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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
What ho, Horatio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0289  Friday, 7 June 2009

[1] From:   Conrad Cook <
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     Date:   Monday, 1 Jun 2009 01:20:21 -0400
     Subj:   What Ho, Horatio!

[2] From:   David Bishop <
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     Date:   Monday, 1 Jun 2009 20:41:31 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0277 What ho, Horatio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Conrad Cook <
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Date:       Monday, 1 Jun 2009 01:20:21 -0400
Subject:    What Ho, Horatio!

Alan Pierpoint <
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 >wrote:

 >The issue for me with the Hamlet/Horatio relationship
 >has always been not in their conversation after the
 >play-within-the-play but in the scene later, in the
 >graveyard, in which it suddenly becomes clear to us
 >that in all the implied time since Hamlet has returned
 >from his England trip Horatio has not thought to say
 >to him, "By the way, while you weregone, your old
 >girlfriend Ophelia drowned herself."
 >
 >One would think that would be the first think he would
 >think to say to Hamlet upon seeing him again. But he
 >doesn't.

For one thing, it seems that it was a secret relationship between 
Ophelia and Hamlet. The King and Queen don't know about it, for example. 
With Hamlet re-making Horatio's acquaintance at the beginning of the 
play ("..or I do forget myself"), just in time for him to wipe away all 
trivial and fond record, and having things with Ophelia fall apart at 
about that time, it's quite possible he never disclosed it to Horatio.

Even if he had, Horatio may not have known about Ophelia's death. Look 
at the timing:  the Sailor makes contact with Horatio; Horatio passes 
Hamlet's letters on to servants who will get them to Claudius and the 
Queen; while Claudius is reading his letter to Laertes and hatching 
further skullduggery, Gertrude enters, her letter from Hamlet perhaps in 
hand, and tells them of Ophelia's death.

It seems that Ophelia drowned just as Horatio was leaving with the 
sailor. It's very likely that he out-raced the spread of the news.

Conrad

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Bishop <
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Date:       Monday, 1 Jun 2009 20:41:31 -0400
Subject: 20.0277 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0277 What ho, Horatio

Arnie Perlstein is right that it would be hard to find a character who 
invites psychological speculation more than Hamlet. Nevertheless, I 
still think Horatio is pretty one-dimensional, and meant to be. He's 
there more as a witness than a participant, though many have considered 
him, and much else in this play, too curiously. How do you pin down over 
curiosity? It's not always easy. Which details give us hints we're meant 
to follow and which don't? One clue is how they fit into the overall 
picture.

For example, Jenkins calls the "ambiguity" of Claudius's 
guilt-revelation, at the play, pointless, since, to give one reason, the 
"painted word" speech has already given us the information that he is 
guilty. That is, if we didn't believe the ghost, and it's very hard not 
to believe him. Shakespeare just wants to make sure we know. Those who 
want to argue the point never, as far as I've seen, recognize the effect 
of the "painted word" speech. They act as if it didn't exist.

As John Wall says, it might seem odd that Horatio doesn't tell Hamlet 
about Ophelia's death, except that "the need for dramatic tension and 
on-stage confrontation trumps normal expectations about human 
interaction". We could worry about a lot of details, in the study, which 
just don't come up in watching the play. Would Ophelia's funeral, in 
real life, be followed immediately by a fencing match? That's one more 
thing audiences don't worry about.

Steve Roth writes that "Hamlet knows that the king rising gives him no 
proof", "Claudius knows that Hamlet knows", and "Hamlet doesn't really 
know". The pointlessness of the argument may also be illustrated by 
these logical tangles. What exactly Claudius knows or believes is not 
quite clear, but he knows that Hamlet is dangerous. That's all he needs.

How Hamlet would know his secret, and why his case is mirrored in the 
Mousetrap, must be a mystery to Claudius, since like most of the onstage 
audience he believes that this is a play from the repertory that can't 
have anything to do with him. Alan Pierpoint rightly points out that 
Hamlet says he told Horatio about his father's death, and that this is 
one way Shakespeare prepares the audience for the catching of Claudius's 
conscience. The "painted word" speech also prepares us, not only by 
revealing Claudius's guilt but by showing that he has a conscience 
capable of being caught. As for the idea that the court sees some threat 
in the content of The Murder of Gonzago, or that they must suspect the 
snake bite story of being false, these suggestions, like so many, many 
others, occur in the suggestable minds of some critics but not in the play.

Best wishes,
David Bishop


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