A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Hamlet #13 - Speak the Speech


(Note: Bardseye is currently doing Hamlet, and taking a break from our usual hallucinatory Shakespearean commentary on current events. If you're entering the theater late, Hamlet: Act I, Scene I started ten posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!).

* * * * * * * * * *

Oph: "O, what a noble mind is here o'erthrown!
The glass of fashion and the mold of form,
The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched
That sucked the honey of his music vows
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh…".

Shakespeare needs to impress on the audience that Hamlet wasn't always, to use his own words, "mad north-north-west." Ophelia is in the best position to do this, since she knew him so well, and perhaps intimately, before his circumstances began to so weigh on him.

We need next to recall that the king and Polonius, in the Bard's rather Kafkaesque Denmark, were watching Hamlet and Ophelia's exchange. The king emerges, perhaps with ruffled dignity, from his hiding place:

Clau: "………There's something in his soul,
O'er which his melancholy sits on brood,
And I do doubt the hatch and the disclose
Will be some danger; which for to prevent,
I have in quick determination
Thus set it down, he shall with speed to England
For the demand of our neglected tribute…".

Pol: "It shall do well…".

And so our detective story becomes a double one, as Claudius, seeing volatility and sensing danger from Hamlet (even if he cannot know the cause) begins to self-protectively distance himself from him.

We are just about midway through the play, and Shakespeare may have concluded that he has taxed his audience quite enough, and that they, and we, need a break. And so he gives us a big dose of the other Hamlet, the large-hearted and generous one, here eagerly extending his hospitality, and along with it a makeshift acting lesson, to the players, those visitors to the court who by their occupation can temporarily escape their identities as Hamlet can only dream of:

Ham: "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced
it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it,
as many of our players do, I had as life the town crier
spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with
your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent,
tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion,
you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give
it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a
robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters,
to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable
dumb shows and noise…".

The groundlings were the commoners ushered into a portion of the Globe Theater that lacked chairs. To this day the English working class (the very concept of class, as well, being English) enjoy watching soccer, which they misname football, while standing. Bardseye assumes they have internalized the mistreatment of their ancestors at the Globe. One can imagine the original groundlings' "robustious" response to being directly insulted by Hamlet as "capable of nothing but dumb-shows and noise."

1st Player: "I warrant your honor."

Ham: "Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor. Suit the action to the word, the word to the
action, with this special observance; that you overstep not
the modesty of nature…".

He goes on like this basically forever, interrupted only when audience for the Players' play, and our play-within-a-play, begin showing up. Horatio is among them. Aching for friendship, Hamlet takes him aside:

Ham: "Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish her election,
Sh' hath sealed thee for herself, for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that Fortune's buffets and reward
Hast ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commeddled
That they are not a pipe to Fortune's finger
To sound what stop she pleases. Give me that man
Who is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee. – Something too much of this. –"

Even Hamlet knows he has gone a bit overboard, but he is starving for honest company, which every other character in the play has in one way or another fallen short of providing him. He goes on to confide in Horatio that he has inserted lines in the play which mimic the murder, or alleged murder, of which the Ghost described being the victim. Hamlet wants Horatio to be an unbiased arbitrator in observing Claudius' reaction when this scene is played, before he will regard the case against Claudius as sufficient to act upon.

To be continued….

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