Monday, February 04, 2008

Hamlet, in the Garden, with a Vial

[Creative Commons image by Gonzales2010]

Yesterday, fellow Oxfordian blogger Dr. Neil posted an unusual analysis of the Danish tragedy: Hamlet killed his father!

The analysis rests on a line from Hamlet's most famous soliloquy ("[death], the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns"). With these words, the interpretation goes, Hamlet admits that nothing ever comes back from the dead. And yet the Great Dane has been conversing with the ghost of his father throughout the play. So what gives?

Hamlet is mad, according to this reading. And he's desperately trying to foist the soul-crushing guilt of this regicide on his already hated uncle.

It's unclear, though, what the point would have been to so markedly deviate from Hamlet's ancient source text(s) -- in which Hamlet's (Amleth's) uncle is unambiguously guilty. The primary expose in Hamlet, in my view, is the duplicitous actions of various murderous Machiavels at court, including the Earl of Leicester (inspiration for Claudius) and William Cecil (de Vere's father-in-law and inspiration for Polonius). Adding a regicidal component to Hamlet's own story muddies the waters and is hardly the sort of thing that might "catch the conscience" of a court or monarch.

I'm not convinced, in other words.

Remember too that in later on in the play (3.3) Claudius prays and meditates on the murder that he essentially admits he committed. Would this now be some kind of confession under duress? A tall order to fill.

The good doctor promises a second posting that will allegedly demolish Claudius's altar-side testimony. Defense attorneys take heed. Can our Elizabethan Dershowitz rescue his royal client from the noose of the open-and-shut guilty verdict? Stay tuned, he says.

[Feb. 6 Update: Nothing like being reminded that one has already written about this subject. Hamlet's "undiscovered country" -- the line upon which the whole strange Hamlet-murderer theory turns -- is a reference to a book that Edward de Vere had translated into English in 1573, Cardanus Comforte, a book of philosophical consolations for the melancholic soul. Discussion about Hamlet's reference to Cardanus is, ahem, in a certain book about which this blog is concerned, page number 64. (Thanks to R.B., B.F., C.W. and other correspondents for edifying discussion about the "undiscovered" excerpt from Hamlet's immortal soliloquy.)]

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