Hamlet’s Abrupt Reversal at III.4.125-130

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.109  Wednesday, 14 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 13, 2012 8:22:12 PM EDT

     Subject:     Hamlet’s Reversal

 

[2] From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 14, 2012 7:08:33 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Reversal

 

 

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

From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 13, 2012 8:22:12 PM EDT

Subject:     Hamlet’s Reversal

 

Emendation may resolve Hamlet’s contradictory remarks noted by Andrew Wilson. Hamlet seems otherwise consistent, despite events. The reversal is the Ghost’s:

 

  Ghost. Doe not forget, this visitation

Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose,

But looke, amazement on thy mother sits,

O step between her, and her fighting soule

 

His appearance meant to egg Hamlet on to a revenge that could falter on the killing of Polonius. But the Ghost’s emotions were overcome by his Queen’s distress, which caused him both to ask Hamlet to comfort her and to threaten Hamlet's resolve (from pity for an odd couple—the dead father and living mother). As for whetting the purpose,

 

His forme and cause conioynd, preaching to stones

Would make them capable . . .

 

On turning to the Queen, the King wimps out,

 

                                . . . doe not looke vpon *her,*

Least with this pittious action you conuert

My stearne effects . . .

 

Whereat the Ghost leaves and Hamlet resumes berating his Mom. It is better perhaps to look for consistency in this play than contradiction and I think one should not overlook the possibility that minor corruption may confuse matters here and elsewhere.

 

Two points: take him for all in all, the Ghost is just a ghost, not a god; and however this is handled, by anyone (Shakespeare, Whoopi, etc.), there must be fictional contradictions. One of my formative moments as a kid was a TV statement: “I choose to believe in ghosts.” Right!! but I didn’t give up on TV until a critic came back from vacation to say it was all crap. He ought to know, I thought.

 

Gerald E. Downs

 

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

From:        John Briggs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 7:08:33 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Reversal

 

Steve Roth wrote:

 

>If the similarity that I espy between Caesar’s time with the 

>pirates (Plutarch Lives, Caesar, 2.1-3) and Hamlet’s is safe,

 

The similarity is easily explained: Shakespeare wrote “Julius Caesar” the year before he wrote “Hamlet”—it was probably the immediately preceding play.

 

John Briggs

 

Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.108  Wednesday, 14 March 2012

 

[1] From:        Anthony Burton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 13, 2012 7:07:02 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat Hamlet

 

[2] From:        Michael Zito <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 13, 2012 9:20:50 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

[3] From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 14, 2012 12:00:46 AM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

[4] From:        Nicholas Oulton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         March 14, 2012 5:06:23 AM EDT

     Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

 

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

From:        Anthony Burton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 13, 2012 7:07:02 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat Hamlet

 

[Editor’s Note: In 1999, there was a thread on “Fat Hamlet.”  In the December posts that concluded the thread, Louis Marder maintained that “fat” meant “sweating,” while Alan Dessen called attention to “The Impediment of Adipose—A Celebrated Case,” The Popular Science Monthly, 17 (May to October, 1880): 60-71. In it, the author E. Vale Blake argues that Hamlet is “impeded at every step by a superfluity of adipose” (71). 

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9067-q-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9074-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9083-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9089-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/156-december/9459-re-fat-hamlet

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/156-december/9464-re-fat-hamlet

 

Searching the Archive can be great fun. –Hardy]

 

 

Many thanks to Hardy for making relevant posts on this subject conveniently available.

 

The matter of Hamlet’s “fat” raises two questions, not simply how to interpret “fat”.  The second question is whether or not to believe Gertrude.  As to the first, I have to go along with Louis Marder’s explanation of “sweaty,” as the one which conforms best to the on stage action, in which Gertrude specifically offers her handkerchief for Hamlet to wipe his face.  If he were merely and visibly overweight, the word would have little purpose and nothing to do with her gesture. 

 

As to the second, I have come to believe that the answer is “no,” and my argument for that conclusion can be found in the chapter “The Lady Vanishes” published in Acts of Criticism (Paul Nelson and June Schlueter, eds.) Fairleigh Dickinson U. Press (2005).  My central point, briefly, is that Gertrude’s character is consistently expressed in a specific choreography involving situation, movement and words. First, she is confronted by circumstances threatening imminent discord, social or physical; second, she intervenes physically between the parties in conflict; third, she makes a conciliatory but false statement of the facts so as negate the discord by falsely re-defining the situation as harmonious and consistent with honor on all sides, rather than its intolerable opposite.

 

Hamlet’s (apparently discourteous) act of refusing the goblet offered by Claudius is one of several indications which suggest to me that his exertions with Laertes had not left him in need of any sort of break, and confirm that Gertrude’s last “explanation” is as false as all her others.  In fact, they prepare the audience to listen to her with the critical skepticism required of “the wiser sort.”  But my reading leaves enough room for flexibility in staging to accommodate Hamlets both stout and slender, and dueling styles either violently athletic or gracefully genteel. 

