Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1

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I’m back! After a brief hiatus for NaNoWriMo it’s time to return to Denmark and our old pal Hamlet, who I’m sure is handling things in a mature and reasoned manner. *cough*

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are reporting their findings to Claudius and they’ve managed to figure out…exactly nothing. They have no clue why Hamlet is being so weird and moody because Hamlet won’t tell them why. He’s a tricksy one, that young Hamlet. Claudius asks Gertrude, who is there doing not-a-whole-lot, to go away so he and Polonius can play spies (Polonius has dibs on playing James Bond). Before she goes she tells Ophelia that she hopes that Ophelia being beautiful is the reason he has gone mad, which is a compliment apparently? Ophelia is given a prayer book and effectively told to ‘act natural’, which in any other context always leads to hijinks, but in Hamlet leads to soliloquising.

We have a brief speech from Claudius where he admits his guilt to the audience in case you hadn’t quite caught on yet, and then Hamlet arrives to give The Speech. You know, that one. It’s been analysed to death but it essentially boils down to “Ugh, life sucks. I wish I was dead so I wouldn’t have to make decisions and do things. But death might also suck. Ugh, why is my life so hard?” (In my imagination this speech is given by Napoleon Dynamite)

When he’s done (it takes a while) Ophelia tries to give him back the love letters and gifts he gave her. Hamlet decides that this is the appropriate time to discuss the connection between beauty and goodness, which is essentially just thinly veiled excuse to call Ophelia a whore. He says that all women act deceivingly by “prancing” and putting on makeup, confirming that Hamlet would absolutely be the type of guy who buys into the “take girls swimming on a first date” mentality. You really have to wonder how much of this is his mad ‘act’ and how much he just genuinely hates women, because he is venomous. He says that she should never get married because she’d just cheat on her husband so she should just become a nun. He finishes by saying that no-one should get married because women are evil before leaving to finish the next chapter on his My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfiction (I imagine).

Ophelia is understandably distraught by this. She thought that Hamlet loved her; he claimed that he never did. Mostly she’s sad because Hamlet used to be intelligent and thoughtful and admired and now he’s a shadow of his former self, ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of a woman.

Polonius, as always, is the perfect father, telling her that they heard that entire incredibly private conversation and offering absolutely no comfort. He and Claudius are only interested in one thing; Hamlet’s definitely not crazy with love for Ophelia, so his madness must be something more dangerous. Their solution? Put this possibly dangerous lunatic in a room with his mother! Oh Polonius, your genius never ceases to amaze me.

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Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, Part 2

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This scene is super long, so here’s Part 1 of the review. Now on to Part 2!

Enter Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They share some surprisingly upbeat banter with Mr Grumpypants – catching up, a bit of innuendo, Hamlet calls Fortune a whore, general schoolboy stuff – before Hamlet returns to form and calls Denmark a prison. Ah, there’s our guy.

Hamlet immediately assumes that R & G have been sent to spy on him, which seems a little paranoid. I mean, he’s right, but can’t someone just drop in for a nice chat? Besides, he has no more evidence than “Denmark sucks so why would anyone want to come here?” The conversation continues in this jolly vein when he admits that he just doesn’t find any joy in life anymore and can’t even muster up enthusiasm for people or sex. Rosencrantz tries to cheer him up by telling him that a troupe of actors are on the way, and they’re Hamlet’s favourites because they do tragedies and it’s suddenly clear that Hamlet’s always been a mopy morbid sod. The actors arrive at court (convenient timing) and Hamlet greets them, interestingly referring to his “uncle-father and aunt-mother” – more indication of his obsession with their ‘incestual’ relationship – and claiming that he’s only mad sometimes.

A quick aside: is what Hamlet’s telling R & G about his mental state the truth? He knows they’re spying on him for the King, so he could very well be lying to them. It does seem to match up with his behaviour though, at least in regards to his depression, but is what he says about being intermittently mad an admittance of his actual mental state or a carefully placed lie so R & G report it to Claudius as part of his plan? When Polonius enters he immediately resumes his crazy-schtick and talks about Ophelia more, so he’s clearly performing to an extent, but it seems weird that he would let R & G see him more lucid.

