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Did Hamlet's Mousetrap work?

  1. Sep 25, 2005 #1


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    From Who Knows Who Knows Who’s There? An Epistemology of Hamlet (Or, What Happens in the Mousetrap):
    Basically, Roth seizes on Hamlet calling Lucianus "nephew to the King", so Lucianus' murder of the King is seen as Hamlet threatening Claudius' life. He proposes that Hamlet knows that Claudius may have reacted to this perceived threat and not out of overwhelming guilt, so The Mousetrap doesn't actually give Hamlet any more reason to think that Claudius did in fact kill King Hamlet.
    If anyone wants to read the article, let me know what you think. I'll hold most of my comments for now and just say that my major problems are with Roth's suggestions about what Hamlet knows or thinks.
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  3. Sep 25, 2005 #2
    It's pretty much baloney.

    If you play the scene such that the dumb show part makes Claudius exceptionally edgy and nervous, but not quite sure he's seeing what he thinks he's seeing, then when the real play gets to the murder, he's primed to spring up from his chair, too terrified to say anything except ask for light.

    The nephew remark doesn't refer to Hamlet/Claudius, just relative killing relative to steal an "estate".
  4. Sep 26, 2005 #3


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    The more carefully I look at Hamlet, the more problems I find - not only in this scene but in the whole play. And I don't know how to tell whether any one thing was intentional or a mistake, either by Shakespeare or in the copy. Here's where I'm at so far. (I quoted the texts liberally in case anyone isn't famliliar with them. If you know what they say, you can safely skip most of the quotes. I'm using Q2 (indigo) mainly and will try to note any relevant differences between it and Q1 (red) and F1 (green).)

    Before The Murder of Gonzago, henceforth 'the play', Claudius agrees to let Gertrude speak with Hamlet before deciding whether to send him to England.
    Pol. ...my Lord, doe as you please,
    But if you hold it fit, after the play,
    Let his Queene-mother all alone intreate him
    To show his griefe, let her be round with him, [1840]
    And Ile be plac'd (so please you) in the eare
    Of all their conference, if she find him not,
    To England send him: or confine him where
    Your wisedome best shall thinke.
    King. It shall be so,
    Madnes in great ones must not [vnmatcht vnwatch'd] goe.

    And after the play, Claudius has changed his mind and decided to send Hamlet to England ASAP, because Hamlet is now too dangerous.
    King. I like him not, nor stands it safe with vs
    To let his madnes range, therefore prepare you,
    I your commission will forth-with dispatch,
    And he to England shall along with you,
    The termes of our estate may not endure
    Hazerd so neer's as doth hourely grow
    Out of his [browes Lunacies].

    Before the play, Hamlet is unsure of Claudius' guilt.
    Ham (to Horatio). There is a play to night before the King,
    One scene of it comes neere the circumstance
    Which I haue told thee of my fathers death,
    I prethee when thou seest that act a foote,
    Euen with the very comment of thy soule [1930]
    Obserue my Vncle, if his occulted guilt
    Doe not it selfe vnkennill in one speech,
    It is a damned ghost that we haue seene,
    And my imaginations are as foule
    As Vulcans stithy; giue him heedfull note,
    For I mine eyes will riuet to his face,
    And after we will both our iudgements ioyne
    In censure of his seeming.

    I take it that since Hamlet has told Horatio of the murder and asked for his help in judging Claudius' reaction, he is actually trying to find the truth.
    Note that they will be watching specifically and carefully Claudius' face, i.e., it seems that Hamlet expects Claudius to be able to control himself to a large degree and doesn't need Claudius to get up and storm away. Hamlet's eariler comments also support this.
    Ham. ...Ile obserue his lookes,
    Ile tent him to the quicke, if a [doe but] blench
    I know my course.

    And after the play:
    Ham. Why let the strooken Deere goe weepe,
    The Hart vngauled play,
    For some must watch while some must sleepe,
    Thus runnes the world away. Would not this sir & a forrest of fea-
    thers, if the rest of my fortunes turne Turk with me, with prouinciall
    Roses on my raz'd shooes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players?
    Hora. Halfe a share.
    Ham. A whole one I.
    For thou doost know oh Damon deere
    This Realme dismantled was
    Of Ioue himselfe, and now raignes heere
    A very very paiock.
    Hora. You might haue rym'd.
    Ham. O good Horatio, Ile take the Ghosts word for a thousand
    pound. Did'st perceiue?
    Hora. Very well my Lord. [2160]
    Ham. Vpon the talke of the poysning.
    Hor. I did very well note him.

