Hamlet at the play.

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet : One Thread

After giving the players VERY specific instructions as to the playing and reading of the play, most specifically his OWN lines, why does he then proceed to make a big bloody song and dance while it is being performed? Especially when it gets to Hamlet's own supposed lines which he has inserted. He wants to catch the King unaware and off guard, does he not? Any outward signs of guilt that Claudius may give away are certainly going to be "smoothed down" somewhat by Hamlet's behaviour... Help me out here, folks.

-- Patrick Walker (www.criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), November 16, 2002


The playlet is not fully performed, and I don't know that we ever get to the speech Hamlet has written and inserted. Perhaps it is nice to think that it is Lucianus' speech, but if it is we don't hear all of it: it is only 6 of the 'dozen or sixteen lines' Hamlet was going to write.

Everyone seems to condemn Hamlet's injunctions to the players for various reasons. Some find the section plain tedious. Some think it Shakespeare's personal ultimate guide to acting. Some think Hamlet is a bloody hypocrite.

I think it MUST be fitted into and viewed in the context of the scene and the play as a whole. Hamlet wants the playlet to expose Claudius' guilt. To do that, it must be realistic, not stylized. It must be intensely, naturally affecting and dramatic, not theatrically showy or melodramatic. It must get to the point and push it home to the heart, not bandy about with excessive oratory. And this is all that Hamlet is arguing for in his injunctions to the players. This is what he desperately need them to do, especially in this performance. That it is pretty good advice generally for acting is more beside the point. Certainly none of it is a guideline for real life human behavior, his own or anyone else's.

His own behaviour during the performance of the playlet is not a song and dance act. It is his natural human reaction to the performance and the circumstances. I think Hamlet is nervous from the start of the playlet. Obviously, its outcome matters so much. As he sees it, his whole future depends and turns on it. He may get to be justified in killing his uncle and king. Or he may not get his proof, in which case he still wouldn't know; or he would have to settle back, maybe eventually forgive his mother, get back with Ophelia, wait and be elected king when Claudius dies in 20-odd years. Judging from his reaction after the playlet, I think he wants the former. Needless to say he's on edge, which explains the febrile sparkiness of his conversation with Ophelia, on whom of course he is hardly concentrating even when speaking to her. He's anxiously engrossed in watching his mother's and his uncle's reactions to the playlet.

Then, yes, towards the crux of the issue he starts joining in. I doubt its that he thinks or feels he should. I imagine he can't help himself. Because while he is anxiously watching his uncle's reaction to a - by his own injunctions - very realistic enactment of the murder of his father, HE IS ALSO HIMSELF WATCHING A REALISTIC ENACTMENT OF HIS OWN FATHER'S MURDER. Furthermore, with 'This is one Lucianus, NEPHEW to the King", Hamlet is surreptitiously letting Claudius know he plans to kill Claudius if Claudius did the murder. That's a bold step. Hamlet adored his father. That bastard Claudius did to his father what that bastard Lucianus is doing to that poor king just there on the stage. Ophelia, unaware of what's going on, keeps trying to talk to him, distract him, even reprove him. His mother is getting uncomfortable, distressed: she deserves it, but he loves her. Polonius (no doubt) is looking at him like he's a half-wit. Claudius is ... or isn't he? ... getting hot under the collar.

Nervousness, anxiety, expectation, hope, irritation, defiance, grief, horror, love, hate ... . Maybe you can do the math. I find it all a soul-crushing equation.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), November 17, 2002.

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