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

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Hamlet #20 - My Thoughts be Bloody!

(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!).

* * * * * * * * *

Well who should Hamlet and R&G run across as they venture toward the Danish port but Fortinbras and his somewhat irregular army. We overhear Fortinbras direct one of his underlings to go get the already promised permission of Claudius to cross Denmark on their way to Poland. Homework assignment! Where along the Danish coast would Hamlet and R&G, journeying toward England, be likely to run across Fortinbras, journeying from Norway to Poland? And why did Fortinbras need to cross Norway anyway, instead of just sailing for Slupsk or another town on the Polish coast? Bardseye has read a bit of Shakespearean criticism in his time, but has never seen these issues addressed.

In a sense, one of the key points the story is tending toward arrives right here, in a speech not usually emphasized in productions – although Branagh's Hamlet does recognize it. After all, the careful creation of Fortinbras, laid out in Act I, as identical to Hamlet in being the nephew of a king and son of a slain king, and moreover a king slain by Hamlet's slain king of a father before he was slain, was not done by accident. Fortinbras is Hamlet's shadowing double, like that little French archaeologist in Raiders of the Lost Ark who shadows Harrison Ford, or Quilty to Humbert Humbert for those of you who are Lolita fans, or, um, um. Well, bardseye can't think of any more, and invites his readers to think for him.

Hamlet takes aside a captain of Fortinbras' army, who informs him that the land they are journeying to fight for is puny:

Cap:" Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name…".

What is interesting to Bardseye in the speech is the acknowledgement of the valor and bravery of ordinary men. The commoners of Fortinbras' army, described by Horatio in Act I as "lawless resolutes," have managed to do what reason, philosophy and personal outrage could not. They have hardened Hamlet's will with the example of their own.

Ham: "Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell."

Hamlet without the revelation of his father's murder would undoubtedly have been a prince of some ambition. He looks wistfully at Fortinbras, who can still persuade himself of the importance of so small a thing as a war. Hamlet, after all, has his eyes set on regicide. But he has needed this final push to resolve himself to it:

Ham: "…Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor's at the stake. How stand I, then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds…".

He is at last embarrassed, and perhaps inspired, into action by something that Shakespeare usually offers the slightest of his attention; the common man.

Ham: "…O, from this time forth
My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth!"

To be continued.....

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