The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0687  Monday, 15 March 2004

From:           Dan Smith <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 2004 09:22:15 -0000
Subject: 15.0648 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.0648 Did Shakespearean Audiences Talk Back to the

Cheryl Newton wrote:

 >following these manic or depressive moments Hamlet can legitimately
 >request forgiveness for impulsive behaviour beyond his control

I agree but I think that a key part of asking forgiveness is confronting
what you have done without evasion and 'I didn't mean to' and 'I'm not
responsible, it was the madness not me' and 'Hamlet is of the faction
that is wrong'd' does not suggest moral heroism.

Hamlet famously rails against hollow funeral etiquette (I,2,282) but
personally, if I had knifed my girlfriend's father to death causing her
to commit suicide then it would not just be etiquette that might suggest
I might hang back a bit at the funeral (and not jump into the grave and
berate her surviving brother). Certainly I wouldn't expect to be invited
back for the baked meats

John Ramsey wrote:

 >Does it also give Claudius greater stature that he arranges for Hamlet,
 >his 'cousin and son' a duel with a poisoned sword for Laertes and a
 >poisoned cup of wine as backup?

I think that the phrase you find objectionable is "In this respect
[Claudius' self-analysis in the soliloquy 'O my offence is rank']
Shakespeare gives Claudius a greater stature than Hamlet". This is not
an argument that Claudius is a character of unspotted moral probity and
unimpeachable actions! However, in life (and I would contend in
Shakespeare) the virtues are not exclusively allocated to the heroes and
the vices are not just found in the villains. Indeed it could be argued
that you cannot be an effective villain without some virtues. In
response to the Mousetrap Claudius does have a crisis of conscience in
which he considers his sin, fleetingly perceives the penance he might do
to purge it (confess, give up crown and wife and presumably be
executed). However, by the end of the soliloquy he has resolved that he
will not do the penance and hence he cannot escape the road where 'sin
will pluck on sin'.

This is a play where everybody's actions do harm to others (Denmark is
sick) apart from perhaps Horatio (although if He had kept the fact he'd
seen a ghost to himself...) and R&G (depends how it is staged). Hamlet
is rightly celebrated for his analysis of the human condition but never
at any point (whatever the wind direction) does he truly reflect on the
suffering he has caused on his revenge path (and hence whether the Ghost
who urged him to revenge was indeed a devil). If there were some more
Hamlet soliloquies in act V perhaps we would hear some of this
reasoning. Without such evidence an easier conclusion to come to is that
Hamlet is too self-absorbed and self-centred to see himself. It is
disturbing to hear him say of the execution he ordered of R&G "They are
not near my conscience". The devious underhand means by which he
procured R&G's executions are exactly those Claudius used intending to
execute him. You could argue that he has become what he beheld in
executing R&G and has hardened his heart to it in a way that Claudius
has not when he says 'O my offence is rank'.

 >Get thee to A.C. Bradley and read what he said about the death of
 >Gertrude for true moral reasoning.

Could you expand on that for me?

Dan Smith

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