2009

What is Hamlet's flaw?

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0416  Thursday, 30 July 2009

[1] From:   Michael Saenger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 14:22:13 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[2] From:   Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 14:02:16 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[3] From:   Eric Johnson-DeBaufre <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 19:09:15 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[4] From:   David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 21:49:59 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[5] From:   Conrad Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 22:19:52 -0400
     Subj:   What is Hamlet's flaw?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Michael Saenger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 14:22:13 -0500
Subject: 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

All of the preceding clarifications of the time-contingent 
understanding of Aristotle have helped, but I think one of the most 
interesting reasons why Hamlet doesn't have "a tragic flaw" is that 
Shakespeare was not writing a riddle to be solved in the classroom. 
Watching a play, or reading it, always involves interpretative 
judgments, but the only such judgments that Shakespeare would have  been 
able to imagine were the kind that had occurred to that point.  Of those 
sorts of reactions, we have some samples -- stage narratives,  influence 
upon other playwrights, revivals and/or successful runs,  parody by Ben 
Jonson, that sort of thing. But the kind of criticism  we teach our 
students to do, and that we do ourselves, was  fundamentally unthinkable 
in Shakespeare's lifetime, and the idea of  locating a tragic flaw is 
deeply invested in a certain kind of pedagogy.

Michael

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 14:02:16 -0700
Subject: 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

 >encourage anyone with a special interest in _Hamlet_
 >on in Hamlet to go to this site and blog away

Well I haven't actually set up the blog at my site yet -- was just 
floating the idea by Hardy -- but will do so in the next few days.

Thanks,
Steve

[Editor's Note: Sorry for my overzealousness. -Hardy]

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Eric Johnson-DeBaufre <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 19:09:15 -0400
Subject: 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

David Basch writes:

 >Concerning the issues of Hamlet's flaws, I have a comments
 >on Joe Egert's remarks. He writes:
 >
 >Where is Claudius' guilt for murdering his predecessor
 >publicly revealed in 5.2? I don't see it.

Just because Joe Egert doesn't see it does not mean that others, equally 
astute and qualified as himself don't as well. For example, Lawrence 
Olivier saw it in his film of Hamlet and helped his audience to do so.

In that film, we saw Claudius dramatically rise, quite disturbed, in 
front of the court spectators. Gertrude is outraged at Hamlet for 
bringing about this situation so angering to Claudius. If Hamlet had 
struck him at the time, he, the people's favorite, could have argued 
before the Danish court as the heir to the throne that the reenactment 
of what Hamlet thinks happened with his father caught Claudius's 
conscience more than anyone else and revealed his guilt. This 
observation is something that Horatio corroborates. Thus, Hamlet would 
have struck, beaten the rap, and saved himself. Joe Egert may not see it 
this way but it is nevertheless an arguable point.

I think David Basch has misread 5.2 for 3.2 since he makes reference to 
the Murder of Gonzago. More importantly though, I have to reiterate (and 
I'm hardly alone in this) that Claudius' rising on the point of the 
poisoning reveals nothing whatsoever about Claudius' guilt. Shakespeare 
(deliberately I think) refuses any such clarity by making Hamlet speak 
more than is set down for him (clown that he is). When the poisoner 
enters, Hamlet informs us (and Claudius) that "This is one Lucianus, 
nephew to the King." We then witness Lucianus poison the king by pouring 
poison into his ears. Claudius rises. But what does he rise in response 
to? Is he touched with guilt by seeing his own crime represented (as 
David Basch would have it) or does he rise in fear at seeing an uncle 
murdered by his nephew? We don't know. Hamlet presumably takes Claudius' 
reaction to be a sign of guilt, but the irony is that Hamlet (easily one 
of the most brilliant of Shakespeare's characters) shows himself to be a 
poor auditor here. He signally fails to take his own advice to the 
players (not to speak more than is set down for them), and this leads 
him to introduce a measure of ambiguity and instability in to the very 
thing he hoped would achieve clarity.

