HAMLET’S TABLES 5: Oct-Nov Entries

by Hamlet on February 1, 2012

Hello fellow Danes! This is my Hamlet Blog. I’ve been writing down my thoughts on process since we decided to go ahead with it. There are some parts that are almost short hand while others are a little more didactic (which could make for some bumpy reading), though I’ve tried to smooth it out as much as possible without compromising the immediacy. Thanks for reading!

Oct 21Hamlet and Ophelia. (Spoiler Alert: LOW) We never see them together, really, except after the rupture. There’s room in 1.2., which I want to explore, for them to show something. The turn around between Ophelia receiving the order from her father to have no “…words, or talk with the Lord Hamlet…” to Hamlet’s antic disposition and frightening of Ophelia is very brief. Polonius issues his fiat, Ophelia obeys; by the evening, Hamlet is meeting the ghost, and by the next morning, he’s already played the prank on her. Why start with her? It seems logical to me to assume that Hamlet, after hearing of his father’s ghost in arms, might have approached Ophelia during the day for some comfort, or confidence, and she, following her father’s ordinance, denies him her company. I wager that they’ve known each other all their lives, though of course Ophelia was too young when he went away to war and/or Wittenberg; now upon his return, they’ve reconnected and discovered a blossomed love where there were only the buds before.

Two months is certainly enough time for people who feel as though they’ve known each other for eternity (I draw conclusions here from the nature of love, not from lines in the play), to fall in love. It is also safe to assume that Hamlet knows that Ophelia is generally manipulated by her father (at least, if we assume that they are actually in love and know each other well, which I believe they are, or why bother telling the story?)

This will add some interesting feelings for Hamlet as he goes to see the ghost, having been barred from Ophelia’s company; is the antic disposition in part a way of avenging himself on Ophelia? Really, the antic disposition comes from the source story based on Amleth, who used trickery to convince everyone he was a fool, so they would therefore take no notice of him as he plotted his vindication. Source or not, however, the disposition needs justifying.

Does he choose Ophelia to frighten because he knows it will make it seem like he is love sick rather than plotting revenge upon his uncle the King? This seems credible enough; Hamlet is renowned for his intellect. Does it bother him that he is injuring his lover? I believe it does, but he’s sworn an oath to his father to seek revenge. As the play progresses, he is deprived of his confidant (Ophelia) and I think this is why he becomes more and more aggressive; it’s truly amazing how quickly a man can recrudesce into fury without the availability of a woman for unburdening his thoughts – and his energy. (Some would say that having a lady around can increase fury; I’m sure this is also true, and there are scenes where Ophelia’s presence can inflame Hamlet – in every sense of the word.)

Robbed of his confidant, betrayed by his friends, mistrusted by the King, Hamlet has only Horatio…who disappears for considerable parts of the play. Hamlet, is therefore fighting much of his emotional war alone and has only the audience to confide in, but as we all know, the audience doesn’t talk back (not these days anyway; which is probably for the best). So, we have To be or not to be which is interrupted (“…lose the name of action” is, in my opinion, not the end of that thought process) by the sudden appearance of Ophelia. They haven’t seen each other in days. Their habit of exchanging daily missives has been defunct for just as much time. There is a certain kind of comfort in “out of sight, out of mind,” which can keep an anxiety general rather than piercing; Hamlet has been able to keep himself occupied with his antic disposition, but now, he’s presented with the source of a considerable amount of his heart-ache. I think it’s clear that he tries to play-up the antic disposition in this scene…but like many of the other scenes, he repeats himself: get thee to a nunnery, to a nunnery go etc (a nunnery, in addition to being a convent, is also a whorehouse). Typically, the scene is played out with Hamlet spiting fire (and indeed, the text very much supports this approach), but what if there was another layer we could add that could at once justify the fire and augment it with solicitude? What if we could see what their relationship used to be like?

One has to remember: neither of them are being cruel to each other because they want to. They are doing it because they believe they have to. What’s worse than watching someone you love being tortured by your hands? Or being tortured by the one you love? And how much worse is it to know that you may never be able to be with that person again because of outside circumstances? In Romeo and Juliet, they fight to be together (with consequences more or less disastrous, though romantic); but the world of Hamlet is different. Ophelia and Hamlet choose, for varying reasons, to seemingly abandon this love. Why? What if it is to protect the other lover? What if Hamlet is being particularly cruel to Ophelia to lessen the blow of their dissection? What if Ophelia is doing the same by avoiding him? How much agony must they suffer doing thus!

In the nunnery scene, this is what I think we should concentrate on. What if Hamlet is indeed urging Ophelia to go to a nunnery for her protection? And since it seems quite plausible that he knows they’re being overheard “…where is your father?” why not direct the fire to the listeners, and make all the nunnery talk an almost whispered importunity to Ophelia? Whether or not she actually gets the hint is beside the point. Imagine watching two people who are deeply in love trying to communicate with each other in the way that they must because of their circumstances, and seeing them fail by a hair’s breadth. The audience will understand; the lovers will not. The audience will want them to be together; but the fates decree that they cannot achieve this. This is heart breaking. To have Hamlet screaming away about the wantonness of women in general works also (it’s in the lines), but would not this other approach be superior? Where fury is joined with heart break? Where Hamlet is beside himself with frustration at trying to communicate a message he desperately wants Ophelia to apprehend, but seeing it fail? Where Ophelia is trying to maintain her duty to her father while trying not to cause further damage to her lover (whose madness, no doubt, she believes was caused by her), only to see him maniacally oscillating between wrath and despair? This way Polonius and Claudius hear the choler, but the audience sees the earnest entreaty.

