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Dying Unshriven
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.1088  Saturday, 9 December 2006

[1]     From:     Kenneth Chan <
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    Date:     Thursday, 07 Dec 2006 02:05:02 +0800
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

[2]     From:     Jeffrey Jordan <
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    Date:     Wednesday, 6 Dec 2006 12:44:16 -0600
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

[3]     From:     Elliott Stone <
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    Date:     Wednesday, 6 Dec 2006 15:49:43 -0500
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

[4]     From:     David Bishop <
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    Date:     Thursday, 7 Dec 2006 02:18:45 -0500
    Subj:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

[5]     From:     Joseph Egert <
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    Date:     Thursday, 07 Dec 2006 18:35:22 +0000
    Subj:     RE: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Kenneth Chan <
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Date:         Thursday, 07 Dec 2006 02:05:02 +0800
Subject: 17.1082 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

In response to Will Sharpe's comments, perhaps I can amend my statement 
(which is a response to an earlier comment by Donald Bloom) by adding 
four words at the end. The more important point I was trying to make was 
that any interpretation of a Shakespearean play should be based on the 
entire play and not only on arbitrarily selected portions of it. The 
point is that it is extremely difficult to find an interpretation that 
fits every line of the play. So if one can be found, surely we should 
take note of it.

Anyway, I am interested to find out whether this amended statement is 
now acceptable or not. If not, I would be grateful to learn why not. The 
whole amended statement now reads as follows:

"Donald Bloom writes:

"In "Hamlet" even more than in most of the plays you tend to find what 
you look for, and say more about yourself than about the title character 
or any of the others"

This is definitely true if we selectively use only the portions of the 
play that suit our interpretation, while ignoring the rest. On the other 
hand, if we have to fit our interpretation to the entire play - every 
portion of it, without leaving anything out - we will find that there is 
actually very little room for multiple varying interpretations. Then, 
and only then, will we come close to the meaning of the play as 
Shakespeare intended if he intended any."

Regards,
Kenneth Chan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Jeffrey Jordan <
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Date:         Wednesday, 6 Dec 2006 12:44:16 -0600
Subject: 17.1082 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

Replying to Paul E. Doniger.

 > I can accept the possibility that Horatio's
 > comment may be seen as a criticism ...

As the wording in the play actually stands, it's no harsh criticism from 
Horatio, and the "go to it" line can even be read as approval by 
Horatio.  Horatio could nod thoughtfully as he says his line, and it 
would play alright, as far as that line, itself, goes.

It's notable that Hamlet's "make love - employment" line is only in the 
Folio, not in the Second Quarto published in the author's lifetime.  
Then, the use of "man" in the line is a departure from its use elsewhere 
in the dialogue, throughout the play.  Further, it's discordant that 
Hamlet abruptly calls Horatio "man" after calling him "sir" earlier in 
the passage.  Hamlet's "employment" line may not be authorial.  It's at 
least suspicious.  It may be editorial, added by the Folio editor(s), 
thinking Hamlet needed more excuse.  The possibility deserves mention.

It's impossible to be certain, but I suggest at least a little 
skepticism about that "employment" line.  There's some argument that it 
isn't authorial.  We do know the Folio was bowdlerized to some extent, 
in comparison to Q2, although the only certainty on that is  in the 
oaths that were changed.

 > Also, it could be quite simply a quiet reaction
 > that carries no reproof at all. Horatio is
 > something of a stoic who is "not passion's
 > slave;" consequently, it's quite probable that
 > his comment carries no judgment in it at all.

That's a credible position.

 > Hamlet's self-defense (if that's what it is) may
 > come from his own inner turmoil or sense of
 > guilt and not at all from Horatio's personal reaction
 > to the news.

And may also, in the Folio-only "employment" line, come from a Folio 
editor who was uncomfortable with Hamlet's cavalier attitude.  It's  
possible.

Replying to Will Sharpe.

 > It is very unlikely that we are ever going to find
 > Shakespeare's diary ... , and even less likely
 > that we are going to find his mind, so we can say,
 > I feel confident, with absolute certainty that we
 > are never going to know 'the meaning of the
 > play as Shakespeare intended'. ...

The way to know the meaning of the play, as Shakespeare intended, is to 
look at the words he actually used to write the play.  He intended what 
he wrote.  It would not be rational to suppose he wrote wording he 
didn't intend.  He certainly did intend the play to have meaning - as a 
play!

But it's extremely doubtful he intended Hamlet to be a guidebook on 
philosophy, religion, politics, or how to buy a used car.  Where one 
gets into trouble is when he departs from Hamlet as a play, and ventures 
into something like philosophy, or politics, etc. based on Hamlet.  We 
can be sure the Bard did not write Hamlet to support one's favorite 
notions of 21st century utopia.

But if one denies ALL meaning of Hamlet, it denies the author was 
anything but a monkey at a keyboard, and that can't possibly be right.  
We know he wasn't.  Of course Hamlet has meaning, as a play, and was so 
written.  The difficulty of Hamlet is no argument against.

