Hamlet, Act III

Welcome back to the third part of our
lesson on Hamlet. Today we’ll be doing Act Three, and I wanted to mention that
this is a very theatrical act. It’s also an act with a lot of spying.
We already saw the players coming in in Act Two, and we saw Hamlet begin to set
up the trap for his uncle the King, what he calls *The Mousetrap*, or the
real play’s name is *The Murder of Gonzago*. And the idea was supposed to be that
when Claudius saw *The Murder of Gonzago* and saw the murder take place that he
would possibly confess, and maybe make it unnecessary for Hamlet to act out the
revenge that he was supposed to act out. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern come in
and tell the King and Queen that Hamlet has asked to see this play and wants them to
attend as well. They also admit they haven’t really been able to get anything
out of him and that’s just sort of the way it is. Moving from talking about this
little play–the real play–there’s another play that happens almost
immediately afterwards. the play is the “get thee to a nunnery scene,” the scene in
which Ophelia is allowed to walk around accidentally on purpose, meet Hamlet, and
then the King and Polonius will see what happens. Now if you think about it,
this is also a little play. There’s directions, there’s a prop–the prayer
book that Polonius hands her–there’s clearly a script, which we’ll get to in a
minute. There’s directions that Polonius gives to Ophelia, and we have the Ophelia
as the actress, or in this case a young boy playing a girl. Now one thing that’s
helpful to know about Renaissance rehearsal techniques or Renaissance
acting is that actors never received a full script the way an actor would today.
They received only their part–their role– written on a piece of paper with cue
lines, and that was all they memorized. If they were fed the wrong cue lines,
they were pretty much stuck. There wasn’t much they could do. And what proceeds to
happen to Ophelia is that Hamlet feeds her the wrong cue lines. The scene
doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to. Let’s look at the way this works.
Polonius and Claudius tell Gertrude that this is what they’re about to do, and
they’re going to watch this. They’re going to be a sort of an audience to
this, and Gertrude says that she hopes that in fact it does turn out to be the
case that Hamlet is mad for Ophelia’s love, because of course that would mean
they could solve the problem and it would also mean that Gertrude is not
responsible. and Polonius gives Ophelia her directions. “Ophelia, walk you here read
on this book,/that show of such an exercise may color–/Your loneliness. We
are oft to blame in this,/ ‘Tis too much proved, that with devotion’s visage/And
pious action we do sugar o’er/ The devil himself.” So he hands Ophelia a prayer
book, suggesting that if she walks around, apparently praying, she must be
incredibly lonely and bored, or otherwise She would never do such a thing.
This also spurs off Claudius’s self-reflection: “O, ’tis too true! How
smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!/
The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art,/Is not more ugly to the
thing that helps it /Than is my deed to my most painted word./ O heavy burden!” This
is the first we’ve heard from Claudius that he’s actually guilty of something,
and unlike Hamlet who has been letting us in on every single thing that he
thinks, maybe almost too much, Claudius really hasn’t given us any kind of an
indication of what his mental process is or what his emotions are. It’s
significant, I think, that we get to know that Claudius really is guilty before
Hamlet truly knows. It’s important for us to know that. Polonius and Claudius hide
themselves behind the arras I mentioned that Polonius seems to have
a thing about hiding behind arrases. An arras is a curtain or a tapestry, and such
a curtain or a tapestry would have hung in the Globe Theatre in the alcove
between the two back doors. This structure becomes very useful to Hamlet
for the two scenes in which actors have to hide behind the arras. Polonius and
Claudius leave, and Hamlet comes in with what is almost certainly the most famous
soliloquy from this play, and probably from Shakespeare itself: the to be
or not to be speech. And Hamlet reflects on whether it’s better to continue alive
or whether it’s better to kill oneself and avoid the problem. It seems to be
that if you do kill yourself, you can actually control your own destiny, which
he hasn’t been able to do very much. But the problem is that you can never
tell– you really don’t know–what’s going to happen after death. “To die, to
sleep;/ To sleep, perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,/ For in that sleep of
death what dreams may come/Wwhen we have shuffled off this mortal coil / must give
us pause. There’s the respect/ That makes calamity of so long life./ For who would
bear the whips and scorns of time, / Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s
contumely, / The pangs of despised love, the laws delay, /The insolence of office, and
the spurns / That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes / When he himself might his
quietus make/ with a bare bodkin?” All of those things that Hamlet just mentioned–
“the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the pangs of despised love”–
those are all things that would be catalysts to a terrible attack of
melancholy and therefore impulsions towards suicide. And the real problem is,
as he says you don’t know what’s coming, after death. “But that the dread of
something after death,/ The undiscover’d country from whose
bourne / No traveler returns, puzzles the will,/ And makes us rather bear those ills we
have/ than fly to others that we know not of.”