    Ham. What, frighted with false fires?
    Then let the stricken deere goe weepe,
    The hart vngalled play,
    For some must laugh, while some must weepe,
    Thus runnes the world away.
    Hor. The king is mooued my lord.
    Hor. I Horatio, i'le take the Ghosts word
    For more then all the coyne in Denmarke.

    (I think the attributing of this last line to Horatio is a typo.) I take this and his speech when Claudius is praying to mean that Hamlet is now convinced of Claudius' guilt.

    Assuming none of these are mistakes, something has happened during the play to make Claudius and Hamlet change their minds: Hamlet becomes too dangerous and Claudius becomes guilty. So I want to figure out when, how, and why the changes happen.

    Ham. O God your onely Iigge-maker, what should a man do but
    be merry, for looke you how cheerefully my mother lookes, and my
    father died within's two howres. [1980]
    Oph. Nay, tis twice two months my Lord.
    Ham. So long, nay then let the deule weare blacke, for Ile haue a
    sute of sables; o heauens, die two months agoe, and not forgotten yet,
    then there's hope a great mans memorie may out-liue his life halfe a
    yeere, but ber Lady a must build Churches then, or els shall a suffer
    not thinking on, with the Hobby-horse, whose Epitaph is, for o, for
    o, the hobby-horse is forgot.

    The Trumpets sounds. Dumbe show followes. [1990]
    Enter a King and a Queene, the Queene embracing him,and he her,he
    takes her vp, and declines his head vpon her necke,he lyeshim downe vp-
    pon a bancke of flowers, she seeing him asleepe, leaues him: anon come in an
    other man, takes off his crowne, kisses it, pours poyson in the sleepers eares,
    andleaues him:the Queene returnes, finds the King dead, makes passionate
    action, the poysner with some three or foure come in againe, seemeto con-
    dole with her, the dead body is carried away, the poysner wooes the Queene
    with gifts, shee seemes harshawhile, but in the end accepts loue.

    Oph. VVhat meanes this my Lord?
    [Ham. Marry this munching Mallico, it meanes mischiefe.
    Ham. Marry this is Miching Malicho, that meanes
    Oph. Belike this show imports the argument of the play.
    [Ham. We shall know by this fellow, Enter Prologue.
    Ham. We shall know by these Fellowes]
    The Players cannot keepe, they'le tell all.
    Oph. Will a tell vs what this show meant? [2010]
    Ham. I, or any show that you will show him, be not you asham'd
    to show, heele not shame to tell you what it meanes.
    Oph. You are naught, you are naught, Ile mark the play.
    Prologue. For vs and for our Tragedie,
    Heere stooping to your clemencie,
    We begge your hearing patiently.
    Ham. Is this a Prologue, or the posie of a ring? [2020]
    Oph. Tis breefe my Lord.
    Ham. As womans loue.

    None of the versions say anything about Claudius' reaction to the dumb-show, and I can find nothing else to indicate whether Ophelia's uncertainty about its meaning is shared by Claudius. But considering it with Hamlet's comments about his father and mother, it must be clear that the dumb-show is, at least, about Gertrude marrying Claudius after King Hamlet's death. And I take Claudius' presence as prima facie evidence that he did see the dumb-show.

    Enter King and Queene.
    King. Full thirtie times hath Phebus cart gone round
    Quee. O confound the rest,
    Such loue must needes be treason in my brest,
    In second husband let me be accurst,
    None wed the second, but who kild the first.
    Ham. That's wormwood [2050]

    I'm not yet sure what to make of Hamet's comment here, but it doesn't have much to do with Claudius anyway, and the play doesn't show Baptista as having anything to do with the murder.
    Quee. The instances that second marriage moue
    Sleepe rock thy braine,
    And neuer come mischance betweene vs twaine. Exeunt.
    Ham. Madam, how like you this play?
    Quee. The Lady doth protest too much mee thinks.
    Ham. O but shee'le keepe her word.
    So far, the play's dialogue and Hamlet's comments have all been about Gertrude's marriages.
    King. Haue you heard the argument? is there no offence in't? [2100]
    Ham. No, no, they do but iest, poyson in iest, no offence i'th world.

