The metatheatricality of Hamlet - Hamlet – “metatheatricality

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					The “metatheatricality” of
 Hamlet – third lecture

“These indeed seem/ For they are
   actions a man might play.”
      The “metatheatrical” or self-
       referential side of Hamlet
• Perhaps the strangest, most challenging side of
  the play.
• Play-wrighting generally involves creating a
  credible presentation of reality.
• Self-referential moments in a play go in just the
  opposite direction, reminding us it‟s “just a play.”
• Only a supremely self-confident dramatist could
  afford to do this.
• But why would he do this?
• Difference from MND.
   Necessity of seeing play in the
     theater for metatheatrical
       dimension to emerge
• In fact, in Shakespeare‟s own theater.
• Most of the references are to the material
  elements of theater, esp. Elizabethan theater.
• None of it works in film or video
• Unless terms are anachronistically “translated”
  to film, video --
• -- as in fact happens in Michael Almereyda‟s
  version with Ethan Hawke.
• Clip of “To be or not to be” from Almereyda
  Hamlet with R & G in the Globe,
             II.2, 265ff
• “I have of late . . . lost all my mirth . . .
• “that this goodly frame the earth seems to
  me a sterile promontory”
• “this most excellent canopy, the air, look
  you, this brave o‟erhanging firmament, this
  majestical roof fretted with golden fire.”
• All physical features of the Globe.
• How did audience react?
The “sterile promontory”
“This majestical roof, fretted with
          golden fire”
   “The tragedians of the city”
• Leads immediately to R & G speaking of
  the arrival of the players.
• Which immediately cheers Hamlet up.
• And we hear London theater gossip: “the
  late innovation” of children‟s companies.
• “The tragedians of the city” -- the Lord
  Chamberlain‟s Men, who are playing
• They‟re just as good as ever, but . . .
 In the Folio text, p. lii-liii of Pelican
• . . . we hear more about the “late innovation,” “an eyrie of
  children, little eysas.”
• Obviously the children‟s companies had become quite
  popular . . .
• And threatened the adult companies.
• Hamlet seems to voice Shakespeare‟s opinion about
  writers making the kids “exclaim against their own
• Real battles between the playwrights and the players?
• “Much throwing about of brains.”
• “Do the boys carry it away”?
• Ay, “Hercules and his load,” the emblem of the Globe,
  where we‟re standing (or sitting)!
• “The boys” are the Lord Chamberlain‟s company!
    Where in the world (or globe) are
• In Elsinore?
• Or London?
• In Hamlet‟s story?
• Or gossiping about the latest trends in
  London theater?
• At this point who‟s speaking? Hamlet,
  Prince of Denmark?
• Or the actor playing Hamlet?
              The actors arrive
• And are praised by Polonius: “The best actors in the
  world . . .”
• Is he praising the Lord Chamberlain‟s Men?
• Hamlet‟s enthusiastic greeting – and the request for a
  speech, “a taste of your quality.”
• Hamlet begins,
• And the actor takes it up.
• Until Polonius stops it -- because the actor is acting too
• Hamlet‟s soliloquy measures himself against the actor:
  “Is it not monstrous . . .”
• “And all for nothing!/ For Hecuba. What‟s Hecuba to him
  or he to her,/ That he should weep for her?”
• What‟s Hamlet to us, or we to him . . .?
          And Hamlet acts badly?
• He works himself up to some of the worst poetry in the
  play: ll 515-20 (the soliloquy we saw Branagh act in the
  last lecture).
• Which he himself recognizes as bad acting: “Why what
  an ass am I!”
• Which is just the sort of thing he criticizes when he
  speaks to the player, III, 2.
• “O it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-
  pated fellow tear a passion to tatters . . .”
• And Hamlet gives acting lessons to the player, telling
  him exactly what theater is.
• “For anything so overdone is from [counter to] the
  purpose of playing, which is . . .”
• The most extensive discussion of theater and acting
  from the period.
  The pervasiveness of the theater
• In his first appearance, Hamlet refers to acting,
  role-playing: I, 2, 76ff.
• “Seems, Madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems . .
• “‟Tis not alone my inky cloak,” that is, my
  costume, my acting, my gestures, all the ways of
  portraying grief, that denote me truly.
• These seem, these are actions a man might
  play, might act.
• Seems to admit that he is in part acting, but
  insists he has an interior that exceeds this.
   “This fellow in the cellerage”
• At II, 1, 152ff, we hear the “ghost under the
  stage” cry “Swear.”
• And Hamlet jokes, “You hear this fellow in the
• And they move around the stage as the actor
  playing the ghost moves under the stage.
• Hamlet: “Well said, old mole! Canst work in the
  ground so fast?”
• Does this mock the very dramaturgy of the play
    Polonius as Julius Caesar
• Later, in play-within-play scene, we learn
  that Polonius acted in the university, “and
  was accounted a good actor.”
• Says “I did enact Julius Caesar.”
• Against which Hamlet makes a silly joke.
• Guess which play the Lord Chamberlain‟s
  men last performed before Hamlet.
    Can we say what the theater
        metaphor means?
• Is there a linkage implied between “acting”
  and “acting”?
• What does it mean for Hamlet to act his
• What is his part?
• How to act it well?
• When does he act it badly?
• Does he come to understanding of role?
• How to enact the role of revenger?
          “If it be not now, . . .”
• Hamlet‟s fatalism in V, 2, 197, just before the
• The return of his sanity, calm – has he learned
  to act?
• “There is a special providence in the fall of a
• “If it be now, „tis not to come; if it be not to come,
  it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come.
  The readiness is all”
• What does he mean by “it”?
• “Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what
  is‟t to leave betimes? Let be.”
• The role of revenger linked with acceptance of
And finally, Hamlet can ACT?

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