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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: November ::
Comment: SHK 19.0667
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0667  Thursday, 20 November 2008

[1]  From:     John Wall <
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      Date:     Wednesday, 19 Nov 2008 08:54:22 -0500
      Subt:     Re: SHK 19.0657 Heroes

[2]  From:     David Basch <
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      Date      Wednesday, 19 Nov 2008 12:05:27 -0500
      Subt:     Re: SHK 19.0640 Heroes

[3]  From:     Bob Lapides<
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      Date      Wed, 19 Nov 2008 14:28:39 EST
      Subt:     Re: SHK 19.0657 Heroes


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        John Wall <
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Date:        Wednesday, 19 Nov 2008 08:54:22 -0500
Subject: 19.0657 Heroes
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0657 Heroes

My question about Horatio has always been why he doesn't, upon greeting Hamlet 
on his return from his truncated trip to England, inform Hamlet that his old 
friend Ophelia has drowned while Hamlet was away. JNW

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        David Basch <
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Date:        Wednesday, 19 Nov 2008 12:05:27 -0500
Subject: 19.0640 Heroes
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0640 Heroes

I think David Evett and others have missed the significance of the role of 
Horatio in the play Hamlet. This seems evident when David Evett outlines 
Horatio's role in the play in terms of a laundry list of his actions without 
seeing into its significance. David Evett writes:

     The play presents Horatio as in many ways a kind of social cipher
     - no stated antecedents beyond his time at Wittenberg, no apparent
     affiliations except for his friendship with Hamlet, no
     responsibilities except to hang around Elsinore. He carries out no
     risky or difficult tasks - doesn't offer to kill Claudius or
     accompany Hamlet to England, or grab a rapier from the rack when
     the killing starts. Being quietly amused by a few minutes of
     Osric's foppery hardly qualifies as hazardous duty. The active
     antagonists - Claudius, Polonius, Laertes - never mention him when
     they are hatching their attacks on the prince. At the end, we can
     speculate that he will have to give up his board and room in the
     castle, but it is not as though he were formally Hamlet's servitor
     and thus about to be thrust into the unwelcome status of vagrant
     on the death of his master. Indeed, Hamlet has assigned him a job
     that the prince seems to think he has resources to handle: to be
     Homer, not Achilles, not the hero, but the bard: "absent thee from
     felicity awhile" etc.

In fact Horatio plays his role magnificently as is evident by the admiring
Hamlet who praises him for all his virtues. Consider the virtues of Horatio
as told by Hamlet:

     HAMLET  Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man
             As e'er my conversation coped withal.

     HORATIO O, my dear lord,--

     HAMLET                  Nay, do not think I flatter;
             For what advancement may I hope from thee
             That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
             To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter'd?
             No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
             And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
             Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
             Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
             And could of men distinguish, her election
             Hath seal'd thee for herself; for thou hast been
             As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
             A man that fortune's buffets and rewards
             Hast ta'en with equal thanks: and blest are those
             Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
             That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger
             To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
             That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
             In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
             As I do thee.--

It turns out that Horatio is without the fatal flaws that Hamlet suffers from 
and which brings Hamlet to destruction. Unlike Horatio, Hamlet is indeed 
"passion's slave." But Horatio has that ideal personality that makes him "not a 
pipe for fortune's finger" and he avoids the faults of sycophancy that others in 
the play exhibit. I will take Hamlet's judgment of this man before that of the 
critics of Horatio on our list.

To be sure, Hamlet has great virtues. He is so admirable that audiences miss 
seeing his critical faults. He suffers from "over righteousness" and an 
obsession to be "wise over much"-flaws warned against in the Book of 
Ecclesiastes that we are told lead a man to self-destruction, as it does Hamlet.

Notice how Hamlet in his over righteousness fails to recognize that Ophelia is 
not his enemy but a vulnerable young lady used as a tool by others.  Notice how 
Hamlet fails to act in a timely way against his powerful enemy, King Claudius, 
because he self righteously wishes to wait for a time that he can take the 
perfect vengeance against him that he feels entitled to.

Notice also how Hamlet is wise over much in thinking he can fathom the pattern 
in which God acts. Hamlet sees this in his interpretation of the events in which 
he happens to discover Claudius's plot against him and in the happenstance of 
the pirates that bring him back to Denmark. This leads him to trust that God 
will make all things to work out and thereby to a fatalism makes him fail to 
take the precautions to save his life that Horatio advises.

Horatio on the other hand does not presume to fathom God's ways and is not blind 
to reality. He has no craving for materialistic things of the kind that make 
sychophantic servants of those like Rosenkranz and Guildenstern.  Horatio sees 
clearly what is happening and does not have the blind spots that make Hamlet 
vulnerable.

Had Hamlet been more like the Horatio he admires, we would not have this play 
that is about the conflicts brought on by Hamlet's faults. Horatio is a 
character critical to the play and to its understanding. He, "a man picked from 
ten thousand," provides the prototype of manhood that Hamlet lacks. Without him, 
audiences would not be exposed to this contrast. So it is puzzling why so many 
observers fail to realize the role Horatio plays.

But is Horatio a hero? He is if you accept the adage that asks, Who is a hero? 
and answers that a Hero is one who conquers his passions. In that sense, Horatio 
is indeed a hero.

The play, Hamlet, is Shakespeare's story of a good man whose fatal flaws "take[] 
 From [his] achievements, though perform'd at height, The pith and marrow of 
[his] attribute." These flaws tragically bring him to destruction. Horatio is 
critical in telling this story.

David Basch

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Bob Lapides<
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Date:        Wed, 19 Nov 2008 14:28:39 EST
Subject: 19.0657 Heroes
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0657 Heroes

My view on this question differs enough from what has been posted that I've 
resisted adding my two cents, out of anxiety about seeming naive. But there are 
a number of characters in Shakespeare's plays whose past heroism is 
unquestionably significant. If this heroism is not part of the  present action, 
it nevertheless gives definition to the tragedies that involve Othello, Antony, 
Julius Caesar, and the others. Maybe this is too obvious to state, but I do 
think this perspective leads to other, more fruitful  questions about 
Shakespeare's interest in heroes.

Bob Lapides


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