The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0761  Friday, 26 March 2004

From:           Jack Heller <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 25 Mar 2004 08:56:31 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago


I hope this question does not reveal that I've missed a point that has
long been obvious to everyone else: What justifies Hamlet's saying,
"I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound" (3.2.281-82)? On my
most recent reading of the play, I don't think Claudius's "Give me some
light.  Away" is quite enough to conclude that the play has caught the
conscience of the king. At least, the scene would not have to be
performed as if to insist upon the success of the "The Murder of
Gonzago" in catching his conscience. Two complementary points:

First, Gertrude's "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" might be
taken as an appropriate critique of the Player Queen's lines rather than
as any indication that she recognizes herself in the performance. Thus,
her conscience might not be caught, even if its capture was intended.

Second, surveillance generally does not lead to accurate conclusions in
this play. Hamlet does not find Claudius praying. Polonius mistakenly
concludes that Hamlet is distracted by love. Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern can only conclude that Hamlet is mad. We might also note
that Polonius reveals a problem with surveillance in his instructions to
Reynaldo to spy on Laertes: Reynaldo is to find what Polonius is already
looking for. So why must "Give me some light. Away" indicate the
veracity of the Ghost's charges?

Other related questions: Does any play-within-a-play come to its own
conclusion within any Renaissance drama? Has any survey been done on how
such "plays" do end? I can think of several examples from The Spanish
Tragedy and Jacobean tragedies that end with murder. "The Slip" in A Mad
World, My Masters" ends with a theft. Would we say that "A Tedious Brief
Scene of Young Pyramus and His Love Thisby" ends, or is its end
interrupted by the prevention of the epilogue? And how would a monarch
behave at a play? Is Theseus over-indulgent, or is Claudius rude (or both)?

Jack Heller
Huntington College

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