The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0784  Thursday, 13 April 2000.

From:           Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 12 Apr 2000 09:41:33 -0700
Subject: 11.0769 Re: Oxymora
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0769 Re: Oxymora

Ed Taft writes:

>Sean asks how {Hamlet} would be different if Hamlet does not realize at
>the end of 4.4 what Fortinbras is up to.  Well, we'd still have to
>explain why he walks off with R&G to certain death after apparently just
>reaffirming his vow to revenge his father's death.

He might also not suspect that he's being sent to his death, despite his
rhetoric about cherubs.  He might also think that just refusing,
whipping out his rapier and taking on a regiment of Swissers would
constitute an even more certain death!  Or he may be embracing events
without actually embracing Providence-claiming superior awareness could
be a sign of self-confidence, rather than of humility before the
Divine.  After all, if you don't actually do anything, you can still
feel in control by cultivating a vague, long-term plan.  I would know,
since this is what I did with my dissertation for a few months!

>As to Fortinbras's "plan," it may be just like Hamlet's, if they are
>foils/doubles/alter-egos, which, manifestly, they are!  There is a neat
>symmetry here: Hamlet copies Fortinbras, and then Fortinbras replaces
>Hamlet. If that is the will of Providence, then there's no problem.
>Besides, Hamlet's going to get killed no matter what he does, it seems,
>but there's no warrant for thinking that Fortinbras would have done so,
>had Hamlet lived. Both men exemplify Milton's great summation of
>Renaissance humanism: "They also serve who only stand and wait."

Maybe they do, but I still don't see any evidence that Fortinbras is
planning to take over Denmark, much less that Hamlet realizes this.
Even if they are thematic doubles, this hardly means that Hamlet will be
able to predict Fortinbras's future, perhaps even indetermined, actions
on the basis of their parallel.

>1. The Ghost speaks for God IF God's will is being worked out through
>Hamlet's actions.  Whether or not God wants Hamlet to obey the Ghost can
>only be known through the actions of Providence.

Doesn't this argument approach solipsism?  If the ghost expresses the
will of Providence, then whatever actions it inspires are workings out
of the will of Providence.  The circumstances that dictate what exact
form this working out takes would also be Providential.  Once we decide
that the instructions and their realization are Providential, everything
inevitably comes to show this.

Solipsism, by the way, isn't always bad; it has the acute advantage of
not relying on outside data on which we may or may not agree.  It does,
though, have the danger of turning into elephants all the way down, to
return to a thread which is perhaps best left forgotten.  Perhaps a way
to break this impasse is through historicism, looking at what sorts of
things the English Renaissance assumed that Providence was able to

J. Birjepatil makes a fascinating contribution to this thread:

>I may be flogging a dead horse here but Derrida's spin on Hamlet in
>'Spectres of Marx' may help understand the nature of impasse over
>whether or not Hamlet is too cowardly to kill. [...] Hamlet seems to me
>like the figure Derrida has in mind of a man who is suspended between two
>epistemologies, one dying or dead and the other not yet born. Located in
>that epistemological fracture Hamlet is struggling to make sense of the
>task assigned to him by the ghost  and the image of time being 'out of
>joint' serves to problematise the issue of choice. Thus Hamlet's
>aversion to spilling blood has an intellectual underpinning.

One other possibility places the rupture not between rival
epistemologies, but between rival "Providences" (to coin a neologism).
The ghosts and gods of classical tragedy have no qualms about calling
for revenge, but the God of Christianity is usually assumed not to call
for sin.  The fact that Shakespeare has placed Hamlet in a Christian
time, but with the Senecan device of a ghost returning from Hades to
call for revenge, might explain some of the difficulty not only with
Hamlet's motivation, but also with my, Ed, and David's disagreements in
this thread.  Rather than colliding epistemologies, we have a collision
of theological and generic expectations.

By the way, thanks for your reference to Derrida, which may come in
handy for a paper that I will probably have to revise in the near
future.  I would just add that, were Hamlet able to do nothing at all,
to not feel a certain ethical imperative in the ghost's voice or see it
in his face, the question of what specifically to do, "the issue of
choice", would fade from centrality.  Derrida's argument, at least as
you've summarized it here, strikes me as requiring a Levinasian


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