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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: May ::
What ho, Horatio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0249  Wednesday, 20 May 2009

[1] From:   Jennifer Pierce <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 14:38:37 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[2] From:   Aaron Azlant <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 14:40:54 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[3] From:   Lynn Brenner <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 14:53:39 EDT
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[4] From:   Arnie Perlstein <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 14:59:13 -0400
     Subj:   What ho, Horatio

[5] From:   Steve Roth <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 12:21:54 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[6] From:   William Godshalk <
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     Date:   Monday, 18 May 2009 20:11:38 -0400
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[7] From:   Conrad Cook <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 19 May 2009 01:04:20 -0400
     Subj:   Re: What ho, Horatio

[8] From:   Eric Johnson-DeBaufre <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 19 May 2009 09:39:43 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[9] From:   Elliott Stone <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 19 May 2009 21:55:30 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

[10] From:   Thomas Pendleton <
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      Date:   Wednesday, 20 May 2009 14:44:33 -0400
      Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Jennifer Pierce <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 14:38:37 -0400
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

 >So . . . my Professor friend and I have all sorts of
 >disagreements about Hamlet's Horatio. The ongoing spat
 >at present is the exchange of Act 3, Scene 2. lines
 >270-274, immediately following the play within the play.
 >
 >Hamlet: O good Horatio, I'll take the ghost's word for a
 >thousand pounds. Didst perceive?
 >Horatio: Very well, my lord.
 >Hamlet: Upon the talk of poisoning?
 >Horatio: I did very well note him.
 >
 >My friend (pulling rank), insists Horatio is misleading Hamlet,
 >seeming to agree with him but actually not being convinced.
 >He doesn't say it bluntly: "I believe the ghost. I believe
 >Claudius' actions were suspicious." My friend insists
 >Horatio's remarks are noncommittal.
 >
 >I highlighted Horatio's entire part. My argument is that he
 >never prevaricates, never dissembles, and certainly never
 >misses an opportunity to chide or advise Hamlet despite being
 >his social inferior. Pulling these lines out of such a context
 >and saying, "Uh, he doesn't mean it," just makes no sense to me.
 >
 >This Prof has opened all of his classes to me on an old-gal
 >audit basis. He's great. But gee, I'd like to win one round!

Well here's one way to look at it --

During the time St. Ignatius Loyola's on the Discernment of Spirits was 
a very popular document. And it is very wary of visitation from Ghosts 
of any type as it is easy to mistake a demon for a spirit. Both Horatio 
and Hamlet as characters Shakespeare wished to portray as knowledgeable 
would have to be cautious of anything the Ghost told them. Both Hamlet 
and Horatio are cautious and unconvinced at this point because they both 
know there is a process -- a discernment -- that has to occur before 
they can judge that the ghost is legitimately the ghost Hamlet.

Jennifer Pierce

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Aaron Azlant <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 14:40:54 -0400
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

Cheryl,

I believe that you're right. One bit of evidence is that Horatio's 
language appears to be designed to shift the play from the topic of 
perception to the topic of music; his use of "note" helps to ease this 
transition, as does Hamlet's use of "recorder" in the next line; both 
terms conflate the topics at hand and, therefore, ease the transition.

I believe that this textual patina is necessary because Hamlet has in 
fact not seen conclusive evidence that Claudius confirms his own guilt; 
Hamlet has just staged a play that not only features a brother-regicide 
but also a nephew-murderer -- Claudius could be reacting to one just as 
well as the other. Similarly, Ophelia's songs of madness in act IV are 
about both Polonius and Hamlet, but Claudius ushers us towards an 
interpretation that they are about the former exclusively.

These moments of complexity, I would argue, enrich the play and allow 
its audience to light on both possibilities even as the play 
subsequently needs to confirm one also -- and do so in a manner that 
leaves traces of doubt in the audience.

  -- Aaron

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Lynn Brenner <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 14:53:39 EDT
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

Why on earth does the professor think that Horatio is prevaricating?

Merely because he doesn't say, Yes, I agree the ghost was telling the 
truth, your uncle is clearly a murderer?

Surely it's more theatrically interesting -- and more in their 
respective characters -- to have Hamlet yelling in excitement, heedless 
of chance onlookers, Did you see that!?! He's guilty as sin!!!, and 
Horatio keeping a protective eye out for passers-by (and wishing Hamlet 
would lower his voice), gripping Hamlet's hand, smiling, and saying more 
quietly, Yes, I saw, I saw.

