Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Hamlet Spy Caught Spying
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0356  Wednesday, 14 February 2001

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 08:51:57 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0326 Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

[2]     From:   Andy Drewry <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 12:00:08 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

[3]     From:   Lora Kahn <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 12:53:19 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0335 Re: Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

[4]     From:   Andrew W. White <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 14:09:06 -0500
        Subj:   Hamlet Spy Caught Spying


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 08:51:57 -0600
Subject: 12.0326 Hamlet Spy Caught Spying
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0326 Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

Ron Dwelle writes:

>I don't see much textual evidence for it (the spy caught spying), but it
>did work nicely (though obviously it changes the scene significantly).
>I'm wondering if there's any history of the scene being played in such a
>way, or if anyone has seen a similar interpretation staged.

There is a long-standing theatrical tradition behind that interpretation
for the simple reason that it makes good sense dramatically. Of course,
we have to remember that Hamlet is acting all the time that he's in
public: he can never afford to be spotted, by king or scullion, not
having his "antic disposition" on. So, his entire interaction with
Ophelia has to be regarded as a performance, whether he realizes that he
is being spied on or not. It is, however, handy to have him notice the
"lawful espials" as a cause of his increased fury at Ophelia's
treachery.

Dover Wilson has suggested that Hamlet is supposed to sneak on-stage
just before his official entrance in II, ii, and hears Polonius say, "At
such time I'll loose my daughter to him. / Be you and I behind the arras
then." Wilson points out that "loose" is what you do when you have cow
that needs breeding with the village bull: you loose her to it. This
explains why Hamlet, when he re-enters, immediately calls Polonius a
pimp ("fishmonger") and babbles on about daughters, conceiving, and
corrupted flesh. It also suggests that Hamlet expects to find Claudius
and Polonius spying on him when he comes on Ophelia alone, but
strategically close to a curtain.

A very plausible theory to my mind, though it doesn't have much hard
evidence.

Regards,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andy Drewry <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 12:00:08 -0500
Subject:        Re: Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

I think that the action of the first quarto reveals the possibility of
this interpretation.  Polonius comes across Hamlet reading.  Polonius is
there to tell him about the arrival of the Players.  Hamlet, in his
wordplay with Polonius, surrenders his book, which Polonius takes.  It
is this book, then, that Polonius gives to Ophelia when he instructs her
to pretend to be reading: "Read on this book,".  Therefore, Hamlet would
know about the possibility of a set up based on the recognition of the
book.

Otherwise, Polonius has no real motivation to be carrying a book around
with him.  Or if Hamlet recognizes the title of the book and then
realizes that her "color," which Polonius instructs should resemble
"loneliness" does not match with Hamlet's reading of that text, then he
may fit the puzzle together.  I think that this is a traditional
argument for keeping with the sequence of action in the quarto but still
using the words from the folio.

Andy Drewry

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lora Kahn <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 12:53:19 EST
Subject: 12.0335 Re: Hamlet Spy Caught Spying
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0335 Re: Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

To add to M. Swilley's observation, I have been showing Olivier's Hamlet
to my Advanced Composition classes.  In the film Hamlet is seen
eavesdropping on Polonius and Claudius when they prepare Ophelia for her
decoy role.  He does ruffle the curtains because he knows that they are
behind them.  I find the castle of Elsinore especially powerful in this
version.  The high steps to the battlements, the views of the ocean
raging below, and the open perspectives are used very effectively.  It
makes sense that Hamlet, often walking in the "open air," would hear
this conversation.

Lora Kahn

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew W. White <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 13 Feb 2001 14:09:06 -0500
Subject:        Hamlet Spy Caught Spying

Philip Tomposki asks:

>I have the opposite of this question.  Has anyone ever seen this played
>any other way?  In every production I've seen Hamlet discovers, or at
>least senses, the presence of Claudius & Polonius just before his line
>"Where's your father?"

An excellent question, and one that prompts me to share my own crackpot
scenario of the "Nunnery" scene, which frankly to my mind has yet to be
staged with real consistency and attention to the original script.

In the text, Polonius assures Claudius that Hamlet has been 'sent for',
which means Hamlet, idling elsewhere in the castle with his book, has
been specifically summoned to the Lobby.  So, here we have Hamlet,
minding his own business, told to go to the room of state, and who does
he see?  Nobody.  My conclusion, based on that bit of evidence:  if
Hamlet didn't smell a rat from his entry into the lobby, he'd be a
damned fool.

Knowing he has an 'audience,' Hamlet proceeds to recite and think aloud,
"To be or not to be," which reads either as a riddle or as a gloss --
first the statement of a question, and then the poetical exegesis,
Hamlet's take on what the simple question means.  The Chambers or
Rhetoric in the Netherlands had been doing stuff like this for years,
and Hamlet puts on the show of being thoughtful, but at the same time
contemplating _action_ (not suicide), the taking up of arms against his
own personal sea of troubles -- i.e., Claudius.  (Granville-Barker made
that point years ago, why hasn't anyone bothered to read him?)

Hamlet then spots Ophelia, alone; the one person in the castle he has
been unable to see for upwards of 2 months (there's been a chronology
thread running parallel to this one on SHAKSPER, hence my estimate).
Ophelia then approaches him, hands back his letters, etc., and with
"rich gifts wax poor," accuses him of dumping her, when both of them
know perfectly well _she_ is the one who has turned him away.

Hamlet's response to this is laughter -- perhaps the short of shocked
laughter you have when something completely absurd is presented to you
as fact -- and then we have the first advice to "get thee to a nunnery,"
which in this initial context can be taken to mean "convent."

That nunnery also meant "whorehouse," and was used in this second sense
in the scene, is evidenced by Hamlet's abusive language after Ophelia
lies to him about her father's whereabouts.  Before she lies, she's an
innocent who belongs somewhere safe, where politics won't taint her.
After she lies, she'd do anything to get ahead, and deserves (in
Hamlet's mind) all the taunts and insults he can muster.  His
transformation from sympathetic confidante to raving madman astounds
her, and because she is clueless as to why Hamlet has gone mad on her,
believes he's lost it:  hence "what a noble mind is here o'erthrown.'

Them's my views -- any takers?
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.