Archive for the Hamlet Category

Let the Great Axe Fall

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/08 by mattermind

Hamlet, Act IV: Scenes 1-7

In the fourth act, the pace picks up. Scenes become shorter, shifting swiftly as the elaborate chess game of dark motives begets its misbegotten offspring.

(ASIDE: If I have one quibble with this sequence of the play, it is that so much of what occurs happens offstage: Polonius’s funeral, Hamlet’s voyage, Ophelia’s death.)

Laertes returns from France to avenge his father’s death. Shakespeare once again creates a doubling, with the hot blood of Laertes serving as a foil for the brooding, contemplative nature of Hamlet.

Doubled too (and damning) are the lines that issue forth from Claudius. The man is such a galling hypocrite that I can’t help but groan when he fails to see how the Fates will turn his words against him:

CLAUDIUS: And where th’ offense is, let the great axe fall.

He’s referring to the justification for Hamlet’s approaching doom. But by the same logic, he condemns himself to die!

Wheels within wheels. No wonder then that Ophelia loses her mind in all of this — and ultimately her life as well. She is drowning — too fair, too innocent a creature to sustain the body blows of both father and lover felled — a lover who in fact has killed her father — plus a brother who will avenge that double loss in kind.

I am reminded of the scene in Amadeus, where Mozart lies on his death bed, composing his own Requiem while Salieri goads him on:

Mozart ought to conserve his energies, but the music (and Salieri) won’t let him go. While Salieri can barely keep up with dictation, Mozart dazzles him with a doubling, a trebling, a quadruppling of instruments.

I feel a lot like Salieri hearing Shakespeare weave motif after motif into a crescendo of meaning and implication. Reading him is like playing chess against Kasparov, only not in two dimensions but three.

Linguistically, thematically, dramatically, sexually, sarcastically, charismatically — genius refracted in all directions as a beam of light in a hall of mirrors or waves fractally crashing on a beach. Not just any beach but the North Shore — where the ocean exhalts in a display of raw power and beauty expended as brutal, primal energy.

When I finished the third act I felt spent, my mind rent, my body in rubble on the floor.

This fourth act, it upsets me, but not in the same way. I keep screaming “No!” like at a horror film: don’t open that door. Repent! Repent!!! The actions of men are what drive the sadness and tragedy. Can’t we change them if we wish?

My hair stood on end when I read these lines:

HAMLET: What is a man,

If his chief good and market of his time

Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

This, in dramatic form, is a restatment of Socrates’ famous line that the unexamined life is not worth living. Only here we see the implications of not thinking: our natures succomb to our basest impulses. We allow our greed to determine our actions. We sleep with scoundrels for a bit of safety and protection. We allow passions and hungers to guide us, and not the stars of our loftiest hopes and dreams. We get caught up in revenge for crimes that needn’t have been commited in the first place.

But such is man. Such is the bed we make for ourselves to lie in. And should we not have Horatio’s reasoned detachment, we wither in Ophelia’s weakness by virtue of our innocence. The kindest words such a girl like that, in such a day and age, could ever hear are: get thee to a nunnery. It’s the only hope she has to survive!

That, or awareness. But it is just such an awareness that scalds, that damns, that overwhelms her.

I read with mouth agape as the king’s true intentions became clear. One act ago he was attempting to pray… but that was only a self-serving ploy to save his soul. Now, as his conscience comes awake, he can’t stand the scalding of its self-condemnation. Though it could be the burr to lead him to kneel, to submission and a true plea for forgiveness, it only spurs him to blot it out.

Lacking the introspection and self-criticism of Hamlet, he can only turn the feelings outward to seek their cessation. In what? In more murder, of course. But not even by his own hand — let the English do it. Or Laertes. And not by a fair battle but by more conniving: Hamlet through his own integrity won’t check the swords. Give him a blunted one. Laertes ups the ante by volunteering a fatal dose of poison to the tip. And should that fail, the king can top that with a tainted grog should Hamlet tire in the duel and request a drink.

You get the feeling these scoundrels could do this sort of thing all day. Foulness is their specialty. Machiavellian strategies are not the exception but the norm. For men like this, even the sanctuary of church is fair grounds to commit an execution.

Rules? What rules?

Doesteovsky said that without God, everything is possible. But in Shakespeare, God is right here among us, and the devil in the details. Yet men procede to damn their own souls and foul the human nest acting on their base impulses anyway!

