|Written by Administrator|
|Friday, 22 April 2005 06:09|
Kemble as Hamlet: London Drury Lane Theatre, 1785.
Hamlet has a uniquely rich and complex stage history reflecting the fascination which the principal character has aroused in every kind of critic, partly because the exceptional use of his soliloquies draws compelling attention to his elusive subjective identity. The ambiguities of the hero and the plot have opened infinite interpretative options, and it is possible that this diversity provides a challenge deliberately created by the playwright to incite audience interest. After all, like the Oedipus of Sophocles, this play has elements of one of the great literary forms: the detective story. It appears that a major crime has been committed in the state which the hero is compelled to investigate, but in the process he finds that his own integrity is severely challenged by his own involvement in homicide. The recurring uncertainty of proving concealed guilt and of responding to what is uncovered may well be the real subject of both plays, and might be more stressed as a major concern of the play. The play's multiple structure invites this view, since it presents no fewer than four children losing fathers through violence, each responding in significantly different ways: Ophelia by losing her sanity in suicide, Laertes by pursuing injudicious violence against others, and only Fortinbras ultimately surviving to achieve his goals without further crime. One possible production option may be not to surrender entirely to the hero's point of view, but to recognize and enjoy the script's fascinating shifts of tone and situation, while recognizing in the end that, if Hamlet is killed, by that point he has achieved some greater awareness of a less hectic and distraught response to life's vicissitudes than he began with. HMR
Aasand, Hardin L., ed. Stage Directions in Hamlet. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003.
Alkire, N. L. "Subliminal Masks in Olivier's Hamlet." Shakespeare On Film Newsletter 16 (1991): 1, 5.
Bailey, Helen Phelps. "Hamlet" In France: From Voltaire to Laforgue. Geneve: Librairie Droz, 1964.
Barber, Frances. "Ophelia." In Players of Shakespeare, vol. 2, edited by Russell Jackson and Robert Smallwood, 137-49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Barrie, Robert. "Telmahs: Carnival Laughter in Hamlet." In New Essays on Hamlet, edited by Mark Thornton Burnett and John Manning, 83-100. Hamlet Collection 1. New York: AMS, 1994.
Berry, Ralph. "Hamlet and the Audience: The Dynamics of a Relationship." In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance: Essays in the Tradition of Performance Criticism in Honor of Bernard Beckerma, edited by Marvin Thompson and Ruth Thompson, 24-28. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989.
Bertram, Paul, and Bernice Kliman, eds. The Three-Text Hamlet: Parallel Texts of the First and Secdond Quartos and the First Folio. New York: AMS Press, 1991.
Billigheimer, Rachel V. "Diversity in the Hamlets of the Eighteenth Century Stage in England, France and Germany." Hamlet Studies: An International Journal of Research on 'The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke' 11, nos. 1-2 (Summer-Winter 1989): 34-48.
Billington, Michael. "From Time Lord to antic prince: David Tennant is the best Hamlet in years." Review of Hamlet, with David Tennant, Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 2008. The Guardian, London, August 6, 2008, 3.
Bowers, Rick. "Cooke's Hamlet in Performance, 1785." Dalhousie Review 82 (2002-3): 347-63.
Breight, Curtis. "Branagh and the Prince, or 'The Royal Fellowship of Death.'" In Shakespeare on Film: A Casebook, edited by Robert Shaughnessy, 126-44. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Brooks, Jean R. "Hamlet and Ophelia as Lovers: Some Interpretations on Page and Stage." Aligorh Critical Miscellany 4, no. 1 (1991): 1-25.
Brown, John Russell. "Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet." Connotations 2 (1992): 16-33.
Buhler, Stephen. "Double Takes: Branaugh Gets to Hamlet." Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 17, no. 1 (1997): 43-52.
Buell, William Ackerman. The Hamlets of the Theatre. New York: Astor-Honor, 1968.
Calderwood, James L. To Be and Not to Be: Negation and Metadrama in Hamlet. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1983.
Burnett, Mark Thornton. "The 'Very Cunning of the Scene': Kenneth Branaugh's Hamlet." Literature Film Quarterly 25, no. 2 (1997): 78-82.
Campbell, Kathleen. "Zeffirelli's Hamlet—Q1 in Performance." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 16, no. 1 (1991): 7-8.
Canaris, Volker. "Peter Zadek and Hamlet." Drama Review 24, no. 1 (March 1980): 53-62.
Charney, Maurice. "Analogy and Infinite Regress in Hamlet." In Psychoanalytic Approaches to Lit and Film, edited by M. Charney, 156-67. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickenson Press, 1987.
Charney, Maurice. "Asides, Soliloquies, and Offstage Speech in Hamlet: Implications for Staging." In Shakespeare and the Sense of Performance: Essays in the Tradition of Performance Criticism in Honor of Bernard Beckerman, edited by Marvin Thompson and Ruth Thompson, 116-31. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989.
Charney, Maurice. "Hamlet without Words." ELH 32 (1965): 457-77.