    Note that there has been no mention of poisoning yet - it has only appeared in the dumb-show. I take this as Hamlet provoking Claudius.
    King. What doe you call the play?
    Ham. The Mousetrap, mary how tropically, this play is the Image
    of a murther doone in Vienna, Gonzago is the Dukes name, his wife

    Jenkins, in his Arden edition, says that the play probably was based on a true story, the murder of the Duke of Urbino, a 'famous soldier', by his wife's kinsman in 1538. I haven't chased down the sources he cites, though I probably will try to soon. In the play, the Duke and Duchess have been changed to King and Queen, presumably to fit better with King Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude. The name Shakespeare uses for the King/Duke, Gonzago, was the name of the accused murderer. And the name Shakespeare uses for the murderer, Lucianus, is one letter away from an anagram of Claudius. I'm not sure of the significance of this name switch, murderer becoming victim. It may not have even been Shakespeare's change but a change by his source, if there was one, as Hamlet soon claims (the story is extant, and written in very choice Italian). It's clear though that Hamlet didn't make the change, since he earlier asked the Player King to play The Murder of Gonzago. (BTW, the Duchess' name was Leonora not Baptista. There was another Duchess of Urbino named Battista, for what it's worth.)
    It does at least seem significant that Hamlet tells Claudius that the play is an image of a real murder and now calls it The Mousetrap.

    you shall see anon, tis a knauish peece of worke, but what of
    that ? your Maiestie, and wee that haue free soules, it touches vs not,
    let the gauled Iade winch, our withers are vnwrong. This is one Lu- [2110]
    cianus, Nephew to the King.

    Every version agrees on Hamlet calling Lucianus 'nephew to the King'. I'll try not to confuse anyone here, myself included. Hamlet just called the play's King a Duke (Gonzago is the Dukes name). This may be a mistake, or Hamlet may be referring to the real story. Q1 doesn't help much:
    Ham. Mouse-trap: mary how trapically: this play is
    The image of a murder done in guyana, Albertus
    Was the Dukes name, his wife Baptista

    'guyana' could just be a mishearing of Vienna. I don't know yet whether Albertus was the real Duke's name. And since Q1 calls the play's King and Queen 'Duke and Dutchesse' in the scene directions and headings, the 'Duke' part doesn't make it any clearer whether this was a mistake or reference to the real story. Of course, Q1 is considered a bad quarto - and for good reason, IMO, so I'm not giving it too much weight anyway. So...
    Hamlet now calling Lucianus the nephew to the King may also be a mistake or reference to the real story (I don't know whether the real murderer was the Duke's nephew - just a kinsman of the Duchess). But notice that Hamlet doesn't say 'nephew to the Duke', as you would expect if he were referring to the real story. This too could be a mistake. It could also be Shakespeare or Hamlet intentionally mixing fiction with reality, as would be most fitting given the situation. And since I can't think of anything to support 'nephew to the King' being a mistake and it fits with and adds meaning to Hamlet, I'm inclined to believe that Shakespeare did it intentionally. But I don't think nephew appears anywhere else in Hamlet; Hamlet is called Claudius' cousin or son. I'll have to check on this as well.
    Hamlet identifying the murderer as nephew to the King suggests that Hamlet is also identifying himself as the murderer of the (current) King. I think this is the source of the idea that Hamlet is threatening Claudius, as is hinted at in several places and later made explicit by Claudius when talking to Laertes:
    King. ...Sith you haue heard and with a knowing eare,
    That he which hath your noble father slaine [3010]
    Pursued my life.
    Laer. It well appeares...

    This may have been a rumor that Claudius started himself; it may have been everyone's interpretation of the play; it may have come, in part or in whole, from Hamlet killing Polonius. I haven't found anything to clearly decide this yet - still something to think about. But back to the play...

    Enter Lucianus.
    Oph. You are as good as a Chorus my Lord.
    Ham. I could interpret betweene you and your loue
    If I could see the puppets dallying.
    Oph. You are keene my lord, you are keene.
    Ham. It would cost you a groning to take off mine edge.
    Oph. Still better and worse.
    Ham. So you mistake your husbands. Beginne murtherer, leaue [2120]
    thy damnable faces and begin, come, the croking Rauen doth bellow
    for reuenge.

    Who is the croaking raven bellowing for revenge? If Lucianus is only meant to represent Claudius, this doesn't make any sense as a reference to Lucianus - Claudius didn't kill King Hamlet for revenge and has nothing at all to avenge. If Lucianus is meant to represent only Hamlet, the nephew and revenge parts make sense - Hamlet is a croaking raven (in his suit of sables) seeking revenge - but in the rest of the play, Lucianus is clearly meant to represent Claudius. So Hamlet could just be talking about himself and not Lucianus. But then the remark seems unmotivated and out of place - it's just puzzling - why then is it even there? I think it makes sense that the remark does refer to Lucianus and Lucianus is meant to represent both Hamlet and Claudius, murderer becoming victim, victim becoming murderer/revenger. I am becoming convinced that Lucianus is playing a dual role: He represents Claudius killing King Hamlet and Hamlet killing Claudius. Hamlet is using the play to find out whether Claudius is guilty, and if Claudius is, to tell him that Hamlet knows what he did and is going to avenge his father. I think Hamlet does a similar thing with Pyrrhus. Duality is a theme running all through Hamlet. And when Hamlet tries to kill Claudius but kills Polonius instead, he fulfills this dual role of Lucianus, as he later acknowledges to Horatio:
    Ham. ...but I am very sorry good Horatio,
    That to Laertes I forgot my selfe; [3580]
    For by the image of my Cause, I see
    The Portraiture of his;