To Watch or Not to Watch

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/07 by mattermind

So I decided, rather rashly and in keeping with the spirit of Hamlet, to slip into netflix and add every Hamlet movie to the queue. Then it dawned on me that I’d actually have to watch them all, and I withdrew from the opportunity, with but two actual selections:

Olivier, because I inexplicably haven’t watched it before. Shame on me — it’s Olivier! Then again, I’m not convinced I’ll like it. I’m not typically one of those people who say It wasn’t like the book because I don’t expect it to be. Being too much like the book has been the kiss of death for too many a bad movie.

It’s just… I don’t know exactly. There’s a certain way of doing Hamlet that makes me vomit a little, even when it’s done superbly well. The overzealousness leads to a marginal pomposity that turns brooding into moping, which I don’t think befits Hamlet at all.

If anything, this reading has energized me more than I expected for this project. As a matter of fact, I’ve LOVED Hamlet this go-round and consider it one of the best reads of my life. And that, I’m happy to say, certainly does befit a play that is considered so great by so many. I am confirming by my actual actual that yes, in fact, it really was (and still is) absolutly revelatory.

Which is why I’m somewhat dreading the stiff man in tights routine that may or may not await me with Olivier. I will watch the Mel Gibson version, if for no other reason than contrast (and because I remember – perhaps naively – liking it many years ago). I will, however, abstain from the Ethan Hawke modernization and the Kenneth Branagh BBCiffication. Holy cow, I’m being judgmental, aren’t I? Where is this scorn coming from?

I really do need to watch ’em all and then let loose. What am I thinking? If anybody has a particular favorite version let me know. My mind is open, honest. Though I have a feeling the Simpsons version may end up my favorite, which reveals more than I probably want to.

Guff away.

Foul Deeds Will Rise

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/07 by mattermind

Hamlet, Act III: Scenes 1-4

  • To be, or not to be — that is the question:
  • Get thee to a nunnery
  • The lady doth protest too much, methinks
  • O shame, where is thy blush?
  • I must be cruel only to be kind

Payback is a bitch. And in Act III, the paybacks have begun.

“Foul deeds will rise” harkens back to the concluding lines from Act I, Scene 2:

HAMLET: Foul deeds will rise

Though all the earth o’erwhelm them to men’s eyes.

I had wondered before about the nature of Hamlet’s “madness” which keeps interweaving with such hard logic. It was only in the third act that an awareness finally hit me: this is how a man acts who ceases to give credence to the normal boundaries of propriety.

Indeed, for Hamlet, the egregious deeds committed by his uncle and own mother have torn asunder all the assumptions about people he may have once took for granted. His madness makes perfect sense, in fact, in a world that’s morally upside down. The king, marriage, even motherhood are no longer to be trusted.

An earlier, hyper-Romantic Hamlet may have written:

Doubt thou the stars are fire;

Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;

But never doubt I love.

But now, all bets are off:

HAMLET: To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

Everyone, save Horatio and Ophelia, would seem to have an ulterior motive or purpose. It makes so much more sense now, the counsel Polonius and Laertes give Ophelia about mistrusting Hamlet’s intentions. These are two men who know only themselves and the dastardly ways of the world. How could they let an innocent girl trust the profferings of a young buck like Hamlet?

Hamlet makes a point to note a lesson learned. Namely, that evil is capable of the sweetest smile. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, once his schoolyard friends, have become the king’s pawns. Loyalty, like fidelity and friendship — can be bought.

What then can be trusted? How might a man discern these truths and not split in half from that awareness? What goodness is there left to believe in?

Thus, Hamlet may seem mad to others, but in fact, he has merely come unbound. There is a savage wit to his wordplay now which is jarring and breathtaking to behold. When he teases Ophelia with sexual banter, you can see her moral compass spinning. Hamlet, to her, is showing spirit and being a cad. She does not realize how far he’s now coloring outside the lines.

The image that suddenly popped into my mind is of the Joker hanging upside down outside a window, mocking helpless Batman who wishes to keep playing in a world of light and shadow. Joker knows that the distinctions are merely conveniences and that true freedom lies in the anarchy of the realization that we all contain good and evil within us.

In fact, Hamlet is all too aware of his own sinful nature. As he tells Ophelia:

HAMLET: I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better had my mother not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.

Unlike every other character in the play, Hamlet has a keen awareness of his moral failings. It this very sensitivity which has made him much freer than all the rest. Freer from the social roles and trappings that people fall into. But also panged by outrage at the way those around him flaunt good behavior when it suits them.

