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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: January ::
Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0028  Wednesday, 16 January 2008

[1] 	From:	Anthony Burton <
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	Date:	Tuesday, 8 Jan 2008 21:03:17 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

[2] 	From:	Donald Bloom <
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	Date:	Wednesday, 9 Jan 2008 11:11:36 -0600
	Subj:	RE: SHK 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

[3] 	From:	Scott Shepherd <
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	Date:	Thursday, 10 Jan 2008 19:33:06 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Anthony Burton <
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Date:		Tuesday, 8 Jan 2008 21:03:17 -0500
Subject: 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

I don't get the supposed issue when Hamlet came to realize Ophelia's 
duplicity, or whether (vel non) it compels one to believe he realized he 
was being spied upon. Nor do I read the scene as a puzzling crux. Once 
Claudius says at 3.1.29 ." . . we have closely sent for Hamlet hither/ 
That he, as 'twere by accident, may here/ Affront  Ophelia," it is 
obvious that the girl blew the "accident" story as  soon she showed up 
armed with her "remembrances" from Hamlet and that  pretty and obviously 
rehearsed  speech announcing that she had "longed to to redeliver" them, 
those rich gifts that have waxed poor to her noble mind. An irritating 
little performance on top of some very suspect circumstances. Just the 
thing to make one say "Ha, ha!"

We do not know whether the king "closely sent" for Hamlet by means of 
Polonius or some other messenger, but Hamlet presumably arrived 
expecting to meet "we," the king. The possibility that Claudius sent for 
Hamlet to "come hither" for some different and unspecified reason 
strikes me as far-fetched and forced. So Hamlet knows he's been set up, 
and that he was meant to run into Ophelia. It's a very short hop to the 
notion that someone must be taking note of Hamlet's reaction, and who 
does Ophelia bring to mind but her father, who has already intruded in 
Hamlet's relation with her? On one hand, she subordinated her own will 
to the interference of a parent who is Hamlet's social inferior; that 
makes her look either worldly unwise, or entirely without moral 
constancy, or privy to some plan that would make Hamlet an unsafe match. 
Hence all the nunnery talk. The second part of the big picture, that 
someone must be looking on, leads directly to thoughts of the king's 
serviceable advisor as spy, and  explains why Hamlet goes on to demand 
to know where that worthy busybody is.

A neat example of seat-of-the-pants cross-examination, something I'm 
sure Larry Weiss can appreciate. Or anyone who watches Law & Order. The 
Inns of Court produced a good number of trial connoisseurs, too, back in 
the 17th cent.

The long diatribe that follows is a bit tricky, and lends itself to 
major choices for the actor and director. Four times, Ophelia reacts 
with apparent sincerity as if Hamlet is behaving like a madman. What 
does that say about staging and performance? Is she hugely wrong? Do we 
ignore her? Is Hamlet immediately covering himself for the benefit of 
the presumed onlookers with a prompt display of his promised, but rarely 
enacted madness, his "antic disposition?" Has Hamlet totally lost his 
self-possession and lapsed into an unguarded tirade containing overt 
threats against the king, threats which would defeat his revenge plan, 
blow his disguise, and surely cost him his liberty and probably his 
head? The scene is usually played that way, against the situational 
probabilities, but grates on me when I see it.

But I see the script as offering a menu of performable juicy choices, 
not ambiguity and confusion.

Tony B

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Donald Bloom <
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Date:		Wednesday, 9 Jan 2008 11:11:36 -0600
Subject: 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
Comment:	RE: SHK 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

With all due respect, I think some of the people involved in this 
particular discussion are taking themselves and their interpretations 
rather too seriously. They are, of course, in good company in this 
process, but it is, I believe, the case.

Without going all Derrida on the matter, there reaches a point at which 
one is not really talking about the text anymore but about oneself. When 
another writer reaches the same point but with a rather different 
conclusion then communication (and learning) begin to disappear.

I discovered some time ago that there were a fair number of people out 
there who could not understand why I regarded Merchant as a romantic 
comedy with a happy ending. They were not stupid, obtuse, or uneducated 
-- at least no more so than I. They simply started with a different set 
of premises.

When I looked at myself to discover why I read it the way I did, I 
realized that I simply like romance, comedy and happy endings (when 
well-written, of course). Whatever psychological limitations these 
enjoyments may suggest, the fact was that in reading Merchant those were 
the factors that I found in it and responded to very powerfully. Others 
didn't.

In dealing with the case in point (Hamlet III, 1), the text is 
especially complex and thus especially prone to conflicting readings. It 
could be argued that it doesn't make complete sense. It doesn't have to. 
  Practically, it only matters that it makes good theatre. 
Philosophically, a great deal of human action doesn't make complete 
sense. Some have argued that the universe doesn't make sense.

Under those circumstances, once you have made clear your response to the 
text, there's not much more to be said. There are no facts at issue, 
merely opinions. And they, of course, are as common as-well, never mind.

Cheers,
don

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Scott Shepherd <
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Date:		Thursday, 10 Jan 2008 19:33:06 -0500
Subject: 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0017 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

 >That he does come to realize that Ophelia is
 >not telling him all  there is to know about this
 >encounter is manifest. The scene is unintelligible
 >if we assume that Hamlet is not alert to that fact.

Is it?

