Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: July ::
What is Hamlet's flaw?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0409  Monday, 27 July 2009

[1] From:   David Bishop <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
     Date:   Saturday, 25 Jul 2009 16:32:20 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[2] From:   John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
     Date:   Sunday, 26 Jul 2009 16:45:29 +0100
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[3] From:   David Basch <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
     Date:   Sunday, 26 Jul 2009 11:56:58 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[4] From:   Donald Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
     Date:   Monday, 27 Jul 2009 08:42:29 -0500
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

[5] From:   Steve Roth <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
     Date:   Sunday, 26 Jul 2009 10:22:52 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Bishop <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:       Saturday, 25 Jul 2009 16:32:20 -0400
Subject: 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

This thread may be swerving off its topic, but I would like to reply 
briefly to Joe Egert.

Claudius's revealed guilt at the end is mainly for Hamlet's murder -- 
and Gertrude's more ambiguous death.

At the beginning Hamlet thinks he's a flawed man, especially compared to 
his godlike father, but believes that his mourning is genuine, unlike 
Claudius and Gertrude's: "I have that within which passes show." He 
also, at first, promises to revenge his father without letting any 
"trivial fond records" get in the way. Even here, his resolution is 
expressed in a way that makes it suspect, to the audience, since it's 
compared to very unrevengeful activities: "swift as meditation or the 
thoughts of love." Hamlet at the beginning may feel weak or inadequate 
but not yet guilty of an unexplainable, or cowardly, delay. Then he 
proposes to put an antic disposition on, and when he appears again he's 
reading on a book. Already he's showing the tardiness that makes him 
guilty in the eyes of the ghost, and in the corresponding part of his 
own conscience.

If the ghost is guilty for his killing of Fortinbras, that guilt, like 
all his other guilt, as a sinning human being, could presumably have 
been wiped out by proper shriving. I tend to believe his guilt is only 
normal human guilt, which incurs frightening purgation, thus 
intensifying Hamlet's anxiety about the punishment he would face for 
killing a king. It wouldn't be mere purgation, but damnation, as Laertes 
says: "I dare damnation." And there's that oxymoron again: to dare 
damnation you have to know you're doing something damnable, but demanded 
by a different kind of conscience. To refrain from revenge, and 
regicide, out of fear of God, would be cowardly -- from that ghostlike 
point of view.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Drakakis <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:       Sunday, 26 Jul 2009 16:45:29 +0100
Subject: 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

I'm not sure what text of Hamlet Joe Egert is reading. Look at 
5.2.313-14 where Laertes spills the beans. It is Laertes' exposure of 
the king's hand in the poisoning that produces Hamlet's response. 
Hamlet's action produces a response from the onstage audience: 'Treason, 
treason'. And it looks like 'treason' until Laertes augments his 
explanation at 5.2.321-25, after Hamlet has made Claudius drink from the 
same cup as Gertrude. It is this sequence of events that brings 
Claudius's crime out into the open, and so the allegation of 'treason' 
could, at this point, just as easily (and more properly) be levelled at 
him. All Hamlet is doing at this point is enacting 'justice' which is 
part of the content of 'revenge'. Insofar as it is revenge then it is 
very heavily circumscribed, and must be distinguished from the other 
anarchic forms of killing and of revenge that provide a contrast within 
the play.

On the issues of 'pharmakon' and 'presence' David Bishop might like to 
have a look at Derrida's essay on 'The Pharmakon' in 'Dissemination'. 
The matter isn't quite as 'off-topic' as he thinks since both these 
concepts are integral to the idea of tragedy, and have a specific 
relation to this tragedy in particular. Hamlet's 'problem' isn't 
psychological, and he doesn't have a 'fault' in his 'character', any 
more than Macbeth's 'fault' is the very ambition that the ethos presided 
over by Duncan encourages. The play poses the question of what happens 
when meaning is not present to itself, and when what grounds meaning 
becomes contaminated. Words and actions are separated from each other in 
'Hamlet' and the tragic hero has to try and somehow resolve the dilemma. 
Claudius always speaks with forked tongue, and what does this do to 
'custom' and 'antiquity', 'the ratifiers and props of every word'? How 
can the tragic hero make sense of the task with which he is confronted 
when authority and the meanings that it authorises are contaminated? Why 
should we assume that the Ghost's injunction to 'revenge' must be taken 
negatively? The Ghost of Old Hamlet is the remnant of an authority that 
has been superseded, and would he not have been the both the guarantor 
of meaning and law? Why should we assume that Old Hamlet wants PERSONAL 
revenge? One of Hamlet's problems is that he has to interpret the 
Ghost's injunction in a world where meaning is no longer clear. (We 
don't really need to guess at whether Shakespeare read Aristotle's 
Poetics. If he read any Aristotle, then it is more likely that he read 
'The Politics' of which a translation appeared in 1598.)Is it any wonder 
that he has a problem? What his problem certainly isn't is the kind of 
petty bourgeois angst that arises from autonomous personal 
'relationships'. This is not the male equivalent of Desperate Housewives!

Cheers,
John Drakakis

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Basch <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:       Sunday, 26 Jul 2009 11:56:58 -0400
Subject: 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

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.

Joe Egert also wrote:

 >David Basch denies human agency as an instrument of Providence
 >in misquoting Hamlet on the "divinity that shapes our ends,
 >rough hewn though it may be." Shakespeare acknowledges such
 >agency, though shorn perhaps of prescience of those ends ...
 >"rough-hew them how we may."

I would rejoinder that though my failing memory may have erred in citing 
the line, I do not deny human agency as an instrument of Providence and 
wonder at how Joe Egert could arrive at such a hasty conclusion about me 
from such a limited fact.