Unlike his own mother and uncle, Hamlet is perfectly willing to suffer the penalty for his misdeeds. When he unwittingly kills Polonius, who had hid himself behind a tapestry to overheer yet another conversation, he knows that he will have to pay with his life — but doesn’t care. Partly, it’s true, because he no longer values his life. But also because he accepts that actions have consequences.

Hamlet is, by nature, the most inward character in the play. What others call brooding is in fact probing the motives that underly his actions. Is it better to be or not to be? How many ever ask themselves that question?

When Hamlet subjects his uncle and mother to the “Moustrap,” it is to awaken with them the pangs of consciousness which plague him every moment of every waking day. How can they have committed such a heinous crime and carried on as if nothing happened? Even after the play, when Hamlet appeals to her in her bedchambers, his detached mother asks:
QUEEN: Ay, me, what act

That roars so loud and thunders in the index?

Hamlet may seem cold-hearted, but he knows that he has to be cruel to be kind in order to awaken a moral accountability within her. He pleads with her to stop sleeping in the profane bed she had made for herself. To repent. To start somewhere!

The king has begun to suffer the slings and arrows of his guilt. But even then, he prays only with a hard-hearted calculation that in the end will only buy him a little more time. Hamlet walks in and can’t kill him in his one act of semi-reverence, for to do so would mean to grant him a luxury denied to his own father. Having died in the act of semi-repentence, Cornelius would have his soul fly up to heaven while Hamlet’s father’s ghost roasted in the fires of purgatory, having died before confession and being annointed in the sacraments of the last rights.

Get thee to a nunnery, indeed. Is this a Catholic play or what?

Hasta La Vista, Claudius!

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/05 by mattermind

For those who prefer their Shakespeare with a little more, um, action.

Show & Tell

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/05 by mattermind

Courtesy of the BBC — and Youtube:

Shakespeare & I

Posted in Hamlet with tags on 2010/01/05 by mattermind

One of the stated purposes of this blog is to chart the effect that reading Shakespeare has on me — not just to make a fool of myself broadcasting my ignorance about the greatest writer who ever lived.

I figure that spending a full year in the company of greatness ought to have some sort of impact on my congenial mediocrity… Why not find out what that might be?

Already I can tell that my standard view of characters is being demolished. Granted, you and I chose Hamlet to begin this odyssey and Hamlet is considered one of the most complex and nuanced beings in the history of literature.

But you see it in damned near every one of the parts. It’s as if Shakespeare, being an actor himself, didn’t dare hand out roles to friends that he wouldn’t want to play himself. No cliched stereotypes or on-the-nose dialogue here!

I find myself already reading the news with a deeper tolerance for ambiguity. I’m an idealist at heart and always have been. So accepting the dark and light shadings inside of everyone is a task that very well may expand me… if I can handle the inner turbulence and turmoil generated by so much human frailty and evil being brought to light.

I’ll keep an eye on that, especially as we head deeper into the tragedies. I can feel myself balking at the murders and deceptions that await me. I feel like Hamlet wrestling with the hard realities of life, those humans compound by rufusing to rise above them.

Maybe that’s why I identify with Ophelia as well. Her take on the world is innocent, while the plots and subplots whirl about her with a frenzy that threatens to tear her apart.

Shakespare maps a whole psychological terrain in this regard, from Hamlet’s famous taciturn struggles to do the moral thing, Horatio’s calm and steady rationality under fire, Polonius’s overzealous, self-interested meddling to achieve his ends, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s obsequiousness in service to the status quo, and of course the king and queen’s ruthlesness to fulfull their personal lust and greed.

Each has motives and methods in contrast to all others. The play is a clash of conflicting worldviews, with each character following an independent line in search for his or her own definition of happiness.

From act to act, I watch (or read) in suspense, not knowing what turn the story will take next. Each step is logical, arising from a grounded and established motivational center. And yet… the results are startling, mindblowing, shattering.

Now if only Shakespeare had written the script to Avatar!

Look Where Sadly the Poor Wretch Comes Reading

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/04 by mattermind

By Thursday:


Plus, a surprise or two, but only if you’re good. 🙂

The Plot Thickens

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/04 by mattermind

Hamlet, Act II: Scenes 1-2

  • Brevity is the soul of wit
  • What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!
  • The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king

It’s beginning to sound a lot like a mix tape of famous Shakespeare quotes. I feel great about finally having a grounding in their genesis and reason for being.

