The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1345  Friday, 19 August 2005

From:           L. Swilley <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 18 Aug 2005 11:58:41 -0500
Subject:        What Happens in "Hamlet"

Jim Blackie wrote,

 >I do understand the myriad interpretations of Hamlet's character and
 >rationale for his near torportude. But my recent reading of John Dover
 >Wilson's writings, currently "What Happens in Hamlet" seems a rational,
 >analytical study of the play and Hamlet the character, finally resolving
 >for me the reason behind Hamlet's reluctance to act. Wilson seems to
 >have applied Occam's razor to the play and established a reasonable,
 >rationale explanation that surely must have been embraced before now. I
 >won't even attempt to run through the lengthy questions he poses and
 >them answers, as they are many and rather detailed, and I trust at least
 >several of you have read this and are familiar with his arguments.


I am not now familiar with John Dover Wilson's work on "Hamlet". Here in
my dotage, I remember that I have read his works, but cannot remember
what he wrote.

Nevertheless, I have my own (and my old professor's) explanation of
Hamlet's reluctance: He is trying to find a way to publicly expose
Claudius, who must be executed as an act of public justice, not merely
killed as an act of private revenge. Hamlet must act as a responsible
Prince of the realm, not as a son seeking personal revenge. And so,
after a period of flopping about in philosophical considerations and
emotional agonies, he comes upon the idea of the play, importantly have
been handed that possibility by the accident of the players arrival at
the court. (I say, "importantly," because it is another example of
Hamlet's waiting to be goaded to act rather than - like Fortinbras -
taking an issue himself and running with it.)

The play he hopes will reveal Claudius' guilt to the court, but as
Claudius might have left the performance merely because of a sudden
dyspeptic condition (Horatio's less than unenthusiastic response to
Hamlet's question at the end of the play suggesting that Hamlet's
interpretation of the event is hardly convicting), nothing is
accomplished but Claudius' awareness that Hamlet knows his crime and is
determined to expose it.

 From here and on this issue we may leap to the last scene of the play
where, with the testimony to the court of Laertes' confession and the
Queen's remarks, Claudius' crime is made known and punished, Hamlet
himself reveling in his role as public executioner and private avenger.
But the crime for which Claudius is publicly punished is his successful
design to kill the Prince, not his murder of the Old King which regicide
still remains unknown to any but Hamlet.

I hope my view here is compatible with that of John Dover Wilson. If it
isn't, could someone please note briefly Wilson's contrary argument?

L. Swilley

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