Thursday, May 8, 2014

Idle Thoughts -- Hamlet Freaks Out

4). Discuss Act 3 Scene 4. Your response should summarize the events of the scene AND analyze those events. In particular, your response should address the advice Hamlet gives his mother, Gertrude.

Polonius encourages Gertrude to be stern with her son in hopes of breaking through his insanity and getting him to behave more rationally, then hides himself to observe the results.  On his part, Hamlet is determined to be extremely harsh with his mother for reasons that, as always, aren't really clear.

It is clear that he is angry at her for not remaining loyal to his father after his death, but does that mean he thinks that she helped commit the murder? In any event, he is determined to cause her injury.

The confrontation goes as badly as can be expected considering that both of them start with the intent of straightening the other one out.  Well she tries to convince her son to behave in a more respectable manner, he becomes vile and disgusting and attacks her relationship with her husband in graphic sexual details. He has no business speaking to his mother this way under any circumstances. Even if she is as guilty as he assumes, simple decency should prevent him from speaking in this manner.

Hamlet is so out-of-control that she cries out in fear that he will attack and possibly kill her. This results in Polonius making him aware of his presence leads to Hamlet murdering him, thinking he is killing his hated uncle.

The horrified and terrified queen now either in shock or out of fear for her life, either goes along with Hamlet or pretends to go along with him in order to escape. Hamlet convinces himself that Polonius deserved to die anyway, and having killed him by mistake is God's way of punishing Hamlet. This is a critical moment in my interpretation of play. To me the entire sordid affair is compelling evidence that Hamlet is not an admirable or even a decent human being at heart.  

Even allowing for possible insanity or the extreme stress of his situation, his behavior is totally wrong and inappropriate.  Remember that Hamlet really doesn't want to act, yet  at the same time but he feels compelled to do so. Thus, he drives himself into frenzies in order to get done what he feels he must do over his own feeling that he is acting excessively.  

He has lost all sense of balance. He behaves in ways he knows are wrong because it is the only way he can force himself to overcome his conscience.  If I felt more sympathy for Hamlet, perhaps I would like to play better. But his eventual death comes to me as a relief. While it is true that at least Claudius deserved punishment, the only other person truly seems to deserve punishment in this play is Hamlet himself.

After all, only we the audience and God know that Claudius is guilty. Hamlet's actions destroy everyone around him, largely because he cannot bring himself to make a clear decision and act on it without whipping himself into an hysterical frenzy first.

I can't resist adding that I think Shakespeare made a very bad error when he did let us know that Claudius was in fact guilty. If the whole point of the play is the confusion and the difficulty of knowing reality in every day life, then why should we get this information?  The point would be made much more effectively if it is never clear with the man was guilty or innocent. I believe it is a serious weakness in the structure of the play. I suppose,however, that he put in this knowledge because he thought it was necessary to please his audience.

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