Though there are only two master scenes in this act, so much is going on here that it’s hard to keep up without referring to outside sources.

Act II begins with Polonius advising Reynaldo to slander Laertes (Polonius’ son) in Paris, but to do it discreetly. Why, I have no idea, though I trust it will have meaning ere the play is finished.

I’m bamboozled by Hamlet’s madness so-called, whether it be feigned or part of a larger scheme on his part. Polonius is convinced Hamlet has gone goo-goo over his daughter, Ophelia, and the restrictions the father has insisted the daughter take to keep the lusty suitor at bay.

Ophelia turns over far more evidence of Hamlet’s romantic overkill to her father than seems credible. I find myself believing that she and Hamlet have concocted this as part of a ruse for whatever revenge plot Hamlet has in mind.

A lot of the dialogue gets thick and thorny in these parts, especially when Hamlet “demonstrates” his lunacy in front of Polonius. The vernacular (and bawdy) back-and-forth between Hamlet and the traveling players who have come to town leaves me helpless without footnotes, though I refer to them only as a last resort. I’d rather re-read until I have the gist of what’s being said, even if that means missing a double entendre (or entire meaning) or two. Here is where No Fear Shakespeare can be useful, providing a modern translation that adds meaning but subtracts the lush joy of Shakespeare’s wordplay.

I remembered Priam and Pyrrhus from readings at St. John’s, but found myself wanting a more detailed explanation for the play-within-the-play that will be so crucial to the plot of Hamlet. I urge you to visit a site I found while googling for a great explanation:

Shakespeare seems obsessed by doubling/trebbling/mirroring both here and throughout his works. I need to find out more about this, and will revisit it when we come to A Comedy of Errors and others.

Polonius says to Reynaldo a line that applies equally to Hamlet:

POLONIUS: Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth,

And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,

With windlasses and with assays of bias,

By indirections find directions out.

For Hamlet, the play’s the thing by which he means to call his uncle out. For those who wish to start up a conversation about “meta-truth,” it begets a bloodletting on the notion of fiction and its connection to reality — and morality.

This weekend, coming home from a New Year’s spent roaming the wild surf in Ventura, CA, I stumbled upon John Gardner’s marvelous book “On Moral Fiction” in Barnes & Noble. While pouring through it in the coffee shop, I was reminded of Ayn Rand’s thoughts on the Sense of Life and purpose of art. I realize I’m being obtuse, but the point here is that what Gardner, Rand and Shakespeare (I should say Hamlet) share is a belief that the contents of fiction cannot be easily dismissed as “just a book/play/movie/story” as many so-called realists would like us to accept.

Hamlet has hatched a devious scheme in which he will insert new lines into the intended performance by the players. The play within the play already echoes Hamlet, which has now become the reality within the play that we are reading here and now. But by Hamlet’s design:

HAMLET: I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a play,

Have by the very cunning of the scene

Been struck so to the soul that presently

They have proclaimed their malefactions… I’ll have these players

Play something like the murder of my father

Before mine uncle.

Shrewd! It would seem then that Hamlet’s madness is entirely contrived and part of his scheme, though how this plays into it I have no idea.

HAMLET: I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.

He tells this in confidence to Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, two childhood friends who decidedly aren’t dead. They have been recruited by the king and queen to restore normalcy to the brooding (and now pining) Hamlet. But he quickly sees through their ordered presence and outs the lie by which they have appeared to greet him.

Lies, lies, lies. Everywhere lies!

Are relations among men mere advantages to be manipulated for personal gain? Has all of Denmark adopted Machiavellian principles? Will the new king and his queen get away with their crime(s)?

Where will all the duplicity lead?

Curiouser & Curiouser

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/04 by mattermind

Before I post on today’s reading, I want to follow up on something that’s bugging me: why is Hamlet’s father (the ghost, that is) consigned to suffer in purgatory?

I’ll lay off the Catholic thing, honest. It’s not to further that point that I bring this one up. It just struck me as I was driving around town yesterday that I’d never before read or watched the play with this particular twist examined (ah, the hazards of reading without secondary sources and an omnicient prof — sorry kids, that’s the Johnnie way).

We take it for granted that Hamlet’s father was unjustly murdered by an adulturous wife and a conniving brother. When the ghost appears, he appeals to his son to seek revenge for this nefarious betrayal.

We assume — or at least I do — that Hamlet is justified in taking up his father’s cause not only because of the nature of the crime, but because, in Hamlet’s own understanding, he holds his father in such high regard.

