Presentation on theme: "Hamlet Plan of lectures 1.Revenge and the ghost 2.Just how crazy is Hamlet? 3.The theme of mortality 4.Meta-theatricality."— Presentation transcript:
Hamlet Plan of lectures 1.Revenge and the ghost 2.Just how crazy is Hamlet? 3.The theme of mortality 4.Meta-theatricality
Preliminaries: first, the strange text of Hamlet Our edition (Pelican), edited from the second quarto (Q2), is approximately 3,674 lines long. Far too long to play (four hours if played). (Elizabethan plays took two to two and a half hours to play.) Probably Q2 is Shakespeare’s early draft of the play. The Folio version (F) is 3,535 lines long, still far to long to play. Probably F is a revised version of the play; it lacks much of IV.4, including H’s soliloquy there. Some scholars think F is a clearer version of the play, suggesting revision. The first quarto (Q1) is much shorter, 2,154, and looks like a playing version of the play. Some scenes are in a different (maybe better) order. But Q1 gives us a weird version of the text, certainly not Shakespeare’s actual language. Q1 derives from an actor’s version of the play from memory – only Marcellus’ lines are accurate.
The puzzling text (continued) So a modern production needs to decide which text, Q2 or F, to use, then how to cut about a third of the text. Earlier editions gave us a Hamlet that was conflated from Q2 and F – an even longer play. Branagh’s film of the “uncut Hamlet” is interesting, but something that was almost certainly never played in Shakespeare’s time. But what was played? What we’re reading in the Pelican text is probably Shakespeare’s early complete draft. Which he had to cut for playing. Look for extra F passages on pp. li-lv of Pelican if you’re missing some familiar passages.
Second, five “open questions” in Hamlet Is Hamlet mad or not? He says he will play mad (put on an “antic disposition,” 1.5.171-72), but then later tells Laertes that it was his “madness” that killed Polonius, not Hamlet (5.2.231-240). Does Gertrude know about the murder of Hamlet’s father? Hamlet thinks she does, but she seems shocked at his accusation (3.4.29-31). Did Ophelia really commit suicide? Gertrude’s account indicates it was an accident (4.7.166-184). The coroner rules it “Christian burial.” But the gravediggers have their doubts (5.1.1-30), and the priest says the death was “doubtful,” and the funeral rites are truncated (5.1.228- 236). Why did she go mad? The death of her father? Or Hamlet’s rejection of her? Does the “play-within-the-play” evoke Claudius’ guilt? Or is it Hamlet’s commentary (3.2.267-70).
Third, R.I. P. “tragic flaw” Aristotle invented the tragic flaw: hamartia. But was it part of current discourse in 1590s? Here’s what Olivier did with tragic flaw in his 1948 film (clip). Admittedly Shakespeare seems to bring up the issue at I, 4, 23ff. But how much does “tragic flaw” ever tell us? Othello is jealous, Macbeth is ambitious, Lear is old and losing his mind, Romeo loves too rashly? And Hamlet does make up his mind at III, 3, 73ff – maybe that’s the problem.
Now, the lecture: that damned ghost – or is he? Hamlet a revenge play, a popular dramatic genre. Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy (1592), Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge (1600), Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy (p. 1607), Chapman’s Bussy D’Ambois (1604), Shakespeare’s own earlyTitus Andronicus (p. 1594). Elements of revenge plays: ghost demanding vengeance, real or feigned madness, plays- within-plays, scenes of carnage and mutilation, ingenious ways to accomplish vengeance.
Hamlet as revenge play Horatio’s conclusion: V, 2, 380-87: “So shall you hear of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts...” But atypical in its psychological complexity – and length. Ghost kept off stage for four scenes – a half hour of playing time? Issue of revenge kept in suspense. The strange character of this ghost: where from? What to make of him?
