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Hamlet
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Infinite Jest - Spine 2012 > Discussion - Infinite Jest and Shakespeare's Hamlet

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
This discussion covers Shakepeare’s play, Hamlet, and its relation to DFW’s Infinite Jest.

This suggestion comes from Matt Bucher (maintainer of the wallace-l listserv):

9. Brush up on your Hamlet: It’s no coincidence that the first two words of Hamlet are “Who’s there?” and the first two words of Infinite Jest are “I am”. Even the novel’s title was lifted from the play.

As you read, it behooves you keep in mind the relationships between the characters in Shakespeare’s drama (the ghost, poor Yorick, etc.) and the central themes of the play.


Four our purposes, the weeks leading up to the start date for Infinite Jest can be spent discussing Hamlet by itself. Then, once we’re under way with IJ, we can use this thread to discuss ways in which the two books are related. There is no specific schedule beyond that. Just read the play and pop in here to discuss when you’re ready.


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Is this the thread for the discussions on Hamlet???


message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Barbara wrote: "Is this the thread for the discussions on Hamlet???"

It is.

While re-reading the play, I noticed it is easier for me to follow this Early Modern English than I remembered from my undergrad days.


message 4: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) I finished listening to an audio of Hamlet and found the quality to be, well...bad. The volume kept going up and down which made it really hard to listen to. I'm going to go back and read the play itself. But I think it will go faster now that I have sort of listened to the play first.

Pout!! I wanted the audio to work.


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Catherine wrote: "I finished listening to an audio of Hamlet and found the quality to be, well...bad. The volume kept going up and down which made it really hard to listen to. I'm going to go back and read the play ..."

Another thing to consider is a DVD. I can't recommend a particular version, but Laurence Olivier's 1948 version won the best picture Oscar. You might also try Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version, though it is somewhat experimental in its use of flashbacks.

Maybe a better option would be a filmed version of a stage production. I have no particular recommendations, but maybe a helpful librarian could give you a good steer.

Any BP members know of a good filmed version of Hamlet?


message 6: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) Jim wrote: "Catherine wrote: "I finished listening to an audio of Hamlet and found the quality to be, well...bad. The volume kept going up and down which made it really hard to listen to. I'm going to go back ..."

I hadn't even thought of this. Thanks Jim!


message 7: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Catherine wrote: "I hadn't even thought of this. Thanks Jim! ..."

De nada... if you find a good version, let us know


message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
All praise the power of youtube!

here is a 1964 stage production starring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRU5yL...


message 9: by Catherine (new)

Catherine (catjackson) Jim wrote: "All praise the power of youtube!

here is a 1964 stage production starring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRU5yL..."


Wonderful!! You are awesome!


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments As far as the different film versions of Hamlet, I think the Mel Gibson version is excellent. I want to rent the Laurence Olivier version. I haven't seen him as Hamlet, but he was an amazing Richard III so I would love to see his Hamlet.

The Ethan Hawke version is fun, but I would only recommend watching it once you're already familiar with the play (through both reading it and seeing a film or stage production of it.) It's a "modernized" version which I think would be confusing to anyone who is not already familiar with the story and all the characters.


Mikela | 5 comments Jim wrote: "All praise the power of youtube!

here is a 1964 stage production starring Richard Burton and directed by John Gielgud

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRU5yL..."


This really brought the play to life. Thanks for sharing it.


Christine Palau | 7 comments All praise the power of Jim. I'm loving this production to death, and having a little too much fun reading along, even attempting the accent. Thank you!


message 13: by Alex (last edited Sep 20, 2012 09:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Yo Barbara, I'm into Mel Gibson's production. I actually think he kinda nailed it, which surprises me because he's an idiot and all.

On the other hand, sorry to be the voice of disagreement but I found Ethan Hawke's version really...masturbatory, even given that Hamlet is himself fairly masturbatory.

Important note about Ken Branagh's version: it is amazing for makeouts. It's so long and lame that you actually have to make out with whoever you watch it with just so you don't die of boredom. Branagh's Hamlet is the greatest hookup trick of all time.

I should probably try one of the older ones - thanks Jim for the link.

Laurence Olivier is the bomb. Man, did I dig his Lear. (You heard that story about him being so old that he sometimes fell asleep in the middle of scenes? I don't know if it's true, but it's a great story.)

Anyone watch Sons of Anarchy btw? It's billed as "Hamlet on motorcycles." Spoilers for Sons ahead: (view spoiler) So then, Infinite Jest spoilers: (view spoiler)


message 14: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Christine wrote: "All praise the power of Jim. I'm loving this production to death, and having a little too much fun reading along, even attempting the accent. Thank you!"