Church, Tony. "Polonius in Hamlet." In Players of Shakespeare: Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Twelve Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, edited by Philip Brockbank, 103-14. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Coursen, Herbert. "A German Hamlet." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 11, no. 1 (1986): 4.
Cross, Brenda, ed. The Film "Hamlet": A Record of its Production. London: Saturn Press, 1948.
Davison, Richard Allan. "The Readiness Was All: Ian Charleson and Richard Eyre's Hamlet." In Shakespeare: Text and Theater: Essays in Honor of Jay L. Halio, edited by Lois Potter and Arthur F. Kinney, 170-82. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1999.
Dawson, Anthony B. Hamlet. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, New York: Manchester University Press, 1995.
Dent, Alan, ed. "Hamlet": The Film and the Play. London: World Film Publications, 1948.
Duffy, Robert A. "Gade, Olivier, Richardson: Visual Strategy in Hamlet Adaptation." Literature/Film Quarterly 4 (1976): 141-52.
Edwards, Philip, ed. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New Cambridge Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Ehrlich, Jeremy. "The Search for the Hamlet 'Director's Cut.'" English Studies 83 (2002): 399-406.
Furness, H. H. "The Hamlet of John Barrymore." The Drama (March 1923): 207-8, 230.
Furness, H. H., ed. Hamlet. Variorum Edition, 2 volumes. London; Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1905
Gay, Jane de. "Playing (with) Shakespeare: Bryony Lavery's Ophelia and Jane Prendergast's I, Hamlet." New Theatre Quarterly 14 (1998): 125-38.
Gianakaris, C. J. "Stoppard's Adaptations of Shakespeare: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth." Comparative Drama 18 (1984-85): 222-40.
Gibinska, Marta, and Jerzy Limon, eds. Hamlet: East-West. Gdansk: Theatrum Gedanense Foundation, 1998.
Gilder, Rosamond. John Gielgud's Hamlet: A Record of Performance; With Notes on Costume, Scenery, and Stage Business by John Gielgud. New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1937.
Glick, Claris. "Hamlet in the English Theater—Acting Texts from Betterton (1676) to Olivier (1963)." Shakespeare Quarterly 20, no. 1 (1969): 17-35.
Golder, John. "Hamlet in France 200 Years Ago." Shakespeare Survey 24 (1971): 79-86.
Goldman, Michael. "Hamlet: Entering the Text." Theatre Journal 44 (1992): 449-60.
Gorfain, Phyllis. "Toward a Theory of Play and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet." Hamlet Studies 13 (1991): 25-49. [Reprinted in Donald Keesey, Contexts for Criticism (1994) and in Ronald Knowles, Shakespeare and Carnival: After Bakhtin (1998).]
Gregory, Michael. "Hamlet's Voice: Aspects of Text Formation and Cohesion in a Soliloquy." Forum Linguisticum 7 (December 1982): 107-22.
Guntner, Lawrence. "Expressionist Shakespeare: The Gade/Nielsen Hamlet (1920) and the History of Shakespeare on Film." Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 17, no. 2 (Winter-Spring 1998): 90-102.
Guthrie, Tyrone. "Hamlet at Elsinore." London Mercury 213 (July 1937): 246-9.
Halio, Jay. "Three Filmed Hamlets." Literature Film Quarterly 1 (1973): 316-20.
Halverson, John. "The Importance of Horatio." Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 57-70.
Hansen, Niels Bugge. "Be As Ourself in Denmark: Hamlet in Performance at Kronborg Castle, Elsinore." Angles on the English-Speaking World 10 (1997): 5-16.
Hapgood, Robert, ed. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Shakespeare in Production. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Hardesty, Susan M. "David Garrick's Adaptation of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark." Gypsy Scholar: A Graduate Forum for Literary Criticism 6 (1979): 93-100.
Hassall, Anthony J. "Fielding and Garrick's Hamlet." Studies in the Eighteenth Century 4 (1979): 147-65.
Hibbard, George, ed. Hamlet. Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Holland, Peter. "Hamlet and the Art of Acting." In Drama and the Actor, edited by James Redmond, 39-61. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Holland, Peter. "Hamlet: Text in Performance." In Hamlet, edited by Peter J. Smith and Nigel Wood, 55-82. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1996.
Hu, John. "Adapting Shakespearean Plays into the Chinese Opera: Pitfalls as Exemplified by Hamlet." Studies in Language and Literature 5 (October 1992): 95-104.
Impastato, David. "Zeffirelli's Hamlet: Sunlight Makes Meaning." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 16 (1991): 1-2.
Jackson, Russell. "Another Part of the Castle: Some Victorian Hamlets." In Images of Shakespeare, edited by Habicht Werner et al. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988.
Jackson, Russell. "Kenneth Branaugh's Film of Hamlet: The Textual Choices." Shakespeare Bulletin 15, no. 2 (1997): 37-38.
Jensen, Michael. "Mel Gibson in Hamlet." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 15, no. 2 (1990): 1-2, 6.
