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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
What ho, Horatio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0307  Wednesday, 10 June 2009

[1] From:   Martin Mueller <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009 15:21:53 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0297 What ho, Horatio

[2] From:   Conrad Cook <
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     Date:   Wednesday, 10 Jun 2009 02:07:20 -0400
     Subj:   What ho, Horatio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Martin Mueller <
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Date:       Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009 15:21:53 -0500
Subject: 20.0297 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0297 What ho, Horatio

This may be a case of "how many children had Lady Macbeth?" If you put 
two statements in the play together you're forced to think that she had 
at least one child. You could then have all kinds of speculations about 
what the death of that child did to her psyche.

But the odds are that those two statement just weren't meant to be put 
together -- leaving aside the question of whether Shakespeare 'nodded' 
-- and the same holds true of the fact that Horatio doesn't  tell 
Hamlet. There is only so much the playwright can do in a play. There is 
good reason to make the most of the few things that the playwright can 
make any character say or do within the limits of a play. There is 
rarely a good case for making anything of any of the myriad things the 
playwright does not make the character say or do.

There is a famous instance in Racine's Phaedra, where Phaedra does not 
say to Theseus what she had meant to say. But Racine goes out of his way 
to make a big fuss about this non-saying.

MM

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Conrad Cook <
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Date:       Wednesday, 10 Jun 2009 02:07:20 -0400
Subject:    What ho, Horatio

Alan Pierpoint <
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 >wrote:

 >The point about Horatio not telling Hamlet
 >about Ophelia's death, attributed to me but
 >made by another contributor to the list, is
 >perplexing. It's hard to see how Horatio,
 >mister information in Act I, would not know
 >of Ophelia's death. Did he lack the courage
 >to be the bearer of bad news? Neither
 >explanation is convincing. Plot hole?

"Plot hole"?  In _Hamlet_!?

!)

I mean, it could be: the interpretation can work. My personal rule is 
not to go outside what the text presents us with, and my feeling is that 
Horatio just missing Ophelia's death is consistent with the text, while 
Horatio chickening out adds to the text.

But I can add a few further arguments, if you like: Horatio is "Mr. 
Information," as you say, when it comes to public and historical 
information, and matters of record:  he talks about contracts and wars 
and public rumors about those wars. And he is not convinced of 
Claudius's sinister nature until he sees Hamlet's death-warrant. But 
there is no (marriage) contract between Hamlet and Ophelia.

And, it is very like Shakespeare to include a considered exception for 
any rule -- the one thing Horatio did not know, and so on.

And further, there's a recurring theme in _Hamlet_ of people being 
sabotaged by their own plans. Horatio, you will remember, was assigned 
by Claudius to watch over Ophelia. We next see him getting a letter from 
Hamlet with instructions to bail him out, and to deliver the letters to 
the Queen and King. (No letter to Ophelia this time.)

Now, it may be, if we suppose that Horatio is keeping an eye on Ophelia, 
that Hamlet's letter caused Horatio to abandon that watch, and therefore 
in a sense Hamlet unwittingly caused Ophelia's death. And the only 
letter of Hamlet's that is not read is his letter to the Queen; but 
Gertrude has instead a little speech about Ophelia's death. So it seems 
very possible Shakespeare is hinting that Hamlet's letters caused 
Ophelia's drowning.

 >Anyway, I'm puzzled by Conrad Cook's statement
 >that the king and queen don't know about the
 >relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia. Gertrude's
 >"Sweets to the sweet" speech in V.i expresses, I
 >think sincerely, the hope she once had of having
 >Ophelia for a daughter-in-law,

Well, she knew by then, of course. When Ophelia and Gertrude talk, just 
before the nunnery scene, Gertrude says something about wishing 
Ophelia's good beauties may be the cause of Hamlet's wildness, and that 
she'll bring him to his wonted way again. To which, Ophelia agrees.

That's the women agreeing the couple should get married; all that 
remains is for Hamlet to confess his love, and he blows that one. -- 
Until, that is, her funeral.

 >and her lack of
 >surprise when Polonius shows them Hamlet's love
 >letter way back in Act II suggests, to me anyway,
 >a knowledge of the relationship that predates the
 >events of the play.

Well, I disagree with you there, but again, it could be made to work. I 
think when Gertrude asks, at Polonius reading the bit about Ophelia's 
"excellent white bosom," "Came this from Hamlet to her?" -- that's Mom 
being surprised.

 >Laertes and Polonius certainly
 >know about it in Act I; wouldn't the whole court
 >know by the end of Act IV?

I don't see any evidence for that, though. By the end of act four, the 
court is a-buzz over Ophelia's madness, Polonius's disappearance, which 
probably looks like a political assassination, and Laertes' abortive 
insurrection.  We know that:  if Shakespeare wanted us to know the court 
was talking about Ophelia and Hamlet, I think he would have included 
mention of it.

 >Regarding the snakebite story: Europe's adders being
 >timid little things, the possibility of one biting
 >and killing a healthy king as he slept would be exactly
 >zero. But even if Denmark had been crawling with king
 >cobras, regicide, or threat of same, was common enough
 >back then to make the story suspicious; the point being
 >that the audience of the Mousetrap would have every
 >reason to be predisposed to see guilt in Claudius's
 >reaction. Shakespeare plainly expected HIS audience to
 >see it that way. Remember, too, that after the Mousetrap
 >and the death of Polonius, in the time it took a man to
 >get from Wittenberg to Elsinore, Claudius had a full
 >revolt on his hands. The peasantry was prepared to replace
 >its king with the son of a government minister. Can't we
 >infer that the whole country "knew" that it had a usurper
 >on the throne?

Well, there's knowing and there's knowing. I agree with you, in that if 
Claudius were considered a legitimate king Laertes wouldn't have been 
able to take the fortress so easily. So, on the one hand, it seems 
Claudius is bad at running the kingdom -- more of a partier than an 
administrator, causing it to rot out from the inside -- and on the other 
it seems he's disliked by the multitude.

But I think there's something else going on with the snake story:  this 
is a reference to the Myth of the Fall. King Hamlet is resting in his 
orchard when a serpent stung him: an orchard is a garden for trees, and 
it reflects the Garden with two conspicuous trees, of Life and of 
Knowledge. When the Ghost says, therefore, "know thou noble youth the 
serpent that did sting my life now wears my crown," there is therefore a 
strong but subtle symbolic link made between Claudius and the tempter-devil.

In my opinion, _Hamlet_ is dense with these kinds of structures; I'm 
working on a book on the topic...

Conrad.

[Editor's Note: I generally recommend that when a thread becomes two 
people talking to each other that it is about time that the thread be 
taken off line and the two continue to discuss matters between 
themselves. -HMC]


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