Sunday, May 27, 2007

And yet more Ghost

Kenneth Chan's website is officially my newest favorite Hamlet site. Following what I wrote yesterday, here is exactly why Q1 is virtually a different play. It can certainly be argued that in the usual version,
"Hamlet has the courage to face the unknown and to seek the truth unflinchingly. If he follows this path with the ideals of love and compassion, new spiritual heights will open to him. Tragically, he chooses instead to transform his mind into one obsessed with avenging his father. This mind of bitterness and hatred has disastrous consequences. Hamlet, from this time on, remorselessly transforms into a different person: a cold, cynical, and tormented soul. Thus his new motto is appropriate: "Adieu, adieu, remember me." For, in effect, we are bidding Hamlet himself goodbye."
But this chapter on the Ghost is riveting. At the beginning of it, Jason, he basically argues that in fact Hamlet WAS cursed by the Ghost, that because the Ghost is no "enlightened being" that he "destroys [Hamlet] spiritually" by fixating him on revenge like any fallible bitter human does to another susceptible person. Looking at it that way, though, I could counter with the Ghost-as-a-soul-in-Purgatory argument; that he is a spirit looking for rest and thus more trustworthy versus devil-like and conniving, which Chan later says the Ghost is because of hic-et-ubique ("canst work in the earth so fast") referring either to God or the devil, among other arguments. (There's that OCD kicking into overdrive again... ahhhhhhhh... better to stop right here or I could well be up all night.)


Jason said...

Yes - but - semantics again, but very important ones - good ghost or bad ghost? cuz avenging a father's murder - good. killing an innocent though none too likeable king, bad. so the "kind" of ghost is actually an essential thing that must be found out. it's a prince's duty to avenge a murdered father. it's treasonous and punishable by death (and damnation) to kill a king. the ghost might "curse" hamlet to a tragic path - and hamlet is something of an obsessive type - and, no, "lights i will to bed" aint exactly a confession - but it is what hamlet is looking for, though not yet enough apparently, because it still doesnt result in decisive action. no one said that hamlet dont get carried away...he knows he's being spied on (to some extent) in the nunnery scene and goes a little overboard on ophelia and also announces that there will be bloodshed (to what he rightfully thinks is the king -those that are married, but one shall live), and continues to berate her in the play scene, and openly insult his mother and toy with the king in front of the court. then he still doesnt act after the play because the king's praying, but he does kill corambis - because he now thinks he's caught the king doing something "wrong" and in the heat of the moment kills what turns out to be the wrong guy. it's actually only when he gets shipped to england that he has the real proof of the king's quality - the letter. yet he doesnt follow the ghosts advice until corambis, ophelia, laertes and gertred are all dead. hamlet's tragic flaw might actually be an obsession with finding out the truth. and getting carried away in the doing. "o cursed spite that ever I (emphasis on the I) was born to set it right."

gaby said...

True, he doesn't act until well after he has definitive proof but I wonder if that has to do with him trusting or not trusting the Ghost or if that is its own ball of wax. Because he does declare early on that it's an "honest ghost."

It really is maddening, trying to reason through it all. I think this is what Keats meant by Shakespeare "possessing so enormously" Negative Capability, i.e., no “irritable reaching after fact & reason” (see my April 26 post).

I wonder what you think about 2 things:

Chan believes the message of "Hamlet" is that revenge is wrong and that ,"Shakespeare does seem indifferent to poetic justice, particularly when it concerns punishment for the transgressor, a trait that is evident from a number of his other plays such as The Tempest, Measure for Measure, and All's Well That Ends Well. In all these plays, the wrongdoer virtually goes unpunished." He seems to leave justice to God or heaven, as he has the Ghost say about Gertred.

and 2) What do you think the purpose is of that elaborate swearing ritual? Even though Chan also points out that Hamlet says he's an "honest ghost," he nevertheless goes on to say that, "Shakespeare makes clear the nature of what transpired by providing us with a dramatic image of evil at work. The voice of the ghost echoes from below, the traditional location of hell, and the way Hamlet now addresses the ghost strongly hints at the devil. While the ghost may not be the devil himself, the effect he has on Hamlet is surely worthy of the devil. This eerie scene, with Hamlet's mischievous jesting remarks coupled with the sinister call of the ghost from below to swear, has an unmistakably diabolical aura. The swearing ritual here is linked to the earlier oath of Hamlet to transform himself into an instrument of his father's revenge. The oaths are all to aid Hamlet on the path of vengeance."

I think you're saying that you agree but that Hamlet is aware of the Ghost's possible evilness, whereas Chan is saying that Hamlet has been possessed by the devil and doesn't know it.

(And feel free to leave these as rhetorical questions to ponder versus actually trying to weed through the clusterfuck.)