Johnson, Jeffrey. "Sweeping up Shakespeare's 'Rubbish': Garrick's Condensation of Acts IV and V of Hamlet." Eighteenth Century Life 8, no. 3 (May 1983): 14-25.
Jones, Ernest. Hamlet and Oedipus. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1949.
Jorgens, Jack. "Image and Meaning in the Kozintsev Hamlet." Literature Film Quarterly 1 (1973): 307-15.
Kaaber, Lars. Staging Shakespeare's "Hamlet": A Director's Interpreting Text Through Performance. Lewiston, NY: Edward Mellin, 2006.
Klein, Holger, and Dimiter Daphinoff, eds. Hamlet on Screen. Shakespeare Yearbook 8 (1997).
Kliman, Bernice. "A Palimpsest for Olivier's Hamlet." Comparative Drama 17 (1983): 243-53.
Kliman, Bernice. "'Enter Hamlet': A Demythologizing Approach to Hamlet." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 15, no. 1 (1990): 2, 12.
Kliman, Bernice. Hamlet: Film, Television and Audio Performance. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses,1988.
Kliman, Bernice. "Swedish Hamlet Bursts into View." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 11, no. 2 (1987): 1, 4.
Kliman, Bernice W. "Hamlet Productions Starring Beale, Hawke, and Darling from the Perspective of Performance History." In A Companion to Shakespeare's Works, vol. 1, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, 134-57. Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.
Kliman, Bernice. "Olivier's Hamlet: A Film-Infused Play." Literature-Film Quarterly 5 (1977): 305-14.
Kliman, Bernice W. "The BBC Hamlet: A Television Production." Hamlet Studies 4, nos. 1-2 (1982): 99-105.
Kliman, Bernice W. "The Spiral of Influence: 'One Defect' in Hamlet." Literature/Film Quarterly 11 (1983): 159-65.
Kott, Jan, and Marek Mirsky. "On Kozintsev's Hamlet." Literary Review 22, no. 4 (Summer 1979): 385-407.
Lehmann, Courtney, and Lisa S. Starks. "Making Mother Matter: Repression, Revision, and the Stakes of 'Reading Psychoanalysis into' Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet." Early Modern Literary Studies 6, no. 1 (2000): 2-24.
Levenson, Jill. "At Last, an American Hamlet for Television." Literature/Film Quarterly 20 (1992): 301-07.
Lewes, George Henry. "Alive or Dead?: Fechter in Hamlet and Othello." Cambridge Quarterly 14 (1985): 76-92.
Loney, Glenn. Hamlet Through the Ages. London: Rockliff, 1952.
Lusardi, James P. "Hamlet on the Postmodernist Stage: The Revisionings of Bergman and Wajda." Hamlet Studies: An International Journal of Research on 'The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke' 19, nos. 1-2 (Summer-Winter 1997): 78-92.
McGuire, Philip C. "Bearing 'A wary eye': Ludic Vengeance and Doubtful Suicide in Hamlet." In From Page to Performance: Essays in Early English Drama, edited by John Alford, 235-53. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.
Maher, Mary Z. Modern Hamlets. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1992.
Mander, Raymond, and Joe Michimson. Hamlet Through the Ages: A Pictorial Record From 1709. London: Rockliff, 1952.
Matsuoka, Kazuko. "Metamorphosis of Hamlet in Tokyo." In Hamlet and Japan, edited by Yoshiko Uéno, 227-37. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995.
Mills, John A. Hamlet on Stage: The Great Tradition. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.
Morrison, Michael A. "John Barrymore's Hamlet at the Haymarket Theatre 1925." New Theatre Quarterly 27 (August 1991): 246-60.
Müller, Heiner. Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage, edited and translated by Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1984.
Murakami, Takeshi. "Shakespeare and Hamlet in Japan: A Chronological Overview." In Hamlet and Japan, edited by Yoshiko Uéno, 239-303. Hamlet Collection 2. New York: AMS, 1995.
Naikar, Basavaraj. "Raktaksi: An Example of a Cultural Adaptation of Hamlet." Hamlet Studies: An International Journal of Research on 'The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke' 22 (2000): 110-23.
Nightingale, Benedict. "Who's there? A new Hamlet takes the stage"; "Prince Who: David Tennant is introducing Shakespeare to new audiences"; "Quantum leap to a great classical role is just what Doctor Who ordered." Reviews of Hamlet, with David Tennant, Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 2008. The Times, London, August 6, 2008, 1, 2, 19.
Palmer, John. "Hamlet in Modern Dress." Fortnightly Review 2 (November 1925): 675-83.
Pennington, Michael. "Hamlet." In Players of Shakespeare: Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Twelve Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company, edited by Philip Brockbank, 115-28. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Pennington, Michael. Hamlet: A User's Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.
Perret, Marion. "Kurosawa's Hamlet: Samurai in Business Dress." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 15, no. 1 (1990): 6.