To wit:

HAMLET: My father — methinks I see my father.

HORATIO: I saw him once. A was a goodly king.

HAMLET: A was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again.

Mind, I understand why the ghost of Hamlet’s betrayed father walks the earth seeking revenge. That has become (or forever was) a trope in literature that by now we utterly take for granted. Blame it on too many horror films.

But what I don’t understand, and what caused me to nearly get run over in traffic, is why that same ghost of such a goodly man would be suffering by day in a state of purgatory.

GHOST: I am thy father’s spirit,

Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away.

Come again?

What crimes? How can this be? Am I wrong to consider this an utter bombshell of a statement?

Is Shakespeare that good that he could twist a straightforward revenge thriller into such pretzled complexities that the son of the betrayed king is implored to avenge a murder that had been committed with cause?

OMG, maybe now I’m beginning to understand that it isn’t just that Shakespeare’s that good, but that I have been so utterly shallow and supperficial my whole life in my approach to his genius.

When we get to Romeo & Juliet this will come up again. I used to marvel how Romeo’s adoration of fair Rosalyn complicated his feelings for Juliet. No matter how much he cared for the latter, Romeo’s sincerity can never reach 100% after having so recently believed himself to have found “the one.” If just yesterday it was a rose by a different name, how can he be absolutely certain that Juliet is not, in fact, merely another who smells as sweet?

I used to think that Rosalyn was there merely to establish Romeo as a young Romantic who is in love with love itself. That this was how we could accept him and his Carpe Diem ziel.

And now this about Hamlet’s ghost. Maybe there’s a simple explanation that I’m missing. If you know of it, please feel free to enlighten in the comments.

Hamlet’s ghost in purgatory — good God, I feel utterly overwhelmed.

The Time Is Out of Joint

Posted in Hamlet on 2010/01/03 by mattermind


Act 1: Scenes 1-5

  • Frailty, thy name is woman
  • This above all, to thine own self be true
  • Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
  • O Hamlet, what a falling off was there
  • There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
  • The time is out of joint

And we’re barely out the door. Haven’t even left the yard. And yet… and yet!

I tried to read scenes 1-5 with utter objectivity, as if I’d never heard of this Shakespeare fellow from Stratford who had submitted some anonymous play for consideration.

It’s so universally taken for granted that the Bard is some “super genius” that we often tend to approach him like a stalk of broccoli at dinner time. While many folks love their green vegetables and just about everyone knows they’re good for you, we pretty much assume that what we’d all rather be doing is serving up a slice of pizza instead.

And then there’s Hamlet.

To be honest, the speech that completely floored me was not one of the famous ones mentioned above, which materialized like celebrities at a familiar neighborhood eatery. No, the one that totally clobbered me hit like a roundhouse right I had not expected, and convinced me without further proof required that I had entered the realm of mindblowing wordcraft.

It comes from Horatio, and it comes early:


A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.

In the most high and palmy state of Rome,

A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,

The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead

Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;

As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,

Disasters in the sun; and the moist star

Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands

Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse…

It’s the line that reads: “The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead” which ran over my brain like a mack truck. I kept reading it over and over, savoring the imagery, the poetry, the allusion as Horatio sees a harbinger of doom in the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s unjustly slain father. I found myself asking, who is this Horatio and how does he speak so well?

And that, of course, is one of the ways you know you’re in the hands of Shakespeare. Each character has his or her own manner of speaking, a reflection of a fully developed person with a manner, bearing and philosophy unique unto themselves.

In fact, on the first page alone, barely six lines into the play, Shakespeare had me at hello when Francisco, one of the guards standing sentry who might in other hands have been just another generic GUARD #2, says this to Barnardo, his fellow sentry come to relieve him of his post:

FRANCISCO: For this relief much thanks. ‘Tis bitter cold,

And I am sick of heart.

Why is he sick of heart? What happened? What’s going on?

Shakespeare may be singled out for so many different aspects of his brilliance, but on a technical level his craftsmanship is masterly. He hooks you with mini-questions within the larger scope of the story, causing the playgoer or reader (whom he didn’t anticipate) to wonder aloud those words which sound best to any aspiring stage or screenwriter’s ears: and then what happened?

Shakespeare, if nothing else, is a very, very good tease.

Horatio, it turns out, is a friend of Hamlet and fellow student in Wittemberg. In my ignorance, I have yet to see it mentioned that Wittemberg is the town made famous by Martin Luther and the posting of the 95 Theses he wrote in protest of abuses in the Catholic church, an act of defiance which led to the Reformation.