I find it something of a metadramatic commentary on the contemporary 
defense of the theater as a moral institution. Apologists (and Hamlet in 
2.2 seems to be among them) defended the theater by telling apocryphal 
stories of murderers who confessed to their crimes after seeing them (or 
something like them) represented on the stage. 3.2 (in my reading) 
evinces a certain skepticism about this by showing a murderer rise in 
reaction to a crime but providing the audience with two very different 
and equally plausible reasons he might have for doing so.

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 21:49:59 -0400
Subject: 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0409 What is Hamlet's flaw?

"Words and actions are separated from each other in 'Hamlet' and the 
tragic hero has to try and somehow resolve the dilemma."

John Drakakis here makes what seems to me a good example of a 
"theoretical" statement that can't quite be made pragmatically relevant 
to this play. What does a world look like when words and actions are not 
separated? Or is this just a way of saying that Claudius dissembles: 
that Claudius's secret crime is Hamlet's dilemma? So what else is new?

This is what I call a Grand Abstract Pronouncement, or GAP. I don't want 
to clutter up this list too much with my idiosyncratic theories, but in 
the unlikely event that John Drakakis wants to have a look at my work, 
he'll find a more detailed discussion of the concept of a GAP in my 
book, Eight Hamlets, in the chapter on Marjorie Garber.

I thought the thing about revenge was that it was personal. As far as 
it's impersonal, doesn't it become justice? Except, that is, for God, 
who mystifyingly combines the two.

Best wishes,
David Bishop


[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Conrad Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 22:19:52 -0400
Subject:    What is Hamlet's flaw?

Joe Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>wrote:

 >Conrad Cook interprets the Ghost as instructing Hamlet to "remove the
 >usurper from the throne and see worldly justice done." Instead, in their
 >first encounter, he commands the Prince to (1) revenge a murder, (2)
 >stop the ongoing "luxury and damned incest" while leaving Momma to
 >Heaven, and (3) remember him.

Joe,

(1) is worldly justice, there being no court to try the case. In (2), 
you have omitted:  *Let not the royal throne of Denmark be a couch* for 
luxury and damned incest (or however it goes); what is at issue is the 
moral pollution of the office of the head of state. In (2b), leaving 
Gertrude to Heaven, the injunction is to for Hamlet to *taint not his 
mind* against his mother, which in conjunction with (3) constitutes 
instruction to keep a proper attitude toward his parents.

On this last point, the passage as a whole can be seen as an inventory 
of how Hamlet should relate to all his three parents.

 >Nowhere is 'justice' or God's will mentioned.

When there is no court which Claudius can be brought to, "revenge my 
foul and most unnatural murder" amounts to "see worldly justice done." 
The injunction that Gertrude be left to Heaven entails that her fate be 
sorted out by God. The second instruction being given in contrast to the 
first makes it clear, in my opinion, that fundamentally Hamlet is told 
to straighten out matters of state. Going beyond this, as Hamlet does 
when he tries to secure Claudius's damnation, is the action that causes 
things to go bad.

Since a character flaw is the imbalance of virtue that causes the 
protagonist to critically slip up, whatever it is that motivates Hamlet 
not to kill Claudius, and to kill Polonius, is (I think) our prime 
candidate for a character flaw in Hamlet.

In regard to the larger question of whether Hamlet really has an 
Aristotelian flaw  --  I think he does, but what is more important is 
whether Shakespeare is doing the kind of thing Aristotle is talking 
about when he discusses flawed characters. Aristotle's basic point is 
that tragic characters, to be tragic, must bear some moral 
responsibility for their downfall (or else they are victims), and yet 
the consequences they suffer must be out of proportion to their error 
(or else they get plain justice).

In my opinion, not only does Hamlet fulfill these criteria, but most of 
the major characters do, too. Shakespeare expresses this pattern as 
"being hoist on one's own petard," in the case of self-responsibility, 
and that in a man, "the dram of evil doth all the noble substance snuff, 
to his own scandal," in the case of disproportionate consequence.

