Hamlet 2

Let’s continue the Hamlet discussion. There are a million things one could talk about, so let’s talk about a few. (I have a folder of notes on the subject somewhere…I wonder if there’s any chance I could figure out where…)

One item. I noticed once that the word “love” is used often in the play, but it’s almost always used either deceptively or doubtfully. (I didn’t have a computer when I noticed that. It’s trivially easy to collect them all now. There’s something faintly annoying about that.) That fact by itself sums up a lot about the play.

Done badly, that can seem like just teenage angst and self-absorbtion. It shouldn’t be done that way, because it’s not just teenage.

Speaking of which, one of the famous cruxes (a crux being a difficulty, a discrepancy, aka a mistake) is the fact that at the beginning Hamlet is a college student (which could make him as young as 14) and by the graveyard scene he’s 30. Shakespeare made lots of mistakes of that kind. It was a play – a working recipe for a group of actors, Shakespeare being one of them. There was no obvious need to be careful about details.

Shakespeare was unique in that way, you know. He was not only an actor, he was also a shareholder, in the company and in the theater. His company was unique in owning its own theater, and he was unique as a playwright in being also a player and an owner. Ben Jonson did some acting, but as an employee, not as an owner.

Hamlet is about acting, among other things. Acting, dissembling, seeming – it’s all about that. When people talk about “love” they’re usually acting. Polonius’s supposedly wise advice to Laertes is all about acting and dissembling – the much-quoted bromide “to thine own self be true” is deeply ironic. At the end of the play Laertes is acting and dissembling at the behest of the consummate liar and dissembler Claudius.

Your turn.


A longish time ago we talked about the idea of doing book discussion threads, or was it Shakespeare threads. One of those. Inspired by Pamela Gay’s urgings to make the world better and do something, let’s get to it.

Let’s start at the top, with Hamlet.

We’ll talk until no one has anything left to say.

I’ll start.

Biggest thing: it’s not [just, or primarily] about A Guy Who Can’t Make Up His Mind. That’s become the boring soundbite about it, and it is very damn boring. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about a million things, and that one is more incidental than most of them. [Read more…]