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 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 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…