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Wednesday, 9 November 2011



Inside Shakespeare’s mind - Hamlet

Very often we fail to understand certain commitments and drastic errors Shakespeare made at different points in all his thirty eight plays. He had in his mind the reasons for the twist he fed into his characters and often placing them in awkward situations that other English playwrights may not have done. Was it intentional? Was it deliberate? Was it on impulse? Was it to mislead his readers? or was it simply for people like us, centuries later, to dwell into his works, go researching and discover the mysteries.

After having said thus, I like to mention that no other English playwright would have placed Hamlet in Denmark. It could have been the other way around, Prince of England.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the highlight in the play.

After the death of his father (King Hamlet) who was poisoned by his uncle, Claudies who married his mother, Queen Gertrude in a bid to ascend the throne since Hamlet who was the rightful heir and who never showed any inclination, Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost in the battlements of the castle at Elsinor and commands him to take revenge so that his spirit will rest in peace.

Stunned by his father’s revelations, Hamlet who had been deeply in love with Ophelia, feigns madness. He is hard on her innocence, a beautiful young girl who had seen only two men in her life, her father Polonius and brother, Laertes had rendered all her love and passion to Hamlet.

Ophelia in a painting by an unknown artist in the shallow pond about to drown herself.

The columnist as Ophelia in the school drama of Hamlet. She chides Hamlet with fury; ‘I was the more deceived’ - Chapter III

Hamlet taking upon himself different stance, starts despising all women, beginning with his mother, Gertrude who married his uncle even before the flowers upon his grave could have withered. No more does he love Ophelia.

Are all women same? He was poised to find out. He enters Ophelia’s closet feigning insanity, terrifying her. Her father questions her:

Polonius - How, now Ophelia? What’s the matter
Ophelia - O’ Lord, my lord, I have been so afrighted:
Pol - With what, I’ th’ name of God?

Oph - My Lord, as I was sewing in my closet, Lord Hamlet with his doublet unbrac’d, No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled. Ungart’red and down-gyved to his ankle. Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other. And with a look so piteous in purpose as if he has been loosed out of hell. To speak of horrors he comes before me. ACT.II, Sc.I

Instead of directing his vent on an innocent girl who was oblivion to what happened, why did Hamlet not charge at his mother, dragged her to the battlement at Elsinor and made her meet the ghost face to face. It would have been more spellbinding rather than display the whole scenario through a street-drama that culminated his death as well as that of Laertes at the end of the play. Ophelia need not have gone to a nunnery or drowned herself.

But in Chapter III, we find Hamlet reprimanding his mother, accusing her tardily, revealing what the ghost said and confronting her. As this takes place, the ghost enters her closet and gets into conversation with him much to Gertrude’s dismay:

Queen - To whom do you speak this?
Hamlet - Do you see nothing there?
Q. - Nothing at all but ourselves.

H. - Why you look there. Look how it steals away My father, in his habit as he liv’d. Look where he goes even now out at the portal.

Q. - This is the very coinage of your beains. This bodiless creating ecstasy is very cunning in... ACT III Sc.IV:

Moving over to Chapter III, we see a revengeful, arrogant Hamlet so unlike his former gentle self, denying Ophelia’s love and tenderness, the young woman whom he wanted to woo.

Ophelia - My honour’s Lord, I have remembrances of yours. And with them words of so sweet breath compos’d.

Are made the things more rich: their perfume lost. Take these again; for the noble mind. Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. There my Lord.

Hamlet - H, Ha. Are you honest.

O. - My Lord?
H. - Are you fair?
O. - What means your lordship?
H. - That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to our beauty.

O. - Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty.

H. - Ay, truly, for the power of beauty will soon transform honesty from what it is to bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness. This was sometimes a paradox, but now the times gives it proof. I did love you once.

O. - Indeed my lord, you made me believe so.

H. - You should not have beli’ved me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.

O. - I was the more deceived.

H. - Get thee to a nunnery. Why would’st 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 offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven. We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy way to a nunnery.

Shakespeare’s aversion for women is apparent even at the expense of a trusting young girl such as Ophelia. Most of his women are arrogant, vicious, treacherous, murderous, homicidal, suicidal and dumb, baring ophelia. What was going in his mind to place Ophelia in such a situation, especially when Ophelia would be orphaned in the following chapters. Hamlet could have been kinder than selfish.

Secondly, driving her to a nunnery, Hamlet reveals his selfishness. If he failed to father a child by her, no one should. Why must he presume that she would bring sinners unto the world like his mother or uncle?

Hamlet reveals his selfish trait even in the midst of high drama most of which he was enduring. Why did Shakespeare make him a victim of his own desires. It is food for thought.

Then suddenly, Hamlet has a change of heart and turns magnanimous with remorse to take on Laertes, rebuke him with venom at Ophelia’s grave site.

He challenges his love for his sister as one brother would but declares his love for her as forty thousand brothers would. Shakespeare places him on a pedestal....but too late. Indirectly he was responsible for her death as well as the deaths of her father and brother.

Why did Shakespeare fail to highlight this point on Hamlet’s character more clearly. Let’s see what the text has to say:

Hamlet - What is he whose grief bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow. Conjures the wond’ring stars, and make them stand.

Like wonder-wounded hearers. This is I, Hamlet the Dane (he leaps into the grave).

Laertes - The devil take thy soul (gripping with him)

H. - Thou pray’st not well. I prithee take thy fingers from my throat. For, though I am not splenitive and ras, yet have I something dangerous, which let thy wiseness fear. Hold off thy hand.

King - Pluck them asunder

Queen - Hamlet, Hamlet;

All - Gentlemen

Horatio - Good, my lord be quiet (they are parted)

H. - Why, I will fight with him upon this theme until my eyelids no longer wag

Q. - O my son. what theme?

H. - I lov’d Ophelia; forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love, make up my sum. What will thou do for her?

King - he is mad Laertes

Q. - For love of God, forbear him... Act. III Sc.I

I remember playing the teenage Ophelia opposite Terry Smith, an exchange-student.

He was six feet tall and resembles Romeo in many ways but he scared me most of the time with his accent.

I found it difficult as much as to get closer to him and to sink into such a tragic role being naive and tomboyish but for reasons unknown, I plucked courage and had the audacity to chide him (Romeo).

The experience had a great impact in my life even up to date. Shakespeare embraced me with so much passion I still cannot shake him off.



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