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

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hamlet #15 - Very Like a Whale

(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!).

Oph: "The King rises."

Ham: "What, frighted with false fire?"

Queen: "How fares my lord?"

Pol: "Give o'er the play."

(Exit all but Hamlet and Horatio)
Ham: "O good Horatio. I'll take the ghost's word
for a thousand pound. Didst perceive?"

Hor: "Very well, my lord."

The king, Claudius, has arisen in the middle of the play, just as the Players were reenacting the murder of a king in the manner described by Hamlet Sr.'s Ghost. This is now enough evidence to persuade Hamlet of his uncle's guilt. And how does Hamlet react?

Ham: "Aha! Come, some music! Come, the recorders:
'For if the King like not the comedy,
Why they, belike, he likes it not perdy.'"
Come, some music."

Guild: "Good my lord, vouchsafe me a word with you."

Ham: "Sir, a whole history."Guild: "The King, sir –"

Ham: "Ay, sir, what of him?"

Hamlet is giddy and seemingly out of control. Underneath, we sense a molten outrage at war with a great, expansive and generous nature. An nature he recognizes that he will have to abandon. Guildenstern has been sent by the Queen with a message for this whirling Hamlet:

Guild: "Good my lord, put your discourse into
some frame and start not so wildly…"

Ham: "I am tame, sir. Pronounce."Guild: "The Queen….hath sent me to you."

Ham: "You are welcome."Guild: "Nay, good my lord….If it shall please you
To make me a wholesome answer, I will do your
Mother's commandment….".

Ham: "Sir, I cannot."

Ros: "What, my lord?"

Ham: "Make you a wholesome answer, my wit's

When Guildenstern persists in his request that Hamlet reveal the cause of his "distemper," Hamlet asks Guildenstern to play a recorder. Guildenstern refuses, saying he lacks the skill, prompting this:

Ham: "You would play upon me, you would seem
to know my stops, you would pluck out the heart
of my mystery, you would sound me from my
lowest notes to the top of my compass, and there
is much music, much excellent music, in this little

Presumably because Hamlet has not been brought to the Queen fast enough, Polonius shows up to repeat the request. Of course, Polonius is not one of Hamlet's favorite people:

Ham: "Do you see yonder cloud that almost in the
shape of a camel?"

Pol: "By the Mass and 'tis, like a camel indeed."

Ham: "Methinks it is like a weasel."

Pol: "It is backed like a weasel."

Ham: "Or like a whale."

Pol: "Very like a whale."

Ham: "Then I will come to my mother by and by…".

Exasperated, everyone leaves except Hamlet and, hopefully, the audience in the Globe Theater. It is a tribute to English society around the years 1600 that they responded, or be willing to try to respond, to a play of such strangeness, psychology and depth. While we moderns may rightfully commend ourselves for our advances in science, technology and equal rights, it's hard to resist the conclusion that we have moved backwards in the seriousness and adult nature of our arts. Whoops! A digression.

Anyhoo, Mom's angry, though it is fair to ask why. All Hamlet appears guilty of is excessive high spirits during a play. Queen Gertrude does not know that it was Hamlet who inserted the lines that preyed on the King's guilty conscience – if that even can be considered a fault, since an innocent Claudius's conscience would not have been preyed upon. But soft, for Hamlet is about to round off this hallucinatory scene (you will need to know that Nero killed his mother Agrippina) with a soliloquy:

Ham: ""Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on. Soft, now to my mother,
O heart, lose not thy nature! Let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural;
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites…".

To be continued…..

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Subscribe with Bloglines