In many plays, we get little (and sometimes big) clues to character by the names Shakespeare chooses. Hamlet? Not so much.
This week’s Shakespeare news review includes the nationwide tour of a First Folio, “Atomic Shakespeare,” DruidShakespeare, “Gary Busey’s One-Man Hamlet,” and Forensic Shakespeare. PLUS our usual recap of this week’s daily highlights in Shakespearean history.
Our Hamlet plot summary picks up with the first three scenes of Act Three.
When we left Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, he had devised a plan to use the performance of a play to “capture the conscience” (II.ii.543-4) of the king. When we rejoin Hamlet the play, Claudius enters with his queen, Polonius, Ophelia, and his spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The king asks for reports. Rosencrantz admits that Hamlet himself admits his “distracted” (III.i.5) state, but nothing more; Guildenstern feels that Hamlet’s “crafty madness” (III.i.8) hides “his true state” (III.i.10). Both Rosencrantz and Polonius note Hamlet’s “joy” (III.i.18) at the players; Claudius states his “content(edness)” (III.i.24) at the news.
At this point, Claudius sends away the courtiers and his wife, as the king and Polonius set Ophelia out as bait for Hamlet while they hide to watch. Hamlet enters and begins what most consider to be (see what I’m doing here?) the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare:
This week’s podcast kicks off our three month-long discussion of Hamlet with the first of a three-part plot summary.
Our Hamlet plot summary continues with Act Two, Scene Two, the play’s longest scene.
Our Hamlet plot summary continues with Act One, Scene Four, when it’s later that night, and Hamlet has joined Horatio and Marcellus on the battlements, waiting for the Ghost.
The Ghost doesn’t appear right away, but something else does: the sound of the king rousing and drinking, a custom Hamlet feels is “more honored in the breach than the observance” (I.iv.16), since it has cemented the Danes’ reputation as “drunkards” (I.iv.19) and have degraded their “achievements” (I.iv.21). After his long rant against the “dram of evil” (I.iv.36) that can kill “all the noble substance” (I.iv.37), the Ghost makes his appearance.
Hamlet immediately fears the apparition, calling for “angels and ministers of grace (to) defend us” (I.iv.39). He doesn’t know if the spirit is good or evil, “from heaven or … from hell” (I.iv.41), but despite this, he will call the Ghost, “Hamlet, // King, father, Dane” (I.iv. 44-5). He questions the apparition, calls for it to answer him. The Ghost remains silent but “beckons” (I.iv.58) for Hamlet to follow. Horatio and Marcellus plead with him not to follow the Ghost, fearing it might “deprive (Hamlet’s) sovereignty of reason // And draw (him) into madness” (I.iv.73-4). Hamlet struggles and breaks free from his partners, who are left at the end of the scene to proclaim, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (I.iv.90).
I’ll be delivering a presentation entitled “What’s the matter with Shakespeare? Words, words words…” for the Ventura County Reading Association on Thursday, April 9.
Hamlet begins simply enough–with question: “Who’s there?” (I.i.1). And if this was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, it might have been proceeded by the sound of knocking. But this is not a knock-knock joke, as the response is more than just a little paranoid: “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself” (I.i.2).
As it turns out, we the audience have happened upon two sentries, Barnardo and Francisco, the former coming to relieve the latter. These are men who are on-edge. Barnardo tells Francisco that if he sees Horatio and Marcellus, then he should send them to Barnardo; he doesn’t have to wait long… they arrive in the next line. Once Francisco has left the stage, Horatio give some inkling why the guards are nervous: “What, has this thing appeared again tonight?” (I.i.21).
Thing? Appeared? Night? Nope, not a knock-knock joke.
This week’s Shakespeare news review includes Mark Rylance, season announcements by the Texas Shakespeare Festival, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and a couple of different Midsummer Night’s Dreams. PLUS our usual recap of this week’s daily highlights in Shakespearean history.
The Second Quarto (1603-4): The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
The First Folio (1623): The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Tragical History or Tragedy?
What’s the difference? Is it important?