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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: June ::
What ho, Horatio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0318  Monday, 15 June 2009

[1] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Friday, 12 Jun 2009 12:57:39 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0312 What ho, Horatio

[2] From:   Steve Roth <
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     Date:   Saturday, 13 Jun 2009 08:21:05 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0312 What ho, Horatio

[3] From:   Anthony Burton <
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     Date:   Saturday, 13 Jun 2009 12:24:47 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0312 What ho, Horatio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Friday, 12 Jun 2009 12:57:39 -0400
Subject: 20.0312 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0312 What ho, Horatio

 >Claudius seems to become king by virtue of his blood relation to King
 >Hamlet although, later, it appears that Laertes may become king via 
election
 >due to his popularity.

This is not a contradiction. Claudius was elected king, evidently 
receiving more votes than Hamlet ("popp'd in between th' election and my 
hopes"), presumably by the assembly of nobles who in fact elected Danish 
kings. Relationship to the deceased king was probably a factor, but 
surely was not determinative. (It is curious to consider why the 
electors made this choice and whether they were not right to do so.)

Laertes, on the other hand, was not being elected; he was being 
installed via rebellion.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Steve Roth <
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 >
Date:       Saturday, 13 Jun 2009 08:21:05 -0700
Subject: 20.0312 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0312 What ho, Horatio

It's just worth noting that F1 and Q2 are quite a mess regarding the 
recipient of Claudius' instruction to "give her good watch." (See TLNs 
2744-2760.) Horatio is present in both versions, but in F1 Horatio's Q2 
speeches are given to a "Gent." (The only speech given to Horatio in F1 
is given to the queen -- more appropriately it seems, given the "Let her 
come in" command -- in Q2.) Horatio is not present in Q1, FWIW.

And Horatio is definitely not present (in any edition) when Ophelia's 
death is reported, hence he doesn't know about her death -- only her 
madness -- in the graveyard. So that's one Horatio problem partially put 
aside.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Anthony Burton <
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Date:       Saturday, 13 Jun 2009 12:24:47 -0400
Subject: 20.0312 What ho, Horatio
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0312 What ho, Horatio

It is impossible to address all the supposed loose ends in Hamlet and 
futile to hope for much in the way of general agreement, but a good 
number of those discussed on this thread are truly red herrings. Let me 
point out a few and offer what I consider plausible explanations for the 
benefit of the distressed.

1. Hamlet is not necessarily ignorant of Ophelia's death. What the 
audience sees him being surprised by is that the approaching nighttime 
burial being performed with such maimed rites is hers; not quite those 
of a suicide, but apparently the best that the church will go along with 
even after the influence of "great command." And from Laertes's 
reaction, one may infer that the matter was up in the air until the last 
moment, a time when Horatio was away from Elsinore being conducted by 
the pirates to the secret place where Hamlet was waiting. If Horatio 
reported to Hamlet only Gertrude's false (as I have argued elsewhere) 
but official report of the drowning as an accident, Hamlet's reaction is 
exactly what we should expect.

2. Fortinbras's  highly dubious "recklessness," if that's what it is, 
occurred before his financial problems were resolved by his uncle, when 
he no longer had to worry about his "stomach" and the economic effects 
of disinheritance resulting from his father's fatally bad bet with old 
Hamlet. As we hear in The Threepenny Opera "First feed our bellies and 
then talk right and wrong;" so Fortinbras was willing to talk right and 
wrong after his uncle awarded him a generous allowance, confirming that 
the motivation of his earlier invasion threat was purely economic. I 
have also dealt with this elsewhere, in articles available online at 
Hamletworks.org

3. The ghost does not reveal the secrets of his prison house, his 
"partial" revelation being nothing more than the vaguest reference to 
details that everyone believes already. If you want the real skinny, die 
unshriven and find out first hand.

4. The ghost reprimands Hamlet for his blunted purpose while Hamlet is 
reproving Gertrude  --  after being told expressly not to direct his 
mandate for revenge against her. Isn't that what we should be thinking 
about in interpreting the ghost's words, rather than Hamlet's 
willingness to kill someone (Polonius) in possible hope of getting at 
his real target, Claudius?  Many have argued that the added lines in The 
Murder of Gonzago related to Gertrude in one way or another, so this is 
hardly a new suggestion.

5. Passing over the other listed points as largely not requiring 
answers, it seems clear that the famous claim of inconsistency in the 
"undiscovered country" passage is entirely specious, and Hamlet's words 
have nothing at all to do with the matter of ghosts, revenants, nor 
benign or diabolic spirits. Hamlet is mulling the question "how to get 
it right" in the matter of earthly choice, how to model his behavior so 
as to avoid the dreads of post mortem torment such as reported by his 
father's ghost and thus made an issue in the play, and  as generally 
believed in any event. The inability of a traveller to return from that 
bourne, in this context, is adequately (and exclusively) explained by 
understanding it as meaning that one doesn't get a mulligan; one cannot 
come back to earthly life in order to relive and correct wrong choices 
in the matter of suffering or taking arms against the slings and arrows 
of outrageous fortune, and so on. If someone else's shade comes back to 
deliver ambiguous messages to the living, that's another matter; it is 
the context or back story for, but not the subject of the "to be" 
soliloquy.

With all there is to be said and thought about the play, these supposed 
inconsistencies strike me as the sort of "gotchas" we hear thrown about 
on talk TV and radio, arising from insufficiently attentive and 
energetic observation, reading, and thinking about subtle distinctions 
and nuances that are said to have engaged the wiser sort back in 
Shakespeare's day. They are not what makes the play deep and rich but 
distractions from it.

Cheers to all,
Tony Burton


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