The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1872 Thursday, 26 July 2001
Date: Wednesday, 25 Jul 2001 20:30:38 -0400
Subject: Hamlet's Clashing Ideals
Steve Roth makes so many good points, but undermines them with his
assertion that Claudius' reaction to the play is solely because of
Hamlet's use of the word "nephew."
There has been a dumb show beforehand, in which "the circumstance" has
been acted out fully. Although the lines at this point seem harmless
enough, it is at _this_ point that two pairs of eyes are trained on
Claudius. This bit of stage business is tricky -- I have only seen it
done adequately once at the Shakespeare Rep in Chicago. Claudius,
wordless, motionless; his eyes suddenly, involuntarily open wide at the
mimed poisoning in the ear. Had he spoken out or called for "lights"
then, he would have caused enormous suspicion. Instead, he sits still,
silently, and Hamlet, doing his part to cover the plot, chats up
Ophelia. After the insulting take on Gertrude in Act I of the play,
only then does Claudius ask:
"Have you heard the argument? Is there no offense in't?"
And this line can admit to any number of nuances, depending on how it is
directed. He could be referring to offending Gertrude, to the offense
of fratricide, whatever. It's up to you. But Hamlet's announcement
that the play is titled "the Mousetrap" tightens the screws on Claudius
considerably -- the tension in the scene is now palpable; Claudius can't
afford to let out that he's guilty, Hamlet can't let on that he's spying
on him, let alone that he's already got the goods on him (antic
disposition and all that, you know).
Yes, the "nephew" bit does give Claudius a pretext to get up and leave
in a huff, but there's more than enough room beforehand to react, note
his reactions, and draw the necessary conclusions.
This is not a play about not knowing, any more than it's a play about a
prince who cannot make up his mind. It's about revenge of a most
demanding and intricate kind, and about a prince who, as John Masefield
once said, lives in two worlds, not just one. And the plot is
constructed so tightly that the slightest mistake makes nonsense of the
thing. I know, I've played the role and have made more nonsense of it
than I ever could on this list.
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