De nada!

I don't know if this is happening for you, but sometimes Richard Burton sounds like Malcolm MacDowell in A Clockwork Orange. By the way, M.D. would have made a great Hamlet. Nobody does deranged facial expressions like my favorite Droogan leader.

@Alex "it is amazing for makeouts. It's so long and lame that you actually have to make out with whoever you watch it with just so you don't die of boredom."

Good one! What did you think about the flashbacks? Did it work against the story and/or make it too much like a movie instead of a play?


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I think the Mel Gibson was the best, like Barbara and Alex. I also was amazed by this. It was the first time I realized the difference between ARt and Artist, but not the last (I.e., Clint Eastwood).


message 16: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex I, uh, don't remember the flashbacks. Maybe those were the parts I was making out during? It's kinda been a while. I have dim memories of Branagh spitting a lot and Robin Williams chewing scenery.

(I quite like Branagh, especially his Henry V and Love's Labours Lost, but if you look closely (which you shouldn't do) he sprays spit in peoples' faces, like, all the time.)


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) I notice actors who spit too, despite trying very hard to not.


message 18: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Graham | 8 comments Every time I read Hamlet I find more deliberate ambiguities powering the play. There are all these yes-or-no questions without real answers that work a little like a Buddhist koan (what is the sound of one hand clapping, after all?) in that they generate a unknowable depth within the work. These ambiguities force this to be a story that the audience has no way to solve--I don't care how hard you try to prove that Hamelet is "crazy" or "not," how hard you try to prove that Claudio is a murderer or not or that Gertrude was complicit or not, there's just not enough textual evidence to solve the case in a satisfying way. As a result the audience is forced to regard the play as more about Hamlet's psychological state than about the objective truth in Denmark...which is a technique that I think Wallace uses a lot in IJ.

Incidentally Stanley Cavell has an article on skepticism in Hamlet that I recommend for anyone interested in mining the relationship between Wallace and Shakespeare--Wallace was a fan of Cavell's work and I have always had the feeling that the way he used Hamlet in IJ was influenced almost as much by Cavell as by Shakespeare.

I should warn you, though, Cavell is a terrible, terrible writer. His prose is comparable to a bad translation of Paul de Man, but there's no good excuse, because Cavell is actually an American.

This comment makes me sound like a pretentious asshole. I also like all the dirty jokes in Hamlet, for what it's worth.


message 19: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Jennifer wrote: "Every time I read Hamlet I find more deliberate ambiguities powering the play. There are all these yes-or-no questions without real answers that work a little like a Buddhist koan (what is the soun..."

To be or not to be is certainly what it's all about. To act or not, to believe or not, to love or not.

Hamlet's biggest challenge is to figure out how to be and what to be in the new and uncertain world of his father's death and his mother's haste to remarry. Dad is no longer there to guide him and mom's behavior has shattered his trust in her. Hamlet is rudderless, and as you say above, has to try and solve the ambiguities of the situation. All about growing up, in a way, and trying to navigate the adult world.

FWIW, he shouldn't have dogged Ophelia like that. Nor killed her father and brother - I mean really... deal with your shit H-man!


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Alex wrote: "Yo Barbara, I'm into Mel Gibson's production. I actually think he kinda nailed it, which surprises me because he's an idiot and all.

On the other hand, sorry to be the voice of disagreement but I ..."


Yes, Mel Gibson is definitely an idiot, but of all the more recent film productions of Hamlet (which would include Gibson, Branagh, Campbell Scott, and Ethan Hawke), Mel Gibson's is my favorite.

Alex, I agree with your thoughts on the Ethan Hawke version, although I did find it somewhat fun to watch.

It's been a LONG time since I've seen any of these productions, but the only two that are still clear in my mind are Mel Gibson's and Ethan Hawke's (because I thought Gibson's was so great, and Hawke's was the most "arty" -- or at least "tried" to be the most arty.)

If I recall correctly, the Campbell Scott version may be the one that stayed the closest to the actual text, with the exception of "To be or not to be" which was moved to a completely different act and scene (which bothered me.)

I should be ashamed of myself that I haven't seen the "earlier" versions. I MUST rent the Olivier version. (OH, I think I said that in my last post, which was probably around two weeks ago.) My work has been getting in the way of my reading and watching movies and posting here!!!! (But whether I like it or not, work has to come before everything!!!)


