Hamlet Elsinore’s disease is anywhere’s, anytime’s. Something is rotten in every state and if your sensibility is like Hamlet’s, then finally you will not tolerate it. Harold Bloom. It is the play’s insistent questioning that endures. Holderness.
Interactions between characters create intrigue on the stage as characters try to “gather” or extract information from one another and hide their true nature. • Hamlet, who presents to us as a very emotional young man, has to conceal his emotion publicly because he knows that he cannot trust anyone. Ironically, Hamlet has to “paint himself an inch thick” to survive.
Conflict between thinking and feeling • Hamlet thinks, feels and sees in a world where thinking and feeling are dangerous. His thinking and feeling are often in conflict and this creates much of the dramatic interest. In many respects this is an internal play. An interesting conundrum for Shakespeare when playing is so physical, visual. For this reason, T.S Eliot calls the play an “aesthetic failure” • “There’s something in his soul/ O’er which his melancholy sits on brood, And I doubt the hatch and disclose Will be some danger” “Give me that man/ That is not passion’s slave...” John Bell says that Hamlet needs to be given an aura of danger and unpredictability . He is a man living on the edge. • Hamlet sees it as his duty to set the time right, but does he realise he cannot? • Does he realise that Horatio is right and that “Heaven will direct it”?
Conflict between thinking and feeling • O that this too too solid flesh would melt... Meditation on suicide and the nature of Denmark and the world interrupted by passionate outbursts of emotion. “That it should come to this! But two months dead- nay not so much, not two-” 1.5 O all you host of heaven! O earth! What else? And shall I couple hell? Oh fie! Hold, hold, my heart, And you my sinews grow not instant old/ But bear me stiffly up * Hamlet can be rash and impulsive (sending R and G to their death, killing Polonius...), but he is also a thinking human being who questions the morality of revenge. Fortinbras is willing to risk 20,000 soldiers for a “fantasy and trick of fame” . Play shows Hamlet stepping back to consider, deliberating. He checks validity of the command.
Conflict between feeling and thinking • In The Birth of Tragedy (1873), Nietzsche sees Hamlet not as the man who thinks too much, but as the man who thinks too well. He has an insight into the horrible truths of humanity and it this consciousness of the spiritual disease of the world that ages him in the play.
3.1 Get thee to a nunnery2.2 What a piece of work is man!5.1 Alas, poor Yorick I knew him well • What do the speeches have in common? • They are spoken in prose rather than verse. In the first two cases this is because he is feigning, but in fact, he is being very honest. John Bell notes that Hamlet is more comfortable with the commoners. • They reveal Hamlet’s insight into his world, and indeed, life. Or perhaps they reveal his questioning and testing of humanity. • “What should such fellows as I do crawling between heaven and earth? We are arrant knaves, all. Believe none of us.” Hamlet is protecting Ophelia from men as he is aware of what they are capable of (even he is proud, revengeful, ambitious...) His flaws make him human. • Choice of word “crawling” could suggest that humans are bestial, debased (not standing with pride ), or infantile. It suggests insignificance. • The graveyard scene makes Hamlet realise the ridiculous, pointless desires of humans for greatness, fame, wealth. Scene is a vivid reminder of mortality and the very Shakespearian idea that we strut and fret our hour upon the stage and then are heard no more. Macbeth refers to the “petty pace” of day to day life, Hamlet refers to the “mortal coil” that entraps us.
Characterisation • Shakespeare raises more questions about characters than he answers. Is Gertrude guilty of King Hamlet’s murder? Her sick soul she speaks of, is this from an understanding of what she has done? Does she deliberately take the poisoned cup? • Characters’ views of themselves and others change throughout the play -Gertrude -Claudius
Hamlet the Malcontent • Not only does Hamlet see the corruption that blisters and mines within, infecting us in “unseen” ways (3.4), he endeavours to hold a mirror up to nature to make the other characters self aware. He sets up a glass so that Gertrude may see her “inmost part”. The play within a play serves the same function, but Claudius already knows the truth his “painted word” (3.1.55) • This raises another point- Claudius, the villain, is presented as complex and human. Shakespeare challenges the conventions of the revenge tragedy, blurring the lines between good and evil. The audience would instantly recognise the conventions of revenge tragedy, but Shakespeare shows us that the contemplation of revenge raises serious questions for the revenger. Hamlet feels the need for revenge and he has the “motive and cue for passion”, but his rational mind, his “conscience” makes a coward of him because he lacks gall to “make oppression bitter”. If he is true to himself, Hamlet is not a revenger.
