Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Reader's Diary #25- William Shakespeare: Hamlet (end of Act 4, Scene 4)

For a tragedy, this is an awfully fun read. I know it's been analyzed to death and there's supposed to be some pretty serious stuff in here, but come on- let's not ignore the humour of it.

I've already mentioned the fun Shakespeare seemed to have toying with the audience about Hamlet's sanity, and that continues further into the play. While at this point it might be easier to believe that Hamlet has been mad all along, or even finally arrived there- it is still possible that he isn't. The "proof" of his madness seems to come when he sees the ghost while talking with his mother. She doesn't see the apparition and is pretty positive that her son has lost touch with reality. He did just kill a man, so it is quite conceivable that if he hadn't already been insane, this might have done the trick. However, it is also possible that the ghost had only made itself known to Hamlet. Earlier in the play others had seen the spirit, so the fact that he sees a ghost at all proves nothing.

But more fun than toying with the audience about what is actually going on, Shakespeare's presence in the play is most amusing. As Hamlet directs the players on how to act the scene he has written, he instructs them on the dangers of overacting. It's hard not to believe this wasn't Shakespeare himself voicing his own beef with overzealous actors. What do you think? Likewise, when Hamlet asks Palonius what he had acted in before, Palonius replies "Julius Caesar." Even if there were a thousand stage versions of Julius Caesar back in those days, Shakespeare had to have known this would be taken as a throwback to his own earlier work. Very cheeky.


Robert said...

Been thinking not only of the mention of Julius Caeser in Hamlet, but the whole play-within-a-play idea.

Do you think this constitutes metafiction?

I know the argument has been made but it seems to me it has been mostly to justify (or bolster) a 20th century interest by finding it in the historical canon...

On the other hand, if we are to believe that Shakespeare's voice intentionally intrudes in the 'overacting warning' then he certainly encourages watchers/readers to become aware that they are engaging with a play or playwright...

But does it matter? Is there a value, or reason (beyond a quick joke), for Shakespeare to want to remind the audience that Hamlet is a play?

John Mutford said...

Yes, after looking up the definition of metafiction , I would have to say it probably is. As for the value of it in this particular play, I'm not sure what it is. To me, I think it lightens it up, makes it more fun. But from the reviews and interpretations of Hamlet that I've read, the "fun" angle seems to have been lost throughout the years. Everything written about it seems awash with overimportant theories about it's psychological theories and the like. It reminds me of the Coca-Cola ad right in the middle of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers . I think that too was meant as a reminder that this is fiction, the point is essentially lost when people discuss the movie.

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