What we know about Hamlet and Ophelia is not much, but certainly we can 
agree that he expressed his affections to her and that she was receptive 
at first but then abruptly switched to a policy of absolute no-access 
chastity, refusing even letters.

We do not have to deduce that this might be upsetting. The play 
explicitly suggests that it is enough to drive a man mad. (And it's not 
just Polonius who thinks so: Ophelia: "Truly I do fear it"; Gertrude: 
"It may be, very like"; Claudius, more cautiously: "How may we try it 
further?")

Now when we finally see the lovers encounter each other, Ophelia, who is 
already overdoing the impregnable-chastity thing, goes even further by 
giving back gifts she has already accepted!

The impact of this indignity is more profoundly felt in the theater, 
where it is visual. He denies that he has given any gifts, but she 
produces them. Visually the gifts probably offer sentimental 
information; they're delicate, richly colored, tied with lace, whatever; 
they're non somber items suggestive of happier times before the present 
crisis. We see him gaze on them. Apparently he refuses to hold out his 
hand and she has to press them on him (judging from the redundant and 
extrametrical "There, my lord").

At the same time she absurdly faults him for no longer speaking sweet 
words to her, when in fact she has barred him from talking to her at all!

Indeed there is an element of laboratory-rat cruelty in this pre- 
planned encounter, the experiment being to heap gratuitous extra 
undeserved rejection on the already rejected madman and observe how he 
reacts.

Such is the emotional provocation that the playwright and the scheming 
characters have focused on our troubled hero. Is it really insufficient 
to explain the explosion that follows?

Well yes, actually.

Hamlet's response *is* out of proportion, as many people have felt it to 
be, in vehemence, in scope ("we will have no more marriages"), and in 
duration. One thing that suggests that this is not just a matter  of 
opinion, but that the explosion is *marked* as over-the-top, are  the 
false exits, where more than once after we are relieved that the  tirade 
is over, Hamlet comes back to pile on more abuse.

For the audience, this excess is explained by Hamlet's deeper, *secret* 
emotional crisis, particularly the aspect of it most pertinent to this 
encounter: his exaggerated disgust for amorous matters, and for women, 
in reaction to his mother's recent conduct.

But for Polonius, the explanation is love-madness. The cunning design 
here is that, while being spied on, the hero's behavior *does* betray 
his secret preoccupations, but by happy accident it also fits the 
diagnosis the spies are looking to confirm. This is a lucky break for 
Hamlet because presumably if he is deemed merely love-mad the villain 
will relax his vigilance. Instead of course, and to our surprise, the 
king sees past the madness symptoms and senses a shadow of the truth.

Okay now:

I am trying to make vivid the provocation of the returned gifts because 
I think it has been unduly dismissed. It *is* inadequate as the sole 
cause of Hamlet's explosion but perfectly intelligible as the proximate 
cause that triggers the deeper and more voracious outrage associated 
with Gertrude.

Does Hamlet suspect that Polonius is behind Ophelia's new draconian 
chastity? Of course. This is obvious in the fishmonger scene; it surely 
is the reason for "Where's your father?", and probably allows us to hear 
a secondary accusation of *insincerity* in "Are you honest?"

But what about Ophelia's *duplicity*? Does Hamlet detect it? Isn't that 
what he's really upset about?

I think the popular emphasis on this so-called betrayal is a mistake 
that has led us down the wrong road. Here are some reasons why:

1) The offense is unimpressive.

In obedience not only to her father but also to the king and queen of 
the realm, she agrees to be secretly watched while she interacts with 
the poor prince who has gone mad, in hopes of bringing the prince back 
to health. This event is preceded by the brief exchange between Ophelia 
and Gertrude, the purpose of which, it seems to me, is to  explicitly 
assure us that Ophelia's participation is benevolent, even  honorable: 
"I hope your virtues will bring him to his wonted way  again, to both 
your honors."

2) Ophelia isn't designed to illustrate failure-of-loyalty.

The failure-of-loyalty characters are R&G, and they are designed and 
advertised accordingly: of so young days brought up with him, so 
neighbour'd to his youth and haviour, two men there are not living to 
whom he more adheres, the obligation of our ever-preserved love, etc, 
etc, etc. By contrast Ophelia is presented as a girl that the prince has 
"given private time to," only "of late," and as soon as we find *that* 
out, she begins systematically rejecting him. This is not a character 
set up to disappoint an expectation of loyalty. What she is manifestly 
designed for is the assertion of maidenly virtue; indeed maidenly virtue 
is the single consideration associated with her from her first 
appearance until she goes mad.

3) Hamlet doesn't talk about it.

Unless, of course, you insist on secret reprimands encoded in "Are you 
honest?" and "Where's your father?"; otherwise the nunnery tirade  is 
relentless in its focus: female virtue, male virtue, marriage. Compare 
the dealings with R&G, which confront duplicity head-on:  "There is a 
kind of confession in your looks," "I have an eye of you," "Your secrecy 
to the king and queen," the recorder scene, the sponge scene.

4) Hamlet doesn't talk about it later, when he catches his own mother 
red-handed committing the same offense.

Or maybe what Hamlet is really angry about in the closet scene is that 
Gertrude has lured him into an eavesdropping setup. I know he doesn't 
overtly berate her for this, but you can hear a dark accusation in the 
sarcasm of "For this same lord I do repent, but heaven hath pleas'd it 
so..."

Okay, apparently I have gotten over my qualms about length. Thanks for 
listening.

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