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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: December ::
Four Riddles in Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0610  Tuesday, 15 December 2009

[1] From:   David Evett <
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     Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 2009 21:20:28 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0603 Four Riddles in Hamlet

[2] From:   Sid Lubow <
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     Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 2009 21:43:06 EST
     Subj:   Four Riddles in Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Evett <
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Date:       Monday, 14 Dec 2009 21:20:28 -0500
Subject: 20.0603 Four Riddles in Hamlet
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0603 Four Riddles in Hamlet

HAM: The body is with the King, but the King is not with the body.

I will ever so lightly invoke the doctrine of the King's Two Bodies. 
Those of you not familiar with it should look at Ernst Kantorowicz' 
book of the same title, 1957/97.

Corporately,
Dave Evett

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Sid Lubow <
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 >
Date:       Monday, 14 Dec 2009 21:43:06 EST
Subject:    Four Riddles in Hamlet

This is hardly an enigma if one grasps what motivates Hamlet's 
'madness'. His father has appeared on stage to tell him there has been a 
foul crime that "would harrow up your soul, freeze thy young blood... 
and each particular hair to stand on end, / Like quills on the fearful 
porpentine, O list! /If thou didst ever thy dear father love-"

After having the players play the "murther" of his father before his 
uncle the king's conscience has betrayed him. He confesses his crime in 
a soliloquy. Polonius has volunteered to ferret out what Hamlet knows of 
a conspiracy to kill the father and become the ruler of the kingdom.  He 
hides behind the arras of the Queens bedroom, where in reaction to the 
Queen's outcry, he betrays his presence, whereupon Hamlet slays 
Polonius. He then removes the body. Upon learning this, the king sends 
two other "soaks" to find out where Hamlet has dragged the body. The 
following takes place:

[Enter ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN]

ROSENCRANTZ     What have you done, my lord, with the dead body?

HAMLET     Compounded it with dust, whereto 'tis kin.

ROSENCRANTZ     Tell us where 'tis, that we may take it thence
      And bear it to the chapel.

HAMLET     Do not believe it.

ROSENCRANTZ     Believe what?

HAMLET     That I can keep your counsel and not mine own.
      Besides, to be demanded of a sponge! what
      replication should be made by the son of a king?

ROSENCRANTZ     Take you me for a sponge, my lord?

HAMLET     Ay, sir, that soaks up the king's countenance, his
      rewards, his authorities. But such officers do the
      king best service in the end: he keeps them, like
      an ape, in the corner of his jaw; first mouthed, to
      be last swallowed: when he needs what you have
      gleaned, it is but squeezing you, and, sponge, you
      shall be dry again.

ROSENCRANTZ     I understand you not, my lord.

HAMLET     I am glad of it: a knavish speech sleeps in a
      foolish ear.

ROSENCRANTZ     My lord, you must tell us where the body is, and go
      with us to the king.

HAMLET     The body is with the king, but the king is not with
      the body. The king is a thing --

GUILDENSTERN     A thing, my lord!

HAMLET     Of nothing: bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after.

      [Exeunt]

Hamlet can hardly tolerate these "sponges" who soak up intelligence for 
the conspirators, as Polonius was doing in the Queen's bedroom, but in a 
grand political discourse to mere agents who perform such functional 
spying on a prince, Hamlet tells them that as in a kingdom, or a 
parliament, (or to use a more modern term, a corporation, a person) a 
body politic, a state, a government, "the king is a thing... of nothing: 
bring me to him. Hide fox, and all after." (A nobody)  But he is hunting 
the foxy uncle and will not stop until "after" he avenges his father. 
As the  "body of our kingdom" has been rescued from the "rank diseases" 
that infect many Shakespearean political dramas.

KING HENRY IV     Then you perceive the body of our kingdom
      How foul it is; what rank diseases grow
      And with what danger, near the heart of it.

Or the disloyal mother, the "beast" that so enraged the 'thought sick" Bard.

HAMLET ... Let me not think on't -- Frailty, thy name is woman! --
      A little month, or ere those shoes were old
      With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
      Like Niobe, all tears: -- why she, even she --
      O, God! a beast, that wants discourse of reason,
      Would have mourn'd longer -- married with my uncle,
      My father's brother, but no more like my father
      Than I to Hercules: within a month:
      Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
      Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
      She married. O, most wicked speed, to post
      With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
      It is not nor it cannot come to good:
      But break, my heart; for I must hold my tongue.

Or the marriage contract, the "body of contraction" she dishonored:

HAMLET    Such an act
      That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
      Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
      From the fair forehead of an innocent love
      And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vows
      As false as dicers' oaths: O, such a deed
      As from the body of contraction plucks
      The very soul, and sweet religion makes
      A rhapsody of words: heaven's face doth glow:
      Yea, this solidity and compound mass,
      With tristful visage, as against the doom,
      Is thought-sick at the act.

Sid Lubow

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