Claudius

Andreas, James R. “The Vulgar and the Polite: Dialogue in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 15 (1993): 9-23.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MARXISM / RHETORICAL

Drawing on the ideas of Erving Goffman, Geoffrey Bateson, and Mikhail Bakhtin, this article examines “the tension generated by the dialogic interaction of Hamlet’s rhetoric of the vulgus (the folk, villein, vulgar, the plain, the proverbial, and the parodically double) and Claudius’ rhetoric of the polis (the polity, policy, polite, police and politically duplicit)” in Hamlet (10). The King (and his representatives, e.g., Polonius) attempts to control context, speaks in a “fairly straightforward authoritarian voice” (15), and “restricts and restrains the vulgar” (17); in comparison, the Prince fluctuates between multiple contexts, exercises “verbal play and parody” (15), and introduces the “dialogically ‘deviant’” (17). This “dialogical clash of two verbal styles” generates Hamlet’s energy (10). The literary styles and devices seem derived “respectively—and disrespectfully—from the master genres of the vulgar and the polite that can still be heard clashing in the streets and courts of today” (20).

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Bristol, Michael D. "'Funeral bak'd-meats': Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet." William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: St. Martin's, 1994. 348-67. [Reprinted in Shakespeare's Tragedies, ed. Susan Zimmerman (1998).]

CARNIVAL / CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MARXISM

While supplying a summary of Marxist theory and of Bakhtin's principles of the Carnival, this essay contends that Claudius and Hamlet camouflage themselves with carnivalesque masks but that Hamlet has an advantageous "understanding of the corrosive and clarifying power of laughter" (350). Appearing "as a complex variant of the Lord of Misrule," Claudius first speaks of a festive commingling between marriage and death, but he only appropriates carnivalesque themes and values "in order to make legitimate his own questionable authority" (355). Ironically, his means of securing the crown "typically mocks and uncrowns all authority" (356). Although Hamlet initially rejects festivities, his killing of Polonius marks the change in him. Hamlet's use of "grotesque Carnival equivocation" in the following scene with the King, his father/mother, suggests Hamlet's development (358). Hamlet's interaction with "actual representatives of the unprivileged," the Gravediggers, completes Hamlet's training in carnivalism (359). Aside from the "clear and explicit critique of the basis for social hierarchy" (360), this scene shows Hamlet reflecting on death, body identity, community, and laughter. He confronts Yorick's skull but learns that "the power of laughter is indestructible": "Even a dead jester can make us laugh" (361). Now Hamlet is ready to participate in Claudius' final festival, the duel. True to the carnival tendencies, the play ends with "violent social protest" and "a change in the political order" (364). Unfortunately, Fortinbras' claim to the throne maintains "the tension between 'high' political drama and a 'low' audience of nonparticipating witnesses" (365).

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Dickson, Lisa. “The Hermeneutics of Error: Reading and the First Witness in Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 19.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1997): 64-77.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / PERFORMANCE

While occasionally using Hamlet productions to describe the potential audience experience, this article posits that Claudius and Hamlet “are engaged in a border conflict where power is linked to the ability to control the dissemination of information, the passage of knowledge across the boundary between private and public” (65). While Hamlet “is about the hermeneutic task,” its “circles within circles” of overt and covert interpreters, of stage and theater audiences (65), displace “Truth” “along the line of multiple and multiplying perspectives” (66). Using his “wit and word-play, to deflect the hermeneutic onslaught, Hamlet mobilizes his own interpretive strategies under the cover of the antic disposition, where madness, collapsing the categories of the hidden and the apparent, allows him to hide in plain sight” (67). Likewise, Claudius attempts “to hide in plain sight” by providing the court with a reading of recent events “that he hopes will neutralize [and silence] Hamlet’s threat and control the dissemination and reception of the facts” of his own crime(s), as evident in act one, scene two (68). Although Claudius and Hamlet struggle to maintain the “borders of silence and speech, public and private, hidden and apparent,” they inevitably fail (69-70). In the nunnery scene, in which Hamlet is aware of the spies behind the curtain in most productions (e.g., 1992 BBC Radio’s, Zeffirelli’s, Hall’s), he attempts to hide behind his antic disposition, but the seeming truth in his anger suggests an “explosion” and “collision” between his “inner and outer worlds” (71). Claudius “suffers a similar collapse”: “his hidden self erupting to the public view out of the body of the player-Lucianus” (73). Claudius and Hamlet are also alike in their problematic perspectives: Hamlet’s “desire to prove the Ghost honest and justify his revenge shapes his own ‘discovery’ of Claudius” (74); and Claudius’ “reading of his [Hamlet’s] antic disposition is complicated by his own guilt” (72). “Within the circles upon circles of watching faces, the disease in Hamlet may well be the maddening proliferation of Perspectives on Hamlet, where the boundaries constructed between public and private selves collapse under the power of the gaze” (75).