The ghost of Hamlet Sr. The ghost is real: on stage this must be a very solid, opaque ghost, no see-though or imaginary figure. Is the ghost from Purgatory? Purgatory a hot-button issue in Elizabethan England. Ghost asserts Purgatory as its origin: I.5, 3-4, 9- 13. This puts it among the saved, “a spirit of health,” as H. says (I, 4, 40). But can it then ask for vengeance?
If the ghost simply wants justice...... how should it ask for vengeance? Can Hamlet be simply an instrument of God’s justice? If he can, how should the crime and the punishment be presented? At the end of the speech: “But howsomever thou pursues this act,/ Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive/ Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven/ And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge/ To prick and sting her.” (I, 5, 84-88). Hamlet must become like the executioner, who is disengaged from the act of taking life.
But the rhetoric of the ghost’s speech cuts against this: The horror of his “prison house”: I, 5, 12ff. Rhetoric of bitterness: I, 5, 42ff. Rhetoric of betrayal. Highly physiological description of crime. Everything in the speech seems designed to elicit an extreme emotional reaction from Hamlet. Line 80: “O, horrible, O horrible, most horrible!” Then the strange coda: don’t taint your mind or harm your mother.
Can one take a life without tainting his mind? The public executioner. Anonymous, hooded. Asked forgiveness of his “client.” Acted simply on behalf of the state. Maintained his own disinvolvement with the act of taking life. Can Hamlet attain this state of moral neutrality?
The nature of the ghost’s charge to Hamlet Kill your uncle, your father’s cold-blooded killer...... who led your mother to adulterous betrayal of your father...... who killed me in a particularly horrible way...... and left your father no time for a proper death (confession, communion)... BUT don’t taint your mind, or harm your mother (while killing her current husband). Can any of this be done?
The effect on Hamlet? His invocation of heaven and earth (I.5.92ff) – and what else, hell? “Oh fie!” seems to reject hell. He’ll forget everything except the ghost’s command. Is Hamlet a bit mad when he rejoins his companions? Horatio: “These are but wild and whirling words, my lord.” Hamlet driven to extremity by the ghost?
Hamlet tests the ghost II.2.537ff. Admits the ghost may be a devil sent to trick him to damnation. So “the play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king!” The “Mousetrap” indeed appears to catch the king’s conscience. Horatio seems to agree that Claudius’s guilt is apparent. Having tested the ghost, Hamlet now morally bound to act? But see the divided rhetoric of III, 2, 381ff. “I will speak daggers, but use none.”
The scene that indicates Hamlet’s seeming readiness to act The time and place of III, 3, 36ff: Claudius appears to be praying. The perfect moment for execution? “Enter Hamlet” ready to act the executioner. But he decides not to execute Claudius. Why? How does he now conceive of his revenge? Does he taint his mind in this redefining of vengeance? Given this motivation, is not acting worse than acting at this point?
The “closet scene” with Gertrude The decisive moment when Hamlet, previously agent of vengeance, turns murderer himself. Line 21 indicates Hamlet seems to threaten violence to Gertrude. Accuses her of murder of Hamlet Sr. Insists on the comparison of her two husbands, ll. 53ff. His insistence on her corruption, 91ff, 96ff.
Return of the ghost: “To whet thy almost blunted purpose” Hamlet seems to admit his having failed to act at the right moment: ll. 106ff. “Amazement on thy mother sits./ O step between her and her fighting soul!” The second part of the ghost’s command: “nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught.” Has he offended against this too? His seeming obsession with his mother’s corruption: ll. 181ff.
The impossibility of Hamlet’s position The ghost whips him to an emotional fury against both Claudius and Gertrude. Then tells him not to taint his mind or harm his mother. He’s to kill his uncle, who has killed his father in cold blood, but not “taint” his mind with passion or anger. He’s to murder his mother’s husband, but not “contrive” against her. These two scenes the turning point of the play? Now the Polonius family have precisely the same motive of vengeance against Hamlet as he has against Claudius.