Why doesn't the king respond to the dumb show...and more!

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Firstly why does the King not respond to the dumb-show? Some say he did not see it, but there is nothing in the text to give this theory much support, unless after Polonius's "O Ho! Do you mark that!" he and the King are in deep, closed discussion during the dumb-show. So what say you? There are other threories, but why did Shakespeare not make this matter clearer? Secondly do you think Hamlet knew the dumb-show was going to take place? For in his speech to the players he berates dumb-shows (ActIII, SceneII, lines 11-12). Is his "Marry this is miching mailicho. It means mischief", meant to be taken as meaning that he wasn't expecting the dumb show and he was fearing that the play would divulge its secrets too soon - before his lines were spoken??? Thirdly, what do we think WERE Hamlet's lines? And what reasons have we for our theories?

-- Patrick Von Trapp (www.criesandwhispers666@yahoo.com), December 29, 2002


Hey there, Patrick, Firstly and secondly, Hamlet doesn't really berate dumb shows. It's 'the groundlings' he's directing his criticism against in the relevant clause, lines 11-12. He just thinks 'inexplicable' dumb shows are inferior, simplistic entertainment, lacking ssense to occupy the mind - not surprising in a fella who so likes dealing intellectually with 'words', with language. 'Capable' in III.ii.11 means 'capable of understanding'. Ie, the 'groundlings' are capable of understanding only the more mindless forms of performance.

I think Hamlet probably knows the dumb show is going to take place, because he knows the play "The Murder of Gonzago" which the players are essentially performing. And dumb shows were pretty traditional.

There's no reason to suppose Claudius doesn't react to the dumb show: plays are visual as well as verbal. I reckon Claudius does react. Or rather, perhaps, Gertrude! I think the dumb show is more aimed at her than at Claudius. Which is ambitiously clever of Hamlet to go for both. In which case Hamlet's 'this is ... mischief' would be pleased/gleeful/witchy, yet also a bit tense as he waits and watches to see what eventuates next. Which would then explain why he gets annoyed at the silly, pointless Prologue: it breaks the momentum of the 'mischief' he has concocted.

Thirdly, 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 (III.ii.249ff). But if this is Hamlet's added speech, then it must be that we don't hear all of it: it is only 6 of the 'dozen or sixteen lines' Hamlet was going to write.

-- catherine england (catherine_england@hotmail.com), December 30, 2002.

I think the whole point of the dumb show was so Shakespeare's audience would get the gist of The Murder of Gonzago before it started. Then when the real thing was being performed they wouldn't have to pay much attention to it, and would be able to watch Claudius' reaction. Which brings us back to "Why didn't Claudius react to the dumb show?" ... Sigh. A play within a play within a play ... my head hurts.

-- Eimear Ryan (eimear_ryan@oceanfree.net), March 17, 2003.

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