Thursday, May 8, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Alas, Poor Audience!

5). Discuss Act 5 Scene 1. Your response should address the conversation between the Clowns and the famous "Yorick Speech" that Hamlets delivers.

Quite suddenly, for no particular reason, there is break in the dramatic action of the play for some low comedy. Shakespeare is famous for this. The characters who indulge in such actions are not important in themselves, they serve the purpose only of delivering some comedic relief. In the Golden Age of television, in the 1950s, there was always a sidekick to the hero. He was always silly and goofy and not very bright.   When the writers thought the action was getting too serious for the viewers, he would relieve the tension.  I'm sure the television script writers were imitating Shakespeare when they did this.

Personally I find that the clowns, or mechanicals, as they are sometimes known, interfere with my enjoyment of the play.  On the other hand there is little doubt that their joking back-and-forth about death and their making of silly puns was probably very popular with the audience. It was especially popular, no doubt, with the audience who were in the pit. That is to say, the people who were poor and uneducated and might otherwise find the play too confusing and difficult to follow.

Of course Shakespeare can't resist throwing some meaning in. They do make the point that death is inevitable and comes to all. This was a matter of obsession for society at that time.  This was largely due to the fact that so many people died in the disease ridden cities and in the conditions of extremely poor sanitation.

The entrance of Hamlet and Horatio quickly turn the topic to the more serious point.  Hamlet philosophizes about the shortness of life and it's inevitable end, and about how sad it is that the bones before him were once part of a living being.  At first it is just philosophy. He feels no real emotional attachment to the individual, only to the tragedy that will befall him and everyone else.

Then he is informed that this is Yorick, a jester he remembers from his own childhood and youth.  Suddenly this is not an obscure or abstruse philosophical issue. This is a man he remembers. This is a man for whom he felt affection.

Although the script does not specifically mention it, it is implied that his feelings here are beginning to cause him to reflect on the death he is already caused, that of Polonius, and the death he intends to cause, that of his uncle. Although he does not specify this, you cannot help but imagine him wondering what is the difference? My father is dead, in time Claudius will be dead. Even he, Hamlet will be dead. Is there really any point to this terrible struggle he's putting himself through? Shouldn't he enjoy what he has and allow those around him to enjoy what they have?

The problem with such an attitude is that it would allow people to gain by committing terrible crimes including killing others and then just shrugging the whole affair off. It's not an acceptable alternative.

At this point, the funeral for Ophelia enters. Watching it from hiding, Hamlet no doubt feels guilt about his hand in helping to driver her to suicide or at least in contributing to her accidental death.  When Laertes throws himself on her grave in grief, Hamlet jumps in. He declares that his grief is greater than that of a mere brother.  This inevitably leads to a fight.

Critics have two interpretations of this event. One is that Hamlet really is overwhelmed with grief and, in his grief and madness, takes this extremely provocative action.  The other is that he does it deliberately to upset Laertes and to continue to convince everyone that he is mad.  If the second is so, it shows again what a despicable character Hamlet is.

He doesn't come off much better if he really is overcome with grief.  Even assuming that to be true, he certainly is sorry now that she's dead. Being sorry that he was hurting her before she died would have been much more beneficial.  It is always very easy to be sorry after-the-fact when there's nothing you can do about it, than it is to be sorry before you cause a bad thing to happen, and to take corrective action.

No comments:

Post a Comment