Before Polonius’ genius plan can be put into action, Hamlet has an appointment with:
Our scene opens with Hamlet giving very precise direction to the lead actor. He clearly has very strong opinions about what ‘good acting’ is, because he goes on at length about giving the words music and not using too many hand gestures and so on. Everyone’s a critic.
He shares a lovely vulnerable moment with Horatio, calling him “as just a man / As e’er my conversation coped withal” (I see you, Horatio/Hamlet shippers) and enlists his help in keeping a close eye on Claudius as the events of the play unfold just as the man himself enters. Hamlet slips easily back into his ‘mad’ persona and plays another round of his favourite game of messing with Polonius.
They all take their seats for the play and Hamlet turns his attention to Ophelia, asking if he can lie in her lap. When she refuses he goes into a routine of “OH DID YOU THINK I WAS TALKING ABOUT SEX BECAUSE I WASN’T BUT I TOTALLY AM NOW”. Man, poor Ophelia just can’t catch a break. She tries to divert him, but we’ve basically learned that Hamlet’s only two topics of conversation are sex and his dead father, and I’m honestly not sure which one is more uncomfortable. He makes his bitterness about how quickly Gertrude has moved on after his father’s death very clear, feeling as though his father’s memory has been discarded and forgotten.
Before he can say anything else awkward the play starts. There’s a small mime to begin which sums up the events of the play: there’s a King and Queen, the King falls asleep and another man murders him by dripping poison in his ear, the Queen is sad for about five minutes before being won over by the murderer’s wooing and gifts. Hamlet isn’t really one for subtlety, is he?
The play begins proper and we quickly discover that Hamlet would be one of those annoying people who won’t shut up in the cinema. He provides a running commentary for Ophelia, filled with sexual comments towards her and with added thoughts on the fickleness of the play’s Queen (and therefore all women).
The play is interesting because Hamlet himself wrote it, and that bitterness we discussed earlier is front and centre. The Queen monologues about how much she loves the King and how taking a second husband after his death would be “treason”, invoking a curse upon herself if she were ever to remarry. If she took another husband it would be purely for his money, not love. Claudius may have been the one to kill his father, but his anger is more directed towards his mother.
Unbelievably the plan actually works: upon seeing the murder reenacted Claudius freaks out and leaves (although I can’t work out why he didn’t react this way during the opening mime which also showed the murder). Hamlet finally has his confirmation that the ghost was telling the truth and he seems overjoyed, but what will he do with that information? For now the answer is to improvise bad poetry.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern enter with a message from his mother. His behaviour is worrying her and she wants to see him in her chambers before bed (remember the plan?) They try once again to press him for answers about why he’s acting up, but their concern for him seems genuine rather than just to dig for information for Claudius. Hamlet gives them nothing though, diverting the conversation with nonsense every time R & G try and reach the point. He clearly doesn’t trust them: there’s an interesting metaphor he makes using a recorder, asking Guildenstern how he can’t play the instrument when he seems to be trying to play Hamlet.
Polonius enters with the same message as R & G and there’s another round of Hamlet’s favourite game, this time involving highlighting Polonius’ weak will and suggestibility by getting him to agree that a cloud looks like a camel, a weasel and a whale at the same time, three animals that, unless I’m very much mistaken, don’t particularly resemble each other. I’d feel a little sorry for the poor man if he weren’t so completely insufferable.
Hamlet is left alone briefly before he goes to his mother and we can instantly see from his speech how well this meeting is going to go:
I will speak daggers to her but use none.My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.How in my words somever she be shent,To give them seals never, my soul, consent!
He may promise that he won’t physically harm her, but he certainly wants to. With that ominous thought hanging in the air he exits for her chambers.