Phelps, Henry P. The Stage History of Famous Plays: "Hamlet" From the Actor's Standpoint: Its Representatives and a Comparison of Their Performances. New York: Edgar S. Weiner (Folger), 1890.
Quinn, Edward. "Zeffirelli's Hamlet." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 15, no. 2 (1990): 1-2, 12.
Rafferty, Terrence. "Zeffirelli's Hamlet." The New Yorker, 11 February, 1991, 11.
Robinson, Randal F. Hamlet in the 1950s: An Annotated Bibliography. Garland Shakespeare Bibliographies. London: Taylor Francis, 1984.
Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992.
Ross, Valerie. "Hamlet." Review of Hamlet, directed by Risa Brainin, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, 2003. Shakespeare Bulletin 22, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 86-8.
Rossi, Alfred. Minneapolis Rehearsals: Tyrone Guthrie Directs "Hamlet". Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
Salmon, Eric. "Why Mr Marowitz Is Wrong: A Comment on the Marowitz Versions of Hamlet and Macbeth." Wascana Review 6, no. 2 (1972): 16-25.
Senelick, Laurence. Gordon Craig's Moscow "Hamlet": A Reconstruction. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1982.
Shattuck, Charles H. The Hamlet of Edwin Booth. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1969.
Showalter, Elaine. "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism." In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, edited by Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Harriman, 77-94. London; New York: Methuen, 1985.
Sokolyansky, Mark. "Grigori Kozintsev's Hamlet and King Lear." In Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, edited by Russell Jackson, 199-211. Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Spencer, Charles. "Thrills abound in Doctor Who Hamlet." Review of Hamlet, with David Tennant, Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 2008. Daily Telegraph, London, August 6, 2008, 3.
Stern, Tiffany. "Hamlet and Performance in Early Modern London." English Review 10, no. 2 (1999): 2-5.
Stone, G. W. "Garrick's Long Lost Alteration of Hamlet." PMLA 49 (September 1934): 890-921.
Styan, J. L. "On Seeing Hamlet in Performance." Hamlet Studies 9 (1987): 9-20.
Hamlet at Talkin' Broadway.
Taylor, Gary. "Hamlet in Africa 1607." In Travel Knowledge: European "Discoveries" in the Early Modern Period, edited by Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna Singh, 223-48. Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: Palgrave, 2001.
Taylor, Lark. Promptbooks for John Barrymore's Hamlet, 1922-23 at Washington: Folger Library,
Taylor, Paul. "Doctor who? David Tennant captivates as Hamlet. This Danish prince excels as the wry, prankish provocateur." Review of Hamlet, with David Tennant, Royal Shakespeare Company, Courtyard, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 2008. The Independent, London, August 6, 2008, 10-11.
Thompson, Ann, and Neil Taylor, eds. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. [Quarto 2.] Arden Shakespeare. London: Arden, 2005.
Thompson, Ann, and Neil Taylor, eds. Hamlet: The Texts of 1603 and 1623, by William Shakespeare. [Quarto 1 and Folio 1.] Arden Shakespeare. London: Arden, 2006.
Trewin , J. C. Five and Eighty Hamlets. London: Hutchinson, 1987; New York: New Amsterdam, 1989.
Urkowitz, Steven. "'Well-sayd olde Mole': Burying Three Hamlets in Modern Editions." In Shakespeare Study Today: The Horace Howard Furness Memorial Lectures, edited by Geogianna Ziegler. New York: AMS Press, 1986.
Ward, David. "The King and Hamlet." Shakespeare Quarterly 43, no. 3 (Autumn 1992): 280-302.
Watkins, Ronald, and Jeremy Lemmon. Hamlet. In Shakespeare's Playhouse. Newton Abbot, England: David and Charles; Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974.
Weller, Philip. "Freud's Footsteps in Films of Hamlet." Literature-Film Quarterly 25, no. 2 (1997): 119-24.
Werstine, Paul. "The Textual Mystery of Hamlet." Shakespeare Quarterly 39, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 1-26.
Wheale, Nigel. "Culture Clustering, Gender Crossing: Hamlet Meets Globalization in Robert Lepage's Elsinore." In Shakespeare and His Contemporaries in Performance, edited by Edward J. Esche, 121-35. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000.
Wilds, Lillian. "On Film: Maxmillian Schell's Most Royal Hamlet." Literature/Film Quarterly 4 (1976): 134-40.
Wilson, Luke. "Hamlet: Equity, Intention, Performance." Studies in the Literary Imagination 24, no. 2 (1991): 91-113.
Wilson, Robert F. "Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be or Shakespeare Mangled." Shakespeare on Film Newsletter 1 (1976): 2-3, 6.
Yang, Sharon R. "The Truth Is Out There in Elsinore: Mulder and Scully as Hamlet and Horatio." Literature/Film Quarterly 32 (2004): 97-107.
Young, Alan R. Hamlet and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003.
Hamlet: Russian actors Nikolai Massalitinov as Claudius and Olga Knipper (wife of Anton Chekhov) as Gertrude, production by Edward Gordon Craig and Constantine Stanislavsk (1911).