Conrad.

_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and on the

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0415  Thursday, 30 July 2009

[1] From:   Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 17:14:42 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0408 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet 
without Hamlet_

[2] From:   David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 21:47:41 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0408 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet 
without Hamlet_

[3] From:   Sally Drumm <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 09:32:25 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

[4] From:   Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 12:46:40 -0400
     Subj:   Instability of Meaning in Hamlet

[5] From:   Bob Lapides <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 14:20:29 EDT
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of...

[6] From:   David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 19:49:41 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

[7] From:   Sally Drumm <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 22:31:53 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

[8] From:   Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
     Date:   Thursday, 30 Jul 2009 15:29:06 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Mari Bonomi <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 17:14:42 -0400
Subject: 20.0408 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0408 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet 
without Hamlet_

As I read your post, Hardy, I immediately flashed on Archibald McLiesh's 
"Ars Poetica"  -

A poem should not mean
But be.

And yes, I think Hamlet (and Shakespeare's other work for the stage) is 
as much poem as play.

But there is joy in attempting to winkle out the meanings, nonetheless.

One must hope that the winklers will be satisfied to accept their 
morsels as "my meaning" rather than "the meaning" -- too often, as you 
note, that is not the case.

Mari Bonomi
Going back to winkling out the meaning of the "quilt a purse" pattern 
I'm attempting to decipher...

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 21:47:41 -0400
Subject: 20.0408 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0408 SBReview_4: Margreta de Grazia's _Hamlet 
without Hamlet_

If some people believe they understand any aspect of Shakespeare better 
than some others, must they be wrong because better understanding of 
Shakespeare is theoretically impossible, due to the instability of 
meaning? Is instability all that good teachers of Shakespeare teach? 
Somehow I doubt it.

I believe, on the contrary, that if one wishes to avoid argument, one 
very effective way is to fall back on "instability", or, to give it a 
more moral tinge, "tolerance". Hardy doesn't tolerate the authorship 
question, for which I applaud him. That intolerance helps make this a 
serious list. On the other hand, there are times when I disagree with 
Hardy's intolerance, as when, for example, he recently censored one of 
my posts. Of course it's his list, and he's free to run it any way he 
likes. There are times when I disagree, but he has the power, and he can 
do as he sees fit.

There's a difference between believing you're right and making careful, 
detailed arguments for your positions and against competing views. I 
think views do compete, and I believe in debate, even debate which may 
become slightly ungenteel, as a way of making progress in criticism. I 
don't know what finality would be, but I don't know of too many theories 
that make no claim to truth. However, no claim to truth, however 
absolute, can make your theory true. And that's final.

As beauty depends on ugliness, truth depends on error. We approach it by 
discovering errors, by making arguments from evidence. Of course I have 
long experience with the literary professional who, when told "What you 
say isn't true", rather than replying to the offered argument, replies, 
"Well, what is truth?" Then they return to their comfortable classroom 
and teach their pet theory for the next 40 years. Believe it or not, 
there are actual documented cases.

Personally I like dialectic, and the idea that our grasp of reality is 
essentially dual, if not plural. But sometimes dualism is itself one arm 
of a dualism. The Tao is not static. It rolls and  tumbles, like a wheel 
on fire.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Sally Drumm <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 09:32:25 -0400
Subject: 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

Hardy, the SHAKSPER dialog is never more delightful than when you jump in!

On all that you have written on the meaning of nature, I must include:

Some do bad that others may do good.

More to follow....