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments aPriL MEOWS often with scratching wrote: "I think the Mel Gibson was the best, like Barbara and Alex. I also was amazed by this. It was the first time I realized the difference between ARt and Artist, but not the last (I.e., Clint Eastwood)."

Absolutely -- Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood fall into the same category. We just have to separate the "artist" and/or the "character" they're playing, from the actual people they are in "real life."


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Jim wrote: FWIW, he shouldn't have dogged Ophelia like that. Nor killed her father and brother - I mean really... deal with your shit H-man!

Jim, I'm in the process of rereading Hamlet (which I've read many, many, many times before), but I need to pay more attention to the scenes between Hamlet and Ophelia. Also, it's been a LONG time since I've read it, so maybe I forgot some details.

BUT, in my opinion, Ophelia overreacted a bit. How many adolescent or teenage girls go running to their father to "complain" about the "attentions" a guy is paying them??? She's a "goody-two-shoes" as far as I'm concerned!!!!

UNLESS, she had absolutely NO interest in Hamlet at all, but is it MY imagination or are there other people in this group who also thought Ophelia "kind of" LIKED Hamlet.

Before Laertes, Ophelia's brother, leaves for France he has a "talk" with Ophelia, telling her that she should ignore Hamlet's "attentions" because Hamlet is royalty and will have to marry a woman of royalty, so Ophelia will ultimately be hurt by Hamlet. But, again, what teen takes advice from her brother and her father??? Have your fun with Hamlet, and if he marries you, great, if not, you'll be his mistress. (hahaha!!!!!) (NO, I have never been a "mistress" of a married man -- but I also never had the Prince of Denmark make the "moves" on me.)

In all seriousness though, am I the only person who thought Hamlet's letters and little "gifts" he gave her were lovely things to do?? Why did this make him a scoundrel?? I thought he really loved her.

Yes, Jim, I agree that killing her father was not a good idea, but it was an accident. And as far as killing her brother, well, they actually killed each other, so that doesn't really count.



aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) You know, I actually prefer the comedic snarky jokes and commentary on Hamlet. Through the decades I've been alive and the thousands upon thousands (kidding!) of Hamlet criticisms I've read, I skim the serious articles and read through the funny ones. The older I get, the more the funny or cynical articles are the most interesting.


message 24: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Barbara wrote: "In all seriousness though, am I the only person who thought Hamlet's letters and little "gifts" he gave her were lovely things to do?? Why did this make him a scoundrel?? I thought he really loved her..."

He did really love her earlier on, but after the appearance of the ghost and Hamlet's rapid mental deterioration, Ophelia ended up taking a verbal bullet that was intended for the queen. His attack on love, women and marriage was a speech he should have given to his mother, but instead, Ophelia bore the brunt of the attack, leading to her own demise. Her suicide, while maybe illogical in the real world, adds to the dramatic demands of the play's tragedy, where no one is left standing and the Prince of Norway has little to do but mop up the blood and re-take his lands.


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Jim wrote: "He did really love her earlier on, but after the appearance of the ghost and Hamlet's rapid mental deterioration, Ophelia ended up taking a verbal bullet that was intended for the queen."

Jim, I love your post! It's one of the most brilliant ways to give a "quick sum-up" of Hamlet's behavior toward Ophelia, his feelings about his mother's behavior, and the reason Fortinbras gets Denmark without much effort.

So, now that we've just resolved all of the issues in Hamlet, should we move on to King Lear or Richard III??? (Just kidding!!!)

Seriously, I love your thoughts on this, and I completely agree. If ANYONE should have been told to go to a nunnery, it should have been Queen Gertrude!!!

While we're on the subject of Hamlet shooting the "verbal bullet" at Ophelia, as opposed to his own mother, I have NEVER understood why so many scholars, drama professors, writers, etc., have made reference to an Oedipus Complex on the part of Hamlet... that there was "something going on" between Hamlet and his mother, the Queen.

I have NEVER understood this, and if I read Hamlet a million times I STILL would not be able to find anything that "implies" any sexual feelings between Hamlet and Gertrude. I have no idea how or why so many people are certain of "some type" of a relationship between them, other than mother and son.

Any thoughts???



message 26: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Barbara wrote: "So, now that we've just resolved all of the issues in Hamlet, should we move on to King Lear or Richard III??? (Just kidding!!!).."

I always thought the tragedy of Lear was his misinterpretation of Cordelia's attitude towards him. The pit of vipers that surround Lear tell him what he wants to hear, but the one daughter who loves him is misunderstood and cast out. The veil of miscommunication comes between a parent and child who could have loved and supported each other in Lear's waning years, but they were unable to connect. Very sad...

