By E. A. J. Honigmann
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Additional info for Myriad-minded Shakespeare: Essays, chiefly on the tragedies and problem comedies
Having missed the crucial passage in Belleforest he argued that the allusions to an 'elective' constitution in Denmark come far too late in the play and cannot mean what to the simple-minded reader or audience they seem to mean: it is absurd to suppose that he wished his spectators to imagine quite a different constitution from that familiar to themselves, when he makes no reference to it until the very last scene. It is plain to me that, in using the word 'election' ... in act 5, scene 2, he was quite unconscious that it denoted any procedure different from that which determined the succession in England.
BRUTUS. This it is: CASSIUS. 'Tis better that the enemy seek us; So shall he waste his means, weary his soldiers . . BRUTUS. 194) But Brutus, having just won the clash of wills in the quarrel-scene, loftily insists that he knows best. ' Cassius still objects, Brutus remains arrogantly overbearing, and at last Cassius submits. ' How many times, one wonders, have cabinet ministers, Pyms and Priors, mumbled their submission, against their better judgement, in similar words? ' Not only in the clashes of Brutus and Cassius but in many other scenes Shakespeare is concerned, in Julius Caesar, with the triumph of will over reason.
Hankins added the 'not very different' instances of 'the claims of Henry VIII's two daughters', and the abdication of Mary Stuart in favour of her son, enforced by the Scottish lords. 7 But in these three more or less 'contemporary' cases a female heir, or the absence of an indisputable heir, created a situation completely different from that in Hamlet, where the deceased sovereign left a son. If we are looking for an 'exact parallel' we should ask, instead, whether there was any question of an 'election' or a 'dying voice' when Charles I followed James I, or when Henry VIII succeeded Henry VII.
Myriad-minded Shakespeare: Essays, chiefly on the tragedies and problem comedies by E. A. J. Honigmann