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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: January ::
Heroes
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.005  Tuesday, 6 January 2009

[1]  From:     David Evett <
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      Date:     Friday, 21 Nov 2008 10:31:06 -0500
      Subt:     Re: SHK 19.0667

[2]  From:     Carol Barton <
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      Date      Friday, 21 Nov 2008 13:07:59 -0500
      Subt:     Re: SHK 19.0667 (The function of Horatio)

[3]  From:     Conrad Bishop <
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      Date      Friday, 21 Nov 2008 16:00:07 -0800
      Subt:     Re: SHK 19.0640 Heroes

[4]  From:     Felix de Villiers <
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      Date      Saturday, 22 Nov 2008 11:47:13 +0100
      Subt:     SHK 19.0640 Heroes

[5]  From:     Conrad Cook <
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      Date      Saturday, 22 Nov 2008 10:12:21 -0500
      Subt:     Why didn't Horatio tell Hamlet of Ophelia's death?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        David Evett <
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Date:        Friday, 21 Nov 2008 10:31:06 -0500
Subject: 19.0667
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0667

David Basch argues that Horatio is a hero because, epitome of Stoic 
virtue, he conquers his passions. The issue, however, is not whether 
Horatio is a virtuous person (I've seen no arguments to the contrary) 
but whether he qualifies as a hero. In the wider world that term has 
sometimes been relaxed to accommodate anybody who is willing in whatever 
limited way to resist or ignore the temptations toward sloth, anger, 
lust, etc.. that afflict most of us. In the literary world, however, the 
term retains some more stringent and particular criteria, implicit in 
texts from the Iliad on and familiar to us from Joseph Campbell's 
analysis and many other sources, and it is those to which my earlier 
post refers. They apply to Basch's and my common namesake, among others 
-- a man notoriously afflicted with weaknesses of several kinds, at 
least as many as Hamlet's, maybe even a fatal flaw. A hero, by all the 
accounts I know of, none the less.

If Basch wants to make his argument more persuasive to me and others, he 
will need to ground his alternative definition of "hero' much more 
firmly than he has.

Not very stoically,
David Evett

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Carol Barton <
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Date:        Friday, 21 Nov 2008 13:07:59 -0500
Subject: 19.0667 (The function of Horatio)
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0667 (The function of Horatio)

Supplemental to David Basch's well-wrought analysis of Horatio's role in 
_Hamlet_, I would like to add this observation: it seems to me that 
Horatio also functions as a foil of sorts to Hamlet, Laertes, and 
Fortinbras. In terms of temperament:

- Laertes is a man of passion, who acts on what "seems" without making 
any conscious effort to distinguish what may seem from what actually is;

- Hamlet is a man of passion who thinks too much, and whose 
over-righteousness and over-analysis of people and events therefore 
leaves him with a crippling inertia born of the inability to act, though 
the desire to do so remains very strong in him;

- Horatio is the philosopher, the man of thought without passion (who is 
therefore also without action). He is nonetheless distinct from Hamlet 
as a type because his inaction is the result of his having distanced 
himself intellectually from the material world (an election rather than 
a disability). He *chooses* to observe rather than act, and is content 
within that role

In contrast to all of these, Fortinbras both thinks (rightly) and acts 
judiciously, striking a balance between "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" 
that makes him the only fit heir to the elder Hamlet's throne. 
Ironically, temperamentally speaking, it is he whom Claudius most 
resembles--except that the murdered king's brother thinks corruptly and 
acts immorally (and is thus fit only for the role of the villain).

I hope I've articulated that intelligibly, and want to thank David for 
the inspiration that led me to add Horatio to the equation; I'd never 
considered his inclusion in that aspect of my analysis of the play until 
now.

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Conrad Bishop <
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Date:        Friday, 21 Nov 2008 16:00:07 -0800
Subject: 19.0640 Heroes
Comment:     Re: SHK 19.0640 Heroes

 >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.