 

Cheers to all, in hopes of seeing many at the SAA in Boston,

 

Tony Burton

 

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

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

Date:         March 13, 2012 9:20:50 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Thanks, Hardy, for directing me to these archives.  Fun reading, indeed!

 

mz

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 12:00:46 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Richard Burbage is said to have weighed 16 or 17 stn.  Having Gertrude say that Hamlet is “fat” may well have been Shakespeare’s way of anticipating criticism that Burbage was miscast.  This also could explain why Shakespeare seems to have gone out of his way in V.i to fix Hamlet’s age at 30:  In 1600 Burbage was 32.  A character is precisely as old and as large as the actor who plays him appears to be, especially on a playhouse stage lit by natural light.

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Nicholas Oulton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 14, 2012 5:06:23 AM EDT

Subject:     RE: SHAKSPER: Fat

 

Most readers have felt that “fat” ought to mean “sweating” here. The problem is that no-one has been able to find a convincing parallel to the use of the word in this sense. But Harold Jenkins in his Arden edition of Hamlet (page 568) reports that a Minnesota farmer’s wife used the word in just this sense in 1923 (he cites the TLS, 1927, page 375 as his source). Does anyone know if more recent research into American dialects confirms this usage? 

 

Nicholas Oulton

Centre for Economic Performance

London School of Economics & Political Science

 

Shakespearean Originals King Lear

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.107  Wednesday, 14 March 2012

 

From:        Gerald E. Downs <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 13, 2012 8:29:29 PM EDT

Subject:     Shakespearean Originals King Lear

 

In his Introduction to the “Shakespearean Originals” edition of King Lear Graham Holderness offers a history of Q1/F scholarship that shows how close one may come to my thinking on the texts while criticizing—yet remaining tied to—prior scholarship. Since the ‘Originals’ series was the best a generation of ‘outside the box’ Theorists could manage, it is instructive how their hands and feet are stockt, Kent-like (not Clark; Earl), inside a New Bibliography framework.

 

Although Holderness is right to observe that the “two original printed texts are substantially different,” one should keep in mind the fact that F is more than less a reprint of Q1; so much so that Q2 shared F-copy duty. He notes, “Scholars who believed the text . . . reported also . . . felt that since it approximated more consistently than other comparable Bad Quartos to its 1623 counterpart, it was not perhaps in some ways ‘bad’ enough legitimately to earn the questionable designation of Bad Quarto.”

 

Once one steps in it (the box), it is hard to step out. Questioning the origin of terms we retain does little good; it is better to define them. My bad quarto definition relies on the historical condition of reproduction from memory (rather than from an unbroken line of transcriptions); thus bad quartos need not be ‘bad,’ consistent, or compared. But if Q1 is consistently comparable to F, why beg the next logical question?

 

Before we ask whether Q1 reproduces F well, we need to ask if it isn’t the other way round. Blayney observes that F is what was done to Q1. Before we judge Q1 by its offshoot there must be some convincing argument that F has an authority edge. I agree with Stone and Blayney that it doesn’t; if F derives from Q1, then their approximation to one another says nothing of relative corruption of Q1 to its own ancestors. Further, if Q1 whuppins of mass corruption derive from a history culminating in a printed memorial report, it is unlikely that F is an authorial redaction of what (to the author) would be a travesty.

 

That’s not to say a bad quarto has to be bad, value-wise. Well-done shorthand reports of well-acted performances well-adapted by professional troupes may be presentable even if poorly printed; this is denied by prematurely discounting such reporting, and by assuming authorial foul papers behind the corruptions. Cutting corners inside the box makes for circular reasoning.

 

Holderness seems to accept the premise that Q1 copy was authorial by rejecting arguments that it was a memorial reconstruction (15). But first he cites Duthie for arguing against a shorthand report, which had been posited by Greg (& Schmidt, long before). As Duthie’s argument was based on F as Q1’s authority, anyone who rules out memorial transmission completely should disagree with Duthie’s case against shorthand. Such is not the case; Duthie is standard grab-bag authority.

 

Holderness also argues against MR, ending with criticism of Duthie’s post-shorthand theory, which “displayed characteristic ingenuity in stretching the [MR] hypothesis to incorporate the [supposed] atypical consistency of [Q1], by elaborating an engaging fantasy in which the text was reconstructed from memory by the whole cast. Since there is no marked discrepancy in point of approximation to the Folio text among the various roles, all the actors must perforce have been involved in reconstructing the text. Searching for a plausible set of circumstances in which the company might have wanted to undertake such an odd exercise . . .” (15).

 

Notwithstanding the facts that Duthie abandoned this idea and that others have taken it up for other plays (McMillan, Erne), I agree: Group Theory does not compute. What if we back up a bit? If shorthand is not eliminated, is it so difficult to imagine whole casts ‘reconstructing’ plays from memory? Isn’t that what casts do—perfor(man)ce? What if there is strong evidence for shorthand reporting? We can see how the order of NB argument, most of which is no good no how, dictates to modern and post-modern critics.

