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.
3.2 • Horatio is the only noble character other than Hamlet. Hamlet says in line, “Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man/ As e’er my conversation coped withal”. Horatio, is not “passion’s slave”, he is more rational and recognises that Hamlet “waxes desperate with imagination”. • Hamlet says that he isn’t flattering, that he cannot gain advancement from poor Horatio. There is a comment here about the flatterers and panderers of the court, “No let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp”. Because men are elected in the court to positions of power they put advancement before questions of morality. Polonius has no qualms about manipulating his daughter if he is going to win favour with Claudius.
The Murder of gonzago (3.2) and Gertrude’s mirror (3.4) • The play is used as a mirror to make Claudius self aware, “to catch the conscience of the king”. His reaction will be the occular proof Hamlet needs. 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” 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”. It is at this point (3.4) that Gertrude looks within and finds “such black and grained spots/ As will not leave their tinct”
3.3 The prayer scene • 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.
Gertrude’s mirror • Hamlet’s words are like “daggers” that enter her ears and it is at this point that she changes in the text. Some critics suggest that Gertrude’s lines suggest that she was complicit in the King’s death or that she in fact, was responsible. • This is a highly charged scene because Gertrude’s betrayal is at the heart of the play. Here Hamlet finally expresses his anguish, disgust at his mother’s actions. To this point, he has not expressed his feelings but in riddles, and in soliloquy. Many critics who argue that Hamlet’s anger stems from repressed desires, use this scene. He certainly describes in detail her relationship with Claudius, “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an enseamed bed...” Gertrude’s sin is described as ulcerous. • Hamlet is reminded by the ghost, however, that he is speaking to Gertrude to encourage her to “confess herself to heaven, Repent what’s past and avoid what is to come”. He uses the garden imagery once again, “And do not spread the compost on the weeds/ To make them ranker” • In Act 4, scene 1 Gertrude does as Hamlet instructs and feigns ignorance of the method behind his madness.
4.2 The voyage to england • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern try to find out from Hamlet where the body of Polonius is. Hamlet is only too aware of their attempts to “keep his counsel” and manipulate him. Hamlet says that Rosencrantz is a sponge, soaking up the king’s countenance, his rewards and authorities. Hamlet warns that like a sponge, the king will squeeze them when he is done with them and they will be dry again. Speech relates to his discussion with Horatio about flattery.
4.3 Hamlet’s satire • The search for Polonius’ body continues and Hamlet uses a series of puns to lighten the mood but which also comment on mortality and death as the great leveller. Polonius is at supper, “Not where he eats, but where a is eaten”. He goes on, “we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table; that’s the end.” • Hamlet’s words thus question social hierarchy, reputation/status and challenge our pretences. All of the political manoeuvring and scheming is satirised here.
Alas, poor yorick- the big question • 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. • “Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, / Might stop a hole, to keep the wind away”. Even the mightiest of men turn to dust. Why do we then strive for power and advancement? What is life for? • 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. • Scene achieves humour (like 4.3 ) and there is also a sense of loss
These indeed seem, For they are actions that a man might play” (Hamlet, 1.2.82-84 • Role playing is a motif that pervades the play and it highlights some of the major themes- identity, appearance versus reality, integrity and truth, • 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. • Hamlet struggles to play the part of revenger assigned to him and he marvels at the actors who can force their “soul so to their own conceit”. The challenge is for him to, in Polonius’ words, to be true to himself and play this part. Does he achieve this?
Give me your pardon sir, i’ve done you wrong (5.2) • Is Hamlet being truthful here? Was it his madness that made him slay Polonius? Was he mad all along? Divided from himself? Or, is he still playing the role? What do you think?