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Edelman, Charles. “‘The very cunning of the scene’: Claudius and the Mousetrap.” Parergon 12 (1994): 15-25.

CLAUDIUS / MOUSETRAP / PERFORMANCE

This article hopes to resolve the “apparent inconsistency” of the ineffective dumb show in The Mousetrap “in a manner which takes audiences more deeply into the text, while enriching both the theatrical power and thematic significance of The Murder of Gonzaga” (15). Although generations of critics and editors have attempted to define the stage business during the silent prologue, they mistakenly “assume that Claudius’ guilt is ‘proclaimed’ by some outward display of emotion when Lucianus poisons the Player King a second time” (19). Instead, arguments could be made that The Mousetrap, in its entirety, is a methodically drawn out processes of imposing pain/discomfort. For example, the dumb show is similar to a dentist’s extraction of the first tooth in that Claudius can endure the experience and his suffering; The Murder of Gonzaga, the pulling of a second tooth, proves more difficult to bear; the verbal exchanges between Claudius and Hamlet may even constitute the figurative removal of a third and a fourth to a weakened tolerance. But how does Claudius react to The Mousetrap? A hysterical departure or a passive retreat seem unlikely. Rather, textual evidence suggests that Claudius expresses disgust and defiance, when he tells Hamlet, “Away” (23). Aside from the “theatrical power” and climactic energy of such a staging, this reading permits consistency in Claudius and the play because “the advantage is with Claudius” after The Mousetrap (24).

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Gibinska, Marta. “‘The play’s the thing’: The Play Scene in Hamlet.” Shakespeare and His Contemporaries: Eastern and Central European Studies. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1993. 175-88.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP

This essay argues that the dumbshow and The Murder of Gonzago “each has its own specific dramatic function and meaning, by no means identical,” and that interpretations of both parts of The Mousetrap “must be related to the interpretation of Hamlet’s words and behavior” (176). Hamlet’s dialogue with Ophelia seems a dramatization of “his ‘Gertrude problem’: men treat women as sexual objects and women show themselves to be so” (179). Hence, the pantomime performance “begins in the context of Gertrude, not Claudius” (180). The dumbshow’s emphasis on the Player-Queen’s behavior creates “an image of the moral censure passed on Gertrude by both Hamlet and the Ghost” (181-82). During The Murder of Gonzago, Hamlet verbally responds to staged declarations of wifely love, creating a “quasi-dialogue” with the Player-Queen; then he launches “a direct attack” on his mother by asking her opinion of the play (182). Hamlet’s question shifts focus to the throne and corresponds to the Player-King’s lengthy speech—which leads to the poisoning scene. After this pause, “the trapping of the king’s conscience begins”(183). The exchange between Claudius and Hamlet is complicated by pretense and knowledge: “each of them as the Speaker is motivated as the character he is and as a character he pretends to be; also, each of them as the Hearer may have more than one interpretation of the other’s utterances” (184). Unfortunately, Hamlet “can no longer control himself”: acting “contrary to his intentions,” Hamlet voices “implications” that alert the King “before the trap is sprung” (185). Claudius’ sudden exit is a response to the two complimentary actions directed against himself: “the play of Gonzago and the play of Hamlet” (186). Hamlet, “by bad acting,” “offers Claudius an opportunity to strengthen his position” and, “by proving the crime, puts himself in the tragic position of one who in condemning the crime must himself become a murderer” (187).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Mouse and Mousetrap in Hamlet.” Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 135 (1999): 77- 92.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP / NEW HISTORICISM / PROVERBS / RHETORICAL

