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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
What is Hamlet's flaw?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0453  Thursday, 20 August 2009

[1] From:   Felix de Villiers <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 19 Aug 2009 10:18:25 +0200
     Subj:   What is Hamlet's flaw?

[2] From:   Donald Bloom <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 19 Aug 2009 13:09:28 -0500
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0451 What is Hamlet's flaw?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Felix de Villiers <
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Date:       Wednesday, 19 Aug 2009 10:18:25 +0200
Subject:    What is Hamlet's flaw?

A reply to Conrad Cook 15 Aug 2009-08-19

I appreciated your reply, Conrad, and there is much food for thought in 
it. I was just a bit disappointed because you wrote mostly in 
generalising terms and didn't give us illustrations. You whet my 
appetite and don't satisfy it.

I agree with you entirely about the wrongness of imposing Freud on art 
in general, and don't know what relevance this has to my text.

Rather than look at what Aristotle has to say about tragedy, I prefer to 
look at the text in front of me.. I think the whole tragedy derives from 
the flaw in the character of Claudius. What follows are the reactions 
and consequences.

I feel that several questions you raised are already answered in my 
original text.

After citing a passage from the play and writing 'who still thinks of 
Hamlet's flaw?' you replied:

"It's not clear to me, Felix, what your argument is.'

It's not clear to me either (don't tell Hardy), but what would art be 
without its enigmas?

"...unless perhaps you're reminding us that considerations of the play's 
structure do not do justice to the beauty of the play's language. But 
that's not the purpose of looking at the play's structure."

If anything has structure, syllable by syllable, it is the beauty of 
poetry and this is inseparable from what you call 'the beauty of story 
telling", the structure of the whole play. These two 'beauties' feed and 
nourish one another. The beauty of the versification can make the whole 
play come alive, something that has happened to me several times with 
Shakespeare The writing of poetry as of inspired prose is akin to a 
state of drunkenness; we never know quite where the pen will lead us. 
Great composers may add two bars that don't really belong, Brahns may 
add a few superfluous notes which nevertheless raise the stature of a 
whole Symphony. In the passage I quoted I felt Hamlet was almost getting 
drunk on his own words (as Shakespeare often does): "....sweet religion 
makes / a rhapsody of words"  --  here Hamlet himself describes poetic 
inebriation. He may be saying religion is senseless, but calls it 
'sweet.' The Italian poet, Gozzano, refers to art and religion as 'the 
beautiful lies.' Hamlet can be terrified of the 'lie' of actors feigning 
reality. The immediately following phrase "heaven's face doth glow," 
does not really make logical sense here, but strikes the poetic heart. I 
suppose the phrase could be taken as expressing an intensification of 
emotional pitch. There is an equally expressive thickening of dull 
texture in the 'heart-sick' lines that follow.

My question, "Who still has time to think of Hamlet's flaw?" refers not 
only to the quoted passage, but also to the richly unfolding events of 
the play as a whole. I was concentrating more on content than on the 
structure of the play, content, though, that is essential to the structure.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Donald Bloom <
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Date:       Wednesday, 19 Aug 2009 13:09:28 -0500
Subject: 20.0451 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0451 What is Hamlet's flaw?

I resisted re-entering this discussion because Hardy suggested it was 
about finished. However, since it continues, I'll offer one or two more 
brief comments.

Conrad Cook remarks, "As far as Heathcliff and Becky Sharp go, I'm not 
sufficiently familiar with these stories to comment. However, if they 
achieve a good tragic effect with characters lacking a tragic flaw, then 
Aristotle is wrong about what tragedy is  -- perhaps a more important 
development than anything having to do with _Hamlet_."

Heathcliff: I described his behavior to a friend (a retired psychology 
professor) and asked him why someone would do such things. He said, "An 
abused childhood  --  or possibly a brain tumor."

Becky Sharp: She's an acquisitive, egocentric bitch.

I'm not sure how either of these relates to the tragically flawed hero. 
You might get something out of the early Heathcliff but the maniacally 
sadistic quality of his later life makes him rather dubious as a hero of 
any sort.

As far as "Aristotle [being] wrong about what tragedy is," how can that 
be? Tragedy is Aristotelian tragedy, that is, classic Athenian tragedy. 
Does anyone claim to understand it better than he did? We may wish to 
redefine the term in other ways to include other works from other times 
and places. That process does not make Aristotle "wrong," merely different.

It is, I grant, tedious to have to review periodically the definitions 
of the terms we are using, but it is essential to do so if we are to 
avoid drifting away from clear statements that we can agree or disagree 
about.

Cheers,
don

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