The actors enter and Hamlet asks them to perform a speech from a play he saw them do based on the Trojan war. In the speech, Phyrrus, son of Achilles, brutally kills the Trojan King Priam to avenge the death of his father as the distraught Queen Hecuba looks on; the parallels with Hamlet/Phyrrus, Hamlet Sr./Achilles, Claudius/Priam and Gertrude/Hecuba are almost too obvious. He then asks them to perform for the Court the next night and requests the play The Murder of Gonzago, but with an additional scene he will write himself. Clearly someone has a plan.

Hamlet’s finally left alone. He bemoans his awful situation but seems awfully aware that despite swearing revenge he hasn’t actually done anything yet. Hamlet’s indecisiveness is a major point in the play, but I can’t say I blame him; killing someone is a major deal, especially if the only reason you know they deserve killing is because a possibly fake ghost told you.

I once heard it said that Hamlet’s indecisiveness is not a ‘fatal flaw’ so to speak (a tradition in tragedy is for the hero to suffer from a major fault that inevitably brings about their own downfall. Eddie from Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge is an excellent example of this.), but that he’s merely in the wrong story. If he swapped places with Othello, for example, Othello’s brash action would have solved Hamlet’s problem immediately, whereas Hamlet’s thoughtfulness and caution would have prevented the tragedy that happens in Othello. As it is though, his insistence on waiting before acting allows events to be set in motion that all culminate in a lot of death at the end of the play.

This soliloquy covers a lot of that material. Hamlet knows that he should act, but there’s always the possibility that Claudius is innocent. Hamlet doesn’t entirely trust that the ghost was actually his father and not just a demon trying to cause trouble, so he needs the confirmation. He decides to use the play to test Claudius’ guilt by having the theatre troupe act out a murder just like the ghost told him Hamlet Sr. was murdered (dripping poison in the ear). He’ll watch Claudius’ reaction and if he flinches then Hamlet will know for sure that he’s guilty. It’s a good idea for finding out the truth, but it’s a pretty specific murder so there’s always the possibility that Claudius will cotton on. Still, at least things are starting to move along…

 

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, Part 1

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This scene’s a long’un, so I’ll be splitting it into two parts for the sake of your sanity.

Having realised that Hamlet’s behaviour isn’t exactly normal (and that’s before they find out about his visit to Ophelia and the fact that he’s not wearing a hat!), Claudius and Gertrude have summoned Hamlet’s childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to ask if they notice a worrying change in his behaviour and if they can get through to him. Gertrude says that “sure I am two men there are not living / To whom he more adheres”, but I’m sure that the Hamlet/Horatio stans would have something to say about that! Seriously though, Hamlet hasn’t really seen these two since he was young and seems more irritated by their presence than anything and he *SPOILER* later sends them to their deaths without a second thought, so it’s possible that Gertrude just doesn’t know her son very well.

It’s not really relevant to the play because it’s not part of the main canon, but I have a soft spot for R & G because of Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which imagines what R & G get up to between scenes and is deliciously meta.. If you haven’t come across it I would highly recommend seeking out a production or just reading the book because it’s hilarious and extremely clever. There’s also the film version with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, but I haven’t seen it and have heard it’s dire, so watch that at your own peril.

They leave to find Hamlet just as Polonius arrives with the news that Hamlet’s crazy may have been upgraded to full-on cray-cray. First though, a brief interlude from Norway courtesy of the Norwegian ambassadors: remember Fortinbras? I didn’t. Last we heard Claudius had written a strongly worded letter to the King of Norway telling him to get his nephew under control, which seems like a hilarious under-reaction to someone declaring war on you. Still, it seems to have worked, because Fortinbras was arrested and given a good finger wagging. Fortinbras said sorry, which is apparently good enough for the Norwegian king because he puts him in charge of troops and order him to march them through Denmark to invade Poland. I can only conclude from this that the Norwegian king is an idiot. Claudius doesn’t seem to see any problem with the man who swore to take over Denmark entering the country with hundreds of soldiers and agrees to the arrangement. I can only conclude that Claudius is also an idiot. Okay, you can forget about Fortinbras again, back to Hamlet. Polonius pulls out a letter Hamlet has written to Ophelia. It’s mostly bad poetry and some mildly racy things about bosoms; average teenage boy love-letter stuff, but according to Polonius it’s a sign that Hamlet has really gone off the deep end. Claudius and Gertrude are only kind of convinced, but Polonius insists that because he’s loyal and honest it’s impossible for him to be mistaken.

