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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: September ::
I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0550  Saturday, 13 September 2008

[1] From:   Aaron Azlant <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2008 11:23:53 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 19.0541 I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

[2] From:   Mike Shapiro <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 10 Sep 2008 10:39:49 -0700
     Subj:   RE: SHK 19.0541 I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Aaron Azlant <
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Date:       Wednesday, 10 Sep 2008 11:23:53 -0400
Subject: 19.0541 I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0541 I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

Apologies if this is somewhat non-sequitoral...

I think that I've recommended it a number of times before, but Stephen Booth's 
essay "On The Value of Hamlet" does a remarkable job investigating the way in 
which this scene both fulfills and frustrates expectations simultaneously -- for 
an example, consider how speeches about the horror that the sentries had seen 
two nights previously are interrupted by the appearance of the ghost. Booth's 
concluding line, after investigating a number of similar phenomena in I.i.1, is 
something to the effect that the scene opens in the dark and concludes in the 
dark. He argues that Hamlet I.i.1 conditions its audience to value the kingship, 
be concerned for its safety and to place a premium on orderliness. Then, in the 
second scene, Claudius provides overly orderly rhetoric that papers over a 
morally reprehensible formulation ("our...sister...have we...taken to wife") 
that pushes an audience towards sympathy with Hamlet (who is already somewhat 
magnetic since he is dressed all in black, played by the most famous person in 
the company, and ironic) -- an immediate threat both to kingship and to order. A 
similar balancing act obtains in the "Friends, Romans, countrymen" scene in 
Julius Caesar, and in a number of other plays, though that's perhaps a separate 
thread.

I also think that the idea of violations of context is one idea that operates 
throughout the play, so it is probably fitting that it opens on the wrong sentry 
challenging (and concludes on Fortinbras' commentary on -- and then 
demonstration of -- the importance of context). When Horatio says "in what 
particular thought to work I know not" later in the scene, he may as well be 
speaking for the audience.

Finally, on a recent rereading I noticed that the incidental conversation in 
I.i.1 mostly focuses around the sun and on morning time; I think this may be a 
way of priming the audience for conversations in I.ii that focus on being a son 
in mourning.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Mike Shapiro <
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Date:       Wednesday, 10 Sep 2008 10:39:49 -0700
Subject: 19.0541 I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
Comment:    RE: SHK 19.0541 I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

Night duty for a sentry presents multifaceted challenges. During the night in a 
combat zone it is common to hear the phrase, "Friendy-s in the area." This is in 
response to an inquiry made to a command post by a night sentry that movement 
has been spotted in his geographic area of responsibility. In such a case, the 
sentry is requesting permission to open fire if he feels an attack is looming. 
Alternatively, when a friendly individual approaches a sentry it makes sense to 
alert the sentry of his presence in the area. The approaching individual knows 
he has entered a danger zone secured by armed guard and that the sentry may not 
have knowledge of the intrusion. So it is natural for the intruder to give 
notice to the sentry in order to orchestrate the confrontation. This notice 
provides the sentry with an opportunity to clarify the situation as opposed to 
having a startle response resulting in a shoot 1st and ask questions later 
reaction. That Bernardo does not call to Francisco by name might be an issue, 
however, by having Francisco call out "Who's there?" WS enhances the scene with 
an atmosphere of disorientation thus providing the audience with a sense of 
foreboding. It's a better choice than the stereotypical sentry challenge, "Who 
goes there?"

Mike Shapiro

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