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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Hamlet Questions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0018  Tuesday, 4 January 2005

From:           John W. Kennedy <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 03 Jan 2005 13:43:51 -0500
Subject: 16.0011 Hamlet Questions
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0011 Hamlet Questions

Michael B. Luskin <
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 >In Act II, scene 2, Hamlet and the player king chat after everyone has
 >exited.  Hamlet must already have thought of the mousetrap stratagem,
 >since he asks the first player to do The Murder of Gonzago.

 >After the first player leaves, in the Oh what a rogue and peasant save
 >speech, Hamlet says, line 616, Hum, I have heard...  He seems to think
 >of the mousetrap the first time here, but he clearly had done so before
 >he talked to the player king about a production of it.  How do we
 >explain this minor discrepancy?

A question that, for once, cannot be addressed by distinction among the
three texts....

In performance, Shakespeare, and Hamlet in particular, generally work
best using strong soliloquy, actively addressing the audience, rather
than imitating, as far as is possible on the stage, a cinema actor whose
words (invariably processed through an echo chamber) are coming out of
nowhere while the actor does his best to look pensive.

When the speech is done in this fashion, the "Hum" (and the preceding
"About my brains", for that matter) are easily enough seen as a mere
change of direction, a return to practicality from the preceding near
hysteria.

 >And what is the speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, where would they
 >be placed, spoken by whom, and what effect was desired?  Are they
 >included in what is given before Claudius calls for lights?  I am not
 >sure why I think so, but I suspect that they were not yet given when the
 >play breaks up.  Since the mousetrap does what it is supposed to, would
 >they have been needed, if in fact they were not already given?

While we need not assume that Hamlet has the idea at the moment of the
"hum", he has certainly had the idea within the scene; that being the
case, he is still improvising at this point. I have always considered
Hamlet to be responsible for part, if not all, of the dialog on second
marriages, in particular, the P.Q.'s wormwood speech.

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