HAMLET AND ITS AUDIENCES
T. S. Eliot called Hamlet the Mona Lisa of drama (Selected Essays, 124), claiming that Shakespeare had overworked it without achieving a finished artifact, by which he seems to have meant one that neatly matched some formula such as only a Freudian could rationalize. In fact, structurally Hamlet matches one of the oldest and most effective plot lines in literary history, which we now see most often in the form of the detective story, as W. H. Auden has argued. A crime has been committed and some more or less well-meaning figure feels obliged to identify the criminal, prove guilt, and secure punishment. The pattern is at least as old as the Oedipus of Sophocles, which already involved the ironic twist of the investigator of a regicide discovering that he himself is the murderer he is pursuing. Hamlet has a similarly tortuous pattern: an intuition that the king his father was murdered by his usurping uncle encourages Hamlet to seek revenge, but he hesitates because the hallucination reinforcing his intuition does not present sufficient proof of his uncle's guilt. Hamlet defers justice while seeking to precipitate proof by increasingly provocative behavior, but accidentally kills his girlfriend's father in the mistaken belief that he has caught the king in a compromising position. At this point the pursuer of a murderer has himself become a homicide and in turn suffers the consequence of a diabolic revenge, which provides the proof he needs to justify the killing of his uncle. But in pursuing his own vengeance in response to the plot to kill him, he also kills his now-dead girlfriend's brother, and himself barely succeeds in executing his uncle before his own delayed death from poison. Like that of Oedipus, this story now looks like an orthodox Aristotelian tragedy of a gifted man falling to ruin through an error, in this case the mistaken killing of his potential father-in-law through excessive zeal. The high tally of resulting deaths (including the hero's mother, through another misdirected poisoning device of the uncle) leaves a shattering situation at the play's end, one depressing enough to ensure the negative feelings in the audience which Aristotle solicits from his ideal tragedy: empathy for the failed hero and fear of undergoing any similar experience. There seems little opportunity for the positive feelings evoked by the dual mode of tragedy preferred by Cinthio and Lope de Vega, that of tragedy with happy endings.
It is in this context that Eliot's complaint provides an avenue of escape from the rigorous Aristotelian formula. The play is indeed not tightly constructed and its digressions and variants tend to go off at so many tangents to the core story that the whole complex can be treated as a gigantic Rorschach test which can be interpreted any way one wants. This already achieves some of the audience involvement sought by Castelvetro, Cinthio, and Lope: the audience takes delight in achieving an interpretation transcending that allowed to the characters by the script. This satisfaction can be seen in the triumph of Ernest Jones and his followers in finding some ingenious kind of Freudian interpretation, or in the self-satisfaction of any other critic who believes he has found a definitive interpretation. In view of this consideration perhaps one might simply say that Shakespeare complicates his play deliberately to the point that almost any reasonable approach might seem to clarify the action somewhat, so that everyone, no matter what the assumptions, can achieve the pleasure of creating a plausible hypothesis. This would explain the multitude of conflicting interpretations historically accumulated by commentators, and might well be considered the terminating point for any critical discussion. In these terms no interpretation could ever be correct, since no possibility of solution was ever intended by the playwright; absolute impenetrability open to infinitely fascinating speculation was always his artistic aim.
The trap seems so well-designed for this purpose that avoidance of entrance is nearly impossible for an enthusiastic critic, though one may consider Cinthio and Lope as guides to its methods. For example, one may wonder why Purgatory and other Catholic terms are so frequent in the script while Hamlet is repeatedly identified as coming back to Denmark from the noted Reformation university of Wittenberg, where Luther established himself shortly after its foundation. In fact "Shakespeare and Catholicism" is the current fashionable topic among most Shakespeareans so there have been dozens of books published about Shakespeare's religion, which bear on the degree of Christianity registered in the world of Hamlet. Most agree religious implications are at least latent. One of the earlier of these studies, Eleanor Prosser's Hamlet and Revenge! suggests revenge is unchristian whatever one's denomination, and that the play establishes this as an issue in Hamlet's hesitation about killing the usurper. Michael Wood's BBC Shakespeare program is remarkably committed to the new view that Shakespeare was a covert Catholic as the play's allusions suggest. This issue was first broached by scholars like Peter Millward (The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays, etc.), and gains some reinforcement from E.A.J. Honigman, Shakespeare: the 'Lost Years', and Roy Battenhouse, Shakespearean Tragedy: Its Art and Christian Premises. One currently fashionable analyst of this issue is Stephen Greenblatt who has abandoned New Historicism for the religious bandwagon in focusing his book on the issue of Purgatory in Hamlet, but he is so personally hostile to Christianity that his work may be misleading for any deeper investigation.
