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Visit our online publication! Quick Links. In spite of this strong case of circumstantial evidence against his mother, Hamlet, in the Closet Scene, lashes out at the Queen without ever alluding to what very probably was her infidelity to his father, not to mention her betrayal of Hamlet himself. This situation may make for high drama, but it has some logical weaknesses.
As it happens, we, the audience, having listened to Claudius speaking his inner thoughts while wrestling with his conscience, know that in his prayers he was actually offering a very limited degree of repentance. Claudius expresses some regret for killing his brother, but makes it very clear he had no intention of giving up the throne or the Queen that he had gained by his terrible act. By no twist of theology would such a limited act of repentance gain one admittance to Heaven.
Hamlet has been given no evidence that would cause him to conclude that Claudius had ever considered admitting that he has murdered his brother, much less repenting his crime. Thus, Hamlet has no reason for leaping to the conclusion that his uncle is at that moment engaged in such a prayer.
Hamlet is sure that his father has already been killed by Claudius, and needs no great amount of insight to conclude that Claudius will not hesitate to kill again to secure his grip on his newly acquired kingdom. In short, a consistent Hamlet, acting logically to protect his own best interests, would kill Claudius on the spot, thus ending the play and ruining one of the greatest dramatic creations of all times. And, so, the audience is left with all too clear proof that Prince Hamlet is at times illogical and inconsistent. All of these examples suggest, however, that the logic and consistency advocated by T.
A play succeeds because of its ability to stir the feelings of the audience, to transport the members of that audience to places beyond the bounds of the theater and their daily lives. Like me, I suspect, they will be prompted to go back to their Shakespeare volumes and test a new hypothesis about what makes the melancholy Dane such a puzzling, if appealing, protagonist.
That, I think, would be a consummation devoutly to be wished. John F. Theseus is wracked with remorse.
The moral of the story? Humankind should be wary of attempting to exert potentia or potestas power or forceful control over the conditions of its existence fortuna. That responsibility belongs to nature natura , the entity that Hippolytus shapes at once to honour and to dominate through his hunting. Typically, the Chorus gets it wrong—and does so in revealing terms.
What the Chorus overlooks is that natura itself is an appetitive hunter, both in the violence of the wild qua Diana and in love qua Venus. In that humankind often errs on account of its passions, it may seem compromised—venal, one might say—when judged against transcendently virtuous constructions of morality.
The Senecan irony is that nature itself, like its predominating deities, is no different. Hippolytus likes to think of himself as an apex hunter, but he belongs to a landscape that will in time consume him. Natura is the only truly potent exponent of the chase, and is as inscrutably deadly to Hippolytus as Hippolytus must seem to a deer or boar. The Chorus approves. Circumstances differ, but the delusional arrogance of humankind remains unsullied.
It takes a special kind of credulity to discern the workings of providence, the gods, or a hypostasised nature through the interstices of the Danish court. The distinguishing feature of Hamlet is that Shakespeare makes fortuna the expression of human agency alone. Fate is other people, and its medium is their cunning: human slings; human arrows. Versions of Christianity are a prominent feature of the play, but they too fail to cohere. Those who prevail, such as Claudius and Fortinbras, do so because they consciously Claudius or unconsciously Fortinbras recognise and exploit the appetitive nature of the world and, in some measure, the reality of their place within it.
Kingship along with the entire apparatus of honour, order, and moral authority exists in virtue of the violence and guile with which it is acquired and maintained. Those characters that take themselves to be hunting in the interests of some other cause, howsoever virtuous or heartfelt, fail to comprehend themselves or the world around them. They condemn themselves thereby.
In time, this unrelentingly cynegetic vision of fortuna will, of course, consume Fortinbras just as surely it consumes Claudius. That is the nature of things. It is the opposite of Cicero; the antithesis of the moral philosophy at the heart of the humanist project. Although the De officiis ranks hunting as an honourable pastime when pursued in careful moderation, Cicero is at pains to stress that the guileful qualities required in the hunt are inimical to the freely civic good, grounded as that is in reason and language.
In the Tusculan Disputations , 2. On the most fundamental level, Cicero distinguishes between wisdom sapientia and cunning, craftiness, guile, or trickery calliditas , just as he writes of calliditas being punished for masquerading as the virtuous species of practical wisdom, prudentia. Calliditas , as he takes considerable pains to stress, is simply not the Roman way. For instance, Cicero notes that individuals have particular dispositions and talents of body and mind ingenia : some can run quickly, some are cheerful, and some are earnest.
Others have natural cunning.
Hannibal was one such, and so was the Roman who defeated him, Quintus Maximus. A better example, however, was the Athenian ruler Solon—who as a young man found a way to thwart the letter of the misconceived law in urging the conquest of Salamis, an island that Athens had been contesting with Megara. Annibal was craftie. In which kinde, the Greeks.
Nor does Solon feature in the De officiis alone. In the version known to Shakespeare:. So one daye he ranne sodainly out of his house with a garland on his head, and gotte him to the market place, where the people straight swarmed like bees about him: and getting him up upon the stone where all proclamations are usually made, out he singeth these Elegies he had made.
Only a parallel, but an intriguing one: Hamlet uses his cunning in a similar way in assuming madness and in framing a work of poetic invention and to similar ends to make claims that would, if expressed openly, thwart authority and invite punishment. Solon is another figure who invites comparison with Hamlet, but whose example Hamlet is unable to match. Returning to the De officiis , Cicero is explicit that no matter how impressive individual talents like cunning might seem, they threaten to undermine the foundations of the civic life: it is imperative that they be translated into a persona consonant with the public good.