The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1221 Thursday, 19 June 2003
Date: Wednesday, 18 Jun 2003 20:48:40 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Apprehending the Groundling's Hamlet
I enjoy this site tremendously and follow everything with anticipation.
Who'd thought I could apprehend 'deconstruction' while in the thralls of
passion for the Bard. While I do not have the studiousness of cool
reason that comprehends all things scholastic, I do offer this opinion
on Shakespeare's genius of appealing on many levels:
Arnold and Grebanier's belief in the fact that dear King James wrote a
book on Daemonology stating that ghosts were (always?) the appearance of
the devil would settle the dispute in the groundling's (the ever-growing
middle class) mind on the matter, seems absurd to me. Who could afford
the book? And word of mouth of the King's views would hold little weight
in my mind.
The Elizabethan audience would very easily relate to Hamlet's Royal and
ambivalent antics having had a full fare of church sermons, the Mystery
plays, or Bible knowledge/readings (Catholic or Protestant) on such
escapades as King David's 'feigning' of madness in order to escape King
Achish's anger in 1 Samuel 21. King Saul visiting the Witch of Endor
and finding out about his coming defeat from the ghost of Samuel. There
was Jesus, considered 'beside himself' by his own family as they
attempted to restrain him in Mark 3. And best of all, Balaam's Ass saw
the angel blocking the mountain path and the anointed prophet couldn't
see the angelic ghost because of his sin of greed.
Everyone of these well-known tales would be familiar to the groundlings
and in each case cited above the antic/madness was an act or a
misinterpreted action by on-lookers; and each ghostly angelic visit was
godly and bearing truth, not a devil in sight, in fact sometimes only
the pure ass saw the godly ghost. Sure the groundlings also knew the
devil could appear as an angel of light, but these were groundlings at
the Globe--watching Shakespeare for Christ's sake; mass hysteria: ala,
the witch trials, were below these groundlings sensibilities. "One (who)
sees more devils than vast hell can hold, That is, the madman." said
Hamlet before seeing the ghost says boldly, "I'll speak to it, though
Hell itself should gape and bid me hold my peace."
Afterwards, Hamlet is shaken: "What else? And shall I couple Hell? Oh
fie: hold my heart" Horatio says, "This is wondrous strange." Hamlet
responds, "And therefore as a stranger give it welcome." This brings to
mind the biblical admonition of 'Be not forgetful to entertain
strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares.'
Hamlet will put on his cheerful game face although he realizes something
is happening 'out of joint' to him with the mole, etc. Yet he had
formulated a plan 'they are actions that a man might play' and will
follow it in spite of the shaping fantasy of his father's ghost.
With a nod to Harold Bloom, Hamlet may be the intellectual's Christ but
to the apprehending groundling's he was just tragic Hamlet, that Royal
good-guy at the grave holding the skull and soliloquizing. 'The Man who
couldn't make up his mind' another pithy stroke of genius.
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