Sincerely,
Sally Drumm

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Arnie Perlstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 12:46:40 -0400
Subject:    Instability of Meaning in Hamlet

"...the entire point of _Hamlet_ that _Hamlet_ is perhaps the foremost 
expression in western literature of the instability of meaning, of the 
inability to find fixity in language or thought. That _Hamlet_ is ALL 
about "the interrogative mode," as Maynard Mack said of _Hamlet_ -- To 
be or not to be -- THAT IS THE QUESTION!* Or is it that I have become so 
imbued with AN Asian perspective that nothing means, it just is.* "

Hardy, that statement is in accord with my own view of _Hamlet_, but, to 
use a poker analogy, I call you and raise you one crucial argument 
further. ;)

I believe that 90% of the furor that goes on so endlessly and so 
fruitlessly about _Hamlet_ , and has indeed been going on for centuries, 
arises out of what I assert is the fatally incorrect belief that there 
is one definitive interpretation of the play.

The ghost is real, says A. The ghost is a devil in disguise, says B. The 
ghost is a hallucination, says C. The ghost is really a representation 
of _______ (you fill in the blank with your favorite historical 
personage) from Shakespeare's contemporary world, or from the history of 
the world prior to his time. Or, as Stephen Dedalus famously opined, 
Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that he himself is 
the ghost of his own father. Etc etc. Indeed, some of these possible 
interpretations are explicitly suggested in the text itself!

It seems as though interpreters all feel that they somehow bolster their 
own interpretations by showing that the other interpretations are wrong. 
But......what if Shakespeare took particular pains to make SEVERAL 
interpretations plausible? What if he deliberately constructed the play 
so that it would be plausibly interpretable by a variety of 
viewers/readers in a variety of ways? What if that deliberate raising of 
mystery, and then delivering of multiple plausible meanings, was 
Shakespeare's way of showing (as opposed to telling) that the world is a 
mysterious place which can be plausibly interpreted in a variety of 
ways, and that these many alternative explanations and interpretations 
ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE! They are fictional parallel universes.

That is what I am reasonably confident Shakespeare attempted to do, and 
brilliantly succeeded in doing, in _Hamlet_, and that is precisely why 
it is _Hamlet_ that continues to be the touchstone of Western 
literature, more present in the minds of lovers of literature around the 
world than any other single work! This is not a freak of literary 
critical history, it is a response to a play that demanded such a response!

And so, what that means for that 90% of the arguing about _Hamlet_ is 
that if Shakespeare intended his text to support a number of alternative 
interpretations, stop fighting over which one is the "true 
interpretation". That's a complete waste of time, and distracts from 
what really matters. Instead, let's spend our collective energy in 
answering "the question" we really should be looking at, i.e., in the 
case of each such interpretation, put aside for the moment the other 
plausible interpretations, and look at the one focused on its own 
merits. See how consistent it is in its approach to all elements in the 
text, see how many of the many cruxes of _Hamlet_ it sheds fresh light 
on, see whether it provides a coherent interpretation that covers the 
entire play, and not just particular characters or plot elements. Can 
anyone suggest any other criteria for a good interpretation of _Hamlet_ 
besides these?

This does not mean, of course, that each proposed interpretation should 
be accepted uncritically, in a kind of relativistic "all interpretations 
are valid" manner -- that would be absurd. In a nutshell, a claim that 
the Ghost is an alien from outer space should be defeated not by 
claiming that the Ghost is really a Ghost, but by showing that even if 
you assume the Ghost to be an alien, there are no hints or clues in the 
actual text which correspond to this interpretation. That is a crucial 
difference in critical analysis.

In such a way, one by one, it would eventually be possible to generate a 
series of such evaluations, and then to comparatively evaluate different 
interpretations of _Hamlet_ in terms of these criteria. I believe that a 
few of them would emerge, over time, as the consensus "best 
interpretations", but without any single interpretation ever holding the 
field exclusively.