    Ham. beleeue mee, it greeues mee much Horatio,
    That to Leartes I forgot my selfe: [3580]
    For by my selfe me thinkes I feele his griefe,
    Though there's a difference in each others wrong.

    So granted, Hamlet and Claudius are not being equated here; They are similar but not the same. Sorry, I realize this is a bit hectic - I'm still trying to sort out everything myself.

    Luc. Thoughts black, hands apt, drugges fit, and time agreeing,
    Considerat season els no creature seeing,
    Thou mixture ranck, of midnight weedes collected,
    VVith Hecats ban thrice blasted, thrice inuected,
    Thy naturall magicke, and dire property,
    On wholsome life vsurps immediatly. [2130]
    Ham. A poysons him i'th Garden for his estate, his names Gonza-
    go, the story is extant, and written in very choice Italian, you shall see
    anon how the murtherer gets the loue of Gonzagoes wife.
    Oph. The King rises.
    Quee. How fares my Lord?
    Pol. Giue ore the play.
    King. Giue me some light, away. [2140]
    Pol. Lights, lights, lights.

    Ham. He poysons him i'th'Garden for's estate: His
    name's Gonzago: the Story is extant and writ in choyce
    Italian. You shall see anon how the Murtherer gets the
    loue of Gonzago's wife.
    Ophe. The King rises.
    Ham. What, frighted with false fire.
    Qu. How fares my Lord?
    Pol. Giue o're the Play.
    King. Giue me some Light. Away. [2140]
    All. Lights, Lights, Lights.

    Ham. He poysons him for his estate.
    King Lights, I will to bed. [2140]
    Cor. The king rises, lights hoe.

    Ugh, I think I need to sort out some other things before I attack this part - there are so many things in these few lines, I don't know where to begin. The first question: When does Claudius rise?

    Does anyone see any problems or solutions? Have an answer to when, how, and why Hamlet and Claudius change their minds? Did anyone even read this? :rofl: :cry:
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2005
  5. Sep 27, 2005 #4


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    A historical note on the Hamlet story:
    I do not know in which form Shakespeare got his account about Hamlet, but possibly, it may have been a garbled version of the original story of Hamlet as written down by Saxo Grammaticus 400 years earlier:

    In contrast to Shakespeare's Claudius, Saxo's Fenge kills his brother (called Hardvendel, rather than Hamlet) in a duel based on Fenge's claim that his brother mistreated Gertrude (Gerut in Saxo). Furthermore, in this story, Hardvendel was a minor king in Jutland nominally under the Danish king Roric, Gertrude's father (with his power base on Zealand).

    Thus, in the original story Fenge (i.e, Claudius) might well be said to avenge the assault his brother made on Gertrude (probably with Roric's tacit approval), his reward being to marry Gertrude himself after Hardvendel's death.

    Possibly then, Shakespeare's source might have contained some sort of revenge motive for Claudius derived from the original story that Shakespeare rather sloppily alludes to.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2005
  6. Sep 27, 2005 #5


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    This is a link to Saxo containing his version of the Hamlet story (contained at the end of Book three)
    As can be seen, it is quite different from Shakespeare's, but some elements are common:
    Amleth feigns madness (by Saxo in order to seem harmless), the death of Polonius, Amleth's chastising of his mother, Feng sending Amleth to England, his companions carrying a letter containing Amleth's death sentence that Amleth changes into their own.http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/OMACL/DanishHistory/book3.html [Broken]

    That Feng killed his brother Horwendil in some sort of fight, is clear from Amleth's speech at the beginning of Book Four. That is why I assume it was some sort of duel. Feng's avowed motive for killing Horwendil is found in the beginning passage:
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  7. Sep 28, 2005 #6


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    Thanks, I haven't gotten around to reading much about the sources yet. From what I've read, Shakespeare wasn't likely to have ever read Saxo. But Saxo's story was retold by Belleforest, and this may have been the source of Kyd's Spanish Tragedy and the Ur-Hamlet - whoever wrote it - if it ever existed. And some combination of those may have been Shakespeare's source(s). Or something like that. I suspect it's like everything else - lots of theories, little evidence. So yeah, I'll look into that when I'm in a more patient mood.