For my own views about this tempting issue, I think that, like most Elizabethans, Shakespeare remained saturated in Catholic tradition whatever his formal commitment. He was surrounded by people who had been Catholics like his parents, and his mother's whole family the Ardens, not to mention the Earl of Southampton (see Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580). As for Wittenberg, it was a newly founded university associated closely with Luther and the play's references are therefore quite significant. I see Hamlet as the new Puritan crashing into corrupt "ancien régime" Denmark, which would be more or less Catholic in a decadent kind of way, just as Angelo is going to reform corrupt Catholic Vienna in Measure for Measure. However, there is a further complication in that Shakespeare likes to telescope cultural history. King Lear is an ancient, pre-Roman British king, but Edgar was one of the great Anglo-Saxon kings a millennium later (as are names like Edmund, Oswald, etc. discussed in the later chapter on this play). Old Hamlet appears to be largely a pre-Christian Scandinavian monarch, dressed like Beowulf and committed to primitive rituals such as trial by duel: despite his hints of impending Christianity, his call for revenge seems pagan, even diabolic, as his son senses. So in one way the play is also about the need for the coming of Christian pacifism to the old revenge-structured pagan culture of Scandinavia, reflected in the brutal saga which is its ultimate source. By this view, young Hamlet aspires to reform Denmark in two senses, first in rejecting the heroic pagan values of the old sagas, and secondly as a Reformation Puritan repudiating the degenerate morals of much late medieval society. I think the play works well in both terms. So Hamlet is a reformer against his father's revenge culture, and also against the increasingly Machiavellian culture of old Catholic Europe, as reflected by his ambivalent uncle, a Borgia-like figure.
Perhaps this confident analysis merely illustrates my own entrapment into happily "explaining" Hamlet, but it may serve somewhat to heighten a sense of the multilayered structure of the play and its potential resonances with the playwright's own circumstances and the religious conditions at the time. It may even have been expedient for Shakespeare to confuse any theological framework for his play, for references to religion on stage were forbidden by the government, as we can see in the dropping of all Christian allusions found in the first quarto of Richard III in later editions of it after the edict was promulgated in 1606. Nevertheless, the play affords a genuine challenge to the audience to evaluate the behavior and motivations of young Hamlet through considering such issues as whether he is really mad, or just acting provocatively under stress, an issue complicated by the example of a more involuntary madness in Ophelia. If registered accurately and fully, the script is not just about Hamlet's situation and options for revenge, but about what happens to several young people whose fathers are killed, for this includes no fewer than four characters: Hamlet, Fortibras, Ophelia, and Laertes. This multiple situation further entangles audiences in debates about moral interpretation of the plot. Such uncertainty has proved so irresistible that the UC Shakespeare Forum at one point held a trial of Hamlet, based on evidence cited from the play by the cast of a production of Hamlet at the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival, and presided over by Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge John Noonan (also an expert in canon law). The jury of about sixty UC Shakespeareans cleared Hamlet of the charges of treason and sexual harassment, but did find him guilty of homicide.
There can be no doubt that Shakespeare intended Hamlet to attract the sympathy of audiences substantially. This effect is the inevitable outcome of his numerous soliloquies, which tend to involve any audience in his point of view. Many years ago I saw a very youthful Hamlet at UC Irvine (directed by Robert Cohen) actually sit down on the edge of the stage and talk directly to the audience about his problems—the effect was staggeringly intimate and cathartic, though totally against both neoclassical decorum and Coleridgean suspension of disbelief. However, it made absolutely clear that the play was not a problem itself, but about problems: the nature of proof of guilt, the authority to impose justice, the validity of recourse to violence, not to mention the extent of children's dutifulness. Curiously enough, while Getrude is another of Shakespeare's obsessive mothers, like Constance and Volumnia, the issue of perverse mother-son relations hardly arises until the age of Freud. Hamlet's attack on his mother's sexuality appears more a part of his campaign to discredit and discomfort Claudius than an expression of personal possessiveness. At no point is there the least indication of physical exploitation in Hamlet's concern for his mother. In the sixteenth century, the issue of a man's marriage to his deceased brother's wife was not a morbid preoccupation of stage character, but the issue which decided the fate of England, for it was the occasion of Henry VIII's divorce from Katherine of Aragon, a specific which Shakespeare was to take up in due course in All Is True.
Another crucial aspect of the play's complexity is the play within the play, a favorite device of Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen, not to mention the innumerable artificial events like Lear's mock trial of his daughters and the misleading dialogue which Iago stages with Cassio to confuse Othello. Why is Shakespeare so concerned with such demonstrations of artifice if not to distance his audiences from the emotions on stage, just as he makes Macbeth and Cleopatra at their moments of crisis allude directly to actors misplaying their roles? By using such alienation effects, Shakespeare must want a poised and thinking audience pleased by its intellectual and emotional superiority to the characters on stage, not an agonizing empathic one such as postulated by Aristotle. If this seems an imposition on this text, one has only to look at the behavior of Shakespeare's on-stage audiences to get clues about how he may expect the offstage audience to react. In A Midsummer Night's Dream the court audience on stage openly evaluates the inadequacy of the players of Pyramus and Thisbe to the point of direct discussion with them about whether their acting procedures are acceptable. The same open disruption of stage reality appears in the court's treatment of the Pageant of The Worthies in Love's Labour's Lost. Shakespeare's choruses, prologues and epilogues to scripts like Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, As You Like It, Pericles and Henry VIII all establish a similar open mutual awareness between casts and audiences for the full plays themselves.