Illustratively, to return to the mystery of the ghost as what I believe 
is one of the fulcrums of interpretation of the play -- -the one thing I 
am certain of is that Shakespeare wrote _Hamlet_ so that it would be 
plausibly interpretable as EITHER (i) the Ghost being a real Ghost 
(which is essentially the Dover Wilson version), OR (ii) as a Devil in 
disguise (I am not aware of whether any interpreter has actually made 
that case, does anybody know about one?), OR (iii) as Hamlet's 
hallucination (the argument most famously made by Professor Greg, 
although he did not make the argument plausibly enough to garner many 
supporters). Wilson missed that crucial point entirely! He didn't need 
to prove Greg wrong in order to prove his interpretation right.

My own book about _Hamlet_ will be about my own radical interpretation 
of the Ghost as Hamlet's hallucination, which then leads to a half dozen 
other complementary interpretations of certain characters and events in 
the play, and I will make the case for each of them based on evidence in 
the text of the play. But I will take pains to emphasize that such 
interpretation does NOT invalidate the other classes of interpretations. 
They are parallel fictional universes. My version of the shadow story of 
_Hamlet_ will stand or fall based on the quality of the evidence I will 
adduce, which, in my eyes, makes it clear that Shakespeare intended it 
to be one of the valid interpretations of his play. There should be a 
certain beauty in a really good interpretation, especially in regard to 
casting fresh light on apparent cruxes and anomalies which are not 
powerfully explained by other interpretations. My interpretation meets 
that test, and it will be my job to prove it.


Cheers,
ARNIE

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Bob Lapides <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 14:20:29 EDT
Subject: 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of...

Very nice, indeed, Hardy. Thanks.

Bob Lapides

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 19:49:41 -0400
Subject: 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

Hardy quotes Marx:

"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human 
thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man 
must prove the truth  --  i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness 
of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality 
of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely _scholastic_ 
question."

I also believe that critics must prove their theories in practice: with 
practical, well-argued criticism, which involves more than making Grand 
Abstract Pronouncements, as for example about the instability of 
meaning. Some meanings are more unstable than others. The point is to be 
able to tell the difference. No proof is possible, in a mathematical 
sense, but you can make better or worse arguments. And, I believe, 
criticism can make progress -- can become, at least, truer.

Hardy also quotes Amnon Zakov:

"In my opinion this is THE REAL MEANING of the famous soliloquy: 'to be 
or not to be.../ to die,  --  to sleep,  --  no more'". (My emphasis.)

Maybe "In my opinion" cancels this claim, which otherwise might be 
mistaken for a claim to truth and finality. But I don't care whether the 
writer claims that his theory is true. I care whether it is true. Or 
first, whether it has enough intelligible meaning to make its truth 
arguable. Zakov's "real meaning" of the soliloquy is apparently that 
Hamlet wants to die. Exactly why, I'm not sure. It has something to do 
with black holes, and gravitation. Zakov says, for example, that Hamlet 
is "aware that none will believe him". I think this is important, and 
that's why it's important that on the voyage he gets evidence, in the 
commission, of Claudius's tyranny, evidence he entrusts to Horatio. Then 
final, conclusive proof comes at the end, with Laertes' testimony and 
Hamlet's death. This is only one place where I think Zakov says things 
about the play that are not true, or that fail to take account of the 
complexities of the situation. He may say that he makes no claim to 
truth but he contradicts himself, not only in positive statements like 
that quoted above, but in the tone of his paper. Again, I don't really 
care. I'm more interested in the argument, which I would say is not very 
interesting. It's odd that Phyllis Gorfain would speak so disdainfully 
of amateurs who think they have something of value to say about Hamlet 
when her friend Amnon Zakov would seem to be a quintessential example of 
the type. But of course friendship does demand a certain partiality.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[Editor's Note:

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:-
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
   So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all-
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
   And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all-
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!
It is perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
   And should I then presume?
   And how should I begin?
       .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
       .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . .  or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a 
platter,
I am no prophet-and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worthwhile,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"-
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
   Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
   That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worthwhile,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along 
the floor-
And this, and so much more?-
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
   "That is not it at all,
   That is not what I meant, at all."

"That is not it at all,
   That is not what I meant, at all."