[Editor's Note: Regarding "The way to know the meaning of the play, as 
Shakespeare intended, is to look at the words he actually used to write 
the play," please tell me what Shakespeare intended when he wrote,

What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet. (Rom. 2.2.82-85, Oxford)

Or

Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars. (Rom. 5.1.24, Oxford)]

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Elliott Stone <
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Date:         Wednesday, 6 Dec 2006 15:49:43 -0500
Subject: 17.1082 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

Gentlemen,

"the meaning of the play as Shakespeare intended".

I believe Prince Hamlet had some excellent thoughts on that subject.

Hamlet II.ii 522 "Good my lord, will you see the players well bestow'd? 
Do you hear, let them be well us'd, for they are the abstract and brief 
chronicles of the time."

Hamlet III.ii 20  "--the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the 
first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to 
show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body 
of the time his form and pressure."

We do not have Shakespeare's newspaper. We have his play which is a 
"brief chronicle of the time".
We do know that one of the greatest "pressures" of Shakespeare's time 
was the struggle with the Old Faith.

It does not seem unreasonable to me to look at Elizabethan History to 
come to an understanding of what this play is telling us. It may be that 
this story is not one we want to hear or that is quite different then 
the story we heard years ago when we were undergraduates, but 
nevertheless it does not follow that such an examination is not worth 
pursuing.

Best,
Elliott H. Stone

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Bishop <
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Date:         Thursday, 7 Dec 2006 02:18:45 -0500
Subject: 17.1082 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     Re: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

Will Sharpe disapproves of those who "witter on about [Shakespeare's 
meaning] in the hope of convincing others of [their] interpretations." 
He approves of "hard research and considered opinions". How exactly do 
we tell the difference?

Hardy is against those who push "their own pet theory that they are 
convinced is the one and only way to interpret the meaning of the work, 
the TRUTH. Will has well expressed the futility of such efforts here." 
But what is in question here? What's the difference between a theory and 
a pet theory? It seems a pet theory is one whose author is ever ready to 
repeat it, and claims that it's the TRUTH. But I can stamp my foot all I 
want, and say that my theory is the one and only possible truth, and it 
won't make that theory any more true or any more false.

I may argue that Shakespeare intended such and so, and my argument may 
be more or less competent, plausible, or interesting. That is what 
literary criticism is. We can't call up Shakespeare and ask what he 
intended (and if we could, should we believe him?), but he left us some 
evidence: his work. I would argue, for example, that if your theory is 
that Shakespeare intended us to believe that Gertrude secretly murdered 
Ophelia, you are reading very badly. Am I not allowed to say that 
because I can't consult Shakespeare in person? Can I read without 
interpreting? It seems doubtful to me. Can I read and interpret wrongly? 
Undoubtedly.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Joseph Egert <
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Date:         Thursday, 07 Dec 2006 18:35:22 +0000
Subject: 17.1082 Dying Unshriven
Comment:     RE: SHK 17.1082 Dying Unshriven

Once more into the breach.

Will Sharpe writes:

 >...  I feel confident, with absolute certainty that
 >we are never going to know 'the meaning of the play as Shakespeare
 >intended'.[...] we can
 >see the fruitlessness of the exercise of striving for authentic
 >meaning, [...] we
 >should have round-table discussions, with guest moderators, that
 >might actually involve hard research and considered opinions on
 >published work. That way, this forum might become what it was
 >intended to be: a way of using technology to maintain a scholarly
 >community, a sort of year-round conference that allows ideas to be
 >swapped without needing to all fly to a particular city. Sadly, it
 >seems to be going the way of most things on the internet, where any
 >old thing can get published.

Who is stopping Will Sharpe from committing scholarship on this List? Is 
it Hardy, who sifts and plants only those seeds available to him? Is it 
those nasty enthusiasts, who bring energy and passion (if at times 
obsessive) along with their pet theories?

In the subject at hand, Jeffrey Jordan's roll of unshriven deaths in 
HAMLET omits King Fortinbras, the "first corse" of this play. Are we 
permitted to speculate whether King Hamlet's victim died unshriven (of 
sword envenomed by Old Norway, perhaps)? Was it customary for the lords 
and kings of feudal Den-way or Renaissance Europe to confess their sins 
before butchering each other in honorable combat? Jordan's roll goes on 
to include Gertrude. Yet didn't the Prince, acting as her priestly 
confessor, shrive the Queen at least partially during their closet 
encounter, forcing her to confront her own sins. By Catholic or 
Protestant lights, did this constitute a sufficient shriving despite the 
absence of formal clergy or detailed recitation? Finally, would such a 
shriving carry a shelf life, its efficacy expiring before Gertrude 
herself expired?

To this member, all roads lead to theme. Textual, historicist, 
performative, and other forms of critique are all helpful in explicating 
the meanings probably intended by their authors, as interpreted by 
audiences and critics down the years. Such groups will necessarily even 
if unconsciously mould and appropriate these meanings to conform with 
their own background, values and objectives. Granted, we can never fully 
recapture "original" meaning. Does it follow then, we should no longer 
aspire to the Grail? no longer seek to solve the puzzles Shakespeare 
explicitly poses for us over and over again in all his plays?

Let the eagle soar!

Joe Egert   

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