Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Hamlet.
There are 3728 lines in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1864, or at Act Three, Scene Two, line 161. Now, Rodes’ theory postulated that you could find at the midpoint (or within twenty lines either way) a speech that perfectly summed up the major theme of the play. The 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions. Of course, given Hamlet’s amount of prose (a solid 27%) and its notorious differences between quarto and folio releases, you’ve got to wonder if this theory still works, or if there will be something rotten in the texts of Denmark.
Surprisingly, it works (despite that in this case, it’s less a speech than a section of the play that holds the key).
The midpoint falls near the beginning of–you guessed it–the play-within-a-play, “The Mousetrap.” Artifice, partially created by Hamlet himself.
As I read and re-read the play, I’m seeing this idea of artifice being crucial. Hamlet is not, was not, will never be mad. It is just a part he’s playing. And as such, he is not genuine, and cannot then be a genuine king. Claudius, too, is an actor, playing the role of sovereign, a diplomatic politician, when he is really nothing more than a usurping, adulterous murderer.
Fortinbras, on the other hand, is an actor of a different sort. He takes action, or rather he makes action. There seems to be no artifice.
And Fortinbras is the last man (and monarch) standing.
Oh, Rodes, you magnificent bastard… even when I think you’re beat, you beat me.