The other scene they have together is a little more complex; I’ve been puzzling over it. Hamlet is certainly on edge: he can’t even let the players finish their presentation before he spoils the ending and roils the King. He is feverish; all his lines support it. His treatment of Ophelia here may just be acrid; or…perhaps he’s very charming and playful…in the full up-swing of a manic fit. Ophelia herself says he’s merry.

In all this, I want to make it clear that my objective is not to make the audience like me, but to tell the story of Hamlet’s love for Ophelia; so if I need to do nasty things to make that clear, it shall be done. The more I can show Hamlet’s love for Ophelia, the more she has to work with for her madness, and the more Hamlet has to work with when he sees that she’s died. He seems to forget all about her in the last scene (5.2.), and concentrates on courting Laertes’ favour for his father’s murder. It’s strange how she disappears, but one cannot concoct new lines to account for this (and be respected anyway). I know I’ll certainly be thinking about her, but I want to find a way to convey that to the audience. Perhaps I can do something with the urn? Or with a picture? Perhaps it’s too much, and I should just focus on the play at hand? We’ll see what comes up in rehearsal!

Nov 5Rehearsal. (Spoiler alert: MEDIUM) Today we explored 3.2. with Hamlet and Ophelia. Kurt didn’t want to explore my suggestion (read above) but rather asked us to play the scene a little more like a romantic comedy, wherein I woo Ophelia. We both had a very difficult time in implementing this approach, since it’s entirely sub-text reliant, and doesn’t stand up well to textual scrutiny. We got through the beginning of the scene, but ran out of time. It’s frustrating to be unable to deliver something properly in rehearsal, no matter what the suggestion may be. We’ll be able to revisit this on Tuesday. Luke arrived and we blasted through our Hamlet and Horatio scenes; there’s very little work to be done on developing relationship here.

Nov 6 – (Spoiler alert: HIGH) Rehearsal. We revisited 3.4. which went swimmingly. Suzanne and I remembered all our marks and came up with some very nice discoveries. Everyone involved was happy with what we came up with; I’m excited to see where we go with it. After this, we covered the scene with the Ghost. Ralph came to read for the Ghost, since Kurt was going to be the body, though, as we played the scene and Ralph came up with this notion that the Ghost could control Hamlet’s movements, and through that, he found a way to tell his story. Even though we were just rehearsing it, the notion picked up quickly and I found that the feeling of having my limbs controlled by another left quite an impression on both me, and everyone in the room. This drastically changed the scene with Horatio afterwards; instead of mounting to a threatening fury while commanding Horatio to swear (which is also an interesting route), I end up being lost in wonder, feeling entirely out of my element, and must therefore rely upon my friend. A solid day!

Nov 8 – (Spoiler alert: HIGH) Rehearsal. We revisited 3.1. (Hamlet and Ophelia), since both Erynn and I are having trouble digesting and implementing what we received last time. We spent the majority of our time discussing our difficulties until all three of us (Kurt) managed to find a path that works for everyone; we immediately began rehearsing and found that it was successful; Ophelia begins by being concerned for Hamlet and must discover that he’s not actually deranged; she also alerts him to the fact that they’re being watched: they then make a silent pact and begin to play off each other for the benefit of their audience (Claudius and Polonius). We didn’t get through the scene, but we all understood that we’re off to a much more solid start than before. It’s now only a matter of working in texture. Then Luke and Scott came and we worked the Osric scene; Scott is altogether too funny. Then Devin arrived and, along with Kurt, we worked the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern scenes. I had a curious discovery while working on “what a piece of work is a man”, wherein I describe the wonderful work that the human being is, all the while looking over at a mutated Siamese twin, grinning perversely: it’s as if I’m mocking them, since they are the exact opposite of what I’m describing. Kurt had a good laugh about this. I think it will read to an audience; it’s…irresistible given our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. We closed the day having covered more territory than we had anticipated. This is a good sign!

Nov 9Hamlet and Gertrude (Spoiler alert: MEDIUM). While I was going over my lines today, I revisited 3.4. and came to the section after Hamlet sees the ghost. In rehearsal, we ended up having me stationary in a way that I don’t wholly agree with, though Kurt assures me, after the furor of the scene, this stillness is a welcome respite and paints a beautiful picture.

The thing about Hamlet is that he has several instances of repeating things three times (until Act 5 of course). In 3.4. Hamlet repeats variations on “good night” much more than that (just as he repeats his “farewells” with Ophelia almost every other sentence).There’s something to these failed attempts to depart. The business with Ophelia has now more or less been settled, so I know how to deal with those.

The “good nights” with Gertrude however, appear to me as something else. I can’t simply say a line because it is written and trust that it will go over: it’s sloppy and lazy. There is a reason for every line that’s spoken, and in the 3.4. that we’re doing right now, I’m glossing over these “good nights.” I started to wonder why Hamlet says them only to continue speaking afterwards. Originally I thought that it was on account of the fact that his thoughts had been scattered by his outburst and the visitation from the ghost (still a very good choice), though the way we’ve constructed the scene demands something a little different…as I pondered over this an idea came to me: what if Hamlet was feeling guilty for the way he’s treated his mother? She doesn’t respond to him much in the latter part of the scene, and so perhaps Hamlet interprets this as a kind of disappointment or disassociation on her part. He can then continue speaking as a means to improve his standing in his mother’s eyes, having nearly killed her as he has. I look forward to trying this the next time we rehearse the scene.


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