- Slides: 17
The “metatheatricality” of Hamlet – third lecture “These indeed seem/ For they are actions a man might play. ”
The “metatheatrical” or selfreferential side of Hamlet • Perhaps the strangest, most challenging side of the play. • Play-wrighting generally involves creating a credible presentation of reality. • Self-referential moments in a play go in just the opposite direction, reminding us it’s “just a play. ” • Only a supremely self-confident dramatist could afford to do this. • But why would he do this? • Difference from MND.
Necessity of seeing play in theater for metatheatrical dimension to emerge • In fact, in Shakespeare’s own theater. • Most of the references are to the material elements of theater, esp. Elizabethan theater. • None of it works in film or video • Unless terms are anachronistically “translated” to film, video - • -- as in fact happens in Michael Almereyda’s version with Ethan Hawke. • Clip of “To be or not to be” from Almereyda
Hamlet with R & G in the Globe, II. 2, 265 ff • “I have of late. . . lost all my mirth. . . • “that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory” • “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire. ” • All physical features of the Globe. • How did audience react?
The “sterile promontory”
“This majestical roof, fretted with golden fire”
“The tragedians of the city” • Leads immediately to R & G speaking of the arrival of the players. • Which immediately cheers Hamlet up. • And we hear London theater gossip: “the late innovation” of children’s companies. • “The tragedians of the city” -- the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who are playing Hamlet? • They’re just as good as ever, but. . .
In the Folio text, p. lii-liii of Pelican edition • . . . we hear more about the “late innovation, ” “an eyrie of children, little eysas. ” • Obviously the children’s companies had become quite popular. . . • And threatened the adult companies. • Hamlet seems to voice Shakespeare’s opinion about writers making the kids “exclaim against their own succession. ” • Real battles between the playwrights and the players? • “Much throwing about of brains. ” • “Do the boys carry it away”? • Ay, “Hercules and his load, ” the emblem of the Globe, where we’re standing (or sitting)! • “The boys” are the Lord Chamberlain’s company!
Where in the world (or globe) are we? • • In Elsinore? Or London? In Hamlet’s story? Or gossiping about the latest trends in London theater? • At this point who’s speaking? Hamlet, Prince of Denmark? • Or the actor playing Hamlet?
The actors arrive • And are praised by Polonius: “The best actors in the world. . . ” • Is he praising the Lord Chamberlain’s Men? • Hamlet’s enthusiastic greeting – and the request for a speech, “a taste of your quality. ” • Hamlet begins, • And the actor takes it up. • Until Polonius stops it -- because the actor is acting too well. • Hamlet’s soliloquy measures himself against the actor: “Is it not monstrous. . . ” • “And all for nothing!/ For Hecuba. What’s Hecuba to him or he to her, / That he should weep for her? ” • What’s Hamlet to us, or we to him. . . ?
And Hamlet acts badly? • He works himself up to some of the worst poetry in the play: ll 515 -20 (the soliloquy we saw Branagh act in the last lecture). • Which he himself recognizes as bad acting: “Why what an ass am I!” • Which is just the sort of thing he criticizes when he speaks to the player, III, 2. • “O it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwigpated fellow tear a passion to tatters. . . ” • And Hamlet gives acting lessons to the player, telling him exactly what theater is. • “For anything so overdone is from [counter to] the purpose of playing, which is. . . ” • The most extensive discussion of theater and acting from the period.
The pervasiveness of theater metaphor • In his first appearance, Hamlet refers to acting, role-playing: I, 2, 76 ff. • “Seems, Madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems. . . ” • “’Tis not alone my inky cloak, ” that is, my costume, my acting, my gestures, all the ways of portraying grief, that denote me truly. • These seem, these are actions a man might play, might act. • Seems to admit that he is in part acting, but insists he has an interior that exceeds this.
“This fellow in the cellerage” • At II, 1, 152 ff, we hear the “ghost under the stage” cry “Swear. ” • And Hamlet jokes, “You hear this fellow in the cellerage. ” • And they move around the stage as the actor playing the ghost moves under the stage. • Hamlet: “Well said, old mole! Canst work in the ground so fast? ” • Does this mock the very dramaturgy of the play itself?
Polonius as Julius Caesar • Later, in play-within-play scene, we learn that Polonius acted in the university, “and was accounted a good actor. ” • Says “I did enact Julius Caesar. ” • Against which Hamlet makes a silly joke. • Guess which play the Lord Chamberlain’s men last performed before Hamlet.
Can we say what theater metaphor means? • Is there a linkage implied between “acting” and “acting”? • What does it mean for Hamlet to act his part? • What is his part? • How to act it well? • When does he act it badly? • Does he come to understanding of role? • How to enact the role of revenger?
“If it be not now, . . . ” • Hamlet’s fatalism in V, 2, 197, just before the duel. • The return of his sanity, calm – has he learned to act? • “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. ” • “If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all” • What does he mean by “it”? • “Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be. ” • The role of revenger linked with acceptance of death.
And finally, Hamlet can ACT?