Expanding on John Doebler’s work, this essay explores the plethora of connotations of mouse and mousetrap. In relation to Gertrude, the mouse reference in the closet scene could be “a term of endearment” or a pejorative reference to a lustful person (79). Historically, mouse is also connected with “the devil’s entrapment of human lust with the mousetrap” (80); hence, Hamlet’s diction suggests that he perceives Gertrude “at once as the snare that catches the devil Claudius (and the son Hamlet?) in lust, and snared herself in the same devil’s mousetrap” (82). With Claudius, the mouse implies “destructive and lascivious impulses” (84). Hamlet also is associated with the mouse in his role as mouser or metaphorical cat. For example, the “cat-like, teasing method in Hamlet’s madness” appears in his dialogue with Claudius immediately prior to the start of The Mousetrap (88). The mousetrap trope becomes “part of a pattern of images in Hamlet that poises the clarity of poetic justice against a universe of dark of unknowing,” as “the trapper must himself die to purify a diseased kingdom” (91).

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Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. “Wormwood, Wormwood.” Deutsche Shakespeare—Gesellschaft West: Jahrbuch [no vol. #] (1993): 150-62.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / HAMLET / THEOLOGICAL

This study comments on Hamlet’s reference to “Wormwood, Wormwood” in The Mousetrap scene (3.2.173) with the belief that “Herbal, literary and theological uses provide unexpectedly suggestive contexts for expanding our sense of Hamlet, Gertrude and Claudius within this highly charged dramatic moment, and in the larger play” (150). Theological connotations of the word suggest, among other things, mortification, meaning that Hamlet’s words “refer to the salutary contrition and confession Hamlet expects the Player-Queen’s words to induce in his mother” (151). Persistently lacking contrition in the closet scene, Gertrude receives a continued, intensified dose of “wormwood,” administered by Hamlet (152). Also relevant to Gertrude, wormwood is biblically associated with harlotry and punishment/judgement (153). In Romeo and Juliet, wormwood is described as “the bitter herb used in weaning a child from his mother’s breast” (154); hence, the implication in Hamlet is that the mother/son relationship alters. The herb was also used as a purgative medicine (156), an antidote (159), an air freshener (160), and a “deterrent to mice and rats” (160). All of these possibilities develop linguistic references, themes, and motifs in the play. For example, the last suggests that Hamlet’s wormwood “might at once expel the mouse-like lust in his too-lascivious mother and deter the object of her lust, the devilish, mouse-like king Claudius, thus killing two mice with one trap (161). Perhaps no audience member could hold all of “these theological and pharmaceutical associations in a kaleidoscopic response to one allusion,” but the theatrical experience improves in relation to the degree of knowledge (161-62). And “this learning impresses us with the unfathomable complexity of Hamlet’s mind and his heart” (162).

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Hopkins, Lisa. "Parison and the Impossible Comparison." New Essays on Hamlet. Ed. Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994. 153-64.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / RHETORICAL

This article argues that Hamlet's length and enigmatic nature are two interrelated characteristics because the play "doubles and redoubles its situations, its characters, its events and, ultimately, its meaning" (153). The play abounds with "the rhetorical trope of parison," a repetition of "the same grammatical construction in successive clauses or sentences," but Claudius is particularly "fond of the parison" (155). For example, in his first speech (1.2.1-14), Claudius speaks in a "constant generation of twinned structures: by offering two possible locations of meaning, they cancel out the possibility of any ultimate, single, authoritative interpretation or label" (156). The Prince "no less than his uncle is caught in the trap of doubled language and of doubled rhetorical structures, and most particularly in that of parison" (158). From his initial pun to his "To be, or not to be" soliloquy, Hamlet's "obsessive use of parison" presents oppositional terms as "yoked together and forced into a position of syntactic and rhetorical similarity which militates considerably against the fact of their semantic difference" (160). An audience's every encounter with the play "becomes a complex negotiation between a series of incompatible choices where meaning is first offered and then shifted or denied, and where its production is always a delicate balancing act" (163).