Polonius pulls out a letter Hamlet has written to Ophelia. It’s mostly bad poetry and some mildly racy things about bosoms; average teenage boy love-letter stuff, but according to Polonius it’s a sign that Hamlet has really gone off the deep end. Claudius and Gertrude are only kind of convinced but Polonius insists that because he’s honest and truthful it’s entirely impossible for him to be wrong.

Hamlet enters reading – a true sign of madness! – and Polonius puts on his detective hat to get to the bottom of it. He then has a conversation with Hamlet that is a combination of Hamlet subtly insulting Polonius (he mistakes him for a fish seller and says that all old men have “a plentiful lack of wit” and weak legs) and Hamlet just saying the first death-related thing that comes into his head, including kissing dog corpses and jumping into his own grave. Polonius is weirdly impressed by Hamlet; he seems to think that there’s great wisdom behind the madness, but it reminds me more of a very morbid version of that XD LOL SO RANDOM humour phase we all went through as tweens. Hamlet also makes a peculiar comment about not letting Ophelia walk outside in case she gets pregnant which Polonius obviously takes as confirmation that he is obsessed with his daughter.

I know this is already a long post, but I just want to finish by pointing out Hamlet’s attitude to Ophelia. Polonius is creepy about Ophelia’s sexuality because he’s her father and is ridiculously protective of her, but Hamlet is possibly even more weird about her; just wait until we get to the Play Scene where things get equal parts saucy and repulsive. There are a couple of possibilities why depending on whether you think Hamlet’s really mad or not. It could just be Mad Hamlet being Mad Hamlet, or it could be Sane Hamlet’s anger at his mother’s perceived adultery (by marrying Claudius so soon after Hamlet Sr.’s death) turning into a distrust of womankind in general. Or it could be a combination of the two, with Mad Hamlet inadvertently projecting his feelings about his mother onto Ophelia. With Ophelia and Gertrude being the only two women in the play it’s hard to tell how Hamlet feels about women generally, but whatever it is poor Ophelia has to bear the brunt of it and it sucks.

And things are only going to get worse…

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 1

 

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I’m just going to say it: Polonius kind of sucks. It wasn’t enough for him to be weird about Ophelia’s virginity; now he’s upgraded to helicopter parenting. He’s sending someone to spy on Laertes while he’s away at university and has come up with an overly complicated plan to find out if Laertes is actually studying or if he’s drinking and gambling, otherwise known as ‘being a student’, with added prostitutes.

To support my intention to start the Polonius Sucks club (we have badges) here’s how William Hazlitt, writer and literary critic aka. someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, describes Polonius:

“a busy-body, [who] is accordingly officious, garrulous, and impertinent”

About the nicest thing that Hazlitt says about Polonius is that he’s “sincere”, which I suppose can be a good thing but when combined with the unrestrained desire to interfere with literally everything doesn’t really help. In different productions he’s been portrayed as varyingly doddering, scheming or Bill Murray. At the very least he’s definitely been taken in by Claudius, and certain versions have gone so far as to have him actively collude with Claudius in the killing of Hamlet Sr. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think; it doesn’t make too much of a difference to the overall story, but different interpretations can provide some nice nuance to later scenes.

Back to the scene: Polonius has just sent the servant off when Ophelia comes running in, terrified, giving Polonius another chance to display his A+ parenting. She had been sewing upstairs when Hamlet came in in a complete state, looking “As if he had been loosèd out of hell”, and even worse – he’s not wearing a hat!!! Polonius decides that turning up at your sort-of-girlfriend’s house with dirty socks means that he’s “Mad for thy love”, and it’s now the standard to which I’m going to hold all future suitors.

Hamlet’s making good on his promise to act mad: he walks into Ophelia’s room, grabs her by the arm and then just stares at her for a while before leaving while maintaining intense eye contact the entire time. Just imagining that scene made me giggle, although I do feel for poor Ophelia, who seems to bear the brunt of his mad act(?).

Ever wise Polonius thinks that it was Ophelia rejecting Hamlet’s letters – on Polonius’ orders because Hamlet is obviously a sex fiend, remember? – that sent him crazy. It’s important to remember that Shakespeare was writing during an age where courtly chivalry was idolised, because the concept of “love me or I’ll go crazy” doesn’t really appeal to me, but maybe I’m just fussy (seriously though, run far far away from anyone who says that). Polonius decides to tell Claudius and drags Ophelia along too, which would be the only sensible he’d made in this entire scene if Hamlet were actually mad and if Claudius weren’t a murderer. You tried, Polonius, you tried.

