The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0890  Friday, 9 May 2003

From:           Steve Roth <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 8 May 2003 22:33:09 -0700
Subject: 14.0839 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0839 Re: Hirsh and "To Be"

For those as is interested, a version of Hirsh's argument is available
as a PDF online (taking his theory and discussing it relative to
Olivier's Hamlet for a conference paper):


This, for me, was one of those real "Aha" essays. Hirsh's argument is
very cogent; it finally explained this speech for me in the context of
the palace intrigue that pervades Elsinore.

This thread keeps discussing whether it's a soliloquy or not, what a
soliloquy is, etc. But Hirsh's point is that whatever you want to call
it, it's overheard, drawing on a widespread Elizabethan dramatic
"eavesdropping" tradition.

Where "Hamlet" breaks that tradition to some extent, and quite
brilliantly, is that Hamlet *knows* it's being overheard. I think Hirsh
demonstrates this quite convincingly. (Two primary bits: Hamlet comes to
that place because Claudius sent for him. Hamlet's *just finished*
uncloaking R&G.) But Claudius doesn't know he knows. And we know that
Hamlet knows that Claudius doesn't know.

This play of uncertain knowledge ("Who's there?"), with different
characters and the audience "knowing" different things, is one of the
greatest generators of dramatic tension throughout the play.

So one thing Hamlet is certainly doing with this speech is playing to
Claudius. I'll leave it to Hirsh to explain how brilliantly he does so,
and just add one bit of my own: Hamlet even gives Claudius the
impression that he might take care of Claudius's problem his own self,
"with a bare bodkin."


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Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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