Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Danish Ham, Is That What's Rotten in Denmark?

Okay, Kid. Here's my guide for you on those issues. Read them over and think about them. Then you can call me and we can discuss them.

Act three scene two what is Claudius's mood as he stops the play. How does Hamlet respond. Has he learned the Claudius is guilty?

So, Hamlet having created his clever attempt to prove that Claudius is guilty, sets up a really awful play. Remember everyone is still in grief. The death of King Hamlet has hurt everyone and caused instability in the kingdom. There are real problems of a political nature which may tear the kingdom apart, an enemy nation is threatening war, and everyone is still in an deep state of emotional distress trying to recover from the death of their loved one. On top of all that, Hamlet has been acting like a madman.

Given the horrible nature of the play, after all it's talking about the death of the king to people whose king has recently died and not only a king but a loved one, it would be surprising if Claudius did not find this emotionally disturbing .  

It is very unlikely, for example, the family that had recently lost a loved into a horrible car accident would immediately rush out to go see a movie which was full of action scenes involving brutal car crashes.

If someone invited this family over to watch a movie and began to show them exactly that type of action, it would be very surprising if at least one of the family members didn't jump up in shock and disgust as the cars began to crash.

In other words, Hamlet saw what he wanted to see. And he interpreted what could be perfectly natural response to a heartless and cruel exploitation of grief into a confession of guilt.

Hamlet interprets what may well be a perfectly normal and healthy reaction into guilt, because guilt is what he is looking for.

It need not even be a reaction of horror at being reminded of a loved one's death. Since Hamlet has been acting so strangely the fact that he has chosen to present this play could be interpreted as a sign that Hamlet has descended into complete madness. If Claudius is innocent, the moment he sees this play may be the moment at which he realizes that Hamlet thinks he is guilty of murder. When a person, innocent or guilty, suddenly realizes that a dangerous madman thinks that he has murdered that madmen's father, even the innocent individual don't usually just sit there and say. "Oh really, how interesting."  He is far more likely to jump up in shock and fear, and even rage.

All that Hamlet has proven is that his play, which he intended to be provocative and emotionally wrenching, was provocative and emotionally wrenching. It proves nothing about anything else, least of all Claudius' guilt.  What is proven by this scene is that Hamlet will take any action as proof because proof is what he really wants.

Act three scene three Claudius's prayer scene. What does he admit? Why can't he ask for forgiveness? Why doesn't Hamlet seek revenge?

Now in privacy where no one else can hear him, Claudius confesses, but only to God, that he has killed his brother. This does not justify any of Hamlet's actions or overreactions. Hamlet has no proof only his passionate need to find proof that the man is guilty.

Strangely enough in Claudius's prayer there is a sign that part of him is still a quite decent human being. He really wants to repent but he recognizes that he is still enjoying the benefits of his crime therefore any such asking for forgiveness a repentance that he offers will be false. He must give up the benefits of the crime if he can really expect to be forgiven by God.  (This mirrors Hamlet's inability to make up his mind.)

This is a point often missed by individuals asking for forgiveness or in the Catholic rite of confession. You need to truly repent the sin in order to be forgiven. It's not enough just to say, "Oh I am sorry. Please forgive me."  Those who say this are not forgiven. The sinner must regret the sin, must repent the sin, must be determined not to benefit from the sin, must be determined not to commit that sin ever again.  Claudius admits to himself and to God that he has not met these standards. Therefore he cannot be forgiven. It remains a blot upon his soul.

Hamlet, not having heard this part of the prayer or any part of it, wants to kill Claudius but cannot because he fears doing so will send Claudius straight to heaven.  This grows out the conviction common among Christians at that time that if you sincerely repent your sins, at that moment you are free of those sins. And Hamlet is upset because if he kills Claudius as he is praying, Claudius will be free of sin and therefore go straight to heaven. On the other hand, he is angry because his father was not killed in prayer. Therefore his father's sins were not forgiven and he had to pay the price for them.

This Christian belief reminds me of Jodo, or Pure Land, Buddhism.  By chanting namu amida Butsu (it has many translations, but all refer in some way to homage to Buddha), one gains salvation and freedom from sin or error.  Some say you only need to do this with a pure heart and true intent once in your life to gain the salvation, others say that you must do it regularly because it can only cleanse the sins or errors you have already committed, not those you make in the future,  which sounds a lot like Christian beliefs to me.

