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Home :: Archive :: 2012 :: March ::
Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.138 Friday, 30 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Michael Zito < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 29, 2012 8:32:00 PM EDT

     Subject:     Fat

 

[2] From:        David Bishop < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         March 30, 2012 12:59:12 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Michael Zito < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 29, 2012 8:32:00 PM EDT

Subject:     Fat

 

I think Marie Merkel has thoroughly examined and has both cogently and beautifully expressed just about everything there is to say about what I believe is both the meaning and intent behind the use of “fat” in this situation.  Of course, what I also can’t help but find compelling about this issue is how the action after the word, the offering of the napkin, resembles a Veronica and Christ type moment.  Of course, Christ’s situation also demonstrates how one can be sweaty and scant of breath while reduced to nothing but skin and bones, which I believe, then, strengthens Marie’s explanation: if Hamlet is, and Shakespeare conceives that Hamlet is, still “in shape,” at his “fighting weight,” and sweating, then Shakespeare most likely would have had Gertrude say, “He sweats,” or “He’s sweating,” or “He’s sweaty.”  I believe that Marie makes a strong case, then, for why fat means fat: again, this doesn’t mean or have to mean that he’s obese, but he’s certainly not a growing boy anymore and Gertrude, on the edge of death, remembers herself, is a mom once again for one final moment, and takes notice of her son’s appearance. 

 

I am very much interested in the concept of topical allusions.  I’m not sure if I wholly, totally agree with what Weiss says about how they “did not advance the action of the play.”  Maybe so.  Nonetheless, it seems to me that they do and can help our understanding of certain clues that advance our understanding of, perhaps, the actors of the play, their attributes, and how they ought to be portrayed. 

 

On the note of carousing.  Since this will most likely be my final note in this thread, I would like to share with all of you a sonnet that I have written about Hamlet that treats this issue of carousing and how it leads to our understanding of how things come to unfold toward the end of the play:

 

In My Mind’s Island

 

His Majesty’s Voice. And our whole kingdom

to be contracted in one brow of woe,

into a Cyclops, and the rest of the play

is its gouging.  His tongue, shriller than all

the music, cries, “Cousin!”  The Prince turns to

speak and when he does, it sounds like he says

“pith” and “rind,” so as to suggest he is

something to be peeled.  Words echo thus.

And when he tells Horatio he’ll teach

him to drink deep ere he departs, that is

exactly what he does, passing the cup

to his mother, his uncle, and himself.

    There is a willow grows askant, eternal,

    unmovable, apart from senseless things—

 

How Hamlet greets Horatio, with this language of carousing, then, is an indication of things to come. 

 

Since I have shared this sonnet with all of you, I would like to add a word about the words of Claudius.  In the beginning of his opening speech he says, “our whole kingdom to be contracted in one brow of woe,” but what happens to that “one brow” but seven lines later? Using Kliman’s enfolded edition: “With {an} <one> auspitious, and {a} <one> dropping eye….” Claudius, who committed treason, immediately establishes himself as an equivocator, then, swearing in both the scales against either scale.

 

Nonetheless, vanish Hamlet and vanish all the world,

 

mz

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        David Bishop < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         March 30, 2012 12:59:12 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: KDC/RSC; Baptism; Fat

 

Marie Merkel makes a good try at arguing that “fat” means fat, but I can’t agree. Just to take the line itself, it would seem odd for Gertrude to speak of a persisting condition at this moment. For “scant of breath” to go well with “fat” it would have to be also a general condition of Hamlet these days, or general lack of conditioning, that makes him prone to needing his brow wiped after even a short bout. Though it’s logically and grammatically possible for Gertrude to be saying this, it seems more natural to hear her speaking of Hamlet’s condition at this moment, a condition which adds dramatic energy to the scene by implying that the bout has been strenuous. 

 

Hamlet has both languished and been in continual practice, which cancel each other out, though the thought that he “will win at the odds” adds a vivid detail which supports the latter.

 

Most important, I think, is Hamlet’s character. He is a Dane, but a Dane embarrassed by the notorious drunkenness of his countrymen, a bad public image which Claudius exacerbates with his swaggering upspring reels. Hamlet’s rather puritanical attitude toward sex extends to his attitude toward drink and fat weeds who root themselves in ease on Lethe wharf. This is what he does not want to be. To picture him chowing down while betting on his unrecognized and thus underestimated fencing prowess contrasts with this self-righteous abstemiousness as well as with the melancholy wastage and even the antic Hamlet who eats the air, unlike well-fattened capons.

 

Hamlet is not Falstaff but a recognizable cousin of Hal. I don’t think he has to be notably thin, but I also can't see him as carrying much extra flesh. Put these reasons together and Hamlet is sweating and scant of breath because of the intensity of his match with Laertes. This I believe is more or less the traditional view, for good reason.

 

Best wishes,

David Bishop

 

 

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