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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: September ::
I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0541  Wednesday, 10 September 2008

[1]  From:    John Robinson <
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      Date:    Friday, 5 Sep 2008 23:32:17 EDT
      Subj:    Re: SHK 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

[2]  From:    Larry Weiss <
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      Date:    Saturday, 06 Sep 2008 13:25:28 -0400
      Subj:    Re: SHK 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

[3]  From:    Joseph Egert <
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      Date:    Sunday, 7 Sep 2008 12:53:41 -0700 (PDT)
      Subj:    Re: SHK 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

[4]  From:    Gavin Paul <
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      Date:    Sunday, 7 Sep 2008 21:36:34 -0700
      Subj:    Alas, poor Yorick

[Editor's Note: Sorry, Folks, I have to leave for class. I am still adjusting to 
my demanding teaching schedule after being on sick leave for a semester. I will 
finish the remainder this evening and replies tomorrow. -Hardy]


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Robinson <
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Date:       Friday, 5 Sep 2008 23:32:17 EDT
Subject: 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

 >The reversal of who asks "who's there?" in the first line of Hamlet has often
 >been taken to foreshadow that there's something amiss in the state of Denmark,
 >but I've interpreted and staged this "reversal" as insights on minor characters
 >that, through the nuances of good acting, could be transformed into a dynamic
 >backstory.

I agree with this insight. Students never pick up (at least when reading the 
play) on this subtle shift. Namely, Barnardo, who is approaching, challenges 
Francisco who is on watch.

It's supposed to go the other way around. I remind my students of the cliche 
from old war movies" "Halt, who goes there, friend or foe?"

Francisco should challenge Barnardo-which he does when he says: "Nay, answer me!"

I ask my students to reflect on why this is. They come up fear. F & B are afraid 
of the ghost or an attack from Norway. Danmark is in disarray and that creates 
anxiety in all the characters to one degree or another.

Regards,
John Robinson

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:       Saturday, 06 Sep 2008 13:25:28 -0400
Subject: 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

 >The reversal of who asks "who's there?" in the first line of Hamlet
 >has often been taken to foreshadow that there's something amiss
 >in the state of Denmark, but I've interpreted and staged this "reversal"
 >as insights on minor characters that, through the nuances of good
 >acting, could be transformed into a dynamic backstory.

I think there is much food for thought in Ina Centaur's interpretation; but a 
somewhat simpler approach strikes me as more elegant. For example, while it is 
undoubtedly so that "Who's there?" spoken by the wrong sentry has been taken by 
some critics as foreshadowing a general sense of foreboding (and perhaps it 
does), it can more readily be taken as evincing an expectation or fear by 
Bernardo that someone (or something) other than Francisco might be present. 
After all, Bernardo has seen the ghost and has taken precautions to have others 
present on his watch in anticipation of seeing it again. This also explains his 
punctuality, so precise it is worthy of comment by Francisco (l.6),  his 
eagerness to have Francisco depart (l.7), his inquiry as to whether Francisco's 
watch was quiet (l.9) and his anxiety to have Horatio and Marcellus make haste 
to join him (l.13).

In interpreting this and other action in the play it can be helpful to bear in 
mind that much of the original audience was familiar with the story. Those who 
knew the ur-Hamlet probably shared Bernardo's expectation that a ghost was about 
to appear, and they would understand his speeches as reflecting his consequent 
dread.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <
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Date:       Sunday, 7 Sep 2008 12:53:41 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0528 Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

Ina Centaur writes:

 >I've interpreted Barnardo as a Danish guard of rank higher than Francisco....
 >The dynamics of the rest of the scene seem to have Marcellus as the commanding
 >one who drives Horatio to do things (to speak to it, to question it, to stop
 >striking at it [well, this would be to himself, since he offered to strike at it
 >with his partisan] since it's gone), and also the one whose yes gets the trio to
 >tell Hamlet, and Barnardo the one who seems to want vindication/credit of the
 >ghost's appearance ("And let us once again assail your ears / That are so
 >fortified against our story...", "Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio",
 >"See, it stalks away!" [CGI doesn't exist yet, so it must be the real thing!],
 >and who seems to gloat when Horatio catches fright, "How now, Horatio! You
 >tremble and look pale / Is not this something more than fantasy? What think you
 >on't, [now!]?"
 >
 >Comments appreciated.:-)<

Pehaps, Ina, you should dress guards Bernardo (St Bernard?) and Francisco (St 
Francis?) in monkish garb defending Denmark with their cruciform partisans 
against the Lutheran heresies of Wittenberg, while restoring rationalist 
Ho-Ratio's faith in supernal Catholic Ghosts from Purgatory.

Joe Egert

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Gavin Paul <
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Date:       Sunday, 7 Sep 2008 21:36:34 -0700
Subject:    Alas, poor Yorick

Hamlet's handling of the skull in the graveyard scene is strongly implied.  Q1 
Hamlet appears to call for the gravedigger to hand the skull over: "I prethee 
let me see it" (echoed by F's "Let me see"). In Q2 and F, the gravedigger's use 
of the demonstrative shifts from "this" to "that," which implies that he has 
handed the skull to Hamlet (though he and Hamlet could perhaps be gesturing or 
pointing instead):

Clo[wn]:  . . .  This same Scull Sir, this same Scull sir, was Yoricks Scull,
the Kings Iester.
Ham:  This?
Clo[wn]: E'ene that. (F TLN 3368-71)

And Hamlet is obviously examining the skull closely enough to recoil from its 
stench-a variation of "And smelt so? Pah!" exists in all three early texts.

With all of the above in mind, I'd be interested to know of any productions 
(stage or film) in which Hamlet did *not* pick up Yorick's skull during the 
graveyard scene.

Thanks for any help,
Gavin Paul
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of English
Simon Fraser University

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