Now that’s a very extraordinary thing for somebody to say who has actually
just seen the ghost of his father speaking rather extensively about what
happened to him after his death. It only makes sense if you think that Hamlet
isn’t at all sure that that is a ghost and can’t really rely on that as a
report. Now Ophelia comes in and starts up her little play. He sees a philia and
at this point he just thinks she’s there, she’s praying. “Nymph, in thy orisons / Be
all my sins remember’d.” “Good my lord,/ how How does your honor for this many a day?/ I
humbly thank you: well, well, well.” “My lord,/ I have remembrances of yours that I have
longed long to redeliver./ I pray you now receive them.” So this is her giving back
the letters and various different gifts– the CDs or their Renaissance equivalent–
all those things that he’s given during the course of their relationship. The one
thing that she’s not expecting is [for him] to say that I didn’t give you anything. “No, not I.
I never gave you aught. “My honored lord, you know right well you did, And with
them words of so sweet breath composed/ As made these things more rich. Their
perfume lost, /Take these again, for to the noble mind,/ Rich gifts wax poor when
givers prove unkind. / there, my lord.” Now, Ophelia is not the kind of person who
says “for to the noble mind, rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”
Usually in a Renaissance play when you get that little couplet, it’s very often an indication that the scene is over. It’s a little form of close. And also “rich
gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind”: that’s the kind of proverb that Polonius
would come out with, and Hamlet hears this, and probably this is where he
figures out that this is a setup: that Ophelia herself cannot be saying
anything like this. “Are you honest?” “My lord? “Are you fair?” “What
means your lordship? “That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should
admit no discourse to your beauty.” “Could Beauty, my lord, have better commerce than
with honesty?” “Ay, truly for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty
from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his
likeness. This was sometimes a paradox, but the time gives it proof. I did love
you once.” “Indeed, my lord, you made me believe it.” “You should not have believed
me, for virtue can not so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved
you not.” “I was the more deceived.” Now at this point, it isn’t the way Ophelia was
expecting the scene to go, and also Hamlet seems to be at this point moving
into a different kind of agenda, working out–this next set of speeches are very
misogynistic, which is to say they’re very anti-woman, and they make more sense
if you think about it in terms of him working out his hostility towards his
mother on poor Ophelia, who just happens to wander into the middle of this. “Get
thee to a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself
indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were
better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with
more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to
give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do,
crawling between Earth and Heaven? We are arrant knaves. Believe none of us.
Go thy ways to a nunnery.– Where’s your father?” “At home, my lord.” Opportunity, just
like with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “are you gonna tell me the truth?” Well, no.
“Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in his own
house. Farewell.” And this is the point where Ophelia just decides that
Hamlet is in fact crazy. “If thou dost marry, i’ll give thee this plague for thy
dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.
Get thee to a nunnery. Farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a
fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery,
go, and quickly, too. Farewell.” Now he really keeps saying “farewell,” he’s almost done,
but he keeps coming back. This last time that he comes back, he starts to
fulminate against women. “I have heard of your paintings well enough. God hath given
you one face, and you make yourselves another; you jig, and you amble, and you
lisp; you nickname God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to,
I’ll no more on it. It hath made me mad. I say we will have no more marriage. Those
that are married already– all but one– shall live; the rest shall keep as they
are. To a nunnery, go!” I’ll leave it up to you whether he means all this. A lot of
people think he’s really just trying to protect Ophelia– to shove her away. Some
people think that he’s just really, truly angry at Ophelia. Argue amongst
yourselves. Ophelia has drawn the conclusion that he’s crazy.
You notice the things that he’s been talking about, including especially the
fact that women use makeup, which he finds very suspicious.
Ophelia is very distressed. She thinks he’s completely lost it, and that she is
particularly to be pitied because she believed in him, and she loved him.
Claudius comes in, and he’s pretty sure that this is not love. It doesn’t look
like love the way he remembered it. “Love? His affections do not that way bend. /Nor
what he spake, though it lacked form a little, /Was not like madness. There’s
something in his soul/ O’er which his melancholy sits on brood,/ And I do doubt
the hatch and the disclose/ will be some danger.” Claudius is smart. He says
“this has nothing to do with love. He doesn’t look crazy to me.
