New Notes on Hamlet

• teach approach: being with the notion of interrogation; asking questions; get class to ask questions; list on board

• Children's game of hide and seek: "Hide fox and all after" IV,ii,31--Ham's delight in trickery

• Hamlet teaches us to think like Shakespeare or at least Shakespeare critics--seeing patterns and multiple meanings; turning language inside out like chevril glove, like the fool in TN; fool that he is

• patterns: Fortinbras and Laertes as two revenging sons; the family drama. Hamlet is inactive compared to both; but action in both is ill-advised

• human inconsistency and silliness; about the limitations of reason; about the questionability of love; comments on fate in MND and TN: what fools these mortals be; Olivia's comments about fate; Viola's about Time; the Fools about the Whirligig of Time; and about heaven and hell. Henry the V about patriotism and treachery; about mercy and cruelty; means and ends and the problematicism of action; and the triumph of stupid force; back to Jaques on role playing ending up with sans everything; and especially to the Ralegh poem: only we die in earnest, that's no jest--no jest and yet a jest

• elements of the conventional--fulfilling expectations of genre--in earlier plays; and elements of questioning and subverting them. Hamlet's origins and popularity as a revenge story--the most basic of stories; wild justice--and murder mystery, detective, suspense, gothic horror story; its subversion of those conventions. The questions and peculiarities and mainly mixed responses of audience.

• Harry Levin: The Question of Hamlet [That is the question]

• Interrogation--Interrogatio, a rhetorical device for arousing emotions (48)


_ Hamlet as enigma; heart of mystery; magnitude of scholarship

_ Background: Saxo Grammaticus; Revenge Tragedy; etherialized

_ Distinctions: length; Sh.'s first attainment of full mastery (?); habit of generalization--in Ham and others. Montaigne: subjectivity and sententiousness; favorite quotations obscure drama

_ Emphasis on stagecraft; critique of Laertes' ranting at graveside. God as Jig-Maker (III,ii,132)

_ macrocosm, microcosm

_ lots of writing: tables, poems, three letters, writes down speech; thinks about writing plays

_ "tropically"--applies to "mousetrap." trope=twist of phrasing

_ interrogative mood of play--opening; graveyard scene, though this is common; use of "the question"--key word of play

_ changing of guard at opening presages dynastic change

_ who's there? --God?

_ opening place and atmosphere: grim and mysterious; suspense

_ ghost good or bad? associated with two discredited traditions: from Purgatory--discredited by Luther at Wittenberg; his claim for revenge discredited by both churches: vengeance is mine; belief in ghosts is problematic

_ these are Ham's problems not ours

_ Polonius advice on how to act--mask reality; similar to Hamlet's advice to players; sets tone of Machiavellian policy

_ truth and falsity; honesty and dishonesty--are you honest, to Ophelia

_ she's unwitting victim; doesn't know about eavesdropping

_ Questioning of R and G--their surmise is that he is disappointed with not having succeeded to throne

_ Claudius' that its fathers death; Gertrude that its her remarriage; Polonius that its love

_ They test him till arrival of players; then with play, he tests Ghost; Horatio is his spy---theme of political distrust

_ he's changed from resenting false appearance to maintaining and manipulating it

_ Big crux: hesitation to kill Claudius at prayer

_ Dr. Johnson horrified--so unchristian a use of afterlife; other critics find other anomalies.

_ Ham. never questions his duty to kill the king though he never carries it out.

_ Moves with too much haste in killing Pol, who dies spying and prying; and only finally does act against King in haste and confusion

_ Fortinbras is Ham's counterpart on public level of overplot, just as Laertes is on private level of underplot

_ Hamlet sees his situation in both

_ but doesn't see contrasts: Laertes is overhasty; Fortinbras' father doesn't want to be revenged; both are mad

_ Play's fifth act destination where stage becomes a graveyard; play goes from dirge in marriage to mirth at funeral; danse macabre

_ the legal question of suicide: Donne's Biathantos--a very vexed one--is it offense or self-defense; the grave-diggers arent sure

_ Ham's abstrract musings about death are brought home with shocking partiuclarity (39)

_ He begins with death wish; acts it out by jumping into grave

_ O proud death, says Fortinbras...peace produces as much as the battlefield. Cynicism

_ Death is glamorized as "felicity" and "silence" and "flights of angels" but also as food for worms; also as a prison house of torments; as undiscovered country from whence no traveller returns; all these are juxtaposed and contradictory

_ "Hamlet takes place in an open univese; its signs and omens...are equivocal; it is not merely Cl., it is Ham and nearly everyone else who dies cut off from confession and absolution, 'not shriving time allowed.' Death is suden and birth unwought for; the conditions of existence are questionable from first to last; nothing is certain except that chruchyards yawn and gravedigging is a useful employment...the play has kept us guessing; it leaves us wondering"(42)

_ Knowledge is never adequate; the interrogative gives way to the imperative; to the question of action

_ rationality and behavior; the contemplation of alternatives which leads vice, moral responsiblity, guilt--and to our idealization of others--animals don't have this apparant freedom. And yet is it really freedom? The question of responsibility and determinism.

• Doubt--Addubitation, a kind of deliberation with ourselves; contemplation of two alternatives

_ hendiadys= doubling of words dominates speech

_ words and deeds; puns; dual roles...equivocation

_ La Rochfoucauld: Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue" Hamlet, who at first Knows not seems" through engagement with drama, learns that etymology of actor is "hypocrite"; puts antic mask over melancholia; Claudius is to double business bound. Polonius is the expert hypocrite; double dealing embodied in Polonius

_ Hamlet's isolation and alienation makes him disiherited modern hero(53)

_ Hamlet's poem about doubt echoes Ren. scepticism in Ralegh, Montaigne, Donne: the new philosophy calls all in doubt; but Hamlet's love for Ophelia (II,ii, 116-119) is also open to doubt, both ways; and certainly by Laertes and her father.

_ The ghost insists on being remembered; Claudius and Gertrude insist on forgetting; Norse folklore of revenge; father represents earlier culture vs. student at Wittenberg; he can't measure up to Herculean standard and identifies himself with Claudius in the analogy (I,ii, 153). Embodiment of manhood.

_ ambiguous father; [double bind] ambiguous Ghost and ambiguous Claudius who also claims to be father

_ Cl. is Cain--offspring and continuation of original sin; cf. Cain's jawbone-- and satyr; father is Hyperion, the sun-god. Theme of gods and beasts as extreme polarities of human possibility....what is man; questioning of humanist optimism:

_ Pope: in doubt to act or rest;/ In doubt to deem hiself a god, or beast;/ In doubt his mind or body to prefer; /Born but to die, and reasning but to err.

_ Mirror image; Portraits --mirror used by queen to put on makeup; several references--graveyard and with Ophelia

_ Hamlet's misogyny