In any case, the point I tried to make earlier still stands. Hamlet was 
arguing against obeying the premonition he had, which Horatio urges him 
to pay attention to. Yet Hamlet, defying "augury," insists on abandoning 
himself to whatever lies ahead on Claudius's turf. But Hamlet's uneasy 
feelings are not "wimpy worrying" and seem a warranted, far-reaching 
emotional response to his situation in which he can expect that Claudius 
is busy plotting against him. However, it seems that Hamlet's past 
experience of coming through Claudius's earlier plot, with everything 
falling into line enabling him to discover and rewrite Claudius's death 
sentence and return rapidly to Denmark, makes him think he sees clear 
signs of Providence at work and that he can religiously accept whatever 
Providence has in store for him.

On the other hand, Horatio's counsel was to have Hamlet avoid the duel. 
We can infer that Horatio conceives that Hamlet should rather come up 
with a plan to deal effectively with his situation. After all, Hamlet, 
the favorite of the people, could have noted Claudius's plan to have him 
killed in England, bringing up also Claudius's reaction to the play. The 
fuss could have worked for Hamlet. Hamlet did have alternatives.

But Hamlet's problem was that he is "overly wise" in thinking he 
actually understood God's ways in the manner he did, a manner altogether 
inappropriate and ineffective to deal with his situation. This was the 
outcome of one of his fatal flaws in character. This is a flaw he shares 
with many other overly wise persons in the world that court the danger 
of harming themselves by reacting passively to events, thinking they 
have superior wisdom and understanding of unknowable forces, rather than 
conceiving more down to earth responses that less clever but more 
effective persons would take.

As we see in the events of the play, Hamlet's being overly wise and over 
righteous -- flaws Hamlet he doesn't even know he has -- are not mere 
errors but are rooted in his character. As Shakespeare shows, these are 
sufficient to do in even good persons.

The play Hamlet is a parable that can serve as a life lesson that the 
great Shakespeare communicates in his powerful drama. In doing so, 
Shakespeare brings the inspired words of Ecclesiastes's warning to clear 
view and life for his audience. But it is we that have to study the play 
to see this and have the wherewithal to recognize it and not evade it by 
getting lost in the play's events, reading the signs wrongly as pointing 
elsewhere toward our own less relevant to the play preoccupations.

It is truly tragic that a man as admirably brilliant and righteous as 
Hamlet could destroy himself by faults hidden to himself, even as he 
recognizes the virtues of his friend Horatio that he again tragically 
fails to emulate.

David Basch

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Donald Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:       Monday, 27 Jul 2009 08:42:29 -0500
Subject: 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

Flaw? We don't have to look very far. The world's leading expert on 
Hamlet tells us that he is "very proud, revengeful, ambitious." Put it 
another way: which of the Seven Mortal Sins does he lack? He does not, 
to be sure, appear to be greedy or gluttonous. But for the rest -- look 
to't.

Is he then contemptible? Despicable? Hardly, unless we are such utter 
hypocrites as to imagine that he is worse than we ourselves are.

Whatever the author may have believed and how deeply, the play is a 
product of a Christian country in a time when religious issues were 
particularly important -- even (or rather, especially) among the 
intelligentsia. This play is permeated with questions about death and 
judgment, heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, hope and despair. Hamlet 
is a son of Adam: he was born with all the "tragic flaw" he needed,

As he says, "What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and 
heaven? We are arrant knaves all . . ." And, of course, why would any 
female, whether a sweet young things or a treacherous slut, want to be 
"a breeder of sinners"?

I don't propose to "work this all out" by means of some Christian 
interpretation, whether orthodox or heterodox. For one thing, I have 
gained at least a little humility through many decades of having my 
vanity exposed. But for another - and mainly - I don't believe 
Shakespeare "worked it out." I don't know that he wanted to or even that 
he could have if he did want to.

If you are of one sort of mind, you will accept the idea that it can't 
be worked out. (Don't ask me what "it" is: if I could tell you, I would 
have worked it out, or would think I had.) If you are of another, you 
will find some agreeable philosopher, prophet, saint or church that will 
supply a satisfactory working out. But even if you are of the latter 
group (as I am), you will need to recognize that it can't all be worked 
out without some things being taken on faith.

Hamlet and his play belong to one of those areas that defy the simple 
creedal, catechetical, or critical formulas. This defiance does not make 
the formulas invalid, nor the play (and here I agree with Lewis that 
Eliot was simply wrong) inferior. It does, though, make it infinitely 
fascinating though exceedingly treacherous.

Cheers,
don

p.s. Is Polonius the only major character impervious to these questions 
and to doubts about himself? If so, that would seem an especially 
telling point.

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Steve Roth <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:       Sunday, 26 Jul 2009 10:22:52 -0700
Subject: 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0403 What is Hamlet's flaw?

Hi All:

As one of the primary Hamlet malefactors (though I try to keep my posts 
few and short), I thought I'd offer to take some of that load off Hardy 
by offering the blog at http://princehamlet.com as an alternative forum.

It might also provide a(nother) proving ground for the blog as a 
mediated medium. If anyone (including Hardy) is so inclined, they may 
feel free to re-direct these lengthy Hamlet discussions to that forum.

Though I doubt I can do so as well as Hardy, I'll do my best to keep 
discussions there at least civil, though not perhaps reliably profound.

I haven't set up the blog there yet but have been intending to and can 
do so very quickly.

Thoughts?

Thanks,
Steve

[Editor's Note: I endorse Steve Roth's idea above and encourage anyone 
with a special interest in _Hamlet_ on in Hamlet to go to this site and 
blog away. Over the years, Steve Roth has proven himself a thoughtful 
and focused contributor to discussions on SHAKSPER, and I am sure he 
exercises the same degree of thoughtfulness at his blog. -HMC]


_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail 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.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.