“These indeed seem, For they are actions that a man might play” (Hamlet, 1.2.82-84) • Claudius is playing the role of King in a very convincing manner. His first speech to the court is a display of confidence, resilience, masculinity and unity. His use of the royal first person inclusive pronouns suggest that Gertrude has married the state. His language is measured, he commands and acts. • Hamlet’s speech, in contrast, is much more emotionally charged and honest. Hamlet’s “seems, madam? Nay it is, I know not seems” is thus a condemnation of Claudius’ role playing. • “O that this too too sullied flesh would melt” is in contrast with Claudius’ measured, emotionless language. Hamlet sighs, curses, cries out to God. First soliloquy introduces the “unweeded garden” image that will pervade the play. • Soliloquy also introduces fear of female sexuality (Frailty, thy name is woman), which is picked up in the next scene when Laertes cautions Ophelia to fear Hamlet’s advances and tells her to “keep within the rear “ of her affection,/Out of the shot and danger of desire”. But perhaps he is also protecting her from the fact that she may be hurt by Hamlet who will put the throne above Ophelia. Ophelia is however, aware that women often have more restrictions placed upon them.
Ophelia is encouraged by Laertes to be cautious about expressing her true feelings and this is the advice Polonius also gives to Laertes, be circumspect, “Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any proportioned thought his act” • Neither Laertes or Polonius trust Hamlet, “you have ta’en his tenders for true pay, Which are not sterling” (1.3.105-106) • Ghost scene (1.5) introduces Hamlet’s dilemma, “And shall I couple hell?” • Horatio fears Hamlet’s emotion, “He waxes desperate with imagination” and he feels that Heaven will attend to the corruption in Denmark, His responses are rational, he tells Hamlet, “There are but wild and whirling words, my lord”. Hamlet is, by contrast, more willing to imagine the possibility of a ghost, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in our philosophy” • In adopting the antic disposition, H begins to answer questions with riddles as being truthful is dangerous.
Polonius hires Reynaldo to spy on his son in the same way that Claudius hires R and G in 2.2. Laertes is said to mirror Hamlet. Polonius’ fishing image, “Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth” refers to a technique that many, including Hamlet, use to find the truth. • Claudius uses Hamlet’s childhood friends to spy on him – this shows how clever C is and also how little H can trust anyone. • News comes from Norway, but Claudius is more interested in the cause of Hamlet’s lunacy. • 2.2 under the liberating guise of madness, Hamlet can be brutally honest and he critiques his world, “to be honest, sir, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand”. Polonius appears to pick up on the method in Hamlet’s madness. Like mad Tom in Lear, Hamlet’s rantings are akin to sanity. That wisdom is contained in H’s mad ravings is a harsh indictment of reason/ logic. • 2.2 What a piece of work is man! Reflects Renaissance view of beauty of humanity, but Hamlet questions this because all around him he sees people who do not use their capacity for reason.
2.2 O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! In this soliloquy, Hamlet berates himself for his inability to play the role of bloody revenger. He can’t, unlike the player, force his soul to his “whole conceit”, because he is not essentially violent (lacks gall to make oppression bitter). He talks about revenge (words, words, words), but cannot enact it.
