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The “metatheatricality” of Hamlet – third lecture. “These indeed seem / For they are actions a man might play .”. The “metatheatrical” or self-referential side of Hamlet. Perhaps the strangest, most challenging side of the play.

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the metatheatricality of hamlet third lecture

The “metatheatricality” of Hamlet – third lecture

“These indeed seem/ For they are actions a man might play.”

the metatheatrical or self referential side of hamlet
The “metatheatrical” or self-referential side of Hamlet
  • Perhaps the strangest, most challenging side of the play.
  • Play-wrighting generally involves creating a credible presentation of reality.
  • Self-referential moments in a play go in just the opposite direction, reminding us it’s “just a play.”
  • Only a supremely self-confident dramatist could afford to do this.
  • But why would he do this?
  • Difference from MND.
necessity of seeing play in the theater for metatheatrical dimension to emerge
Necessity of seeing play in the theater for metatheatrical dimension to emerge
  • In fact, in Shakespeare’s own theater.
  • Most of the references are to the material elements of theater, esp. Elizabethan theater.
  • None of it works in film or video
  • Unless terms are anachronistically “translated” to film, video --
  • -- as in fact happens in Michael Almereyda’s version with Ethan Hawke.
  • Clip of “To be or not to be” from Almereyda
hamlet with r g in the globe ii 2 265ff
Hamlet with R & G in the Globe, II.2, 265ff
  • “I have of late . . . lost all my mirth . . .
  • “that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory”
  • “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire.”
  • All physical features of the Globe.
  • How did audience react?
the tragedians of the city
“The tragedians of the city”
  • Leads immediately to R & G speaking of the arrival of the players.
  • Which immediately cheers Hamlet up.
  • And we hear London theater gossip: “the late innovation” of children’s companies.
  • “The tragedians of the city” -- the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who are playing Hamlet?
  • They’re just as good as ever, but . . .
in the folio text p lii liii of pelican edition
In the Folio text, p. lii-liii of Pelican edition
  • . . . we hear more about the “late innovation,” “an eyrie of children, little eysas.”
  • Obviously the children’s companies had become quite popular . . .
  • And threatened the adult companies.
  • Hamlet seems to voice Shakespeare’s opinion about writers making the kids “exclaim against their own succession.”
  • Real battles between the playwrights and the players?
  • “Much throwing about of brains.”
  • “Do the boys carry it away”?
  • Ay, “Hercules and his load,” the emblem of the Globe, where we’re standing (or sitting)!
  • “The boys” are the Lord Chamberlain’s company!
where in the world or globe are we
Where in the world (or globe) are we?
  • In Elsinore?
  • Or London?
  • In Hamlet’s story?
  • Or gossiping about the latest trends in London theater?
  • At this point who’s speaking? Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?
  • Or the actor playing Hamlet?
the actors arrive
The actors arrive
  • And are praised by Polonius: “The best actors in the world . . .”
  • Is he praising the Lord Chamberlain’s Men?
  • Hamlet’s enthusiastic greeting – and the request for a speech, “a taste of your quality.”
  • Hamlet begins,
  • And the actor takes it up.
  • Until Polonius stops it -- because the actor is acting too well.
  • Hamlet’s soliloquy measures himself against the actor: “Is it not monstrous . . .”
  • “And all for nothing!/ For Hecuba. What’s Hecuba to him or he to her,/ That he should weep for her?”
  • What’s Hamlet to us, or we to him . . .?
and hamlet acts badly
And Hamlet acts badly?
  • He works himself up to some of the worst poetry in the play: ll 515-20 (the soliloquy we saw Branagh act in the last lecture).
  • Which he himself recognizes as bad acting: “Why what an ass am I!”
  • Which is just the sort of thing he criticizes when he speaks to the player, III, 2.
  • “O it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters . . .”
  • And Hamlet gives acting lessons to the player, telling him exactly what theater is.
  • “For anything so overdone is from [counter to] the purpose of playing, which is . . .”
  • The most extensive discussion of theater and acting from the period.
the pervasiveness of the theater metaphor
The pervasiveness of the theater metaphor
  • In his first appearance, Hamlet refers to acting, role-playing: I, 2, 76ff.
  • “Seems, Madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems . . .”
  • “’Tis not alone my inky cloak,” that is, my costume, my acting, my gestures, all the ways of portraying grief, that denote me truly.
  • These seem, these are actions a man might play, might act.
  • Seems to admit that he is in part acting, but insists he has an interior that exceeds this.
this fellow in the cellerage
“This fellow in the cellerage”
  • At II, 1, 152ff, we hear the “ghost under the stage” cry “Swear.”
  • And Hamlet jokes, “You hear this fellow in the cellerage.”
  • And they move around the stage as the actor playing the ghost moves under the stage.
  • Hamlet: “Well said, old mole! Canst work in the ground so fast?”
  • Does this mock the very dramaturgy of the play itself?
polonius as julius caesar
Polonius as Julius Caesar
  • Later, in play-within-play scene, we learn that Polonius acted in the university, “and was accounted a good actor.”
  • Says “I did enact Julius Caesar.”
  • Against which Hamlet makes a silly joke.
  • Guess which play the Lord Chamberlain’s men last performed before Hamlet.
can we say what the theater metaphor means
Can we say what the theater metaphor means?
  • Is there a linkage implied between “acting” and “acting”?
  • What does it mean for Hamlet to act his part?
  • What is his part?
  • How to act it well?
  • When does he act it badly?
  • Does he come to understanding of role?
  • How to enact the role of revenger?
if it be not now
“If it be not now, . . .”
  • Hamlet’s fatalism in V, 2, 197, just before the duel.
  • The return of his sanity, calm – has he learned to act?
  • “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”
  • “If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all”
  • What does he mean by “it”?
  • “Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.”
  • The role of revenger linked with acceptance of death.