lines "Where's your father?" and "All but one shall live" 
present a great temptation, but these are better understood as 
Shakespeare's habitual practice in hidden-listener situations: The 
unwitting character typically "happens" to talk about the hidden 
listener, simply because this is fun for the audience. Cf., Malvolio's 
fantasizing about Sir Toby, Lucio's slandering the Duke, the 
gravedigger's telling Hamlet about Hamlet, etc, etc.

A concealment scene generates excitement from the constant *possibility* 
of discovery. "Where's your father?" tantalizes the audience in this 
direction, as do Hamlet's several false exits, where probably Polonius 
repeatedly starts to emerge and then retreats again.

Okay I know this is getting long but one more thing.

If Hamlet doesn't have the upper hand in this scene, the king is 
actually threatening!

Yes, Hamlet has become a sort of superhero of perspicacity, we don't 
like to see the "less intelligent" characters get the jump on him. But 
this is the villain's first move against the hero, and rather than have 
the hero easily sidestep the danger, I believe we're meant to see him in 
the clutches of the enemy, and to *worry* about him for a while. Like 
James Bond we need to see him imperiled early in the story to appreciate 
the threat of the bad guy. And if not now, when? This is where the king 
shows his fangs, starting with the aside that confirms his villainy, and 
finishing with a specific plan to get rid of Hamlet.

If Hamlet is undeceived, the villain is rendered impotent and the 
anxiety is gone. But if not, we have an exciting scene with an uncertain 
outcome, centered on what's really at stake here (is Hamlet going to 
show a crack in his antic disposition when he is alone with the girl he 
loves?) and built on a pattern of tension and release, e.g.:

1) anxiety for Hamlet as the trap is being set (and the villain 
confesses his guilt to us)
2) unexpected expansion in the great soliloquy
3) anxiety again as he approaches Ophelia
4) relief when he exhibits plausible symptoms of love-madness
5) relief nullified when the king doesn't buy the love-madness explanation

Why doesn't the king buy it? One can hardly imagine better evidence. 
Hamlet even offers the diagnosis himself: "It hath made me mad!" The 
king's analysis ("There's something in his soul . . . ") is remarkably 
perceptive here, and again I think this suggests that we are meant to 
see him as an effective, formidable threat.

There is more to be said, about Ophelia, but this is too long already.

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