The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0348  Wednesday, 6 February 2002

From:           Edmund Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tue, 05 Feb 2002 13:56:21 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet (Once More)

When last we left off, Mike Jensen presented a well-reasoned argument
that the Mousetrap succeeds in revealing Claudius's guilt. On the other
hand, Bill Godshalk and others stoutly maintain that the Mousetrap does
no such thing. Actually, it seems to Claudius and the court a warning
that Hamlet (the nephew) is out to get Claudius (the king).  [And his
queen? -- the Oedipal motive revealed, albeit unconsciously or

How to solve this dilemma?  Maybe we should look at what happens a mere
100 lines after Claudius "rises":

Polonius.       My lord, the Queen would speak with you,
                and presently.
Hamlet          Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in the shape
                of a camel?
Polonius        By the Mass and 'tis, like a camel indeed.
Hamlet.         Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius.       It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet.         Or like a whale.
Polonius.       Very like a whale.
Hamlet.         Then I will come to my mother by and by.

As this exchange illustrates, the same phenomenon can appear different
to different people -- it can even appear different to the same person
who examines it more than once. I don't think that Hamlet is now as sure
as he was in lines 284-85 that the Mousetrap has worked. Like the cloud,
it can be interpreted in at least three different ways!

I would suggest that this is one reason why Hamlet fashions his visit to
his mother as he does -- ignoring the Ghost's command to "leave her to
heaven," and deciding to "speak daggers to her." In short, the results
of the mousetrap are now seen as inconclusive, and Hamlet resolves to
test the Ghost yet again.

He will seem to threaten Gertrude and see if the Ghost will appear and
come to her aid. The ghost falls for it! -- and the test is a brilliant
one, but it, too, ultimately fails to reveal what Hamlet wants to know,
as I have argued earlier.

--Ed Taft

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