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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: September ::
Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0528  Friday, 5 September 2008

From:       Ina Centaur <
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Date:       Wednesday, 3 Sep 2008 23:51:27 -0700
Subject:    Hamlet I.i.1 - An Emphasis on Character

The reversal of who asks "who's there?" in the first line of Hamlet has often 
been taken to foreshadow that there's something amiss in the state of Denmark, 
but I've interpreted and staged this "reversal" as insights on minor characters 
that, through the nuances of good acting, could be transformed into a dynamic 
backstory.

I've interpreted Barnardo as a Danish guard of rank higher than Francisco. The 
way they address each other seems to support this, with Francisco addressing 
Barnardo as "you" at all times, and Barnardo addressing Francisco as "thee" 
until a certain point-where he could be seen to lend Francisco respect. I've 
also interpreted Barnardo as brawny and eager to show off his ghost to 
scholars-but, perhaps, only when surrounded by friends and the light... say when 
he's about to tell a story of "last night... when yond same star...", and not if 
he were alone taking Francisco's solo shift. Thus, Barnardo opens the scene with 
fear and anticipation in his voice demanding, "Who's there?" He'd heard the 
creak of a proverbial wooden plank-perhaps as Francisco marched around while on 
duty-but which, in his fear of things spiritual, he took to be the ghost he'd 
summoned Horatio and Marcellus for. After Francisco admits that he's been out 
there alone in the cold (indeed, for a playwright who's capable of extravagance 
in stage directions like "enter the whole army", isn't it curious that Francisco 
is the only guard on duty for Elsinore Castle?), and he's "sick at heart," 
Barnardo addresses this poor young recruit with greater respect (could he be 
sick at seeing a ghost?), as he asks the question, in different words, but with 
fear again, "Have you had quiet guard?" Francisco, who detects and mocks 
Barnardo's fear, replies condescendingly, "Not a mouse stirring." Barnardo 
regains his composure, but still lends Francisco the respect of an equal, 
addressing him as "you," again, but seeming desperate for company to avoid the 
lone watch, in wishing Marcellus and Horatio to make haste (of course, it could 
be because he wouldn't want them to miss the ghost). Francisco cuts him some 
slack and tells him (and verifies, in proper guardly way) that they're here now 
before exiting.

The dynamics of the rest of the scene seem to have Marcellus as the commanding 
one who drives Horatio to do things (to speak to it, to question it, to stop 
striking at it [well, this would be to himself, since he offered to strike at it 
with his partisan] since it's gone), and also the one whose yes gets the trio to 
tell Hamlet, and Barnardo the one who seems to want vindication/credit of the 
ghost's appearance ("And let us once again assail your ears / That are so 
fortified against our story...", "Looks it not like the king? mark it, Horatio", 
"See, it stalks away!" [CGI doesn't exist yet, so it must be the real thing!], 
and who seems to gloat when Horatio catches fright, "How now, Horatio! You 
tremble and look pale / Is not this something more than fantasy? What think you 
on't, [now!]?"

Comments appreciated.:-)

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