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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
What is Hamlet's flaw?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0435  Wednesday, 5 August 2009

[1] From:   John Drakakis <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 5 Aug 2009 16:18:44 +0100
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[2] From:   Harold Rogge <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 04 Aug 2009 17:17:24 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[3] From:   Judy Prince <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 4 Aug 2009 17:57:44 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Drakakis <
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Date:       Wednesday, 5 Aug 2009 16:18:44 +0100
Subject: 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?

I see now exactly what David Bishop's problem is. I assume that when I 
use a term like 'subjectivity' that I am not engaging in some large 
abstraction but in very specific usage of a term that describes a 
constellation of forces that shape the human subject in an historical 
context. I can well understand if someone refuses to accept the term in 
its specific usage, or, indeed, I they reject it as adequate to describe 
the complexity of motives that prompt a dramatic representation like 
Hamlet to say what he says and to do what he does.

What is undeniable in the play -- i.e. what Hamlet, and Claudius, and 
even Polonius say -- is that there is a gulf in the ethos of Denmark 
between 'words' and 'actions'. J. L. Austin notwithstanding, David 
Bishop might want to say that that is axiomatic, and if I understand him 
correctly, then that is what he is saying.

I think, however, that we might want to try to account for the emphasis 
that the play gives to this problem, and it was for this reason that I 
suggested that he might like to look at Terence Hawkes'  'Shakespeare's 
Talking Animals' that actually got to this problem long before anyone 
else thought of it. It also happens that subsequently Derrida raises 
this issue concerning the gap between 'speech' and 'writing', and that 
if we understand his conception of 'presence' then we might, just might, 
get something of a handle on what Hamlet keeps repeating: that he cannot 
bring together words and action in any sense that might be meaningful. 
To explain this we need to switch our attention to the lawful king Old 
Hamlet, and to think about the nature of sovereign power in this 
context. If the rightful king is the one who authorises meaning then his 
death -- and particularly his death by foul means -- presents a 
challenge to that process, and separates words from thoughts and from 
deeds. It is this predicament that Hamlet finds himself in, and it is 
this that helps to explain his tardiness.

There is very little that is abstract in this explanation, but it does 
depend upon a shared analytical vocabulary. At the risk of sounding 
prescriptive, we have a responsibility as teachers of undergraduates and 
postgraduates to familiarise ourselves with current analytical 
discourses within the discipline, even if we have quibbles, radical 
disagreements, etc about the relevance or otherwise of particular terms. 
I don't pretend for one minute that using the term 'subjectivity' does 
not raise a host of complex issues, but I do think it is reasonable to 
assume that from our respective positions we have thought through those 
issues and are in a position to debate them. It matters not whether 
David Bishop or I succeed in convincing each other. We may simply agree 
to differ, but what is important is that we are clear about the grounds 
for our disagreement. It is for this reason that I respond to the claim 
that the position I have taken is 'abstract'. In fact it is rigorously 
textual, and it depends upon a firmly held belief that you cannot have 
any theory without practice -- in this case the practice of close 
reading -- nor any practice without theory -- that is, an understanding 
of the conceptual foundations upon which that reading proceeds.

What I will say about this discussion is that it has risen very quickly 
to the level of a 'round-table' discussion, where substantive arguments 
on all sides have been deployed. Thanks to Hardy for allowing this one 
to proceed.

As ever,
John Drakakis

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Harold Rogge <
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Date:       Tuesday, 04 Aug 2009 17:17:24 -0400
Subject: 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?

Is it reasonable to assume that at the time the play was written and 
performed, Shakespeare, along with most of his acquaintance and most of 
the audience, knew with certainty that ghosts do not exist, human 
consciousness and perception are highly malleable and suggestible, and 
that some people will believe themselves to have seen things they have 
not, or at least passionately claim to have seen them?

If so, does it change the question? Is the play intended metaphor? 
Simply a fantasy? Or, does the audience have an omniscient view of the 
"realism" of the characters' flawed perceptions and hysterical neuroses?

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Judy Prince <
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Date:       Tuesday, 4 Aug 2009 17:57:44 -0400
Subject: 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0433 What is Hamlet's flaw?

You seemed to've nailed Aristotle's take on a tragic flaw, Conrad: 
"virTuesday".

Best,
Judy never on Wednesday

 >And especially, we are to consider *immoderate* virTuesday,
 >for example justice without mercy, an imbalance of virTuesday,
 >which is a flaw.

[Editor's Note: My sincerest apologies to Conrad and to Judy. The 
"virTuesday," "typo" was completely my fault - not Hamlet's or 
Aristotle's or Conrad's. The problem results from a macro I use, in 
part, to spell out abbreviations of days, generally in the headers. I 
normally catch errors like "virTuesday,"  when I proof and edit, but I 
somehow or other missed these. My apologies. -Hardy]


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