Hamlet – Third lecture mutability_ mortality

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					   Hamlet – fourth lecture:
The thematics of mutability and

    “Did these bones cost no more the
    breeding but to play at loggets with
  them? Mine ache to think on‟t.” (V, 1,
           Hamlet and death
Whatever else the play is about – the morality of
    revenge, madness, theater and the world --
 it’s about death.
The visual icon of the play is inevitably a man
    holding a skull and looking intently at it.
And Hamlet seems intensely preoccupied with
    death in all its aspects . . .
. . . and with the instability of human existence.
   Hamlet‟s shock at his mother‟s
     “forgetting” of his father
• The source of his dark vision of reality: a kind of
  moral entropy:
• First soliloquy expresses a longing for death,
  non-existence: I.2.129ff.
• “Frailty, thy name is woman (I, 2, 146).
• And everything seems to follow from this.
• To R & G, the reversal of Renaissance
  celebration of man: “What a piece of work is a
  man . . .” II.4.274.
• “And yet to me what is this quintessence of
• Nothing appears stable, lasting.
• Except Horatio? III, 2, 53ff.
    And death as the end to which
          everything tends
• Hamlet‟s riff on the body‟s decay after Polonius‟
  death, IV.3.
• “Your worm is your only emperor for diet.” (IV.3.
• “. . . a king may go a progress through the guts
  of a beggar.”
• Ophelia‟s madness: “is‟t possible a young maid‟s
  wits should be as mortal as an old man‟s life?”
  (IV, 5, 159-60).
• Ophelia: “Lord, we know what we are, but know
  not what we may become.” (IV, 5, 43)
• Her song: “And will he not come again . . .” (l
Hamlet‟s addition to “The Murder of
• Hamlet asks the player king if he could study a
  speech of “some dozen or sixteen lines” which
  he would write and insert into the play.
• Knowing Hamlet‟s mind, can we find those lines
  in the play as it‟s performed (in III.2)?
• What does obsess Hamlet?
• He‟s certainly struck by his mother‟s “falling off”
  (as ghost calls it).
• Does he also generalize from this to a
  consciousness of the mutability of all human
 Finding Hamlet‟s additions in III, 2
• How long have king and queen in “Murder of
  Gonzago” been married?
• Could Hamlet have made additions to the player
  queen‟s role?
• Player king‟s speech generalizes, makes a
  philosophical principle of the
  mutability, mortality of human love.
• “This world is not for aye, nor „tis not strange/
  That even our loves should with our fortunes
  change/ For „tis a question left us let to prove/
  Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.”
• The player queen‟s vow, ll. 212ff.
          Claudius to Laertes
• Claudius interrupts himself at IV, 7, 105.
• “I know love is begun by time . . . Time qualifies
  the spark and fire of it.”
• “There lives within the very flame of love/ A kind
  of wick or snuff that will abate it, And nothing is
  at a like goodness still . . .”
• Or will Laertes be constant in his desire for
• As inciter to revenge, Claudius becomes for
  Laertes the equivalent of the ghost for Hamlet
      The gravediggers, V, 1
• Who builds stronger than the mason, the
  shipwright, or the carpenter?
• Maybe the gallowsmaker?
• But really the gravemaker – “The houses
  he makes lasts [sic] till doomsday.”
• “Has this fellow no feeling of his
• Should one sing while digging a grave?
  Hamlet‟s meditation on death
• “That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing
• “A fine revolution, an we had the trick to see‟t.
  Did these bones cost no more the breeding but
  to play at loggets with them? Mine ache to think
• Skulls, skulls, more skulls.
• Death as grimly comic: none of these skulls can
  prevent the gravedigger‟s abuse.
• When did the gravedigger come into his
• The very day of Hamlet‟s birth!
• How long will a body last you? Some eight year
  or nine year (especially tanners).
 Death comes closer and closer
• “Here‟s a skull now hath lien you i‟ th‟ earth three
  and twenty years.”
• “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.” All that
  he was is now reduced to this stinking skull.
• Clip from Branagh Hamlet: Billy Crystal as the
• “To what base uses we may return.”
• Alexander or Caesar – the most powerful human
  beings – have turned simply to dust.
• And death comes even closer: “Enter King,
  Queen, Laertes, and the Corpse.”
• “What, the fair Ophelia?”
• Laertes‟ curse of Hamlet, l. 236.
    The culmination of Hamlet‟s
• “I loved Ophelia.”
• And yet his actions have driven her to
  madness and death.
• And does this drive Hamlet to madness?
• And what is his madness but a response
  to all he has seen, understood?
• And to his consciousness of moral
  entropy, mortality.
     Hamlet‟s eventual fatalism
• The return of his sanity, calm, V.2
• “There is a special providence in the fall of a
• And l. 296: “We defy augury . . .”
• “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.”
• A seeming acceptance of the inevitability of
• “Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what
  is‟t to leave betimes? Let be.”
    The symmetries of the duel
• Laertes accomplishes vengeance against
• But ends up dying himself in the process.
• And Hamlet now accomplishes his vengeance
  against Claudius, who will go to damnation.
• Death wins? Simply entropy?
• Laertes: “Exchange forgiveness with me, noble
  Hamlet./ Mine and my father‟s death come not
  upon thee,/ Nor thine on me.”
• And Horatio, the stoic, is entrusted with Hamlet‟s
• Fortinbras? The rash, hotheaded non-entity in
• The futility in the politics of the play.
        “O proud Death . . .”
“ . . . What feast is toward in thine eternal
   cell/ That thou so many princes at a shot/
   So bloodily hast struck.”
The final toll: Ophelia, Hamlet, Laertes,
   Gertrude, Claudius – and finally R & G.
Final scene is a funeral cortege, as all the
   bodies are solemnly taken off.
And finally Hamlet‟s body, borne “like a
   soldier to the stage . . .
“For he was likely, had he been put on, To
   have proved most royal.”

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