Hamlet End-of-unit DiscussionPresentation Transcript
Hamlet: a scholarly examination Reference: Introductory Lecture on Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University College
What makes a work endure the test of time: it makes us THINK.
Hamlet is problematic - it’s not clear-cut:
Ambiguity leaves room for interpretation
It is meant to be performed and so we must tie our interpretation to a specific performance - think of setting and how that could influence our experience.
The Revenge Models:
Type 1: The victim has no authority to appeal; the offender is too powerful.
Type 2: The authorities don’t believe the victim’s story.
Ex. Death Wish-type movies
Barriers need to be overcome.
Revenge must be satisfying (for the victim AND us).
Sooooooooo, the BIG question is why does Hamlet wait so long?
A. Some Ideas from the Peanut Gallery…
1. There simply is no delay:
It is necessary for time to pass or the performance would be too short - there just wouldn’t be a play to think about.
Or, it just takes time for Hamlet to be in a position to take revenge.
IF THIS IS TRUE, WHY DOES HAMLET KEEP DRAWING OUR ATTENTION TO HIS DELAY? Also the passage of time is clearly indicated…
Act I: 2 months since wedding
Act I: the ambassadors leave for Norway
Act II: the ambassadors return.
Act IV: Hamlet leaves for England and returns
In fact, this delay is emphasized:
Fortinbras and Laertes both seek revenge for the deaths of their fathers immediately.
F especially is a foil to H in this way.
2. The delay is out of Hamlet’s control - Revenge dramas by nature have external barriers:
Hamlet has to wait for the right moment - Claudius is the legal king.
What about III, 3 when Claudius is praying? What if Hamlet had waited for him to finish and then did Claudius in?
What about the ease with which Laertes can confront Claudius in IV, 5?
Thus Hamlet’s obstacles must be internal
3. Hamlet is a coward - he’s afraid of getting hurt:
What about when he slays Polonius in III, 4?
What about his willingness to follow the ghost in I, 5?
What about the duel at the end of the play?
4. Hamlet is physically weak or just plain mad:
If Hamlet was physically different, then his character would not meet our desire to be able to measure ourselves against him.
As for the madness, his speeches are just too intelligent and his verbal dexterity is too able (fishmonger)- he may still have an emotional weakness.
5. Hamlet is too good for this world and can’t lower himself to its level of degradation:
Hamlet does often resort to high-brow poetic musing as he wanders around Elsinore in his bookish fashion.
His is introduced to us separate from the others at court.
But, if he is just a philosopher, then what about the times he does act?
6. He has to prove the ghost is telling the truth:
When Hamlet hears the ghost’s story he gives no indication that he doubts its word (it was Horatio et al that don’t trust the thing) in fact, Hamlet goes on telling how worried he is about his delay.
Even after the play within the play Hamlet still waits, even though he has a good opportunity to act (while C is praying).
Maybe what he says is not so clear-cut:
He tells us often that his delay is causing him anguish - we ask why the delay = interest for us.
Can we trust what he is saying; ie. When he says something is it to be believed OR is he inventing a reason for himself to delay even further? IS HE BEING HONEST WITH HIMSELF? - REMEMBER TO BASE WHAT YOU ARGUE ON WHAT IS IN THE PLAY AND NOT ON SUPPOSITIONS YOU INVENT OUTSIDE OF IT.
7. It’s not action he delays; it’s this particular one!
Claudius is HIS MOMMY’S lover - thus we’re talking about an classic Freudian Oedipus Complex - if Claudius is out of the picture, Hamlet will have to face his own feelings for his mother.
Hamlet has no problem killing Claudius once his mother is dead and he does seem to have some serious problems with women (remember “frailty…” and “get thee…”)
B. Things to consider while you decide what to decide …
1. Hamlet’s language:
There must be proof in the puddin’.
Be careful about applying his sweeping generalizations about life to specific situations.
Think of how Hamlet’s use colloquial phrases like grunt, sweat, nasty sty, vicious mole, rank and gross, fardels, etc. expose his emotions.
Also consider how he often has extreme shifts in focus during his soliloquies.
*Does his language match the image of a settled philosopher?
2. The Politics of Elsinore
Elsinore is Machiavellia n - power is an end unto itself.
Polonius is not a fool but a shrewd operator (he won’t let ethics or family get in his way - uses fear - serves the king - but, does love his family).
Claudius is an able statesman (he solved the Norway problem).
Women don’t seem to matter here - even Gertrude has little power: although C does ask her advice, he gets the final word.
3. Appearance vs. Reality
We see two sides of most characters
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Only Horatio, Gertrude and Ophelia seem to appear at face value. The tone is set in the first line: “Who’s there.”
THIS ADDS ANOTHER LAYER OF MYSTERY: WHEN ARE THE CHARACTERS BEING HONEST AND WHEN ARE THEY “HIDING BEHIND AN ARRAS?”
C. Some Interpretations…
1. Hamlet is a noble prince in a corrupt and evil world:
As stated, Elsinore is not a nice place and it’s in a moral decline - something is rotten…Hamlet is a victim of learned helplessness.
If Hamlet displaces himself from this world he will be able to cope - from here he can give the world order and decide how he should act in it.
This disgust helps to explain his cruelty (ex. to Ophelia who he eventually sees as part of the problem - the system as it is.)
Hamlet only acts when emotion overtakes reason (ex. his killing of Polonius and, at the end, his killing of Claudius).
2. Hamlet is inadequate to deal with the normal adult-world problems of Elsinore
It’s not Denmark that’s rotten; it’s H. He is after all, the killer of 7 people by the end.
He is usually deceiving others himself (read: he’s a liar).
He has a warped view of women.
At least Claudius acknowledges his own sins.
3. The Real Villain: the Condition of the World
All of the characters gain our favour in some way and then force us to remove it - even H! - no matter what you do in life, you’ll fail.
Horatio and Fortinbras are notable exceptions (hmmm, they get to live).
Still, even at the end we don’t learn that F has fixed things - it’s just a change of who’s in power - a reassertion of life under Hamlet Sr.
3. Condition of the world, cont.
Only the gravedigger is happy and he’s surrounded by death. - He transforms the horrors of his situation with wit - Hamlet uses wit to attack - the gravedigger uses his superior wit positively.
end Now it’s up to you to decide what YOU think (by the way, THIS is the hard part, for there is no correct answer, just the one you hypothesize and then support/prove)