The Oedipal aspect of Hamlet is that he is forced to confront his mother's sexuality in that she takes a new man into her bed. Claudius killed Hamlet's father and slept with Hamlet's mother. Claudius, then could be thought of as an Oedipal surrogate, displacing Hamlet. Or something like that...


Barbara (barbarasc) | 249 comments Jim wrote: "I always thought the tragedy of Lear was his mis..."

King Lear is considered by some to be Shakespeare's best play. (I've seen different "lists" of Shakespeare's best, and Hamlet is Number One on most lists, but Lear has been Number One on many lists as well.)

I love King Lear, but it's definitely not my favorite, EXACTLY for the reasons you mentioned in your post, Jim. It's just too sad to read and/or watch.

What you wrote is true -- Cordelia and Lear could have been so supportive of each other, but they lost their opportunity.

Since we know so little about exactly "who" Shakespeare was, (many people are convinced that he was not even the author of the body of work attributed to him), I often wonder if he was the type of man who wanted his audience to "learn lessons" from his plays, or if he wrote them strictly for entertainment.

Whether or not he "purposely" wrote his plays so that people could learn lessons by seeing the mistakes his characters make (in the tragedies, and in many of the comedies), I have always found so much moral philosophy (and psychology) in so many of his plays.

Since this thread is about Hamlet, there are so many psychological and philosophical lessons in practically every scene of this play.

What are some thoughts on the advice Polonius gives to Laertes in Act One, Scene Three -- the speech that he begins right after telling Laertes that it's time to board his ship, and begins with: "...And these few precepts in thy memory Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion'd thought his act..."

I think this entire speech is wonderful. Polonius definitely makes some "not very wise" comments throughout the play, but his speech to Laertes is advice that all intelligent human beings should adhere to.


message 28: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Barbara wrote: "Since we know so little about exactly "who" Shakespeare was, (many people are convinced that he was not even the author of the body of work attributed to him), I often wonder if he was the type of man who wanted his audience to "learn lessons" from his plays, or if he wrote them strictly for entertainment.

Whether or not he "purposely" wrote his plays so that people could learn lessons by seeing the mistakes his characters make (in the tragedies, and in many of the comedies), I have always found so much moral philosophy (and psychology) in so many of his plays.

Since this thread is about Hamlet, there are so many psychological and philosophical lessons in practically every scene of this play..."


Whether the plays were written by Shakespeare, or another man by the same name, I think that he would have both intentions - to entertain, and to comment on life's lessons. Most artists are motivated by a desire to communicate and embedded in that communication are their ideas and opinions about life. Whether comedy or tragedy, there is always something to be learned from art. Maybe the "lessons" aren't obvious or in the foreground, but even a minimalist sculpture by Dan Flavin or Donald Judd still makes some comment on life, however obscure.

What I'm curious about is how Wallace takes the themes of Hamlet and incorporates them into our contemporary literature. Will the matriarch of IJ be similar to Gertrude? Is the dead father similar to the dead king? Which sibling will remind us of Hamlet? Will there be an Ophelia? And so on...


message 29: by Alex (last edited Oct 08, 2012 08:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Absolutely, Jim - nice point about Cordelia and Lear. I watched McKellen's Lear recently; Cordelia's refusal to stoop to the level of his sad, confused, egotistical game, and her trapped realization that it's backfiring badly, is nicely played.

Lear is my favorite, because I'm a dire bastard.

I'm with the camp who feel like Shakespeare was interested in getting inside his characters' heads; whether moral lessons came out of that or not was of secondary importance (if any) to him. He did, after all, take such immense pleasure in his villains.

And agreed, Barbara: Polonius gets talked about like he's just a bumbling ass, but it's not like all his advice is totally batty. As usual with Shakespeare's characters, it's not that easy.

(And yeah, to thumbs-up your last point, Jim: the point of all literature is to get us in someone else's head, and therefore give us perspective on life as others experience it, right? Sometimes people who can't figure out why I waste my time reading old stuff ask, witheringly, "So what did you learn from [whatever book I'm yammering about]?" As though each work has a discrete lesson. I don't know! I learned to think about why you asked that inane question and what must be going on in your weird little head, instead of just dismissing you out of hand, how's that?)

Jim wrote: "What I'm curious about is how Wallace takes the themes of Hamlet and incorporates them into our contemporary literature. Will the matriarch of IJ be similar to Gertrude? Is the dead father similar to the dead king? Which sibling will remind us of Hamlet? Will there be an Ophelia? And so on... "
Yeah, I cannot wait for y'all to finish this so we can hack all this out.


message 30: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "Yeah, I cannot wait for y'all to finish this so we can hack all this out..."