Act IV scene 2 discuss Hamlet's interactions with his mother Gertrude

Before Hamlet even comes to Gertrude who is now frightened for her son's sanity and probably for her own safety, Polonius urges her to be really strict with him with because Polonius thinks this will straighten the young man out. Obviously this is bad advice but it is well-intentioned.

It's not clear exactly what Hamlet wants, but whatever it is, he feels it is urgent that his mother comply. So she is trying to be firm with him while he is planning on being extremely harsh with her.  The results are not surprising.

Hamlet is so cruel and violent toward his mother that she actually cries out in fear that he will attack her. This suggests that Hamlet may think his mother has actually helped murder his father, but as usual in this play, that isn't clear.

Poor old Polonius calls for help and is murdered by Hamlet who thinks he may be Claudius. The horror of the situation seems to completely escape Hamlet.Whether it was his step father-uncle or innocent Polonius, killing someone should be shocking, but it just makes Hamlet even more angry. This suggests that his madness may indeed be true, but doesn't prove it.

So Hamlet in this discussion in which his mother is trying to be firm with him to bring him back in line, quickly turns into a series of atrocities. Hamlet kills innocent Polonius, and shows no regret that he killed the wrong man. He begins talking to a ghost that his mother cannot see. He verbally assaults her with graphic details of her sex life, clearly something no son should ever do to his mother.

From her point of view the evidence is complete and absolute. Her son is a violent maniac. He may kill anyone at any time, including her.

Act four scene three 

Hamlet, confronted by his old friends Rosencrans and Guildenstern and king Claudius, instead of showing any grief for having killed for Polonius adopts an arrogant, nasty, and hateful attitude with a verbal display of wit about death.  He insults the king by,in effect, calling him a corpse fed worm, saying the worm fed the fish and the fish fed the king and thus the worm becomes the king, or at least the King's flesh.

This terrifies the king. To him, it is more evidence that Hamlet is indeed insane and dangerous. That is certainly one interpretation. But Hamlet's attitude also reminds me very strongly the attitude taken by men in combat.

Soldiers often make wild and crude jokes about death and slaughter as a way of handling their own strong feelings. They are human, so they feel horrified by what they have done. In order to make what they have done more acceptable, they turn it into a cruel joke.

For example, a popular song among American troops in Vietnam was sung to the tune of the Camptown Races. The original song was light and amusing. The Vietnam version included the line, "You'll go home in a body bag, do da, do da. You'll go home in a body bag! Oh, do da day!"

Was Hamlet feeling that he had gone to war with his own family and this was his way of handling it? Was he insane? Was he just an insensitive, self-centered little thug? Was he striking out at his stepfather with words because he didn't have the guts to do it with a sword? Make up your own mind. You can justify any of those positions.

Act four scene 4 soliloquy theme, resolution, transformation

The theme is simply Hamlet struggle with himself. He wants to get revenge but he keeps finding reasons not to actually do it. He feels that he isn't accomplishing anything of any real importance,  just surviving like an animal.

He complains that God has made man brilliant but we don't make us of that intelligence and yet then complains that taking time to think things out only allows you to delude yourself.

He resolve his conflicts by looking at the foolishness of an army of men going to invade another country for the single and sole purpose of acquiring some useless land and making a prince able to be proud of himself as a great conqueror. But he is inspired by the fact that the prince at least is taking action. He isn't dithering and blithering and blathering like Hamlet is. The prince actually mounted his horse and is leading the army. He is risking his own death in order to gain a useless and worthless piece of land.

He compares himself to this. He believes that he, Hamlet, has a real reason to risk his life but won't. Yet here is this prince who will risk his life for something that isn't worth it.

This resolves his dilemma. He will act. Better to act and at least be a man than survive like a beastwho accomplishes nothing. Hamlet then is transformed from the I may, I might into the I will, and that is that.

Let me add on a note: Another song popular among American troops in Vietnam was the 12 days of Christmas. Except that it started on the first day of Christmas the VC gave to me. You can imagine where that goes.

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