These examples invite similar exploration of the handling of the two prominent performances staged within Hamlet: the speech of Pyrrhus from a supposedly neglected and unsuccessful Trojan play (analogous thus to Troilus and Cressida), and The Murder of Gonzago. These enactments are set in a context of sustained discussions of the theatre profession and acting techniques which elaborately remind every audience that they are watching a demonstration of professional skills, not surrendering credulously to self-projection into the action. The technical discussion invites us to compare the performance of the stage actors within the play to acts performed in "real life" on- or off-stage in terms of the play's world: staged re-enactments are obviously always remediable, the others are terrifyingly definitive. The Murder of Gonzago is treated by Hamlet as a purely artificial event in which he can directly intervene, just like courtiers with the performances in other Shakespearean plays within plays. Nevertheless, Claudius reacts physically to the enactment, since he leaves. Is this because we are to think that he believes he is seeing a real murder on stage? Surely not. He has supposedly applied the issue raised by the staged murder to his own previous experience, as we see in his later soliloquy exploring his life-circumstances (3.3). The relationship to his personal actions is exact, as his subsequent analytic soliloquy illustrates: in terms of the play's world, Claudius has become more aware of his own situation via the recreated one. So the point of such a play's relation to its audience may be to arouse awareness of an issue, leading to analysis and discussion of how to deal with related specific (not archetypal) experiences. Mere random emotional thrills are for horror movies and literal pot-boilers like Titus Andronicus or Disney World rides.
This rational outcome may be confirmed by examination of the effect of the Pyrrhus speech, which at first seems one of those needless digressions from the essential plot line that make the play overlong. On the contrary, it is another of these multiple analogues to the play's main story line that enrich and diversify the discussions it is designed to arouse. One of the issues most discussed about the whole play is Hamlet's long delay in effective action that has invited eager speculation about what identifiable cause for it was intended by Shakespeare. In fact Hamlet frequently expresses doubts about the moral authority of his father's ghost:
The spirit that I have seen
The analogue of the evil effects of the weird sisters in Macbeth is surely relevant grounds for accepting the validity of Hamlet's doubts. Even the exact meaning of the departure of Claudius from Hamlet's play also remains subject to interpretation: a director can make the behavior so extravagant that it becomes fair evidence of guilt, but the script remains ambiguous, despite Hamlet's initial confidence about it as solid proof. Soon thereafter (3.3.73-96), whatever his momentary rationalization for it, Hamlet again hesitates to kill Claudius.
What is startling about the Pyrrhus speech is how its compressed action mirrors Hamlet hesitating to kill the king. Pyrrhus also seeks to kill his enemy Priam, King of Troy:
One cannot but be struck by the short line, "Did nothing," that leaves a metrical gap matching the pause in the action. Even the obsessed Pyrrhus hesitates before this last, fatal stoke, in which he matches Hamlet's own delay before an irrevocable act, which comparably gives Denmark over to the rule of its enemy. By contrast, the Norwegian Fortinbras has been forced to take his time over revenge and thereby secures retribution without even striking a blow. Inaction leads to success. The allusion to the Cyclops in the Pyrrhus speech subtly reinforces this crucial point, because at first sight his hammer blow is what counts, but in fact the revolt of the Titans against the gods failed, as we are reminded by the word "eterne" applied to Mars' armor, which cannot be shattered by such mere force. Inaction in uncertain matters appears to be the best initial response, as Hamlet initially intuits and finally consciously decides, though too late to extinguish the powder-train of violence he has fired by mistakenly killing Polonius. Even the Trojan implications of the Pyrrhus speech reinforce this conclusion, because every educated Elizabethan knew, if only from Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, that from the fall of Troy came the flight of Aeneas to Carthage and thence to Italy, which led to the founding of Rome. And the grandson of Aeneas was the Brutus who supposedly created and gave his name to ancient Britain. So the blow of Pyrrhus was ultimately not the end of Troy, but the initiation of the triumph of Trojan influence throughout the western world. Resort to violence may prove counterproductive to one's goals. Awareness of this startling implication throughout the play gives the perceptive spectator a rewarding sense of positive discovery transcending issues of mere pity and fear.