 

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene V

 

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This week’s header comic is by Kate Beaton, of Hark, a Vargrant! who is wonderful and I recommend you check out right now.

Now they’re alone, Hamlet demands to know just what the ghost is playing at and it reveals itself to be his father…or so he says. If you take the text at face value then sure, but as I said in the last post Elizabethan audiences knew not to just trust when strange ghosts told you they were your father. Mr. Ghosty claims he’s stuck suffering in Purgatory and wants vengeance on the scoundrel that murdered him.

Murder? This is news to Hamlet. High death rates and lack of medical knowledge meant that it wasn’t particularly surprising when old Hamlet Sr. croaked, even though he’d been apparently healthy just before. It also meant that poisoning was much easier to get away with, and that’s exactly what the ghost claims killed him. As for who carried out this “Murder most foul”, the ghost points the finger at his own brother. Apparently – emphasis on apparently – Claudius seduced Gertrude, then dripped poison in Hamlet Sr.’s ear while he slept, claiming “my life, my crown, and my queen all at once”. Worst of all, because he was murdered Hamlet Sr. didn’t have a chance to repent of his sins or recieve last rites so he’s stuck in Purgatory, which by all accounts is not a Nice Place.

A brief history aside: at the time Denmark’s monarch was not dictated by hereditary succession like the English crown was, but was chosen by Parliament (interestingly known at the time as their ‘Thing’). They usually stuck with the traditional way of the first born son succeeding their father, but if a preferable alternative was available they could diverge from this. There are lines throughout the play that suggest that Hamlet Sr. had indicated that the country should pass to Gertrude when he died (she’s described as “the imperial jointress to this warlike state”) and because this is Ye Olde Olden Days when women were obviously too weak and stupid to own things they would pass on to any future husbands she may have i.e. Claudius. Add the fact that Hamlet was out of the country at University when his father died and it would seem reasonable for the ‘Thing’ to decide that Claudius was a good choice for the new king. All very convenient for Claudius, is it not?

It’s also very convenient for Hamlet, who is the President of the Anti-Claudius Club. If you’re a supporter of the Mad Hamlet theory then the man you resent for stepping into your father’s shoes, marrying your mother and trying to play Dad also turning out to be a conniving murderous snake seems a little too opportune. That said, it is worth noting that Claudius did actually murder his brother (spoiler alert), so it’s possible that Hamlet is just an unusually good judge of character.

Dawn arrives and the ghost vanishes, leaving Hamlet with instructions to avenge him. Hamlet swears to do so, and gets off to an interesting start when his first step is to write down in his little notebo that “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain”. Clearly he’s new to this whole revenge thing.

Horatio and Marcellus arrive and ask what happened with the ghost, but Hamlet isn’t much more forthcoming than ‘bad people are bad’ and then makes them swear not to tell anyone what they’ve seen. They do, but Hamlet is weirdly insistent that they swear on his sword. Then begins a weird almost slapstick sequence where the voice of the ghost follows them around from under the stage, although interestingly the others don’t seem to be able to hear it. Ghostly powers of telepathy or a sign of a cracked mind? You decide.

The friends are obviously concerned by this odd behaviour, and Hamlet muses that playing crazy might be a useful trick to have up his sleeve. Clearly we’re in for crazy shenanigans in the future. Tune in next time on this wacky family drama!

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene IV

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Can you guess what Hamlet’s doing at the beginning of this scene?

If you said ‘brooding’ you’d be right, except this time he’s decided to change things up and brood outside instead. It’s exciting stuff.

Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus (one of the guards we met earlier) are sat out in the cold waiting for the ghost to show up while Claudius and the rest of the court party the night away, with trumpeters playing every time he drains a cup of wine. Hamlet admits that this is a Danish tradition, but because he has to complain about something – especially when Claudius is involved – he decides that it’s a rubbish tradition that makes the Danish people look like drunkards.

