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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: January ::
Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0041  Wednesday, 17 January 2008

[1] 	From:	Scott Shepherd <
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	Date:	Thursday, 17 Jan 2008 15:50:55 -0500
	Subj:	Re: Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

[2] 	From:	David Bishop <
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	Date:	Thursday, 17 Jan 2008 22:45:58 -0500
	Subj:	Re: Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard


  [1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Scott Shepherd <
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Date:		Thursday, 17 Jan 2008 15:50:55 -0500
Subject: 19.0033 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0033 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

Well, now, of course the scene doesn't depend on how the gifts are 
wrapped. I suggested some possibilities just to lend some vividness to a 
stage action that is easily read past on the page. And, for what it's 
worth, I explicitly admitted I had done so.

But it doesn't matter what they look like. What matters is the action, 
and this *is* emphasized in the text, by the redundant "There, my lord." 
A rhymed couplet has signaled the end of Ophelia's speech; it is 
Hamlet's turn to say something or at least take the gifts, but he 
doesn't. That "There, my lord" is not even a fragment of a pentameter, 
when Ophelia has been perfectly iambic since the  beginning of the 
scene, is further evidence that there is some sort of awkwardness here. 
Apparently, Hamlet just stands there like a neutral to his will and 
matter, and she has to press the gifts into his hand.

Now I suppose you can go either way on this one, it could be that 
Hamlet's attention is fixed on the giveaway couplet and that he ignores 
the gifts. But I think it's more straightforward to read the breakdown 
in rhythm here, and the redundancy, as putting emphasis on the action, 
not downplaying it.

In other words, what Hamlet does while he is not taking the gifts is 
gaze on them. For a moment they exert some kind of effect on him, so 
that he is (uncharacteristically!) speechless, but then he repudiates 
them with a contemptuous "Ha, ha!", the upshot of which is, "I  believed 
in such things before, but they are falsehoods." In a few lines this 
finds explicit expression: "I did love you once ... I loved you not."

Before that, "Are you honest? Are you fair?" goes straight to the most 
painfully shattered of his former beliefs, that of the virtuous 
beautiful woman: Since beauty corrupts virtue sooner than virtue 
inoculates beauty, I used to marvel that beautiful women could be 
virtuous, but now I know they aren't, so there is nothing to puzzle over 
("this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof").

So, sans conjecture about gift-wrap, I resubmit my former claim, that 
the gift-returning action provides a perfectly suitable trigger for 
what follows (especially when we see that it touches the sore spot 
associated with Gertrude) and that we don't *need* Hamlet's awareness 
of the spies to render the scene intelligible.

PS. I don't mean to overstress this, or hinge my case on it, because it 
hearkens several scenes back, but it is worth pointing out that 
Gertrude's fall from grace has been strongly linked with gifts. Note the 
repetition: "with traitorous gifts," "o wicked wit and gifts," and the 
pointed comparison "whose natural gifts were poor to those of mine." And 
later gifts show up again, representing the same corruption, in the 
dumbshow.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		David Bishop <
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Date:		Thursday, 17 Jan 2008 22:45:58 -0500
Subject: 19.0033 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard
Comment:	Re: SHK 19.0033 Soliloquies - Truth or Lie...or Overheard

On this question of whether Hamlet knows he's being overheard-by 
Polonius? by Polonius and Claudius?--I can't see any alternative but to 
agree with Scott Shepherd, and with Jenkins, that this all too common 
view is a misinterpretation. Dramatic convention alone, I think, pretty 
much seals the case. It's true that "Where's your father?" can perhaps 
indicate a generalized suspicion of being spied on, but the emotion of 
Hamlet's cri di coeur, as Scott Shepherd says, would be undermined by 
the unnecessary complication of trying to find it in part an act for the 
benefit of the eavesdroppers-or eavesdropper. He would be extremely 
unlikely, it seems to me, to include a threat against the king-"all but 
one-shall live"-if he knew that the king, or even Polonius, was 
listening, though he may throw it out, with crazed defiance, as if, in a 
sense, they were. Polonius, I think, doesn't hear this threat, since 
he's trying to hear something else, but the guilty Claudius does, which 
accounts for his suspicion that more is involved here than love-madness.

Tony Burton relies on the question of how Hamlet was "closely sent for," 
which seems to me a red herring. We can imagine some ruse, but I don't 
think we're meant to imagine anything too particular. We might be more 
inclined to if he just arrived and met Ophelia, but the soliloquy 
intervenes, and defuses this potential curious consideration.

As for what Hamlet does have on his mind, I'd point to something that 
has been underemphasized. Ophelia's rejection, which the fishmonger 
speech suggests Hamlet suspects was prompted by her father, amounts to 
an accusation that Hamlet is not honest. Everyone is well aware that 
Hamlet might take Ophelia's virtue and then not marry her, even if at 
the time he was sincere in his professions of love. He might have to 
marry for reasons of state. But Hamlet has begun the play with a sense 
of his own purity, as opposed to his mother's disgusting lustful 
unfaithfulness, which he has extended in bitter theory to all women. In 
this scene, though, he wallows not only in the sinfulness of woman but 
of himself. His quick contradiction, from "I did love you once" to "I 
loved you not" may indicate a shift from his old confidence in his 
purity to a new awareness of his own lust which has been stimulated not 
just by his "unfaithful" failure to take revenge but by a new 
self-knowledge forced on him by the implicit accusation itself. Men are 
arrant knaves not to be trusted and the innocent victims of female 
depravity. They can't be both at once, but as the attention shifts among 
potential views of the truth it can, even in contiguous moments, 
encounter both aspects of men, women and Hamlet. Jumping between 
opposites in this way happens also to be a conventional sign of madness. 
Beauty corrupts honesty everywhere you look, sometimes. When Ophelia 
goes mad, she enters asking "Where is the beauteous Majesty of Denmark?" 
with an irony picked up from Hamlet.

This "discovery" of his own similarity to his mother-and all 
sinners-seems to me an important emotional component of Hamlet's enraged 
disillusionment with marriage. Introducing an awareness of the 
eavesdroppers-dropper?--dilutes the emotional force of Hamlet's disgust. 
It also, as Scott Shepherd says, gives Hamlet too much power, dulling 
our sense of the danger that threatens him.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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