Besides, we in the audience have also seen how Claudius reacted. If the 
actor playing Horatio followed the professor's direction -- and if he 
was able to put that interpretation over, which I very much doubt -- his 
hedging would only bewilder us.

Are you sure the professor isn't pulling your leg?

Lynn Brenner

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Arnie Perlstein <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 14:59:13 -0400
Subject:    What ho, Horatio

"I highlighted Horatio's entire part. My argument is that he never 
prevaricates, never dissembles, and certainly never misses an 
opportunity to chide or advise Hamlet despite being his social inferior. 
Pulling these lines out of such a context and saying, "Uh, he doesn't 
mean it," just makes no sense to me."

Never say "never" about Horatio. Is there any character in all of 
Shakespeare who is more enigmatic, mysterious and paradoxical? If so, 
I'd like to hear about him or her now!

And that chameleonic quality of Horatio is, in my very considered 
opinion, exactly as Shakespeare intended -- it is not, as so many 
commentators have opined, some sort of persistent brain fart and/or 
expedience and/or carelessness on the part of the Bard.

Yes, at times, as you point out, Horatio feels very free to say exactly 
what he thinks to his royal patron, even in circumstances in which you 
might not expect a commoner school buddy to do so. Look at Act 1. 
Horatio practically wets his pants when he first sees the Ghost with 
Marcellus and Bernardo, and is similarly undone when he sees it again 
with Hamlet. But then, look at how Horatio responds when Hamlet trots 
off for his private parley with the Ghost, and then returns in a manic 
lather and tosses out his famously absurd gem:

"There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark But he's an arrant knave."

Suddenly, Horatio is David Letterman, responding to his witty friend 
with even quicker sarcastic wit, with what is, for me, one of the two or 
three funniest lines in the entire canon:

"There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave To tell us this."

But then, as so many commentators have pointed out, for large parts of 
the rest of the play after Act 1, Horatio is the ultimate nebbish 
yes-man. That is, of course, before he suddenly morphs into an elegiac 
spiritual poet as Hamlet lies dying.

So, you can find support in the play for Horatio to be just about any 
way you want to see him. And that is the case in interpreting Horatio's 
reaction re Claudius -- -it can be read equally plausibly as either an 
intentional evasion (arising out of a variety of possible motivations) 
or as a not-very-clearly-worded agreement.

Horatio is like tofu -- -he takes on the flavor of the "food" with which 
he shares a "dish" at any particular moment in the play.

Arnie

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Steve Roth <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 12:21:54 -0700
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

Cheryl, I agree with your prof 100%. I'll spare you and others the 
lengthy discussion here and refer you to my published thoughts on the 
subject:

http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/10-2/rothepis.htm

See footnotes 7, 12, and 16 for discussion of the (paucity of) critical 
discussion that has attended this issue. Reviewing a very wide swath of 
the literature, I find that while many have perhaps come to the same 
conclusion, only Kerrigan and to a lesser extent Barton have explicated 
your professor's wise and sound view.

On Horatio's forthrightness, I would only suggest that one of his 
primary attributes is in fact his tendency to be circumspect -- one 
reason that it makes dramatic sense for the guards to seek out this 
character in the first place.

Steve

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       William Godshalk <
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Date:       Monday, 18 May 2009 20:11:38 -0400
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

"I saw him once" (1.2.186). Some auditors find "once" a bit misleading. 
See 1.1.59ff.).

Bill

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Conrad Cook <
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Date:       Tuesday, 19 May 2009 01:04:20 -0400
Subject:    Re: What ho, Horatio

It depends on your rules of interpretation. My rule is that it has to be 
in the text, or you have to make an argument that's based on 
textually-grounded evidence.

To start with the claim that a character is such-and-such a kind of 
person, and to conclude that the character must be holding this-or-that 
intention, is to argue in the wrong direction. It's going from an 
abstract principle to a framing of the evidence. You want to start with 
the evidence and demonstrate the abstraction.

(I do agree with your line of reasoning:  Horatio does not humor Hamlet: 
  he's not a flatterer, and this is why they're friends. But, that's not 
a good textually-based interpretation for his lines here.)