"That is not it at all,
   That is not what I meant, at all."

--HMC]

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Sally Drumm <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 22:31:53 -0400
Subject: 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

 >is the entire point of _Hamlet_ that _Hamlet_ is perhaps the foremost
 >expression in western literature of the instability of meaning

I really like this theory.

Sincerely,
Sally Drumm

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Thursday, 30 Jul 2009 15:29:06 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0411 Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and 
on the Nature of Thought

Our gracious host writes:

 >And then there is the matter of those posts that treat the character
 >of Hamlet as a "real" person not a as character in a fictional
 >construction that is enacted by actors (who may or may not want
 >to imagine a "back story" to help them enact their character for
 >the stage).

But, Hardy, how else are we as audience to be moved and engaged at all 
levels of feeling and intellect but by entering into the real world of 
the characters as portrayed? Especially as Shakespeare at every turn 
invites us to uncover hidden motives, subtext, and backstory -- or "that 
within which passes show", beyond its "trappings and suits."

Professor Cook continues:

 >Now, either* I have finally grown up, or* have so bought into
 >post-modernist assumptions, or* have so accepted beliefs in the
 >instability of meaning that I am no longer, if I ever was to begin
 >with, capable of feeling assured that my assumptions are stable
 >enough to hold up to scrutiny  --  that my thoughts are even
 >worthy enough to utter ("I know that I know not"). I am not
 >sure if I have just come to accept that whatever I have to say
 >runs the risk of being expressed in such unstable terms that I
 >am virtually incapable of making a critical observation about
 >Shakespeare [...]

Is this self-doubt an example of that "intellectual paralysis" which 
John Drakakis assures us we need not fear from postmodernist thought?

Joe Egert

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Q: Bishops Bible

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0413  Thursday, 30 July 2009

From:       Arlynda Boyer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Thursday, 30 Jul 2009 16:11:46 -0400
Subject:    Q: Bishops Bible

Are there good copies of the Bishops' Bible available outside of 
precious original copies stored in archives?  I'd just like a paperback 
off of Amazon, so that I can read one of the bibles Shakespeare is 
likely to have read and used. It appears I can get such a copy of the 
Geneva bible, but the Bishops' is eluding me.

Many thanks,
Arlynda Boyer
Staunton, VA

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Updating Shakespeare's Plays

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0414  Thursday, 30 July 2009

From:       Robert Projansky <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009 03:29:23 -0700
Subject: 20.0402 Updating Shakespeare's Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0402 Updating Shakespeare's Plays

Sorry, but I think "updating" is Newspeak for what is routinely done to 
Shakespeare's plays. Using actresses, typing, modern sets, photocopied 
computer-edited scripts, e-mailed rehearsal schedules, recorded 
music/not-visible musicians, audio amplification, electric stage 
lighting, polyester-nylon-Velcro costumes, turntables, hairspray, video 
projections, dry ice, smoke machines, etc., etc., etc. -- that's 
updating, a whole brave new world of wonderful tools. But planting MND 
in a '70s disco or TS in 1915 Arizona is not "updating"; it is travesty, 
hubris, failure.

If you present "Death of a Salesman", nobody thinks it needs to be set 
in war-torn Kosovo or colonial Bombay or in any place or any time other 
than when and where Arthur Miller put it. So why does it seem necessary 
to so many directors to visit their abusive improvements upon 
Shakespeare? You can never force any of the plays into a director's 
alien place/time "concept" without doing some injury to the play. Trying 
to do Kosovo or colonialism or Vietnam or fascism or the antebellum 
south or the wild west or Wall Street or Miami and the mob just doesn't 
ever work. It can't work. Shakespeare's world is the warp and woof of 
his work. Sad to say, such conceptual hogwash is now the norm and 
Shakespeare played straight the aberration. Stacey Keach and everyone 
else in that DC production deserved a chance to do "King Lear", not 
"King Lear Dragged Mindlessly Into the Balkans". But, you say, you want 
to acknowledge some particular inhumanities of our own age on your 
stage? Great! Produce Caryl Churchill then, or Tony Kushner or Ariel 
Dorfman, but Balkan horrors don't belong in Shakespeare's "King Lear".

