Hamlet–Act III

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There’s been oodles of scholarship done on the “To be or not to be” speech, so I’m only going to reference it. And later.

Notice we open, again, with a staged meeting–only this isn’t for Laertes and the discovering of virtues and vices, but it’s a staging to figure out what in the dickins in going on with our main man Hamlet. Which reveals nothing, so the King wants to send him to England.

Now, the speech I am interested in is Hamlet’s conversation with the players (told you, I’m not going to let them go for awhile), because it is a reflection on what a play does and how it operates. I’m going to block quote it now, and let it speak for itself.

                            …Suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o’erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.(III.ii.19-25)

Earlier, Hamlet also has a line about the players being, “the abstract and brief chronicles of the time” (II.ii.524-525). It’s been awhile since I read Claire Asquith‘s book Shadowplaybut I highly recommend it if you want the “chronicle” of the time, which is much better than I will even try to do here. But there is a rant I want to go on about what this means…

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Onto Claudius’ desire for repentance. There’s a play between inherent character traits and actions going on here–he still has the same vices that brought him to the heinous act of killing his brother, so he cannot be allowed forgiveness for his action. Now, having a vice doesn’t make a person unforgivable–it’s to act upon that vice that makes an action good or bad. I’m not even going to get into the fact that Hamlet won’t kill him because there’s a risk Claudius might go to heaven.

Onto my last point which relates to the players a little bit as well. In the course of conversation with his mother, Hamlet states, “…but heaven hath pleased it so,/To punish me with this and this with me,/That I must be their scourge and minister” (III.iv.175-177). I’m thinking, and this might be over shooting here, that Hamlet might not be in control of his actions as the other characters in this play. The rest are showing “virtue her own feature” primarily by choices made that show the privation of virtue. I spoke earlier about there not being an Oedipus in a Christian understanding of man, but I think I may have been wrong. While the rest of the characters have choice, it seems that Hamlet is operating from something other than himself–he’s fated to commit his actions. They have flaws they can choose to act upon–he has an action he must do.

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I think this explanation may be the cause of Hamlet’s constant rumination on suicide. It’s the only thing that is his choice, if that makes sense. I don’t know how clear my argument is, so I’ll have to think on it a little more.

Much Ado About Nothing–Act V

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I’m never quite sure what to do with the opening of this act, particularly in the question of whether we take Leonato seriously as a herald of truth or if we are to look at him rather foolishly like Polonius giving advice in Hamlet. Is it true that counsel, philosophy, and truth do not provide us consolation in times of suffering? “For there was never yet philosopher/That could endure the toothache patiently” (V.i.35-36). I’m not so sure what to make of it. I could say there are two fools in this play–Dogberry and Leonato, one being superior to the other. Or I could scrap that thought altogether.

Now, the confession of Borachio. While he was merely caught bragging before in Act III, here he actually comes forth with a heart full of repentance. This stems from the phrase of the Friar, “Die to live,” for the only thing I can think of that has changed in the course of the Sexton interviewing Borachio and the present scene is the “death” of innocent Hero. The death of an innocent bringing forth a repentant heart? Smells familiar.

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Benedick was, “not born under a rhyming planet’ (V.ii.39-40), and thus is unable to flatter Beatrice with flowery words. Shakespeare deals with the figures of Leander (who swam a heck of a long way for a lady) and Troilus (don’t get me started, but essentially, he’s a man of all words) as paradigmatic poetic lovers. I would dare to say he prefers a Leander to a Troilus, and Benedick seems more on the Leander side of the argument. Beatrice in the previous act and this one calls Benedick to action, for, “Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome” (V.ii.51-52). Relationship advice from Shakespeare–stop talking about it and do something for your lady. Boom.

This play ends perfectly–Don John is caught, everyone’s getting married, there is singing and dancing, Hero is alive and innocent as ever–and it isn’t an annoying, “Deus ex machina” perfection that cheapens a nice “Happily ever after.” It’s one of the elements that makes me love this play–people convert their hearts to love and truth in a believable manner (not that all conversions are the same, some real-life realizations are sudden and “unbelievable” in their nature) and even Don John isn’t punished until after the joyful activities. I wish I could say more, but I find I am running out of thoughts to express my fangirl-esque love for this play.

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And, truly, to love one no more than reason? It’s humble, it’s honest, it’s true…and it’s quite a compliment. 🙂

Thanks everyone for your patience during my move. Now that I have everything settles and a routine, I will be back to posting like the days of old.