The ghost arrives just as Hamlet finishes trashing his uncle, displaying a dramatic flair and taste for ironic timing that we have come to associate with the dead. Hamlet, usually so sceptical, immediately yells “Daddy!” and tries to go off by himself with the spectre. His friends have clearly been brushing up on their tropes, however, and warn him that palling around with the supernatural is usually a good way to get yourself killed or worse; Horatio is particularly worried that the spirit will take advantage of his emotional grief and drive him mad *cough*FORESHADOWING*cough*. Hamlet is so desperate to talk to his father again that he doesn’t care and threatens to kill his friends if they stand between him and his father.

IMPORTANT POINT/LIFE LESSON TIME: just because it looks like a dog and barks like a dog doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your father (what?).

Hamlet is very accepting that this ghost actually is his dear old Dad, but Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would likely have been much more cynical. The Elizabethans, on the whole, were a religious lot and to them Hell was a Big Deal, with demons and evil spirits that would love nothing more than to wreak havoc and corrupt your eternal soul. This thing may well look like Hamlet Sr., but it was equally as likely that it was some evil spirit trying to drive Hamlet Jr. to madness or death for the lols. In fact, we never actually get confirmation of whether the ghost is the real deal or not, which could entirely change how we interpret the rest of the play’s events; is what happens (spoiler: death, and lots of it) actually the revenge of a murdered king, or is it the nefarious work of something more sinister who drives Hamlet to madness and causes the death of the entire Danish royal family just for funsies? You can’t say definitively either way, but it’s interesting to look at what happens next in the context of both theories.

Whatever you think the ghost is, its appearance can’t mean anything good. Marcellus sums it up best with one of the play’s most iconic lines:

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

You and I know this, as do Horatio and Marcellus, but Hamlet – angsty, emotionally vulnerable Hamlet – is too wrapped up in his grief for his father and anger at Claudius to care. Place your bets on what will happen next.

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I Scene III

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Act I Scene III, or as I like to call it ‘Let’s Have A Family Discussion About Ophelia’s Virginity Because That’s Not Weird At All’.

Poor Ophelia. I’m sure pretty much everyone’s familiar with what happens to her in the end (hint: it’s a little soggy), and just from this scene it’s pretty understandable why. She’s a fictional woman in Elizabethan times, and as such the very idea of her having her own motivations, desires or even *gasp* a sex life is enough to send the male characters into some kind of frenzy, including her own brother, who decides that the most appropriate way to say goodbye before he returns to university is to warn her that she Absolutely Must Not Sleep With Hamlet, because her virginity is her only worth and she would be RUINED without it and also something about worms.

Polonius turns up to say goodbye to his son, but this rapidly descends into him also warning Ophelia that she Absolutely Must Not Sleep With Hamlet. (You have to wonder if this is a common topic in this family. Do they always say goodbye to each other with a cheery ‘Don’t be a slut!’?) Polonius is outraged at how much time Ophelia and Hamlet have been spending together recently and demands to know what they get up to. Ophelia says that Hamlet has been quite affectionate lately and Polonius automatically assumes that means that he’s trying to get into Ophelia’s girdle, despite Ophelia’s objections that he’s been nothing but a gentleman.

Both Polonius and Laertes seem to be under the impression that Hamlet is some kind of sex fiend and that Ophelia is a naïve and stupid child (Polonius literally calls her a “baby”) who needs their protection from the evil machinations of men who have no other motive than sex. I have no idea where they got the impression of Hamlet being a complete cad from. There’s no mention of any previous history, and I’m assuming that he and Ophelia are rarely alone together due to the rules  Elizabethan etiquette, so I can only conclude that Polonius and Laertes are projecting onto Hamlet what they personally think all men are like, thereby including themselves in that undesirable group. That’s disturbing for quite a few reasons. It suggests that all men are predatory by nature, meaning that

  1. literally all men are terrible, no exceptions
  2. they’re not really accountable for their actions
  3. it’s the responsibility of women to restrain themselves and limit their freedom so men don’t have the opportunity to do the bad things, rather than expecting the men to just not do the bad things.

This is a point of view that is unfortunately still prevalent today and can be seen in everything from ‘boys will be boys’ to the argument that skirts cause rape, and one that makes me very angry. It also seems like Polonius and Laertes have come to this conclusion by projecting their own behaviour onto all other men, which leads a rabbit hole I’m really not prepared to go down right now.

