Friday, June 05, 2009

Christian Hamlet

Not really my thang one way or the other, but the linked blog post discusses over Christian references in Hamlet.  The usual suspects – the ghost’s description of purgatory, Hamlet’s choice not to kill Claudius while he is “fit and season’d for passage”, and so on.

Thought I’d post it if anybody’s up for the discussion.  I didn’t really think there was a question about Hamlet being “overtly Christian”, was there?  Now, see, if Claudius had sent Hamlet to Vatican City, that’d be a different topic.


Willshill said...

"Popular criticism" has it, on many counts, that Hamlet's trip abroad to England and the events concurrent with the journey have somehow shaped him, finally, for what he'll face; he's finally ready to 'act', come what may.
Substantiation for this viewpoint usually finds support in the calm resolve he apparently has reached, most evident in his manner of speaking with Horatio, prior to the fencing match with Laertes. I suppose that what he says could be taken, by those so inclined, to mean he's finally seen 'the error of his ways' and thus, that he's found "That Ole Time Religion".

Ham. Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
That would not let me sleepe; methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the Bilboes. Rashly,
(And praise be rashness for it) lets us know,
When our dear plots do pall, and that should teach us,
There's a Divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
Hor. That is most certaine.

Later, Horatio cautions him:

Hor. You will lose this wager, my Lord.
Ham.[speaks of the odds, and then:]
"... :but thou wouldest not thinke how alls heere about my heart: but it is no matter.
Hor. Nay, good my Lord.
Ham. It is but foolery; but it is such a kind of gain-giving as would perhaps trouble a woman.
Hor. If your minde dislike anything, obey. I will forestall their repair hither, and say you are not fit.
Ham. Not a whit, we defie Augury; there's a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come: if it bee not to come, it will bee now: if it be not now; yet it will come; the readiness is all; since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is to leave betimes? Let Be.

I think this has spurred whatever extra investigation, trying to sift out and embellish upon earlier instances which might support the larger theory of his "miraculous conversion".
It's amazing to me how another form of zealotry is needed to combat the zealotry of those so willing for so long to superimpose negative analytical theory, while simultaneously picking apart Hamlet's brain, in a backwards effort to prove THEIR theories ON HIM. He always emerges the lesser person.
--Possibly a reason for what seems to be a desperate kind of searching; trying to uncover SOME KIND of goodness in him; especially when it's already long-time evident, and has no need to be 'uncovered'. It has already Unfolded many times, much before the above, in the body of what it was, at least, that Shakespeare scrawled on the page. It does that easily, obviously, and without the need of any other kind of "popular" kind of Labeling to help it along. Unless, of course, some other "notion" supplants it at every turn.
Has anyone actually read this play without the overarching intent of trying to pigeon-hole the Hero? I have my doubts.

amusings_bnl said...

i had a wonderful discussion about the "to thine own self be true" bit from hamlet with a friend from college (i went to gordon, a 4 yr liberal arts evangelical college in massachusetts) about whether this is good advice to give kids. i'd worked up a chaplain sermon for our boy scout troop, and it centered around that.

initially, her thought was that 'to thine own self be true' is an incredibly selfish philosophy. do only what works for you, be true only to yourself, your goals YOUR needs. she didn't think that was great advice. i told her that in my opinion, pre-awakening to God/conversion perhaps yes, she would be right.

but if you believe in God, take him upon your heart and soul and live for him, you are then true to the lord... and by being true to yourself, you are instantly true to him. and then the rest of the quote truly is meaningful.

'To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.'

if you are true to the lord, then you cannot possibly be false to any man.

she laughed and said "that's shakespeare's version of 'what would jesus do' i guess."

and the kids totally dug on the sermon. i've got a boy scout troop now memorizing that speech, and holding that interpretation to heart.

Willshill said...

In the case of the play, however, there's a multiple duplicity at work. Polonius has a habit of speaking in reconstituted platitudes-and indeed, here he uses the "words" of others as though they issue directly out of his own sense of morality and judgment; speaking of Truth, Honor, and pointedly, Trust, as though he invented the concepts. We find out later, how willing he is to HONOR TRUST itself, and also how unwilling he is to Honor and Trust the sense of his own "words". First, when he devises ways to spy on his son, the former recipient of his "lesson" on trust--later in his machinations and scheming devoted to spying on Hamlet. In many ways, he echoes that "Prince" of Duplicity and Deceit, Machiavelli.

But, taken out of context, they are wonderful words. Allowed to stand by themselves, the logic and honesty of their great worth is self-evident. Ain't Shakespeare a genius?

amusings_bnl said...

absolutely -- taken out of context it is easy (and actually the kids really liked it) to put that kind of spin on it, fatherly advice... pulling on a cloak of honesty/goodness as you go out into the world.

a digging deep into the duplicity of polonius would come much later in a shakespeare study, but for the simple reaching 12-17 yr old boys 10 minute sermon i got to do, this was a perfect lesson. AND i might add, for some of them their first introduction to anything shakespeare that wasn't "blah blah blah yea verily and to be or not to be" so it suited the lesson well.

i think a discussion of what it means to be a good father, leader, example would come later for another discussion -- remember these words we discussed a few months back? well later in the play, the dad spies on his son. does he do this because he CARES and wants to protect his son? or his own image in the world? what is his motivation? is it love? how do you see these things?... how would you feel (to the scouts) if it was your dad? what would your response be if your friends were sent to spy on you and report back to your dad? would you discuss this in love with him, would you freak out a la jerry springer?

i plan on having one literate bunch of boy scouts by the time my tenure with this troop finishes. campfire talks at troop 87 are a good time.