The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0298 Tuesday, 15 February 2005
From: John Reed <
Date: Monday, 14 Feb 2005 22:19:16 -0800
Subject: Hamlet Disguises
We had almost arrived at the incorporate conclusion of all of this when
discussing the Macbeth characters. In Macbeth we seem to have, or could
have, some kind of evil spirit making various appearances from time to
time in different disguises: disguises the other characters within the
play cannot penetrate, but which the audience can.
The idea of functional doubling has been brought up, and reference made
to "'Your sum of part': doubling in 'Hamlet'". I'm looking at it right
now. There might be various ways to go about doubling some of these
characters, besides the ways listed. So here is one more: Ghost,
Reynaldo, Player Prologue, Captain, Gentleman, Sailor, Messenger,
Gravedigger, Osric, Ambassador. Taken to its logical extreme,
functional doubling would be character identity. I think that's what we
do have. Some kind of evil spirit making various appearances from time
to time, adopting impenetrable disguises which the audience sees
through. One of these disguisings would be in accord with the minority
opinion -- that the Ghost is an evil spirit (following Eleanor Prosser).
I'm not sure about Osric, but it could be. The rest of them look
solid (I can convince myself of my own ideas pretty easily).
Ophelia. Apparently Elizabethans recognized more than one kind of
madness, with demon possession being one kind. Could be that's what's
happening in 4.5. Seems to me Ophelia is impersonating Gertrude by
saying "Before you tumbled me,/ You promised me to wed." Then she
impersonates Claudius by saying, "So would I a done, by yonder sun,/ And
thou hadst not come to my bed." So we could have a lot of levels going
on here: a boy or young man actor, portraying Ophelia, demon possessed
(perhaps parsimoniously by the same evil spirit having appeared to
Hamlet as the Ghost), who enacts Gertrude, and then Claudius (as a kind
of flashback). So she/it is on the verge of blowing their cover; no
wonder Claudius asks "How long hath she been thus?"
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