Once a spectator seizes on the possibility of such an interpretation a whole flood of parallels is detectable in the script: by failing to hesitate before verifying his victim's identity, Hamlet kills Polonius instead of Claudius. Mistakenly suspecting Claudius was his father's murderer, Laertes hastily leads a rebellion to punish the wrong man. However, by the end of the play Hamlet himself has ceased to be obsessive about action and no longer feels pressed to resolve situations prematurely:
We defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is't to leave betimes, let be. (5.2.219-4)
It is surely not fortuitous that this allusion to the fall of a sparrow is taken from St. Matthew's Gospel, 10:29 when Jesus warns his hearers against usurping God's will. Any member of the Hamlet audience with an alert biblical sense (which probably meant most of them, in a Protestant nation) would recognize that by this point Hamlet is relaxed, pacific, even perhaps in a state of grace, since he quotes the New Testament with such conviction. Recognition of this moral advance from the surly, raging youth at the start of the play would be a pleasant experience for any spectator, as indeed would be Hamlet's increasing recovery of a sense of humor from the earlier point when he teases Polonius, or ridicules Rosencranz and Guildenstern, to his easy manners with the gravedigger. Such passages from Act Two onwards provide the audience with a welcome variety of pace, and relief from stress, which neither Aristotle nor rigorous neoclassicists like Voltaire would tolerate. These merry moments occur in scenes that Olivier played faultlessly in his film of Hamlet in comparison with the labored Freudianism of too many other serious parts of that film, which I got into trouble over with my high-school English teacher for insolently considering to be failures of insight. Kozintsev's film of Hamlet by contrast perpetually lightens the tone through such episodes, and he also heightens the pace and vividness of the action throughout in a way which keeps one's attention alert.
In only the broadest terms can Hamlet be considered a play conforming to the Aristotelian mode of tragedy, in which a talented individual makes a specific mistake which leads to his death. At the same time that it has this negative element in its conclusion, the play also has the positive outcomes specified by Cinthio as part of a tragedy with a double plot: if Hamlet is dead so is the usurping murderer Claudius and his henchmen, including the erratic Laertes, who ultimately repents of his murderous trickery, like Edmund in Lear. Cinthio specifies such a conclusion as the mark of the double-plotted tragedy: "it gives extraordinary pleasure to the spectator when he sees the astute trapped and deceived at the end of the play, and the unjust and wicked finally overthrown" (Gilbert, 257). Moreover, in performance the play systematically breaks almost all the rules attached to the single-plot tragedy, in the interest of offering the spectator positive rewards. Ironically the script requires Hamlet to attack the irregularity of popular drama which "makes the unskillful laugh" as when the clowns pre-empt attention "to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be consider'd" ( 3.2.25, 41-2). This might well apply to the black humor of the gravediggers. While Hamlet at times can be this condescending academic, mocking his live audiences in the yard, they are also distanced from him to the extent that he conforms to Lope de Vega's specifications for a lover: "wretched, unhappy, foolish and inept" (Gilbert, 548). Simple empathy with the hero is not maintained. On the other hand, the often confusing speech and behavior of Hamlet, while indecorous, would seem to be exciting to audiences by Lope de Vega's estimate: "Equivocal speech and uncertainty arising from the ambiguous has always held a great place with the crowd" (Gilbert, 547). Guarini also has no hesitation in rejecting Aristotelian decorum in his heroes: "do princes always act majestically?" (Gilbert, 508). So Hamlet's frequent descents into incoherence, humor and even buffoonery illustrate another trait that the play shares with tragicomedy.
I would like to conclude this systematically positivist interpretation of Hamlet by pointing out how it may drastically alter our sense of the play's most famous lines, always seen as reflecting Hamlet's option of evading the obligation to revenge by suicide, at least to interpreters like Goethe:
To be or not to be, that is the question:
The choices are clearly between patient survival and death. But the form of the latter outcome, supposedly suicide, is less simply expressed than it seems at first sight: "take arms" suggests something more than "a bare bodkin." The phrase invariably means "prepare for battle" and this is reinforced by the word "opposing"—in other words, the choices are to endure frustrating adversity without physical action (as does Fortinbras somewhat involuntarily) or to resort to militant opposition to the challenges, which will precipitate death, as indeed it does for armed activists in the play who resort unwisely to violent action, as both Hamlet and Laertes do mistakenly at moments of crisis. Thus Hamlet intuits in this famous speech that his real choice is not simply between inaction or suicide, but between patience and hasty action, which is suicidal. The wrong choice of the latter course is also the one made by Romeo, Othello, Macbeth, and even Antony. So the evidence for this pacifist interpretation is not limited to the script of Hamlet. But the best confirmation of this reading is surely Hamlet's own ideal of how human excellence is to behave:
As one in suff'ring all; that suffers nothing.
This poised and yet relaxed condition in the face of complex adversity is one that Hamlet himself also finally attains, even though mere self-defense ultimately justifies him in decisive action at last. In the face of all the previous calculated complexities of the play, the perceptive audience's intended assent to this pacific principle is the playwright's greatest reward for them in Hamlet, as Lily B. Campbell has argued in Shakespeare's Heroes: Slaves of Passion. ©HMR
Eliot, T. S. 1951. Selected Essays. London: Faber and Faber.
Gilbert, Allan H., ed. 1962. Literary Criticism: Plato to Dryden. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 14:30 Read : 7018 times|