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

Monday, February 06, 2006

Hamlet #14 - Doth Protest Too Much


(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 twelve posts ago - just scroll down and catch up!).

* * * * * * * * *

Queen: "Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me."

Hamlet: "No, good mother, here's metal more attractive."

Pol (to the King): "O, ho, do you mark that?"

Ham: "Lady, shall I sit in your lap?"

(Lying down at Ophelia's feet).

Oph: "No, my lord."

Ham: "I mean, my head upon your lap?"

Oph: "Ay, my lord."

Ham: "Do you think I meant country matters?"

"Country matters" was an Elizabethan expression for sex. Bardseye would blush far too painfully to disclose the exact etymology, or word history, of this phrase. It's just too filthy. Email me or leave an inquiring comment and I'll tell you. But, you know, not in front of the kids.

Oph: "I think nothing, my lord."

Ham: "There's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs."

Oph: "What is, my lord?"

Ham: "Nothing."

Oph: "You are merry, my lord."

Ham: "Who, I?"

Oph: "Ay, my lord."

Ham: "O God, your only jig maker. What should a
man do but be merry? For look you how cheerfully
my mother looks, and my father died within 's two

Whoops! Is Hamlet becoming one of those guys who brings up the details of his last doctor's visit, or worse yet the resentment he feels towards his mother, when on a date? The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is that Shakespeare is showing how Hamlet's family drama is corroding his relationship with Ophelia, and his ability to trust and respect women generally.

The dirty jokes Hamlet tells are undeniably funny, but Shakespeare connects them to his increasing mania and desperation. Hamlet now feels tightening around him the cursed destiny imposed by his father's Ghost, even as his capacity for personal happiness is blighted by the low conduct of his mother. But something too much of Bardseye in this:

The trumpets sound…..

Enter a King and a Queen, the Queen embracing him
and he her. …He lies him down upon a bank of flowers.
……. Anon comes in another man, takes off his crown,
kisses it, pours poison in the sleeper's ears….. The Queen
returns, finds the King dead…..The poisoner woos the
Queen with gifts… the end she accepts love."

Obviously, the players are re-enacting the murder of Hamlet Senior as alleged by the Ghost, somewhat in the way a cable TV station reenacted the Michael Jackson trial each evening as it was occurring. Of course, we recall that Hamlet added lines, not directions for a pantomime, in order to catch the conscience of the King. In Kenneth Branagh's exemplary movie version of Hamlet, he has those lines performed by Charlton Heston, acclaimed movie star and former president of the National Rifle Association.

Heston is portraying the 1st Player, who is portraying a Player King, whose inserted lines portray King Claudius' murder (not that the 1st Player knows this). The majority of Heston's character's speech is that of a dying Player King persuading his Queen to love again after his death. Shakespeare mimics a more austere form of classical poetry for this speech. This style is done half tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time includes some of Shakespeare's most compelling verse (aye means ever):

Pl. King: "The world is not for aye, nor 'tis not strange
That even our loves should with our fortunes change;
For 'tis a question left us yet to prove,
Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.
But, orderly to end where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own,
So think thou wilt no second husband wed,
But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead."

The Player Queen protests her undying loyalty to her dying husband, of course, before leaving him to enjoy – wait for it – a nap. In the audience (the one on stage), Hamlet turns to his mother:

Ham: "Madam, how like you this play?

Queen: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Ham: "O, but she'll keep her word!"

Hamlet goes on to explain the action in detail, impressing Ophelia with his enthusiasm fo the theater:

Oph: "You are keen, my lord, you are keen."

Ham: "It would cost you a groaning to take off
mine edge."

Bardseye finds himself yet again blushing to acknowledge that Hamlet's comment is exactly as dirty as it sounds. Yes, it is true that Bardseye could skip the dirty bits and spare himself and his readers a good deal of blushing in our shared stroll through Hamlet.

But where would the fun be in that?

To be continued…..

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