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Jenkins, Ronald Bradford. “The Case Against the King: The Family of Ophelia vs. His Majesty King Claudius of Denmark.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 17.3-4 (Aug. 1996): 206-18.

CLAUDIUS / LAW / OPHELIA / OPHELIA'S MURDER(ER)

Narrated by the attorney representing Ophelia’s family, this essay presents the jurors (a.k.a. readers) with evidence that King Claudius seduced, impregnated, and murdered Ophelia. First, the prosecution establishes the King’s character for the court: Claudius is capable of murdering his brother, of plotting to kill his nephew/son-in-law, and of seducing his sister-in-law/wife. Although Ophelia is praised by several respected “character witnesses” (e.g., Campbell, Vischer, Coleridge, Johnson, Hazlitt, Jameson) (208), evidence emerges that Ophelia was not a chaste virgin. For example, Polonius and Laertes feel the need to warn Ophelia about protecting her chastity, and, in response to their cautions, “Her lack of indignation is puzzling” (209). According to the prosecution, Ophelia’s lack of chastity leads to her impregnation by Claudius. Hamlet and Gertrude learn about the scandalous pregnancy, and both shun the young girl. But Ophelia and her unborn child pose threats to the throne. Adopting the disguise of madness (like Hamlet), Ophelia uses sing-song ramblings and symbolic flowers to accuse her seducer. Claudius responds by ordering two men to follow her, and then she suddenly drowns, “accidentally.” Aside from the Queen’s enthusiasm to report the death of her rival, the description of events reveals that Ophelia’s garland was another attempt to accuse Claudius with symbolic flowers; also, the cumbersome clothes that drown Ophelia seem out of place for the warm season but appropriate for the concealment of her pregnancy. Aware of the unborn child, the church grudgingly provides a grave-side service for the unwed mother. In closing arguments, the attorney articulates Claudius’ motives for murdering Ophelia and “begs simply that justice be done” (218).

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Lal, Sikandar. “Secular Tragedy—the Case of Claudius.” Hamlet Studies 18.1-2 (Summer/Winter 1996): 49-64.

CLAUDIUS

While arguing that “the phenomenon of Hamletism” has deterred/prevented “the emergence of a distinctly secular perspective on the play,” this article establishes “the secular credentials of Claudius” and “deals with the tragic aspect of the case” (49). Unlike Hamlet, Claudius represents an affirmative response “to the phenomenon of secular transformation” and conducts “his life accordingly” (51). “In the earth-bound, man-centred, temporally ordained cognitively oriented, pragmatic, empirical and existential tenor of Claudius’s life, with its precedence of the public over the private, we have the secular parameters that govern the varied particulars of his conduct. Claudius stands out as an embodiment of the secularized perspective on life” (55-56). But the “internal reality” revealed in the prayer scene, complete with “religious vocabulary,” suggests a repressed secondary self, “a dismally divided state of being,” “the agony of a decentred soul” (55), and “a tormented self caught in a secular trap. The self-willed human change has brought him to a problematic pass” where he will act “at once as his own minister and scourge” (57). Ultimately, Claudius finds himself “‘too late’ and helpless” to save Gertrude, betrayed/exposed by his ally Laertes, with “no margin for the assertion of his mighty resourceful self,” and “absolutely shut up within himself”—“suggesting the tragic state of his helplessness, isolation, alienation and loneliness in the final moments of his being” (58). Unfortunately, the “virtual denial of the tragic status of Claudius stands out as a marked feature of the history of Hamlet criticism” (56).

