Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 26

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "The End" by The Doors]

Now that we've finished reading Hamlet, reflect on the play as a whole. Describe the major theme(s) and provide at least two examples from the text to support your ideas.

1. Journal
2. Group discussion/analysis of Hamlet

1. Read "The Performative Utterance in William Shakespeare's Hamlet" and: a)post any comments/questions that help you understand it here; and b)take notes/know it well enough for a quiz tomorrow (Thursday, 10/27)


  1. It seemed like we talked about a lot of these topics in class today, but they were elaborated and even viewed differently in this essay.

    Q: Why does Hamlet never seek revenge on Claudius? Did he never have the courage to, or was he more of a talker who never gave action to his words?
    Q: How does J.L Austin's theory of Performativity and the idea of language relate to Hamlet?

    I would like to hear other people's interpretations on this essay.

    Kaley Jorgensen
    Period: 2

  2. I did not really understand how Hamlet was able to learn from his own soliloquies. My interpretation of the novel, I felt like Hamlet's soliloquies were simply him figuring out his thoughts.
    Answering the question above, I think that the theory of performativity relates to Hamlet because apparently the 3 main forces (locitionary force, mutual intelligibility, and the perlocutionary force)are what drives Hamlets three stages. Over the course of the novel, he changes from a "talker" to a "doer". By the end he finally accomplishes revenge and kills Claudius.

  3. I was really kind of perplexed by the whole thing, I got the general idea, though, perhaps. Well, I get home from working out to see if anybody had commented and clarified and only two people posted so there goes that choice. Might just have to read it again.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Is self-overhearing Hamlet listening in on his own conversations? The wording in this text made it kind of difficult to comprehend what exactly was going on...something about Hamlet being able to think the thoughts and talk the talk but never being able to walk the walk. Correct me if I'm wrong
    -Emily Martinez

  6. Throughout the text I found myself understanding some ideas and totally missing some. By reading it over again I feel I got some but not all the main points of the text. But what caught my attention was the point of view on Hamlet,For much of the play Hamlet is able to speak but not to do.

  7. I don't really understand the connection we were supposed to make between our experience of reading Hamlet and the essay if there was one we ha to make in the first place.

    Question: Did Ophelia commit suicide because of her father's death?
    I'm still confused about that.


  8. Katie Enstad Per. 2

    This is a very dense and long reading. I found it difficult to stay focussed on, and I was a confused by it. I would probably understand it better if I could stay focussed on it longer, but that didn't happen. I, also, found it hard for me to understand all of the author's connections with his theories and Hamlet or Shakespeare's writing.

  9. Austin's theory of Performativity says to me that there is no difference between "talking the talk" and "walking the walk"-- speech can have the same effect on the self and others as taking action. It makes me think of speech that isn't protected by the First Amendment (such as hate speech) because it has the effect of force on someone else. Even familiar phrases can be delivered in such a way that the receiver experiences them physically: "The way she said 'I love you' was like a punch in the gut." We see the metaphor in fiction all the time. This is consistent with what we know intuitively about how emotional transactions with others can "make us feel" a certain way; in this context words have an impact. Why else would coaches give halftime speeches? (And just wait until later in the semester when we get to the greatest pregame speech of all time from Henry V!)

    As for Hamlet learning through self-overhearing, I found myself wondering whether we'd react differently if we saw him on stage with mouth closed, THINKING these ideas instead of saying them out loud. After all, most of us have private conversations in our minds in which we review our decisions, question and measure ourselves, and reflect on our lives and relationships. As we tell ourselves our stories, we strengthen our impressions and refine (and sometimes alter) our memories. Isn't this changing our minds? And isn't changing our minds by reflecting on narratives one way to describe learning?

  10. Jojo Relyea

    Okay so let me say this to make sure I have the main idea straight.
    There is the physical words of language that are said that have a generic meaning, I guess you could call it, to an "ignorant listener", then there is the underlying meaning that is meant to be said and inferred basically the practical reality of what was said. That was a mouthful. I think I have it straight, but not 100% sure his writing was very sophisticated.

  11. I agree with Katie and Jojo about the tone used in this paper. It was hard to keep up with and even though I got the broad understanding, I don't understand the deep relation between the essay and Hamlet.