Me too! I've only just begun my reading, so don't know much yet. Will there be a Quebecois Fortinbras? Stay tuned...

BTW, for this particular Hamlet/IJ thread, feel free to start detailed comparisons anytime after 10/15.

Also BTW, I'm going to start a thread for discussing the new DT Max biography. I haven't picked up a copy yet, but might do so soon.


message 31: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Harold Bloom on Shakespeare

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TzzWi...

Pay particular attention to his comments on Hamlet and the question of who his father might be.


message 32: by Jim (last edited Oct 23, 2012 09:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
There is a kind of po-mo-Shakespearean passage on page 174. Not reminiscent of Hamlet, but Macbeth:

Here is how to handle being a feral prodigy. Here is how to handle being seeded at tournaments, signifying that seeding committees composed of old big-armed men publicly expect you to reach a certain round. Reaching at least the round you're supposed to is known at tournaments as 'justifying your seed.' By repeating this term over and over, perhaps in the same rhythm at which you squeeze a ball, you can reduce it to an empty series of phonemes, just formants and fricatives, trochaically stressed, signifying zip.


I can't help but hear an echo from Macbeth's soliloquy of act 5, scene 5 of Shakespeare's Macbeth:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.



Ellie (elliearcher) Thank you Jim-I picked up on the end of that (...signifying zip) but didn't get the power of the whole until reading your post.


message 34: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Ellie wrote: "Thank you Jim-I picked up on the end of that (...signifying zip) but didn't get the power of the whole until reading your post."

De nada...

I loved the description of the film that Hal and Mario made (where this paragraph is from). It felt like an "up yours all you parents who push us kids to be sports stars and pageant queens for whatever godawful motives" accusation and condemnation from young prodigies in revolt.


message 35: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim | 3056 comments Mod
Don wrote: "jim any in out, in out??
in hamlet"


Yes, but they don't show it, LOL!!!

One of the two main conflicts of the play are his father's murder, and his mother very quickly becoming the wife and lover of the new king, Claudius. His mother's disrespectful-to-his-father sex life turns Hamlet into a bit of a woman hater and he misdirects his anger and disappointment at his girlfriend Ophelia. He says some nasty stuff to her and she ends up floating in a pond:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Joh...


Matthew | 86 comments Hi all,

Wanted to touch bases and talk about Hamlet, which I recently finished, and have noticed several things about the play in relation to IJ.
First off its a lot of fun to see the little jokes and Hamlet riffs Wallace makes. I'll drink a Falstaff Tall Boy to that.
I also noticed that alcohol plays a huge role in Hamlet and even bookends the play in a way. I talk about this in much more detail in my review of Hamlet (here if interested in reading) but note that the Ghost of Hamlet is just as much a drunk as Hal Sr.
Also, it's important to note how Hamlet and all his contemporaries are all schoolmates at a very particular center for German Enlightenment(Noted alum: Goethe, Kant).
Some contemporary aspects to Hamlet that remind me of IJ is its own "true story" aspect. In particular, Hamlet was no original story, but a history, and a popular one the time Willy put out his version. Perhaps thats why Hamlet can be as classy as Olivier or as trashy as Springer. But more to the concerns here, the presentation of reality as a fiction. And fictions put on in fictions. Or if you will lies. How these effect characters in both stories are thematic.

For example:
The story the Ghost tells Hamlet and how Hamlet is effected by it.
The play "the mousetrap" intending to effect Claudius
Scenes of deaths in IJ that may not be deaths (Joelle's and perhaps Hal Sr's)
Stories told as stories within IJ
And last but not least "the samizdat" which is doubly mentioned because it has yet to enter the scene and seems to hold just as much weight as urban legend at this point.

However, as an adult reader I noted more so the ambiguity of many a character in Hamlet bears a distinct similarity to the characters in IJ. Hamlet's demeanor after his encounter with the ghost reminds me of Hal and his secrecy but while Hamlet the character is difficult to pin down because of his duplicitous demeanor (his stating his deceit changes nothing) with Hal the problem is the inverse: entirely locked within his internal life (to the point of identifying with thought patterns as you have them) and the reader seeing IJ much from that perspective as well.


Matthew | 86 comments Whoops
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
I meant to post to that cuz it's a review of Hamlet that focuses on the flow of alcohol and what I refer to as revelry, both of which are a part of IJ I felt.


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