Of course I realise that I’m looking at this from the perspective of a 21st-century feminist and that this absolutely wouldn’t have been the context it was put in at the time of writing, so I’m probably reading too much into it as far as it’s relevant in the play. It definitely illustrates how (over)protective of Ophelia her family are of her, with Polonius going so far as to forbid her from spending time with Hamlet. That would have been the start of an almighty smackdown had that been my father and me, but Ophelia is clearly used to this and just agrees to try and limit her Hamlet-time. You have far more patience than I do Ophelia. Shame it doesn’t pay off…

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene II

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Read my summary of Act I Scene I first!

A lot of important character and plot building in this scene, so buckle up.

Scene II sees all of our major players gathered together and Claudius calls together his court. Present are – are you taking notes? – all of the lords, including Polonius with his children Laertes (finally, a child not named after his father! Points to Polonius for original thinking!) and Ophelia, and Queen Gertrude. Hamlet is also with them, but he’s off in a corner doing what he does best – sulking and wearing black.

Claudius mourns the passing of his brother, Hamlet Sr., for all of about thirty seconds before saying “Oh well, life goes on” and getting on with the running of the country. After a vaguely shifty defence of his decision to marry his sister-in-law in that suggests he totally knows that it’s kind of weird he reassures the nobles that Fortinbras – that’s the Norwegian prince trying to avenge his father from the previous scene – isn’t going to be a problem. He’s written a letter to Fortinbras’ uncle telling him to get his nephew under control, which is the King equivalent of running crying to someone’s mother because they threatened to beat you up in the playground.

Claudius does a bit more king-ing, giving Laertes permission to return to his university in France, and then turns to Hamlet (who is still sulking in the corner) and addresses him as his nephew and son. This familiarity pisses Hamlet off no end.

Gertrude can’t seem to understand why Hamlet is still upset about the death of his father after a whole two months. Not everyone can move on as fast as you Gertrude. Claudius joins in, telling Hamlet that everyone’s fathers die eventually and that it’s silly – sinful, even – to get too hung up about it. He tells Hamlet to think of him as his new father, which is something that step-fathers should never say unless they definitely want their kids to hate them. Claudius wraps up this example of A+ parenting by refusing to let Hamlet return to university in Wittenberg because he wants to keep him close by.

So now we have:

  • A suspiciously dead father.
  • An uncle who has gained a throne and a wife out of the aforementioned suspiciously dead father.
  • Some excellent parenting skills.
  • The ‘call me Dad’ speech.
  • A whole load of resentment.

Prepare for the fun.

Hamlet is the only one less than thrilled about their current situation. He’s finding no joy in life since his dad’s death and is hanging on to the memory of how great and loving his father was. We don’t really hear from anyone else what kind of a king Hamlet Sr. was, so it’s entirely possible that Hamlet Jr. is idealising him just a little, comparing him to a god against his uncle: “as Hyperion to a satyr”.

What particularly upsets him is that Gertrude remarried only a month after his father’s death. He attributes her flakiness to her sex: “Frailty, thy name is woman!” Ouch. He’s also very unhappy with the fact that the marriage is to his uncle, which he considers incestuous. Why this particular point is important will require a brief history lesson, so bear with me.

Most people are probably familiar with Henry VIII and the divorce debacle. Henry wanted to get rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, giving the reason that his marriage to Katherine was unlawful because she had previously been married to Henry’s brother Arthur before his death, making her marriage to Henry, according to the scripture he provided, incestuous. Whether Henry actually believed his argument or if he just wanted to marry the younger woman he was infatuated with is up for debate, but Henry used it as a reason to break away from the Catholic Church, marry Anne and have a child. Why is this important? Well, Elizabeth I was the daughter Henry and Anne had, and she also just so happened to be Queen while Shakespeare was writing Hamlet. She needed people to believe her father’s argument because otherwise his divorce was invalid, making his marriage to Anne unlawful and Elizabeth a bastard and therefore unable to rule. Shakespeare was probably inspired by these events while writing, but carefully stayed on the side of the argument that would allow him to keep his head.

Hamlet really hates his current situation but because he can’t do anything about it he’s just going to stay quiet and monologue about how sad he is, making him relatable to pretty much every teenager out there.