Act 3 scene 1 • Atmosphere of distrust and intrigue. Claudius’ increasing paranoia, “Can you by no drift of circumstance, Get from him why he puts on this confusion.” • But rather than wear his heart on his sleeve, Hamlet “keeps aloof” with a “crafty madness” • Ophelia set up to observe Hamlet’s actions • Claudius’ admission of guilt in an aside, “How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience”, refers to his “painted word” • “To be or not to be” soliloquy- shows Hamlet to be once again the thinker , he is contemplating whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or oppose them. • Distinct fear of lack of control over events, over other people and over what happens when we die • Here Hamlet plays the Malconent, weary of the “mortal coil” Death is a “consummation/Devoutly to be wished.” It is only that death is such an unknown, the “undiscovered country” that stops him from committing suicide. Thinking makes him a coward, “Thus conscience makes cowards of us all”
Get thee to a nunnery • “ We are arrant knaves all, believe none of us” is the message of the confusing dialogue. Hamlet admits he is capable of lacking integrity and virtue. “ I did love you once...I loved you not.” • Hamlet encourages Ophelia to get herself to a nunnery so that she doesn’t become a “breeder of sinners”. Hamlet wants desperately to purge the human race of sin • Hamlet’s admission that he knows Ophelia to be honest, “if thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny” • Comments to Ophelia also reflect his distrust of women, “God hath given you one face and you make yourselves another” • Ophelia’s response shows what Hamlet once was, “the rose of the fair state. She uses the music metaphors also used by Hamlet, his most sovereign reason is “out of time and harsh”
Get thee to a nunnery • Claudius, after the set up, decides love is not the cause and he decides to send Hamlet to England. • *** Note the difference between the way Ophelia speaks and the way that Hamlet speaks. Her last line, “Oh woe is me, T’have seen what I have seen, see what I see”. Her line is a rhyming couplet that contrasts with Hamlet’s disordered thoughts. Does Ophelia understand Hamlet and what he is doing? Does she sense the tragedy of a noble mind brought ‘quite, quite down”? Or is she bewildered by his behaviour and feeling dejected that she was caught up in his lunacy? • Does Hamlet know Claudius and Polonius are watching him? That Ophelia has been set up? Some critics and directors suggest that he does- or at least he works it out during the discussion with Ophelia at “Where’s your father? “ and this may account for the way he changes during the scene. He begins to rant about women and their changeable, fickle nature. See the Jacobi and Brannagh versions of this scene.
3.2 The Mousetrap • Hamlet talks about the purpose of playing “to hold a mirror up to nature” • In discussion with Guildenstern, Hamlet once again uses the music metaphor to suggest that R and G are trying to manipulate him, “You would play upon me...you would pluck out the heart of my mystery...you cannot play upon me” • 3.3- Claudius sends H to England and he tries to pray, but cannot. In his soliloquy he says that he cannot be forgiven for his crimes because he still possesses the “crown, mine own ambition, and my queen”. He knows that the angels cannot help him. • Hamlet finds him praying but does not kill him because he if he is praying when he dies, he will go heaven. He says that he will kill him in a moment of sin. He is definitely playing the role of revenger here. • Claudius’ couplet, “My words fly up, thoughts remain below./ Words without thoughts never to heaven go”, shows the gap between his public/ private faces, his actions and thoughts. • 3.4 Hamlet’s aim is to hold a glass up to Gertrude, where she can see her “inmost part”- self awareness • Gertrude’s inner being is described as “ulcerous”. Rank corruption is “mining all within”
Hamlet kills Polonius • Hamlet rationalises that heaven hath “pleased it so to punish me with this ... That I must be their scourge and minister”. He means that heaven has instructed him to punish Polonius and Claudius and he will also be punished for this • When R asks H where the body is, he says, “the body is with the king, but the king is not with the body”. The “king is a thing of... Nothing” • Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table; that’s the end” (4.3) • 4.4 On his way to England, Hamlet meets with Fortinbras’ troops. They are fighting for a little patch of ground and Hamlet can’t see the point, it “shows no cause without/ Why the man dies”. If these men are going to their graves for “a fantasy and trick of fame”, why can’t Hamlet do the deed? • He does position us to question Fortinbras’ motives.
The graveyard scene • Through contemplation of the court jester Yorick’s skull, Hamlet meditates, “to what base uses we may return”. Death is the great leveller- even Alexander the Great is now stopping a bunghole. • The image of the skull is a grotesque one that sickens Hamlet. “Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft.” This is in stark contrast to the beautiful images of humanity in the Renaissance. • Scene links to his earlier quote, “What is this quintessence of dust?” Beauty and life ends in dust.
Ophelia’s madness 4.5, Laertes’ revenge • Songs suggest that she has been used by Hamlet, he made promises, but failed to fulfil them. Many references to a sexual relationship. • Ophelia’s madness and Laertes’ revenge are sadly the consequences of Hamlet’s desire for revenge. Their madness and revenge parallels Hamlet’s. • Laertes dares damnation and doesn’t fear the consequences of his revenge like Hamlet does (4.5)
ideas • Hamlet is constantly questioning Why can’t I act? Should I act? In the end, he decides that heaven will direct the events. • Hamlet is constantly playing roles and he uses role playing to prove the King killed his father