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Mollin, Alfred. “On Hamlet’s Mousetrap.” Interpretation 21.3 (Spring 1994): 353-72.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / MOUSETRAP

After debunking the popular theories of why Claudius fails to respond to The Mousetrap’s dumb show and makes a delayed exit during The Murder of Gonzago, this article offers a “fresh approach” by dissecting the reactions of Claudius and the stage audience to Hamlet’s The Mousetrap (359). The accuracy of the dumb show suggests to Claudius that Hamlet has some proof that may turn the stage audience against the King. But Claudius consistently maintains his composure during even the most volatile situations (e.g., Laertes’ mob riot), and the pantomime does not identify an incriminating familial relationship between Player-Murderer and Player-Victim. In the spoken play, the Player-Queen’s similarities to Gertrude increase Claudius’ internal anxiety. But to halt the play would be to force Hamlet’s hand. “Claudius has no choice but to wait and discover how severe Hamlet’s accusation will be” (361). Hamlet’s identification of the murderer as a nephew, rather than a brother, initially causes Claudius relief that there is “no public indictment”; “But the game is over. The Mousetrap accomplished its purpose. Claudius has silently unmasked himself” because an innocent person would have immediately responded (362). Meanwhile, the stage audience is shocked by the “tasteless dumb-show” and the insulting spoken play that makes Hamlet’s theater production appear treasonous (362). They must wonder why any king would endure “such threats and insults” (363). Fortunately, Hamlet calms the stage audience by interrupting the performance to explain the source and to indirectly note the drama’s divergence from recent events. Claudius chooses this moment to exit because he realizes that, in remaining silent, he has revealed himself to Hamlet. He also recognizes the staged covert threat: the Player-Nephew kills the Player-King. Staging The Mousetrap “with Claudius outwardly calm and unmoved throughout both the dumb-show and the spoken play, reacting only after his unmasking,” seems “preferable” and “most faithful to the text” (369).

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Nyberg, Lennart. "Hamlet, Student, Stoic-Stooge?" Cultural Exchange Between European Nations During the Renaissance: Proceedings of the Symposium Arranged in Uppsala by the Forum for Renaissance Studies of the English Department of Uppsala University, 5-7 June 1993. Ed. Gunnar Sorelius and Michael Srigley. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Studia Anglistica Upsaliensia 86. Uppsala: Uppsala U, 1994. 123-32.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

Attempting "a synthesis of what has been discovered about the intellectual and theatrical nature of the play," this study approaches Hamlet "from the point of view of the idea of role-playing, as it is explored in the play and reflected in the intellectual background, especially in the Italian sources of Castiglione and Machiavelli" (125). The very "idea of role-playing, which in many of the comedies is explored with a sense of joy and liberation, is in Hamlet more often than not viewed with disgust" (127). For example, Hamlet spends much of the play not only trying out roles for himself but making the masks of others slip (128-29). Castiglione considers an individuals mask "affectation" (127). Hamlet has the "skill to read the deceptive masks of others," as the nunnery scene proves (129). But he never really succeeds in unmasking Claudius with The Mousetrap. The problem is that the King "is as skillful a role-player as Hamlet himself" (129). Both share striking characteristics of Machiavellism (130) and of an adeptness with improvisation (129). Even their "expressions for a belief in providence" are eerily similar (130). Together, Claudius and Hamlet suggest the play's conflicting assessments of role-playing: "On the one hand the role-playing capacity of man is celebrated but, on the other hand, the immoral purposes it can be employed for give it a dark tinge" (131).

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Ozawa, Hiroshi. “‘I must be cruel only to be kind’: Apocalyptic Repercussions in Hamlet.” Hamlet and Japan. Ed. Yoshiko Uéno. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995. 73-85.

