Shakespeare's Birthday and his Masterpiece, Hamlet
April 23, 2007 2:07 PM   Subscribe

To honor the Greatest's birthday, one could consider his greatest work by reading this excellent post by matteo which touches upon the religious issues facing our confused Protestant hero, the student at Wittenberg, who doubts orthodoxy, cannot decide if he is a scourge or minister, but ultimately accedes to a belief in divine Providence. Or, if you would rather dive into an intriguing amusing royally f'ed up "unique" analysis of the play, check out this extensive theory (?) [cache] of Hamlet which corrects our accepted and flawed interpretation by explaining that a literal reading of the play tells us, among other things, that King Hamlet was never killed; that Horatio--our narrator--is the King's son and prince Hamlet's half brother; that the guy we incorrectly think of as Claudius is in fact King Hamlet; and that prince Hamlet's father is Fortinbras. Oops. Boy do we have egg on our faces.
posted by dios (40 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
wow. Don't take this the wrong way, but at 5pm on a Monday, I almost fell asleep reading this post.
posted by tadellin at 2:09 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry. My goal was to frame this in a way to separate the wheat from the chaff and make sure only people interested in this would participate. I guess I failed.
posted by dios at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2007


Wow. That last link is fucking insanely stupid.
posted by papakwanz at 2:26 PM on April 23, 2007


The content of the article, I mean.
posted by papakwanz at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2007


I'm interested, especially so in Hamlet. But I must say I'm a bit confused as to what the main subject of the post is here? A few links to the play, a link to a previous metafilter post and a link to one of the most unhinged of the many wacky theories out there about what the play is about?

Personally, I like the reading that the play is a clash of the geocentric and heliocentric views of the Universe. I was going to work up a post on it - Rosencrantz and Guildenstern you know are Tycho Brahe's family - and the play is riddled with astronomical references - enough to impinge on questions of authorship. But I never got around to it....
posted by vacapinta at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2007


Here's my boiled-down, essential Hamlet.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:32 PM on April 23, 2007


cf. also Ulysses, Chapter 9.

I thought this was going to be a post about Muhammed Ali myself.
posted by bardic at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2007


"I thought this was going to be a post about Muhammed Ali myself."
posted by bardic

And everyone else got the joke quicker than I did - 'cos, after all, your name is bardic - right?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:42 PM on April 23, 2007


Why is matteo a tag?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:44 PM on April 23, 2007


I'd forgotten that Hamlet was fictitiously a student at Wittenberg. But seeing "Wittenberg" in the context of Shakespeare, who wrote many historical plays, makes me wonder how he could've mined Luther and the Protestant Reformation, German Department, for material.
posted by pax digita at 2:51 PM on April 23, 2007


TIMECUBE KILLED HAMLET
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:54 PM on April 23, 2007


In passing, Shakespeare's pal and fellow wrtier Kit Marlowe has his Doctor Faustus a prof at Wittenberg. Perhaps Hamlet his student?

Historical stuff like Greenblatt's is now fashionable and though of some interest, there is in fact a genre, or type of play, that the Elizabethans would have fully been aware of: the revenge tragedy, with classical precedent:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenge_play
posted by Postroad at 2:59 PM on April 23, 2007


Querying the matteo tag only yields this post. Somehow, I thought there would be more.
posted by psmealey at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2007


macbeth ftw
posted by Firas at 3:02 PM on April 23, 2007


Querying the matteo tag only yields this post. Somehow, I thought there would be more.

Yeah, that's odd, huh.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:03 PM on April 23, 2007


macbeth fears trees walking.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:04 PM on April 23, 2007


So? That's coz he didn't piss himself while spritey hags warned him about it. Don't even get me started on that wimp Hamlet.
posted by Firas at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2007


I second being disappointed that the post wasn't about Ali.
posted by banished at 3:08 PM on April 23, 2007


macbeth faced three witches.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:17 PM on April 23, 2007


dios: To honor the Greatest's birthday--

Or one could link to Michael S. Schiffer's lost quarto of Hamlet. Or Scotland, PA.

More seriously, a couple recent NYRB articles: Anne Barton, 'Words, Words, Words.' Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare and the Uses of Power.

The complete works of Shakespeare. (The MIT site is incomplete.)
posted by russilwvong at 3:18 PM on April 23, 2007


oh! i see what you did there wolfdog. no, by ftw i just meant to say i think macbeth (and romeo and juliet and julius caesar) kick hamet's ass. you may now resume your regularly scheduled programming.
posted by Firas at 3:27 PM on April 23, 2007


The complete works of Muhammad Ali.
posted by Challahtronix at 3:33 PM on April 23, 2007


I'd forgotten that Hamlet was fictitiously a student at Wittenberg. But seeing "Wittenberg" in the context of Shakespeare, who wrote many historical plays, makes me wonder how he could've mined Luther and the Protestant Reformation, German Department, for material.
posted by pax digita at 4:51 PM on April 23


Well, it is certainly important that Hamlet went there. Shakespeare never mentions any school in his writings except in Hamlet. And then he makes the point four times. He's practically beating us over the head with it. The school would have been known to those at the time. As far as how he mined Luther and the Protestant Reformation, I think the links show it. It is also noteworthy that Marlowe's Dr. Faustus taught there as he was the man who mastered all knowledge.