    I haven't had a chance yet to work more on this. I'm not even to the point of needing to figure out most of the things in this scene. I just happened upon that article and thought the suggestion that Hamlet wasn't convinced of Claudius' guilt was interesting (though I'm still pretty sure it doesn't work).
  8. Sep 28, 2005 #7


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    Shakespeare most certainly did not read Saxo.
    No one else has done that, either.
    To read Saxo in its entirety is such a grievous assault upon your aesthetic sensibility that only minor portions of the work can be read safely.
    Saxo's style has the quality of Vogon poetry, so beware!
  9. Sep 28, 2005 #8


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    Just a question, though:
    Why should "the raven" refer to an actual person?

    In Macbeth, for example, after the murder of Duncan, it is said that in various ways, "nature" itself revolted to the immoral deed in various ways (I think an eclipse was one of those omens, I'm not sure).

    Couldn't Hamlet's comment be simply a metaphor for "even nature thirsts after revenge", using the old norse bringer of war&death, the raven, as his image?
  10. Sep 28, 2005 #9


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    What's Vogon poetry? One of the worst things I ever tried to read was Hobbes' Leviathan. Maybe he was a great guy with some great ideas, but this was awful, painful stuff:
    eehhhh. Anything like that?
  11. Sep 28, 2005 #10


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    Last edited: Sep 28, 2005
  12. Sep 28, 2005 #11


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    Yipes. Thanks for the warning.
    Sure, I could see that if it were spoken as an aside to himself or Horatio (and, of course, to us). To Hamlet and Horatio, revenge would naturally refer to Hamlet's situation. And since they already know it is Hamlet who is seeking revenge, they could interpret it in a general sense. Thanks.
    But since it's spoken to everyone, I think we need to consider what it means to everyone.

    There are some suggestions that Claudius may have, in a sense, cheated Hamlet out of becoming king (not that he broke any rules, just took advantage of things); It's easy to imagine Claudius securing support for himself while Hamlet is away at school and then killing the king after being confident that he would be elected. Part of Gonzago's audience may interpret the line this way - Hamlet feels that Claudius stole the crown from him, and Hamlet is now threatening to reclaim it. So the raven would refer to Hamlet (who does resemble a raven in his 'customary suits of solemn black' and is doing a lot of croaking and bellowing at the moment). I'm not sure whether there is enough support for it, but it's relatively minor anyway.

    What's more important is what the line means to Claudius (and possibly to anyone else involved in the murder, if you think anyone else was). By now, Claudius must have made the connection between the play and his murder of his brother, and he must at least suspect, even if he isn't certain, that Hamlet knows about the murder. So when Hamlet mentions revenge, how can Claudius, with his foul murder on his mind and before the court, not make the connection? He must notice the mention of revenge and realize that if any revenge is taking place, he's on the receiving end.

    I imagine that whether you think Claudius then sees Hamlet, who speaks the line, puts on the play, and is the son of the person he's killed, as the one seeking revenge depends on who you think Hamlet speaks the line to: Claudius, Lucianus, the actor playing Lucianus, or everyone. I won't go into all of those, but they all could lead to the raven representing Hamlet, in addition to many other things (King Hamlet*, fate or nature in its many forms (who still hath cried, from the first corpse till he that died today, 'This must be so.' :tongue2:), etc.).

    I'm thinking that Claudius does make many of these connections, which send him into a tailspin. He's trying to put everything together, and it just gets worse - his murder of his brother and his own death are laid before him and the confusion grows:
    Luc. Thoughts black, hands apt, drugges fit, and time agreeing,
    Considerat season els no creature seeing,
    Thou mixture ranck, of midnight weedes collected,
    VVith Hecats ban thrice blasted, thrice inuected,
    Thy naturall magicke, and dire property,
    On wholsome life vsurps immediatly. [2130]
    Ham. A poysons him i'th Garden for his estate, his names Gonza-
    go, the story is extant, and written in very choice Italian, you shall see
    anon how the murtherer gets the loue of Gonzagoes wife.

    Until he can't bear to let it continue...
    Oph. The King rises.

    There are other other interpretations that I want to consider. The revenge line could have many meanings to many people (and we see all of them), but I think the connections to Claudius and Hamlet must be among them.

    *Ooh, now I want to look into any connections of the raven with the dead, especially those who have unfinished business... :biggrin:
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