CLAUDIUS / GHOST / HAMLET / NEW HISTORICISM / THEOLOGICAL

This essay examines “the problematic ‘poetry’ of Hamlet as an expression of the [Elizabethan] period’s apocalyptic concerns” (87). Prophetic signs (e.g., eclipse, a nova, the Armada’s defeat) heightened a sense of millenarian expectations in Shakespeare’s audience (88-89). Hamlet contains “an ominous sign foreshadowing ‘some strange eruption’” that “endows the play with a haunted sense of eschatology” and that “embodies and objectifies an apocalyptic ethos”: the Ghost (89). Interestingly, “fury, almost a violent ecstasy, is first and foremost triggered by the fatal encounter with the Ghost, that is, by an eschatological provocation” (91). A brief history of self-flagellation shows “that the eschatological ethos induced an ascetic self-torture in the hope of purging earthly sins from the body” as well as “engendered self-righteous violence towards Jews (and Turks), people marked as fatal sinners and Antichrist in the Christian tradition” (90). This combination is labeled “oxymoronic violence” (91). In Hamlet, the Prince alternates between “extrovert and introverted violence” (92): he berates himself and attacks all perceived sinners (e.g., Gertrude, Ophelia). He “is too intensely possessed with a disgust at fleshly corruption” rather that with an interest in revenge (93). While Hamlet parallels radical sects (95), Claudius is similar to King James; both rulers fear the danger of “fantasies” or madness, “a real political threat” to any throne (96). Shakespeare’s play “is a cultural rehearsal of an apocalyptic psychodrama which lies close to the heart of the Christian West” (98).

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Pennington, Michael. Hamlet: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.

CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

Framed by introductory and concluding chapters that narrate personal experience as well as insight, this monograph “is only in the slightest sense a history of productions”—“really imitating a rehearsal” (22). The first chapter focuses on the action by following the script “line by line” in the style of “a naive telling of the story” which can “often provoke a discovery” (22). As in “most productions,” the “script” is an “accumulated version”: a combination of elements “from the Second Quarto and the Folio and any number of later versions, with occasional mischievous forays into the First (‘Bad’) Quarto” (24). Act and scene designations are replaced by days to avoid confusion and “to draw attention to the fact that, while five separate days of action are presented, Shakespeare’s manipulation of ‘double time’ is so skilled that you can believe that several months have passed by between the beginning and the end” (23). The chapter on Hamlet’s characters comes second because one should not “make assumptions about character until the action proves them” (22). Characters are approached in groups, such as “The Royal Triangle” (Claudius/the Ghost/Gertrude) and “The Commoners” (players/gravediggers/priest). Then attention shifts to Hamlet. After discussing the demands of casting and rehearsing the role of Hamlet, the second chapter describes the excitement of opening night and the energizing relationship an actor shares with the audience. Although challenging, playing the role of Hamlet “will verify you: you will never be quite the same again” (193).

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Ratcliffe, Stephen. “What Doesn’t Happen in Hamlet: The Ghost’s Speech.” Modern Language Studies 28.3 (1998): 125-50.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / GHOST / RHETORICAL

This article argues “that Claudius did not murder his brother” and explores the Ghost’s account of its poisoning as the imaginings of “a world beyond the world of stage, a world of words in which the eye sees only what the ear hears, thereby sounding the limits of perception itself” (126). The death of Old Hamlet “is performed by means of words whose effect is to ‘show’ us what cannot be shown” (130). A detailed linguistic analysis of the Ghost’s account highlights how the Ghost’s words “enter (as the poison entered the Ghost’s body) not just Hamlet’s ears but ours as well” (143). The “experience of a multitude of casual, seemingly insignificant patterns of interaction among words in this speech” invites the audience/reader “to imagine and believe in something that doesn’t happen in the play”—except in words (147). While The Mousetrap’s dumbshow “echoes visually the Ghost’s acoustic representation of that same event” (133), Claudius’ response to it does not prove his guilt—nor does his supposed confession. Claudius’ private words provide “no details that would place him at the scene of the crime that afternoon” and use “a syntactic construction whose hypothetical logic casts more shadow of doubt than light of certainty over what he is actually saying” (135). And the confession comes from an unreliable source, a figure whose every action in the play has “everything to do with subterfuge and deception” (137). Perhaps, Claudius “is not speaking from the bottom of his heart, as one who prays presumably does, but rather in this stage performance of a prayer means to deceive God” (137). Besides, the “confession” from “this master of deception” (138) is for “a purely imaginary, hypothetical event that takes place outside of the play, beyond the physical boundaries of the stage” (139).