He is melancholy. He’s brooding about something. I think he’s dangerous.” and he
comes up with a plan to send Hamlet to England. We’ll get into why he chooses
England in a few minutes. And Polonius says that sounds sensible, except that
he’s really still sticking to his theory about love. And then he informs his
daughter, “How now, Ophelia. You need not tell us what
Lord Hamlet said. We heard it all. So he’s not going to make her reiterate
everything they heard. Isn’t that comfortable. And then it’s Polonius’s
idea “make him be grilled by his mothe,r and
I’ll hide behind the arras, and I’ll hear the whole thing.” By now, you would think
Polonius would get tired of hiding behind arrases, but of course he does not,
and as we’ll see, he hides behind an arras just one too many times. The next scene,
scene two, begins with another famous speech: “speak the speech, I pray you, as I
pronounced it to you trippingly on the tongue.”
it’s Hamlet’s advice to the players. You can read so many other more interesting
comments upon this, except that– and so I will let you do that if that’s something
you want to do, but one thing I’d like to call your attention to is that if this
is Richard Burbage talking about the way that actors should behave, maybe it’s a
bit of suggestion of how a good Renaissance actor would act. On the other
hand, maybe it’s just Hamlet as a patron interfering too much with these actors
who are standing around thinking, “Ok, ok, let’s get on with it; I know my job.”
Hamlet says that he doesn’t like to see overacting and shouting and screaming
that it out Herods-Herod, and the reason he says it out Herods-Herod– he’s making
a reference to the old religious plays. One of the most popular characters in
that play was King Herod. They did Christmas plays, but unlike modern
Christmas plays, the most popular scene was the Massacre of the Innocents, if you
can imagine that, and King Herod is supposed to be played as though he’s “crazy.” He runs
around with a sword, screaming and yelling. We actually have a stage
direction that says, “he rageth up and down.” So Herod would be a real chewing-the
scenery kind of role, and Hamlet says, “you know that? Don’t be like that.” And he also suggests don’t let your
clowns get carried away. Don’t let your clowns talk– you know
stuff say things that are out of the script. That may be a reference to an
actor who had recently left the company. We’ve never been able to absolutely
determine that. Hamlet pulls aside Horatio. Remember I talked about how Hamlet
testing everybody to see who he can trust, and he has decided that he can
trust Horatio, and that the reason he can trust
Horatio is because he’s not ambitious, he’s
not interested in pushing his own way. He’s not… when bad things happened to him
or good things happen to him, they pretty much hit him all the same way. “…blessed
are those/ Whose blood and judgement are so welcome co-meddled/ that they are not a
pipe for Fortune’s finger/ to sound what stop she please.” Now, it’s interesting:
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are associated with both Fortune and also
sounding stops on a recorder– we’ll hear that–so he is not like Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern. “Give me that man/ That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him/
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart/ as I do thee.” So he [Horatio] can be
trusted because he’s not passion’s slave. And then he [Hamlet] says, “I want you to watch my
uncle. I told you the whole thing about the murder. I want you to watch my
uncle. I want you to watch his face.” Partly Horatio is unbiased. He’s not
passion slave, and also maybe Hamlet’s going to be busy watching somebody else. Now
remember that Hamlet said to the players that he was going to have them insert
some dozen or sixteen lines, and the big question is what dozen or sixteen lines is he
talking about? We’ll get to that in a moment.
Hamlet does more of his antic disposition [and] he starts joking with
Polonius he actually asks Polonius if he’s ever acted a role. “My lord, you
played once in the University, you say?” “That did I, my Lord, and was
accounted a good actor.” “What did you enact?” “I did enact Julius Caesar. I was
killed in the Capitol. Brutus killed me.” “It was a brute part of him to kill so
capital a calf there.” That’s an in-joke. *Julius Caesar* had been done about one or two
years previously, and … …Richard Burbage, who played
Hamlet, almost certainly would have played the role of Brutus; the actor who
plays Polonius probably played Julius Caesar. And so this is the actor playing
Polonius saying, “I played Julius Caesar and Brutus killed me,” and the actor who
played Brutus is saying, “Ah, too bad. What a shame.” And of course in about five
minutes the same thing is going to happen.