 

They are left with the ‘Wells and Taylor volume[(s) -- Shakespearian revision],’ which Holderness holds to be “innovatory and provocative [innovative and provocatory?],” but “the centrality of ‘Shakespeare’ to the entire enterprise was in no way questioned. In fact . . . the final effect was to extend to Shakespeare an even greater centrality . . . . It can be accepted, since there are two King(s) Lear, that Shakespeare did not after all write only one, as long as it is admitted that he wrote both” (17).

 

“Texts in this model are related not to historical conditions of production and contexts of cultural appropriation, but to one another, and to their ‘onlie begetter’, the author (20).” Holderness is right on this, but he seems not to question Q1 foul-papers copy, which not only ignores conditions and contexts; it ignores the need for evidence. The author is not just in at the start: the start is the copy for Q1. But what if a long history lies behind Q1? What if its text is a shorthand report? What if that was appropriated by publishers to be ‘cur’d’ quackerly for the Folio? These questions are not allowed by the narrow insistence of the revision model, nor by much of the scholarly tradition.

 

Gerald E. Downs

Hamlet’s Abrupt Reversal at III.4.125-130

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.106  Tuesday, 13 March 2012

 

From:        Conrad Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 12, 2012 1:56:12 PM EDT

Subject:     Reversal

 

---Andrew Wilson < This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

 

>Third . . . If the above two points are correct then Hamlet’s speech

>contains a spectacular, turn-on-a-dime reversal I had not appreciated

>before.

>

>Line 126 up to the hyphen in line 127 loosely paraphrased is, 

>“Who could look on him (i.e. the ghost) and not take up his 

>cause?” The last half of line 127 to line 130 loosely paraphrased 

>is, “Stop looking at me lest I lose my resolve to carry out your 

>will”. A direct contradiction.

 

There are plenty such contradictions and near-contradictions in Hamlet.  I suggest having some method for reading them.  The one I use is to come up with a likely idea resolving the contradiction, and then to test it against the text in two different ways:  Look for one line, item or point that contradicts it.  If you find one, throw the idea out and start over.  If you don’t, look for three points that confirm it.  With three points of confirmation, accept the reading.

 

You’ll find, doing this, that Shakespeare does not slip up with his language, but his characters often do.  They talk around what they mean, sometimes saying more, sometimes less . . . but whether they say more or less, what they say, Shakespeare means them to say.

 

(Pleasing but useless theory:  that moving the Globe’s structure to a new site was made possible by Shakespeare reading the rental contract closely, as he would a play.)

 

>Wow! What a turnaround in only four lines! Is my reading 

>legitimate or do I jump off the rails somewhere? What 

>alternative readings are possible? If you agree with my 

>reading, what do you think explains Hamlet’s abrupt reversal?

 

I think your reading is correct.  Hamlet needs to be angry, or feels he does, in order to get the job done.  And the job is important because the state is being run by a usurper.  Claudius committed treason to get the throne:  a rotten fact commentators often overlook.  Therefore, it is of the utmost importance Hamlet, as the legitimate prince, to correct things.  It is simply his job.

 

I had a friend in college whose mother killed herself, at a time when she was being bullied at work.  He felt the person bullying her was largely responsible for her suicide, but his grief interfered with his ability to be angry about it.  Anger and pity are emotions related to carrying out justice:  anger for punishment, pity for forgiveness.  Hamlet is an emotional man; he needs his anger.  He can’t do it out of duty, or thinks he can’t.  (Observe that Hamlet’s true feeling toward Claudius is hate, and out of hate he did not kill Claudius—he wanted to see Claudius damned, which was not his job.)

 

For the Ghost to preach to stones would make them capable; but Hamlet does not have a heart of stone.  Therefore, he implores the Ghost not to arouse pity in him, because pity will interfere, Hamlet thinks, with his ability to punish Claudius.

 

Conrad.

 

Hamlet's Fat

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.105  Tuesday, 13 March 2012

 

From:        Conrad Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 12, 2012 1:02:14 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Laertes 

 

Michael Zito < This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> wrote,

 

>“He’s fat, and scant of breath.”

>

>He let himself go!

>

>Now with Laertes having been Ben Franklin-ing it up in Paris, one 

>may wonder what physical shape he’s in, too . . . 

 

Fat for Shakespeare means “out of breath.”  If I recall.  (Might not!)

 

-- Harold Jenkin’s Arden.

 

Conrad

 

[Editor’s Note: In 1999, there was a thread on “Fat Hamlet.”  In the December posts that concluded the thread, Louis Marder maintained that “fat” meant “sweating,” while Alan Dessen called attention to “The Impediment of Adipose—A Celebrated Case,” The Popular Science Monthly, 17 (May to October, 1880): 60-71. In it, the author E. Vale Blake argues that Hamlet is “impeded at every step by a superfluity of adipose” (71). 

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9067-q-fat-hamlet

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9074-re-fat-hamlet

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9083-re-fat-hamlet

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/158-october/9089-re-fat-hamlet

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/156-december/9459-re-fat-hamlet

 

http://shaksper.net/archive/1999/156-december/9464-re-fat-hamlet

 

Searching the Archive can be great fun. –Hardy]

 

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