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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
What is Hamlet's flaw?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0447  Wednesday, 12 August 2009

[Editor's Note: This thread has meandered for some time now. Could we 
possibly begin to bring it to a close? -HMC]

[1] From:   Joseph Egert <
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     Date:   Monday, 10 Aug 2009 14:33:27 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0427 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[2] From:   David Bishop <
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     Date:   Monday, 10 Aug 2009 17:36:11 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0443 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[3] From:   John Knapp <
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     Date:   Monday, 10 Aug 2009 21:13:42 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0443 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[4] From:   Felix de Villiers <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 11 Aug 2009 10:44:01 +0200
     Subj:   What is Hamlet's flaw


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <
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Date:       Monday, 10 Aug 2009 14:33:27 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0427 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0427 What is Hamlet's flaw?

Larry Weiss writes:

"Claudius has not made and cannot possibly make a "perfect act of 
contrition" so long as he retains the fruits of his sins."

Question:  Has young Hamlet achieved perfect vicarious contrition by 
helping to restore the fruits of King Hamlet's sins to young Fortinbras?

Curious,
Joe Egert

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Bishop <
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Date:       Monday, 10 Aug 2009 17:36:11 -0400
Subject: 20.0443 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0443 What is Hamlet's flaw?

John Drakakis may be right, that we'll have to agree to disagree. He 
seems to believe that terms like "authorizing meaning" have meaning 
without being given a more particular application, and this was the 
assumption I was trying to argue against. I suggested some possible 
examples of meanings it might have, to show what I meant by giving the 
term meaning. I did this as well with "the gulf between words and 
actions". He replies, as I interpret him, that his terms have plenty of 
meaning, indeed particular meaning, as they stand. He says he is making 
a particular point about a particular text, as if these words 
self-evidently do what he says they do. He speaks as if he thinks my use 
of "abstract" is an aberration that expresses only my own speculations, 
or perhaps my politics. The separation of words and actions, or, in this 
case, "the difference between 'words' 'thoughts' and 'actions'", he 
seems to say, is "a question" which is raised by the text of Hamlet 
"itself". But it's not clear to me what exactly that question is, or 
where it appears in the play. He doesn't refer to any particular action 
of any particular character, or any particular line of the play, as an 
example of what he's talking about. "To construct a set of plausible 
arguments that we might discuss" seems to me an admirable goal. 
Meanwhile, in my view, the veil of unapplied terms remains firmly in 
place. John Drakakis may have something in particular, and even 
plausible, in mind, but going by the words he offers here, I can't tell 
what it is.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Knapp <
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Date:       Monday, 10 Aug 2009 21:13:42 -0500
Subject: 20.0443 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0443 What is Hamlet's flaw?

Sally and John  --

I agree with John  that knowing the basic tenets of "theory" is 
important, even though it's day has come . . . and gone . . . and going 
much further to recent thinking is even more important. To Sally Drumm, 
the interesting question(s) you ask relate(s) much more related to 
theories of knowledge rather than to lit crit., per se. To start, I 
might suggest an oldie but goody: cf. Michele Lamont's essay, "How to be 
a Dominant French Philosopher: The Case of Jacques Derrida"  *American 
Journal of Sociology* 93 (1987): 584-622.

In general, while scientists tend to work toward a consensus because 
"nature" talks back to scientists and it's "not nice to fool mother 
nature," literary critics can only talk back to one another. Ours is a 
very conservative discipline that tends to rely on reputation as much as 
strength of rhetorical skills. But we are, nonetheless, still subject to 
many of the "laws" of disciplinary initiation, growth, development, 
innovative exhaustion, and finally, decline. Alas, old ideas (like 
Saussure's rather silly "language never errs") tend to decline as their 
(tenured and aging) proponents either retire or die, rather than because 
its proponents have not found consensual confirmation in the critical 
universe.

Cheers,
John


[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Felix de Villiers <
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Date:       Tuesday, 11 Aug 2009 10:44:01 +0200
Subject:    What is Hamlet's flaw

What is Hamlet's flaw?

I have read and reread many of the letters on this thread, which are 
often illuminating, but there are so many statements that I disagree 
with that it would be difficult to respond to them one by one. So I 
offer a tentative, partial interpretation in which some replies are 
implicit.

 From the start I have felt uncomfortable with the title of the thread 
and have asked myself why. Somehow it has a philistine ring in my ears. 
It is like asking, "What is Heathcliff's flaw in "_Wuthering Heights_? 
or Becky Sharp's flaw in _Vanity Fair_?" They may have more than one 
flaw, but these are swept up on the tide of inspiration, rich in 
infinite details of the works in which they are conceived. It is the 
conception as a whole that interests us more than single flaws.

Traditionally Hamlet's flaw is his indecision, but is this not his 
strength? To withdraw from actions that throw the world from precipice 
to precipice and contemplate them? This could have been a traditional 
revenge play, but Hamlet takes a decisive step back from it. Even when 
he has ample reason to execute his revenge, after discovering that 
Claudius tried to have him killed in England, he does not act. The last 
scenes take place as in a dream: the graveyard episode, Hamlet's 
acceptance of the duel with Laertes, whose father he had killed. If he 
had been acute in his suspicion of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he 
should by now have been doubly suspicious of the King's invitation to 
the duel. But he seems, at this point almost to have lost his will and 
his words to Laertes are suicidal, " . . . what is't to leave betimes?" 
Claudius kills himself.

My conjecture, of which I am quite convinced, is that Hamlet was a 
melancholic and sceptic before the events of the play begin. This is 
evident before he knows that his father was murdered. The hasty marriage 
of his mother suffices to open the floodgates of his melancholy. The 
speech to his mother about false appearances and 'seeming' spring 
readily to his mind. People talk about his subjectivity, but he is 
surely the most objective person in the play. He sees what others don't 
see about the falsity of appearances with an acute eye.

This does, indeed, lead to faults in his character. His cynicism makes 
him behave atrociously to Polonius and, especially Ophelia, he suffers 
from an almost Othello-like sexual jealousy, and his scepticism spills 
over into lucid paranoia, for example, when he sees Ophelia, who has 
done nothing to merit this, as an already defiled creature in advance 
who can only save herself in a nunnery.

His paranoia is matched by brilliant reflections and insights. A King is 
food for worms and may pass through the stomach of a beggar. He sees the 
senselessness of wars over a worthless patch of land that leads 
thousands to their death. He sees the glorious promise of life on earth 
threatened by meaninglessness. Who of us have not had moments when 
nature, cities like Venice, the beauty of the men and women we see 
around us, do not seem unreal faced with the self-destructive tendencies 
of our kind? In his visionary delirium Hamlet/Shakespeare sometimes 
gives a glowing, smoldering voice to language that almost rise 
enigmatically above their immediate context, as in his words after 
killing Polonius:

                                      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.

Who still has time to think of Hamlet's flaw?

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