Burbage is going to kill this guy, probably John [Shanks] Sinklo, so this is one of
those things that was left in there for the original audience, and it’s just fun
to notice things like that. Hamlet also uses some of his opportunity
to underline that he’s “crazy.” He indulges in a lot of loud, inappropriate sexual
talk to Ophelia. “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?” “No, my lord.” “I mean my head upon your
lap?” “Ay, my lord.” “Do you think I meant country matters?” “Ay, my lord.” “That’s a fair
thought to lie between maids legs.” “What is it, my lord?” “Nothing.” “You are merry, my
lord. “Who, I?” “Ay, my lord.” Now, inside this is a lot of jokes about female genitalia, to
be quite blunt: “Do you think I meant COUNtry matters, and also “that’s a fair
thought to lie between maids’ legs” ” “nothing.” Zero.
That’s again a reference to female genitalia. This is very different if
Hamlet’s saying this to her quietly, or if he’s saying this very loudly in front of
the entire Court who are there to see the play. That’s a very shocking thing to
actually do and [ ] it doesn’t take him very long to segue
between this thought of inappropriate sex and how disgusting it is, to
thoughts of his mother, yet again. There are two shows in The Murder of Gonzago. There is a dumb show, and then there is the actual play. The dumb show briefly
enacts the King and the Queen embracing, the murderer coming in, pouring poison in
the King’s ears and then the Queen embracing the murderer. One of the
questions is why doesn’t Claudius react to that? Of course, it’s the same kind of
murder that we saw, and there could be a number of different reasons. Sometimes
it’s staged as though he’s speaking to somebody else, but also it could well be
that it’s the words that make the difference. It could also be that Hamlet
provides a commentary later on. When the player King and the player Queen enter,
there’s a lot of extensive discussion of how long they’ve been married. They say
specifically that they’ve been married for thirty years. That may be a reference
to Gertrude and Hamlet Senior. And the player Queen talks a great deal about
how she’s not interested in remarrying if the king should die. “In second
husband let me be accurst, / None wed the second, but who killed the first…./The
instances that second marriage move/ Are base respects of thrift, but none of love./
A second time I kill my husband dead/ when second husband kisses me in bed.” And
this is the bit that Hamlet keeps adding all kinds of []little
side comments to. “That’s wormwood,” and “if she should break it now!” My suggestion
is this is the dozen or sixteen lines that Hamlet’s inserted–the speeches of
the player queen about how she’s not going to marry, and how she has caused
[ ]this curse to come upon herself–because later he asks his
mother what does she think. Remember at this point,
Hamlet isn’t sure whether his mother had anything to do with this murder, so this
could be a kind of test.” “Madam, how like you this play?” “The lady doth protest too
much, methinks.” “O, but she’ll keep her word.” And Claudius
says, “Have you heard the argument? Is there no offense in it?” “No, no. They do
but jest, poison in jest: no offense in the world. When Claudius asks, “have you heard
it? Is there no offense in it?”, he’s asking Hamlet in his capacity as Master of the
Revels. This would be a job–a real office in Elizabethan and Jacobean times– where
the they were supposed to read through the scripts and watch the rehearsals and
make sure that there was nothing offensive being performed. And Hamlet
says, “Well, how can there be anything offensive? You know it’s only guilty
people that feel offended by what actors do.” And then in comes Lucianus, nephew
to the king. “You’ll notice he’s not the King’s brother. He’s the king’s nephew.
He’s more analogous to Hamlet than he is to Claudius. And then he puts
the poison in his ear. Hamlet doesn’t wait for Claudius to react.
He actually screams out, “A’ poisons him in the garden for his estate! his name’s
Gonzago: the story is extant and written in very choice Italian. You shall see
anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.” “The King rises.” “What,
frighted with false fire?” “How fares my lord?” “Give o’er the play!” barks Polonius.
“Cut it, he says. “Give me some light. Away.” Now is Claudius reacting to the play, or
is he reacting to Hamlet’s narration of the play? It’s hard to say. We never
really know whether the play would have had its desired effect, because Hamlet
has underlined it so strongly. Hamlet’s so thrilled with himself that he thinks
that he deserves a part; a share in a company of players, and he thinks he
could do very well, and then the players come in, and they have these recorders.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell him he needs to go and speak to his mother.
Hamlet answers them ambiguously, and then he says
to Guildenstern, ” Can you play upon this pipe?” Now, a recorder’s very simple. Some of
you may have actually played with one in your grade school music classes. It’s
very easy to make a little tune come through, and Guildenstern says, “I can’t do
it.” “Will you play upon this pipe?” “My lord, I cannot.” “I pray you.” “Believe me, I cannot.”