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Rees-Mogg, Lord. “The Politics of Hamlet.” Hamlet Studies 17 (1995): 43-53.

CLAUDIUS / NEW HISTORICISM

By studying the politics of Hamlet, this article presents Claudius as a model of the new ruler. Like many British rulers (e.g., Henry IV, Elizabeth I, Richard III), Claudius kills a family member, performing “an act of state” and following “a tradition which every English monarch had had to accept for two hundred years” (45). Once on the throne, he must begin the process of securing his position: praising the dead king, forming political alliances, marrying Gertrude, dealing with the threat of Fortinbras, conciliating ministers (e.g., Polonius), and attempting a reconciliation with his primary rival Hamlet. Because Hamlet refuses to embrace the new king, Claudius must engage in spying tactics to gain knowledge about his potential enemy and, ultimately, decide to terminate the threat. But in Shakespeare’s political tragedy (unlike the realities of British history), murderers are destined to fail. Aside from the fact that all of his supporters die (e.g., Polonius, Laertes), Claudius proves a weak leader because he “invariably prefers compromise to confrontation, placatory gestures to open defiance” (51-52). Perhaps if Claudius had not delayed his efforts to kill Hamlet, he might have been able to maintain his position as ruler; but the King “was such a nice man, in a way, that he decided to defer the action” (52).

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Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1992.

AUDIENCE RESPONSE / CLAUDIUS / GERTRUDE / GHOST / HAMLET / HORATIO / LAERTES / OPHELIA / PERFORMANCE / POLONIUS

Combining literary scholarship with interpretive performances, this monograph promises "a way to listen to and grasp the complex tones of Hamlet and the other characters" (x). Chapters follow the chronological order of the play, pausing to "discuss the important characters as they appear" (12). For example, the first chapter explores the opening scene's setting and events, as well as the variations staged in performances; the examination of this scene is briefly suspended for chapters on Horatio and the Ghost but continues in chapter four. This monograph clarifies dilemmas and indicates "the choices that have been made by actors and critics," but its actor-readers must decide for themselves (xi): "I believe this book will demonstrate that each actor-reader of you who engages with Hamlet's polyphony will uniquely experience the tones that fit your own polyphony" (x).

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Tkacz, Catherine Brown. “The Wheel of Fortune, the Wheel of State, and Moral Choice in Hamlet.” South Atlantic Review 57.4 (Nov. 1992): 21-38.

CLAUDIUS / HAMLET / HISTORY OF IDEAS

This essay explores the importance and ramifications of the prayer scene. Themes of duty and kingship, as well as motifs of the wheel and decent, prepare the audience for this crucial scene. The player’s Hecuba speech also anticipates the prayer scene because it provides an intriguing description of a hesitant Pyrrhus, who parallels Hamlet and Claudius. As Hamlet hesitates to avenge and Claudius hesitates to repent, “these two kinsmen who will at last kill each other are here fatally alike” (27). The key difference is that Claudius remains unchanged, while Hamlet develops a “new viciousness” “that makes this scene the moral center of the play” (28). After leaving Claudius to pray, Hamlet “strikes the blow that kills Polonius, he orders the deaths of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and his cruelty to Ophelia, orphaned at his hands, leads at least indirectly to her drowning” (31). But were Claudius apprehended, imprisoned, or slain before/during the pivotal prayer scene, these deaths and those of the final scene would be completely avoided (31). In the prayer scene, “at the center of the play, Hamlet’s subjection to Fortune shows itself most crucially; by being passion’s slave, he subjects the wheel of state to the wheel of Fortune” (35).

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