To argue your case in this way, I'd argue that elsewhere in the text 
when characters are lying, or when their intentions are at variance with 
the way they're acting, they clue the listener in with asides. For 
example, Hamlet on R+G:  "Nay, now I have an eye of you." Or Gertrude on 
Hamlet:  "Alas, he's mad." Or Claudius on himself:  "How smart a lash 
that old man's speech does give my conscience."

Horatio does not have such an aside:  ergo, we should take his 
presentation at face value.

However --

By the same token, we shouldn't accept that Horatio agrees with Hamlet's 
logic if we can't find that in the text, either.

Look at what Horatio actually commits to:  He says he saw Claudius freak 
out. He doesn't say anything about the ghost. It could be that he's 
sensibly reluctant to give weight to supernatural testimony. For that 
matter, the ghost never spoke to him:  he has only Hamlet's word for 
what the ghost said. And Horatio warned Hamlet before Hamlet's pow-wow 
with the ghost that it might blast him into madness. And in this 
interlude, after the interruption of the Mousetrap, Hamlet is acting 
pretty nuts.

So, Horatio may accept what he himself saw without necessarily buying 
the whole line of reasoning. When Hamlet returns from exile, he shows 
Horatio the order for his execution. Reading it, Horatio says, "Why, 
what a king is this!"

In my opinion, that's when Horatio is convinced. He needs to see real 
evidence, not hearsay glued together with strange emotional outbursts.

But that doesn't mean he's humoring Hamlet; I'd say at this moment he's 
trying to put it together. So he says what he means:  no more and no
less.

Conrad.

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Eric Johnson-DeBaufre <
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Date:       Tuesday, 19 May 2009 09:39:43 -0400
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

For what it's worth, here is my take on this moment. This exchange 
serves less to develop Horatio's reticence about the success (or lack 
thereof) of the play-within-the-play, than to alert the audience to the 
ambiguity of Claudius' response. In other words, it is there so that 
Shakespeare can engage the attention of the audience to the complexity 
of what was just staged.

Hamlet shows himself to be a rather poor auditor here, all the more 
troubling given that the words he fails to take note of are his own -- 
re; the poisoner:  "This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king" (3.2.244). 
Horatio's inability to share Hamlet's enthusiasm about the Mousetrap 
proceeds, I would argue, from being the better auditor. Unable to follow 
his own advice to the players that the clowns should "speak no more than 
is set down for them" (3.2.39-40), Hamlet introduces an ambiguity into 
the play that he did not intend. Is Lucianus a figure of Claudius or a 
figure of Hamlet? (answer: he's both!) Horatio's response (I argue) 
suggests his awareness of an ambiguity that Hamlet simply doesn't register.

I think we can agree that Shakespeare can hardly do much more than have 
Horatio act non-plussed without giving up the game.

It's an amazing moment, one that raises interesting questions (e.g. How 
might our recognition of Hamlet's deafness to his own words shape our 
understanding of human subjectivity in the play?) and occasions 
potentially useful musings (e.g. In playing a clown-like chorus to the 
Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet unwittingly undermines the play's strategic 
value while increasing its aesthetic value by introducing an unintended 
note of ambiguity).

Cheers,
Eric Johnson-DeBaufre

[9]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Elliott Stone <
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Date:       Tuesday, 19 May 2009 21:55:30 -0400
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

I thought there were some other issues presented by this quote from Hamlet.

1. Shakespeare was believed to play the part of the Ghost in Hamlet.

2. Shakespeare was also believed to be the paymaster of the Company and 
thus even today when you hear "The Ghost will walk tonight" it is 
understood to mean that tonight the actors expect to be paid.

3. One of the stories told about Shakespeare is that he received a 
thousand pounds (presumably from Southampton). The Oxfordians argue that 
this story is conflated with the 1,000 pounds that Oxford received  for 
many years as a pension from the Crown.

I am sorry but I don't have a position on whether Horatio is agreeing 
with a hyperactive Hamlet or just being noncommittal!

Best,
Elliott H. Stone

[10]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Thomas Pendleton <
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Date:       Wednesday, 20 May 2009 14:44:33 -0400
Subject: 20.0238 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0238 What ho, Horatio

Horatio (who by 5.2 seems to be convinced that Claudius did murder King 
Hamlet) tells Hamlet "'Twere to consider too curiously, to consider so" 
(5.2.205-06), which might well substantiate your friend's reading, if 
only  Horatio had said it two acts earlier.

Tom Pendleton

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