“I do beseech you.” “I know no touch of it, my lord.” “It is as easy as lying. Govern
these ventages with your fingers and thumbs, give it breath with your mouth,
and it will discourse most eloquent music, Look you, these are the stops.” “But
these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony. I have not the skill.” “Why,
look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. 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 for my lowest note to the top of my compass, and there is much
music, excellent voice, in this little organ, and yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood! Do you think I am easier to be played upon than a pipe?” So Hamlet’s
trying to use this as a way of saying, “If you can’t even play this little recorder,
this little pipe, how dare you try to play on me? How dare you try to
manipulate me?” At this point, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern should probably buy a
ticket for faraway lands and leave no forwarding address, but they’re not
bright enough to do this. He does agree to go see his mother, and he has to
remind himself not to “let the soul of Nero enter [this…} bosom. I will speak
daggers to her, but use none,” in other words reminding himself, “Don’t
kill Mom. Don’t kill Mom. He’s very upset about this.
Polonius says he’ll hide behind the arras again, and again, this is a mistake.
And this is a the first extended time when we get to see Claudius alone. This
is between the time that Hamlet has set off to go and talk to his mother and the
time that he actually gets there. Claudius begins to pray. He has a problem,
which is that he can’t. First of all, he says he’s
committed the “primal eldest curse,” which is the curse of Cain: he has killed his
brother. And the question is, can he repent? This is very much like that
question of double predestination that I mentioned: whether or not people have the
free will to repent and actually turn again to God unless God has decided that
that’s something they can do. On the other hand, Claudius is operating out of
an older system, because he says, “I can’t repent because I’m not sorry. I’m not
sorry because “I am still possessed of those effects for which I did the murder:/
My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.” And it’s usual that you put the most
important thing in the last place like that. He still has the crown, and he still
has Gertrude, and he’s not willing to make restitution, he’s not willing to make
them up: how can he be sorry? And if he’s not sorry, how can he repent? And if he
can’t repent, how can he be forgiven?” He goes down on
his knees, and he tries to pray and Hamlet comes in and
decides maybe he could kill him: he’s got the sword, Claudius is right there,
but he doesn’t kill him, because if he kills him at that point, his soul will go
right to heaven. What he doesn’t realize is that Claudius is incapable of praying.
He misses a perfectly good opportunity because he’s not privy to Claudius’s
thoughts. And so that’s one of the ironies of these things. Of
course, he could kill him now, but it would be a much shorter play, which some
people might say is a good thing. In the Closet Scene, which is the scene where
Hamlet meets with his mother, Polonius says that he’ll be
here. He’ll be behind the arras. And Hamlet starts to interrogate his
mother. “Now, mother, what’s the matter?”/ “Hamlet, thou hast thy father much
offended.”/ “Mother, you have my father much offended.”/ “Come, come, you answer with an
idle tongue.” /”Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.”/
“Hamlet?” “What’s the matter now?” /”Have you forgotten me?” “No, by the rood, not so./ You
are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, /And would it were not so, you are my
mother.”/ “Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can
speak.” /”Come, come, and sit you down; you shall not budge./ You go not till I set
you up a glass where you may see the inmost part of you.” He’s going to force
his mother to sit and hear out what he has to say, and Gertrude worries that
he’s going to try to kill her. “What wilt thou do? Thou wilt not murder me? Help, ho!”
