Sunday, April 22, 2007

Like a Soldier, to the Stage

Finished Hamlet!

A few random notes.

The last act took me aback a little. The tone of the play moved from quick and hectic to a more serene rhythm... not so much the plot itself, which remained very full of incident, but the way Hamlet reacted to the events and the way the play moved from close focus on him to a wider, almost national focus in the last part. I am having a difficult time describing it, but the edginess of the first part seemed to culminate when Laertes and Hamlet scrabbled in Polonius' grave. After that, Hamlet seemed to take back stage as a persona and move into front stage as a more historical character. The final scene where practically every key player is poisoned by cup and rapier seemed to be a bit of a homeopathic anodyne.

To me, his hesitation during the earlier parts was not the ineffectual hesitation you see in something like The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Hamlet's hesitation is informed by a kind of grace. When he finally can act effectually, he does.

Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

A couple of sites:

This one is a standard informational study-guide place with resources for teachers.
This one is interesting and a bit quirkier and more personal.

Here's a Shakespeare Theme Page.


melanieb said...

I think you're right about the tone of the play and the idea that Hamlet's actions are informed by grace.

For me the turning point in Hamlet is the moment when he declares: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."

And the movement of grace is confirmed when he declares his intention to fight Laertes: "Not a whit, we defy augury: there's 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 has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?"

Willa said...

Yes, those quotes fit in with the movement I noticed in his behavior. He seems to move from seeing himself as the main "player" -- even to the point of deciding not to kill Claudius during prayer because Claudius might then not be damned -- to a recognition that the movements of the action are not primarily about him. This brings with it a sense of resolution and hmm, integration, that he was missing earlier on. It is certainly a play that resonates on a lot of levels and I am very sure I didn't do it justice in these notes but it is very nice to get the chance to discuss it a bit with someone else.