I think these kinds of practices usually come either from directors' 
foolish ambitions (Watch clever ME breathe life into this boring old 
thing!) or out of an inappropriate lack of confidence in their audience 
(Dear old Shakespeare won't be enough; we'll have to give 'em boaters 
and seersucker and a brass band too). And sometimes the director just 
wants to see 1920s-30s silk gowns and evening dress onstage -- for no 
good reason.

The only non-period productions I have ever seen and thought a success 
have been low- or no-budget shows, essentially setless with abstract 
costuming (say, all in black but Desdemona in white). Among the best of 
these -- but hardly a low-end show -- was the RSC's MND I saw at the 
Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2000, directed by Michael Boyd. The 
all-white set made no attempt to be the Duke's palace or the forest. The 
costumes I remember were little more than ordinary rehearsal-style 
clothes. The high-energy show concentrated on the language and the 
action, with some brilliant use of props (and Hermia Thrown 
Astonishingly High and Far!), and it was very funny. Michael Boyd, 
however, did not try to force the play into another place and time; 
instead, his very stylish and stylized production scanted illusionistic 
stage elements in favor of visual abstraction that looked like no time 
or place at all. Although the background was different, the Duke's wood 
and the royal trappings and the fairy world, as they would have been 
four hundred years ago, were pretty much left to your imagination. A 
fantasy played as -- a fantasy. I loved it.

Shakespeare's plays present opportunity enough for any director to shine 
without resort to trying to jam the square peg of the play into a round 
hole of the director's choice. Directors who cannot see that shouldn't 
be directing Shakespeare (or maybe anything at all). They are missing a 
sure-fire high concept for success that is always right there in front 
of them:  Shakespeare is first of everything his language, so bring the 
play to life in the language and keep it moving, give them rousing 
fights and good music, and try to find all the comedy in the play. Can't 
miss. No body bags required.

Best to all,
Bob Projansky

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Final CFP "Shakespeare on Screen: 1899-2009"

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0412  Thursday, 30 July 2009

From:       Joseph Sullivan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 15:44:07 -0400
Subject:    Final CFP Deadline for OVSC "Shakespeare on Screen: 1899-2009"

The final deadline for 2009 Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference proposals 
is August 28, 2009. This year's meeting will be held October 22-24, 2009 
at the Ohio University Inn in Athens, Ohio. Papers should address this 
year's theme, "Shakespeare on Screen: 1899-2009."  Our plenary speakers 
for the weekend will include Peter Holland (University of Notre Dame), 
Linda Charnes (Indiana University), and Douglas Lanier (University of 
New Hampshire).

The conference organizing committee invites abstracts (200-300 words) or 
papers on a range of issues in film and television productions of 
Shakespeare from the Silents to the Age of Branagh and Baz. Papers can 
focus on individual films; the work of major directors; intertextual 
(and visual) dialogue between Shakespeare films or between stage and 
film Shakespeares; television Shakespeare; spin-off films and television 
programs; Shakespeare in cyberspace; global Shakespeare; theories of 
appropriation and adaptation; editions and screenplays; funding, 
promotion and marketing; photography and trailers; DVD material; 
audience; film scores; cinematography; cultural context ; film clips; 
and teaching strategies.

All inquiries should be directed to: Samuel Crowl/Department of 
English/Ohio University/Athens, Ohio/45701 or via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Check out our website for registration materials, Smith Prize Contest 
information, and archived resources from previous meetings: 
http://www.marietta.edu/~engl/OVSC

We have recently formed a FaceBook group. Just run a search from your FB 
page for Ohio Valley Shakespeare Conference.

You can also follow us on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/OVSC


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S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.

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