In the Catholic Middle Ages, one could know what God wanted because the intermediaries explained God's will. So one could sufficiently engage in moral action with knowledge of the consequences. That all changed in the Protestant Reformation, and Shakespeare is making it clear that we should see Hamlet coming from that. There is the characteristic Protestant doubt in Hamlet there is no one telling him how to act. He works through these ideas that he has learned in his schooling and tries to reconcile them in his head: the issue of the ghost with no Purgatory; the position of man in the world; the use of scourges and ministers; revenge; providential control and free will; etc. Without the guidance of the Church instructing individuals, Hamlet has to resolve these issues with the learning he has acquired at Wittenberg. This interpretation helps resolve some issues in the play, but it is not a necessary interpretation, and that is one the reason that it is such a rich and timeless play.

Now the Barkov interpretation in the last link... if he is right then everything I just said is pointless because his understanding of the text is so... novel.
posted by dios at 3:35 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I thought you meant country matters.
posted by Abiezer at 3:42 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


To honor the Greatest's birthday

It's Mohammed Ali's birthday, and what better way to celebrate it than by a discussion of his poetry.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:43 PM on April 23, 2007


Wonderful post dios.
posted by nola at 3:49 PM on April 23, 2007


Great post, thanks. Will read it all later.

Here are some nice Hamlet resources put together across campus from me, part of the Internet Shakespeare Editions.
posted by Rumple at 4:12 PM on April 23, 2007


Yeah, nthed, this was a great post, thanks dios. You've made a bored English major very happy.
posted by saladin at 4:17 PM on April 23, 2007


Apropos of nothing, my all-time fave Shakes line is from his "Titus"--
"We are but shrubs; no cedars we."
I forgot his birthday and I am an ungrateful swain; he's paid my salary for many many years.
posted by Dizzy at 4:21 PM on April 23, 2007


What rubbish. Hamlet was bewitched, because only witchcraft can make anyone mad, unless, of course, one sees the beings that lurk in the forest.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:43 PM on April 23, 2007


That last link is parody, right?
posted by Grod at 4:53 PM on April 23, 2007


Great post dios.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:07 PM on April 23, 2007


One of the most significant aspects of Hamlet's career in Wittenberg is the fact that it's a "modern" (for the time), Protestant institution. Hamlet would have been taught that there are no ghosts, for a dead soul is either safely in Heaven, (where it would have no desire to leave) or in Hell (where it would have no power to). Protestants held that any apparition must be the Devil in disguise. Thus, when his father's ghost--his very Catholic ghost--shows up, Hamlet's naturally apprehensive. Once this is understood, the bulk of Hamlet's delay in seeking revenge becomes much clearer. Modern audiences, used to the play and not acquainted with the theological arguments of four centuries ago, tend to assume it's really his dad from the start, and Hamlet just ends up looking like a ditherer.

(There's also loads of deeply twisted psychological stuff circling around Shakespeare himself in this play. He had a son named Hamnet who died very young, and cast himself as the Ghost in the first production--it's just loaded with subtext.)
posted by EarBucket at 5:08 PM on April 23, 2007


Shakespeare's writing made my life juicier, fuller, richer. How fortunate I've been to have read some of his plays and poetry. eShakespeare.

Happy 443rd Birthday dear William. Thank you for your brilliant articulation.

Love your post dios. Hadn't read matteo's excellent post either, a treat to bring that info here. Lots to learn.
posted by nickyskye at 5:29 PM on April 23, 2007


Relevant recent AskMe.
posted by mediareport at 5:35 PM on April 23, 2007


I'm never liked Hamlet as a character because I'm from the Inigo Montoya School of Revenge. "You killed my father. Prepare to die." But still...

"Green Eggs and Hamlet"
by kirkaracha ~1983
Ophelia, Ophelia
My heart wants to steal ya
But my head says act dumb
Act comfortably numb*
You see, my bad uncle
(Who's really a skunkle)
Has married my mother
Though he is her brother
My dad's out of here
Hot lead in his ear
So I sit and brood
I'm in a bad mood
* That line seemed really clever in high school.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:50 PM on April 23, 2007


Romeo and Juliet both as young boys on the mideval stage.
Discuss.
posted by Balisong at 7:14 PM on April 23, 2007


dios...dang, Shakespeare just keeps on revealing new levels to me! Thanks for responding so positively. I need to read the links and then maybe watch the Olivier performance again -- it's been decades.
posted by pax digita at 8:36 PM on April 23, 2007


Can't go wrong with Larry O's "Hamlet" or "Henry V", but please avoid his "Rick III"---boooorrriiinnnngggg condescending fakery.
Rent Ian McKellen's version and be truly dazzled.
posted by Dizzy at 8:56 PM on April 23, 2007


Why does no one mention Orestes when they attempt to decipher Hamlet? That is surely one model. And the Norse tradition provides another. The dilemma posed in the Finnsburgh fragment and that in the Oresteia are very much like the one faced by Hamlet: which law to serve, that from within (custom and honor) or that from without (the official code).
Not to take anything away from the Master. Happy Birthday Bloody Bill!
posted by CCBC at 2:02 AM on April 24, 2007


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