Horatio and the guards from the previous scene arrive and Hamlet is happy to see Horatio – or as happy as Hamlet is capable of being – who is his friend from university in Wittenberg. Hamlet shows a spark of wit in this conversation, albeit a slightly macabre one; he jokes that the wedding came so soon after the funeral so they could use the leftovers from the funeral dinner for the wedding feast. It makes a refreshing change after the downer soliloquy he just delivered and shows that he has more emotions than “sad”, such as “slightly sad” and “sad with a hint of melancholy”.

The topic of Hamlet’s father comes up because that’s Hamlet’s favourite topic, besides slut-shaming his mother, and Horatio brings up the ghost they saw the previous night. Hamlet is understandably concerned by this news. The fact that the ghost is armed suggests another worrying omen for Denmark, and dead fathers appearing is generally never a good sign. Hamlet decides to stand watch with the guards that night in case his father shows up again because he wants to talk to it.

I get that Hamlet is probably desperate to talk to his father, but I can’t help but wonder if he should be more careful; ghosts don’t usually show up for anything good. Demons and evil spirits run rampant through Elizabethan literature and a suspicious ghost turning up would probably have been shorthand for Trouble. Hamlet himself seems at least vaguely aware that this could be something demonic, briefly mentioning Hell, but doesn’t seem to care much. He needs to remember that just because something looks like your father and dresses like your father does not make it your father. A dead father by any other name would not be called Dad, or something like that.

To wrap up: Hamlet hates Claudius, his mother, the court, life in general, Denmark and fun, but he kind of doesn’t hate Horatio.

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene I

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while. Let me know if you enjoy it, or if I’m just trying too hard to be funny! Just kidding. I always try too hard.

dmiln9eca

Our story starts on a dark and stormy night in Denmark. We arrive just as the night watch is changing shifts at the royal castle of Elsinore, and rumours are flying that there’s a ghost has been spotted for the past few nights stalking the battlements. Horatio, who has been to university and therefore is the smart one of the group, is sceptical about the existence of any ghost but agrees to listen to the guard’s story anyway. It’s common knowledge that spirits have excellent dramatic timing, so the ghost chooses this exact moment to turn up.

It looks strangely like the King of Denmark who recently died and Horatio asks exactly what it thinks it’s doing floating around looking like the dead king. The ghost seems to take offence at this line of questioning, probably because Horatio ruined his dramatic entrance, and leaves. Horatio, who has been to university and knows about these things, instantly declares this a Bad Omen for Denmark.

The guard asks if this has anything to do with all of those weapons and ships Demark has been making recently and our resident exposition man Horatio says that he’s probably right. Things aren’t good in Denmark at the moment; in fact, you could say they were rotten. (Ha ha, literary reference to a line that hasn’t happened yet!)

Some years ago the king, who was called Hamlet but isn’t our Hamlet and shall henceforth be known as Hamlet Sr., killed the King of Norway Fortinbras in a duel. The terms of the duel required the loser to relinquish all of his lands to the victor, which seems like a pretty reckless agreement to make if you ask me. Now Fortinbras’ son who is also called Fortinbras – were there only five names in the whole of the middle ages? – has grown up and decided that he wants to claim back the lands his father so carelessly lost. Denmark is preparing for war, and all the omens are saying that this will not go well.

Pay attention to Fortinbras, because the first time I read Hamlet I didn’t and then when he turns up again I was all “who the hell is this guy?”. He’s also worth paying attention to because he draws some interesting parallels with Hamlet. Both of their fathers have *spoilers for a 400 year old play* been murdered, but they both have very different ways of dealing with it. Hamlet chooses the noble path of sulking, which is very satisfying but doesn’t really achieve anything, whereas Fortinbras decides that the best way to deal with his grief is to invade Denmark. I like Fortinbras. He thinks big.

The ghost tries again with its dramatic entrance, but the cock crows and ruins his big moment again, so he buggers off. Horatio orders one of the guards to poke the ghost with his spear, which really makes me doubt Horatio’s position as the smart guy. If you’re looking for ways to piss off a ghost attacking it with sharp objects is probably pretty high on the list, and it’s not like they could really hurt it anyway because it’s a freaking ghost. Horatio ignores the guard who points this out to him and decides that the best thing to do is to tell Hamlet that there’s a spirit wandering around with his dead father’s face, which may be one of the strangest things your best friend can say to you, although I’m not sure it would quite break into my Top 10.

And so begins the greatest soap opera ever told. Buckle up, it’s going to be a melodramatic ride.