I agree with David Basch that Horatio provides an essential contrast to 
Hamlet, not to mention the dramaturgical function of giving him someone 
to confide in besides himself.  But whatever else a "hero" may be, he 
must be an "action figure."  That is, he's not static.  If the play 
involved Horatio's either conquering his passions or succumbing to them, 
he might qualify; but as it is, he does neither.  Except for his brief 
twitch toward suicide at the end, he simply is who he is throughout the 
play, never challenged significantly, never changing.  Hamlet might have 
said, "Give me the man who has no urge to be a hero."

I see the classical hero as a person with powerful qualities, of a 
stature allowing significant action, who undergoes great trials -- 
whether imposed on him or of his own making -- that lead to significant 
change, whether toward destruction, enlightenment, or big bucks.  Of 
course if "hero" means "good role model," then Horatio's probably the 
only person in HAMLET who might qualify (except maybe the Gravedigger, a 
kind of churchyard Tamburlaine!).

I'm reminded of a Brecht character's response to the statement, "Unhappy 
the nation that lacks a hero."  Herr Keuner replies, "Unhappy the nation 
that needs one."

Peace & joy-
Conrad B.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Felix de Villiers <
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Date:        Saturday, 22 Nov 2008 11:47:13 +0100
Subject: Heroes
Comment:     SHK 19.0640 Heroes

John, I think it's pretty useless to speculate on what characters could 
have done in works of fiction.

David Bansch tells us himself that we would have no Hamlet if he had 
been like Horatio. A play made up of Horatios would die on its feet. At 
most, we can imagine him as the upright observer of neuroses and 
wrong-doings in a novel, but it would be the wrong-doings or problematic 
characters that would give substance to the novel. Art is more about 
digging into what's wrong in order to find out what may be right. 
Hamlet, unlike Horatio, has a deeply searching mind. In his madness he 
is the sanest person in the play. He, and no one else, is the tragic 
hero of the play. In his words of justified admiration for Horatio the 
following description of arse-lickers is more significant than his 
description of his friend:

              No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
              And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
              Where thrift may follow fawning.

Hamlet's words, "Give me that man/That is not passion's slave," sum up 
the whole of Schopenhauer's philosophy, which lead pretty much to a 
negation of life itself and a sympathy with Buddhism. Hamlet's distrust 
of humanity comes close to this. And who has not had moments of such 
distrust of the world we live in? Hamlet's intelligence on this subject 
is greater than that of Horatio. I don't know what you mean, David, by 
the over righteousness of Hamlet's character. Had he indeed been so, he 
would have treated Ophelia, Polonius and his mother with greater 
understanding, but perhaps you mean over zealousness. But the novelty of 
this tragedy is the hero's inability to act on his zealousness.

Now that I think about it, Hamlet seems passionate in his withdrawal 
from human passions which he blackens. In his speech to Horatio, passion 
evidently refers to fawners, out for their own advantage at the price of 
their integrity and not to his own passions.

In his penetrating understanding, Hamlet rises far above Horatio's horizons.

Felix

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:        Conrad Cook <
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Date:        Saturday, 22 Nov 2008 10:12:21 -0500
Subject:     Why didn't Horatio tell Hamlet of Ophelia's death?

John Wall wrote:

 >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

Well, keep in mind that Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship was secret. 
And we have no indication that Horatio knew about it.

Horatio's lines on reading his letter are:

HORATIO
Come, I will make you way for these your letters;
And do't the speedier, that you may direct me
To him from whom you brought them.

Later, a servant brings a letter in to Claudius, who's talking with 
Laertes, and brings one to the Queen.  The Queen enters, perhaps with 
the letter in her hand, and brings Laertes news of Ophelia's death.

So, there's every indication that Horatio leaves just before the 
dissemination of the sad news.  In fact, she might be drowning about the 
time that Horatio reads Hamlet's letter.

Conrad.

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