and Polonius, behind the curtain: “What, ho, help!” /”How now, a rat? Dead, for a ducat,
dead!” and he stabs Polonius. This is one of those things where the actual structure
of the Globe really helps this particular scene. You have the tapestry
or the hanging in front of an alcove, and the actor playing Polonius can step way
back into the tiring house. The actor playing Hamlet can stab anywhere he
wants to, right through those curtains, and actually the actor playing Polonius
is in no danger of getting hurt, and then he can tumble forward, be seen to be dead,
and Hamlet can drop the curtain so that he doesn’t have to lie around and
not breathe for the next five or ten minutes. If you’re an actor and you’ve
ever tried to do that, you can see why you might appreciate that. Hamlet’s very regretful that he’s killed
Polonius, and not least for the reason that this would have been a nice chance
for him to kill the King. He thinks it is the King, and that would have meant that
he wouldn’t have had to think about it. Unfortunately, now he’s killed somebody
else. Hamlet also suggests that this is Polonius’s own fault. You spend a lot
of time eavesdropping and sooner or later, you really are in the
wrong place. Hamlet gives his mother a very hard time,
and he chose the two pictures–the picture that he has around his neck of
his father, and the picture that Gertrude has of Claudius–and compares the two of
them. He says that his father had the qualities of
all the gods in him, and that’s what he means when he talks about “Hyperion’s
curls, the front of Jove himself, /An eye like Mars, to threaten and command.” And
then he compares Claudius to his father, saying, “Look you now, what follows. here./ Here is
your husband, like a mildewed ear/ Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you
eyes? Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed and batten on this
moor? Ha, have you eyes? /You cannot call it love, for at your age, /The heyday in the
blood is tame, it’s humble, / and waits upon the judgment, and what judgement/ Would stoop
from this to this?” Now Hamlet’s trying to say, “you’re too old for lust,” and one of
the questions is, how old is Gertrude really? Even if her son is thirty years
old, she may be a maximum of about 45 years old. It is of course every child’s
prerogative to think that their parents are well past it and this is not unusual.
Hamlet really, really seems to be getting on his mother about possibly having
killed his father. Gertrude doesn’t seem to understand what
he’s talking about, so that at least answers that question.
And then he really starts carrying on about her marriage and her sexual
relationship with Claudius. “O Hamlet speak no more./
Thou turn’st my eyes into my very soul,/ And there I see such black and grained spots/
as will not leave their tinct.” “Nay, but to live in the rank sweat of an
inseamed bed,/ Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/ Over the nasty sty!” Well,
that’s about enough, and it’s so much enough that the ghost comes in to
interrupt it. He tries to say, “You know, you’re getting off the track. The idea
was to kill your uncle. The idea was to get revenge. You’re not supposed to go
after your mother.” And the Queen does not see the Ghost, which Hamlet does, of
course. He is “Save me and hover over to me with your wings, /You
Heavenly guards! … Do you not come your tardy son to chide?” Hamlet sees the ghost,
Gertrude doesn’t. Some people use this as evidence that Hamlet
actually is “crazy.” The problem with that is if he were, we wouldn’t see the ghost,
and we see the ghost and so quote “we know it’s real,” and
it’s not unusual for ghosts to be visible to one person and not to another.
We’ve already seen that the Ghost doesn’t speak to anybody except to
Hamlet. The Queen decides he’s “crazy,” and then Hamlet says, “No, you want to
believe I’m crazy. Don’t “lay that flattering unction to your soul,” because
if I am crazy, then all the terrible things I’ve told you about yourself—the
fact that you’re an adulteress and that you’re committing incest–wouldn’t be
true. You wouldn’t repent. You wouldn’t actually change your ways, and that would
actually cause some sort of damage to you. It would sort of… he basically says it would make it fester. And the Queen, who seems to really
love Claudius, has now been stuck in an unconscionable position. She has to
choose between the two of them. “O, Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.” “O
throw away the worser part of it ,/and live the purer with the other half.
So she has to choose and then he says “don’t sleep with my uncle anymore, and
what I specifically want you not to do is tell my uncle that I am not
“crazy.” If you tell him I’m not crazy, then I’m really doomed.” Hamlet tells his
mother, “it’s my job. I can’t help it if heaven has made me “their scourge and
minister.” And Hamlet says, “please don’t give me away,” and Gertrude says that
she will not. “Be thou assured, if words be made of breath, / And breath of life, I have
no life to breathe / What thou has said to me.” And he mentions that he has to go to
England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are going
to go with him. He knows this is dangerous; he doesn’t know the specifics
about why. He drags Polonius off, making some jokes in this
black humor sort of way: “This man shall set me packing. / I’ll lug the guts into
the neighbor room. / Mother, goodnight. Indeed, this counsellor / Is now most still,
most secret, and most grave, / Who was in life a foolish prating knave. / Come, sir, to
draw towards an end with you. Goodnight, Mother!” So Hamlet goes off inalmost
sort of a joke as he drags Polonius off. Gertrude now has to make a choice and we
will see in the next act. what that choice is going to be the next
week we’ll be finishing Hamlet. [This section is not important]. As we’re reading
Hamlet, you may wish to pick out the scene that you’re going to stage at the
end for your final project: this is a good time to do that.
Until next week, this is Professor Melissa Aaron. Enjoy the rest of

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