    If we only watched Hamlet think to himself (and the other characters as well), there would be no situational irony. Without that, the play would be very one-dimensional and have no substance to it.

    -Kelly Brickey, Period 3

  12. I have read the essay 3 times now, and I have yet to see the point that everyone else is getting at. I can't focus on it long enough to understand any ideas in it... Guess I'll read it again?

    Jessica C. Per 4

  13. I also had difficulty reading this essay at first. After reading it slowly, word by word, I began to get the gist of theme. I think it would be helpful if we go over the essay in class with other classmates to clarify the essay.

  14. Q. How does the idea of playacting relate to either Bloom's or Austin's theory?
    Q. Does Hamlet lack determination? Even after self-talk, he seems less determined than someone like Laertes. Does Hamlet do playacting with even himself in order to instill beliefs and values he does not fully believe in?
    Q. Amid all of Hamlet's self-talk, and play acting, is it possible that he really does loose sight of reality and step into the realm of madness? deBoer does say that Hamlet uses his mask of insanity to explore his sense of self. In that sense of self, did he find insanity?

  15. It was really hard to stay focused and actually read this essay. I did not understand it the first time through yesterday and reading it today I seem to have the same consensus. One thing I thought was helpful and clarified my understanding today in class was understanding that Hamlet is talking his decisions out in his mind. Does this mean that killing Claudius was only an idea and he was not going to actually act on it until the end of the play when his mother died? Is there any specific moment where he says "I am going to kill my uncle the king." Or do we just assume that because of his burden and inability to come to an alternative he will kill him and not contemplate more?

    Lizzie Level

  16. Hey guys, I'm the author of that particular piece. Don't be discouraged if you find it confusing or complex. It's a text I produced for an expert audience and in an academic context. Let me see if I can clarify a few things.

    My first point is just that a traditional understanding of Hamlet is wrong. Many have said that Hamlet's problem is that he can't make up his mind. In the beginning of Laurence Olivier's movie version of Hamlet, he says exactly that. I don't think this is accurate. Hamlet never changes his mind. He says at the beginning (once visited by the ghost) that he wants to kill Claudius and avenge his father; he never wavers from saying that he wants to do that. The problem is that he doesn't do it!

    Hamlet is vocally powerful. We see again and again the power of his words. In the aesthetic sense, his speeches are beautiful and moving. More practically, he is able to stay alive and maneuver politically in Elsinore because of his ability to persuade. His faked "madness" is the perfect example. He is able to convince people around him to essentially have free run of the castle because his words and persuasive ability are so powerful.

    With that in mind, I wanted to talk about Hamlet's language through the lens of JL Austin and his theory of performative language. Austin was a British philosopher who did most of his prominent work in the mid-20th century. Austin claimed that some language was "performative": it did not merely describe reality but made a change in reality.

    Consider a marriage ceremony. A priest (or justice of the peace or what have you) says "I now pronounce you man and wife." As Austin points out, this isn't just describing the fact that the two people are now married. It actually makes it true that they are married. That language changes reality, in some sense. Or think about a promise. When I say "I promise to do this for you," I'm not just describing that I'm committed to something. I'm actually changing reality-- I'm creating a new fact, the fact that I've promised.

    Austin went on to refine and evolve his theory, and it is still debated now, many decades after his death.

    I thought that performative language would be a good lens to consider Hamlet and his verbal power, so I developed this paper for a graduate Shakespeare class to explore some of these issues.

    If you have any specific questions, ask away.

  17. I understand the idea of perfomative utterance, but I just don't see any examples of it throughout the play. Could you help me to better see where exactly in the play there is performative language?

    Matthew Giddings

  18. Try this on for size.

    When Claudius prays, we might call that a performative utterance. You don't just describe that you've prayed; you've made a prayer. Yet as Claudius admits, his prayer isn't "real" because he didn't sincerely mean the words he was saying. This gets right at Austin's idea that performative language can sometimes fail.

    Also, another great example is when Hamlet swears an oath to the ghost. He isn't just describing the fact that he's swearing. He's making real facts about the world, in this case that he has made a commitment and dedicated himself to it.

  19. Oh I see, that really clarified a whole lot for me.