The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0642  Tuesday, 9 March 2004

From:           Dan Smith <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 9 Mar 2004 09:32:13 -0000
Subject: Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        SHK 15.0484 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the

If we think of Hamlet as a new play (not one in which we all know
Claudius is guilty) then having Claudius flee in guilt-ridden horror
weakens the suspense and deprives the speech "O my offence is rank" of
its impact. This speech is remarkable because as soon as we know he is
guilty we get an insight into some high order self-analysis and moral
reasoning. Claudius clearly accepts his guilt and has the moral
integrity not to hope for absolution without true confession and a
penance (loss of throne, queen, life) he is not willing to undertake.
Claudius knows despite his struggle to repent that he remains damned
("My words fly up, my thoughts remain below") but Hamlet assumes that
because he is praying he will go to heaven and resolves in his hubris to
murder him when he has no chance of salvation.  Hamlet does not
understand proper contrition, repentance and penance. He never publicly
shows any remorse for the deaths of Polonius or R&G. Rather the reverse,
"I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room" (III,4), " They are not near
my conscience; their defeat Does by their own insinuation grow"
(V,2,3733). At the duel his speech which opens "Give me your pardon,
sir" seems to presage genuine contrition but continues with "What I have
done That might your nature, honour, and exception Roughly awake, I here
proclaim was madness" (I killed your father and drove your sister to
suicide but it was the madness did it not me), "Hamlet is of the faction
that is wrong'd; His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy " (I am a victim too
- sounds like Jerry Springer), "I have shot my arrow o'er the house And
hurt my brother" (I didn't mean it) (V,2,3885 & seq).  This doesn't
sound like a responsible adult, rather a child blaming everything and
everybody else for his actions. In this respect Shakespeare gives
Claudius a greater stature than Hamlet.

Dan Smith

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