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Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Time I Will Mention Oedipus

--something on "incestuous" abomination and Hamlet's projected "obsession" with it, his procrastination, and the hierarchy of his concerns.

The Trial of Bastardie (London, 1594)
The Triall of Bastardie: that part of the second part of Policie, or maner of Gouernement of the Realme of England: so termed, Spirituall, or Ecclesiasticall. Annexed at the end of this Treatise, touching the prohibition of marriage, a Table of the Leuitical, English, and Positiue Canon Catalogues, their concordance and difference. By William Clerke.
Table of prohibited marriages.

[Listed in the same tables as the abomination of marrying your own aunt, daughter-in-law, grand daughter, sister, mother, or daughter, along with several other possible "incestuous" unions.]:

A man may not marrie his
{Sister., Wife's Sister.,Brother's Wife.
}The equall collateral line, and first degree.

30 Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinances, that ye doe not any of the abominable customes, which have been done before you.

This is real bad stuff then, regardless of our viewpoints on any of it--as attested to by King Hamlet's Ghost: To Hamlet:

"I that incestuous, that adulterate Beast
With witchcraft of his wits,hath Traitorous gifts.
Oh wicked wit, and Gifts, that have the power
So to seduce? Won to this shamefull Lust
The will of my most *SEEMING VERTUOUS Queen: [my emphasis]
Oh Hamlet, what a falling off was there,
From me, whose love was of that dignity,
That it went hand in hand, even with the Vow
I made to her in Marriage; and to decline
Upon a wretch, whose Naturall gifts were poore
To those of mine. But Vertue, as it never will be moved,
Though Lewdness court it in a shape of Heaven:
So Lust, though to a radiant Angell link'd,
Will sate it selfe in a Celestial bed,
& prey on Garbage." [Note which words are Capitalized]

Following the description of the "incestuous", "murderous", "adulterer's" crime:
"Oh horrible, Oh horrible, most horrible:
If thou hast nature in thee beare it not;
Let not the Royall Bed of Denmarke be
A Couch for Luxury and damned Incest."

It sure seems as though the former King Hamlet has a few "issues" himself re: Claudius sleeping with his wife--Hamlet's Mother. I think Hamlet finds it not a little important,after the somewhat repetitive,insistent, horrible moans of his father about the vileness of all this. I also think he finds it extremely disgusting to even think about--never mind LIVE WITH under the same roof and scrutiny of an entire kingdom's eyes. (Hamlet's not alone in the disgust department over this somewhat "questionable union".) And he can't get away from it! And since his Too, too solid Flesh" rant about it, the shame, anger, and disgust quotient has been magnified a hundred fold by this latest revelation. But he has to Eat It All, like a good-little-boy-Prince(-who-should-be-King-too):) ("But breake my Heart, for I must hold my Tongue.") His desire to go back to Wittenberg has already been pronounced,"...most retrograde to OUR desire." Mummy's too.

Later, though they may also be his own feelings as well (and the feelings of anyone who might put themselves in his place) Hamlet recounts his father's sentiments; anger, pain, and utter disgust about his mother's actions--her betrayal, incestuous behavior, and *"seeming vertue". Imagine having to confront your mother--Queen or no Queen-- with these things? --After she's "summoned you", obviously to tell you what a bad little Prince YOU'VE been? What size head of steam might that gather?

And his final words to Claudius, THE VERY ONE, HIMSELF, HE, ACTUAL ARTICLE, THE "...incestuous, adulterate [murderous] Beast":
Ham. "Heere thou incestuous, murderous, Damned Dane,
Drink off this Potion: Is thy Union heere?
Follow my Mother."

Laertes. "He is justly served.
It is a poyson tempr'ed by himselfe:
Exchange forgiveness with me Noble Hamlet;
Mine and my Fathers death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me."

Once again, in the oft-repeated words of he whom Hamlet avenges, and WHILE stating the very reasons he's been asked to do it, WITH his mother's death to add to the mix. Although they may be his thoughts as well, Hamlet reiterates the words his father can't say.

As to his belated decisions to go stabbing about; Circumstance has pretty much dictated things. NOW in front of ALL, witnesses to the treachery, with Laertes dying testimony,(the guy whose father he mistakenly killed) no less, his mother another victim of the "Incestuous, murderous, Damned Dane",...the oft-overlooked (possibly because it was always missing?) item in the arsenal of "facts" used to condemn him for his procrastination--"Proof"--isn't something he needs anymore.

His feigned madness, by the way, was a common practice among royalty when the intrigue and safety issues for particular "chosen ones" got a little dicey. It was used as a means of protection, especially from one's bloodthirsty relatives eager to climb the political ladder "legitimately". (the insane were protected from recrimination for their actions, which, could include getting in the way of those potentially dangerous "loved ones" while they were seeking out a solution to what could happen to them as a direct result of their "kind affection") I may have mentioned Hamlet's behavior re: Polonius' body--"Don't kill me yet...I'm still crazy, see?."
He was protecting himself the whole time, just in case the "murderous" persona in the "incestuous, murderous, damned Dane" decided it might suddenly resume killing people "too much in it's way"; especially those "would have beens", "wannabees", or possible "should have beens" named "Hamlet". You think he didn't know Claudius kept him around to "watch" him? Anyone who thinks Hamlet could have simply, with impunity, "enacted revenge" without explaining or proving anything, simply because he's The Prince with a beef, hasn't read the play. He can't trust anyone. Not even his own mother. And his only witness to anything he knows...? --a ghost!

As far as how we can tell anything about what Hamlet's thinking by "how he says it"--that would have to do with the way the relationships have been handled by the PRODUCER/DIRECTORS--the "Concept People"-- throughout the play; and also, by the way the line itself has been delivered. Any actor who puts undue emphasis on the word "incestuous" for reasons of "proving" something Psycho-sexual--perhaps that Hamlet could easily exchange names with Oedipus and no one would notice-- clearly cares more about impressing the audience with some more sensational "point" than, well, for one thing, their ability to scan and read verse convincingly with any accuracy.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting, though, that Claudius finds allies at court who don't have a problem with his marrying Gertrude. Levirate marriage has traditionally been used to consolidate or maintain unity of the clan or ruling family. Obviously though, as you point out, King and young Hamlet think otherwise. How did Shakespeare's audience feel about it?