Can that possibly be a coincidence?

I have no idea. But if you scroll down in this blog, you’ll see a post which points to new revelations that Shakespeare may have been a secret Catholic. Secret, because England in Shakespeare’s day was virulently Anglican and it could be dangerous indeed to openly profess allegiance to the Pope.

I am not taking sides, mind. I’m simply reading with this notion at play in the background. My senses are alerted to subtle indicators in the text should they appear. Thus, I ask again, Wittemberg? They could be studying anywhere, these two lads. Why in the seat of Luther for crying out loud?

On two occasions in the first five scenes, “marry” is used in an odd way that we do not employ today. Polonius says it when he is speaking to his daughter, Ophelia, cautioning her on the worldy ways of men:

POLONIUS: Marry, well bethought.

And again:

PLONIUS: Marry, I will teach you.

A footnote in my text tells me: “Marry by (the Virgin) Mary (a weak oath).”

Well, okay, fine. What do I know of the practices of Elizabethean England? Besides, Polonius is concerned with his daughter’s chastity and reputation, since she’s been seen setting aside private time with young Hamlet. There is an apt metaphor here that Polonius is playing on.

But then, not one page later, in answer to a question by Horatio, Hamlet says:

HAMLET: Ay, marry, is’t.

And later:

HAMLET: Yes, by Saint Patrick, but there is, Horatio…

Now, I’m not a complete idiot. I recognize that just because a few characters toss a couple odd Catholic references around in speech that may have been perfectly normal 500 years ago, it tells nothing of what religion Shakespeare himself may have been.

I simply throw it out there into the wind, an ah and an oh, for consideration. It seems odd. It may mean nothing. I’m curious how these little moments may or may not accumulate.

I could write a book on the first five scenes alone, they are so profound and inspiring. I have only mentioned the ghost of Hamlet’s father — the elder Hamlet as it were — and a doubling of the younger if in no more than coincidence (which I doubt). For Fortinbras, the Norwegian king whom Hamlet (the younger) slew, was succedded by a younger Fortinbras, who now raises trouble seeking to regain the territory siezed by the Danes.

So the initial watch upon which we met Francisco and Barnardo turns out to be the Danish response to the iminent threat of the Norwegians. But it is at this watch that the ghost of Hamlet’s father appears again for what is the third time.

Shakespare teases us here too because Horatio, good scholar that he is, doubts Francisco and Barnardo’s report until he sees the apparition for himself. Shakespeare hooks us with another of those mini questions: how will Horatio react when he sees the ghost? Will he remain skeptical?

The ghost indeed appears, and Horatio at once accepts it as real. But the ghost teases him as well as us by refusing to speak. He shows up, scares the crap out of everyone, then walks off as the rooster crows the start of the new day.

Another Biblical reference.

Peter denied Jesus three times. I’m sure it means nothing…

I’m rambling, I know. And raving. It’s maddening, just how wondrous this opening to Hamlet is.

I promise to be more structured and organized in the future. But before I go for now and leave you with your next assignment: Act Two due before Tuesday, I can’t leave without waxing on two scintillating dialogues that make me giddy with joy.

Dialogue #1

Between Hamlet and Horatio after Hamlet suffers his mother and uncle’s platitudes in reference to Hamlet’s lingering grief over the death of his father. After appearing docile and obedient, he then lashes out in malevolent glee with Horatio — digs flying left and right like hurled daggers:

HORATIO: I came to see your father’s funeral.

HAMLET: I prithee do not mock me fellow student.
I think it was to see my mother’s wedding.

HORATIO: Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon.

HAMLET: Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven

Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!

The wit and spirit of their friendship bubbles forth. But for those who love language and subtext, it’s hard to beat the sexual innuendo in the speech Laertes gives to his sister Ophelia and her tart response (an excerpt):

LAERTES: Then weigh what loss your honor may sustain

If with too credent ear you list his songs,

Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open

To his unmastered importunity….

To which she replies:

OPHELIA: Do not as some ungracious pastors do,

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,

Whiles like a puffed and reckless libertine

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads

And recks not his own rede.

I like this girl. Man, this is gonna be good!

I haven’t even begun to disect the play’s central question: will Hamlet follow through with his father’s request to avenge his unjust death, even if it means killing his uncle and possibly his mother — whom the ghost bids him to spare?

All this, and more… and we’ve barely gone out the door.