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

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Hamlet #18 - The Worser Part of It

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

* * * * * * *

We don't know if it's Polonius' bleeding corpse on the floor, her son's one-sided conversation with her first husband's ghost (visible to Hamlet but not to her) or Hamlet's relentless accusations, but Gertrude finally does repent of her second marriage:

Que: "O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain."

Ham: "O, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half.
Good night, but go not to my uncle's bed…".

Even disbelievers in Freud's gossipy mythology must find something Freudian in this. For those who still doubt, here's more:

Ham: "Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed
Pinch wanton on your cheek, call you his mouse,
And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses,
Or paddling in your neck with his damned fingers…".

Hamlet drags Polonius' body into the next room, even as he reveals that he knows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have sealed letters from the King that they are to take to England along with Hamlet for some trumped up embassy:

Ham: "There's letters sealed, and my two school fellows,
Whom I will trust as I will adders fanged…".

And so the plot thickens. And Bardseye would like to particularly suggest that the contents of those sealed letters of the King now in R&G's possession be borne in mind.

Polonius' somewhat accidental murder is an odd twist in a classic, in fact the classic, tragedy, which is supposed to unwind in a stately inevitable procession leading toward our hero's foreordained demise. Instead we get the wrong guy's guts slathered on the carpet and an unseemly fixation on the part of our hero on his mother's sex life. If Hamlet is so concerned about stopping Gertrude from sleeping with Claudius, why doesn't he just amble down the hall and slip his rapier into the intended royal guts? He's already in a heap of trouble anyway.

If the loose ends are a little less than satisfying for Agatha Christie fans, who want the pattern to unfold, they do reflect the inner life of a man whose threads are unraveling:

We can see how good a job Hamlet has done of turning his mother away from Claudius in the very next scene:

King: "What, Gertrude? How does Hamlet?"

Que: "Mad as the sea and wind when both contend
Which is the mightier. In his lawless fit,
Behind the arras hearing something stir,
Whips out his rapier, cries, "A rat, a rat!"
And in this brainish apprehension kills
The unseen good old man."

Thanks a lot, mom. Claudius realizes it would have been him, had he been behind Curtain #1. Like a Southern Sheriff telling the Brando-esque rebel, "Don't let the sun rise on you in this county, son," Claudius resolves that:

Clau: "The sun no sooner shall the mountains touch
But we will ship him hence…".

At the same time, he resolves to "countenance and excuse" the crime, giving as his reason that it will be laid more upon him for failing to restrain Hamlet than on Hamlet himself. Shakespeare perhaps has Claudius make this decision to leave open to Hamlet the possibility of a compromise with Claudius, though we know in advance that Hamlet himself could never countenance that.

To Be Continued…….

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