Action!: The End
Two Film Versions of the Ending to Hamlet: • Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (at last Thursday’s showing) • Olivier's Hamlet (film clip) -19 mins.
Opposite possible reactions to ending of the play: 1. Hamlet has "won" (Olivier): – transcendence. – God's Providence; kingdom purged. – Hamlet acts with heroism of a soldier and achieves "glory.“
2. Hamlet has "lost" (Branagh): – descent into cold grave; King Hamlet’s statue/memory torn down. – Hamlet succumbs to a diseased court attacked from within – uncaring force of soldier/revenge rules (Fortinbras) However, to choose one or other reading would be a reduction of the play and of Hamlet's character.
What finally allows Hamlet to take action and kill Claudius? • It is very hard to know what allows Hamlet to act in the end, since Hamlet tells us less in the second half of the play.
I propose 5 interlocking keys that help open the door to deliberate action for Hamlet.
1) Hamlet experiences killing and death close-up in the 2nd half of the play, and develops a new recognition of death's commonality. • kills Polonius. • signs death warrant of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. • meets gravedigger (and holds death's skull). In these scenes, Hamlet revisits the question of the commonality of death: 4.3.16-31 and, holding a skull, 5.1.204-19. • Hamlet now accepts death as the great leveler. • forces Claudius to face the physical fact of death (Polonius's body)
2) Those Hamlet cares most about die: Ophelia and Gertrude.
3) Hamlet's action is ratified by a now accelerated (and thus recognizable) pattern of "maimed" ritual—a pervasive state of “rottenness” in Denmark.
Which of the following is NOT a maimed ritual? A) B) C) D) E)
The conventional advice of mother to son The conventional advice of brother to sister Polonius’s funeral Ophelia’s funeral The duel
The "rottenness" in Denmark, remarked upon by Marcellus in the opening act, has penetrated to the very core of society’s language: • see the distorted, affected language of the courtier, Osiric (pp. 132-136; 5.2.81-196).
Notice what’s also happening to the scenes in the latter half of the play. There are 2 scenes in Act 2; how many scenes are there in Act 4? A) B) C) D) E)
3 4 5 6 7
The multiplication of short scenes in the 4th Act creates a sense of meaningless fragmentation.
It is in the midst specifically of the broken ritual of the duel that Hamlet finally completes the revenge act.
4) Hamlet has gained perspective on himself in the latter half of the play. He can now calmly see “being” and “not being” fold in upon themselves, and even laugh about it. • Joking with the gravedigger leads to the implication that Hamlet's death was sealed from the moment of his birth. – gravedigger's career began the year Hamlet was born. – Wither's A Collection of Emblemes (1635): "As soone, as wee to bee, begunne; We did beginne, to be Undone." • But Hamlet also experiences something of a rebirth: – He returns to England "naked," like a babe (4.7.44 and again 52); he is reborn into the acceptance of death. • death is a joke on all of us because it levels our aspirations and pretensions; it mains the ritual of life. • recognizing the jest of it all allows one to see and accept the pun of "both" (life/death) rather than be forced to choose "either or" ("to be or not to be").
So far we have found 4 keys that help open the door to action: 1) Hamlet experiences killing and death close-up in the second half of the play, and develops a new recognition of death's commonality. 2) Those Hamlet cares most about die: Ophelia and Gertrude. 3) Hamlet's action is ratified by a now accelerated (and thus recognizable) pattern of "maimed" rituals. 4) Hamlet has gained perspective on himself in the latter half of the play.
5) "The readiness is all." This is the most important key to action, 5.2.220-225: Horatio: If your mind dislike anything, obey it. I will forestall their repair hither and say you are not fit. Hamlet: Not a whit, we defy augury. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is't to leave betimes? Let be.
Do you think Hamlet's newfound "readiness is all" is a kind of cop-out? A) Yes
The idea of "the readiness is all" is born of two realizations: 1. the realization that this life, not the afterlife, is undiscovered. 2. the belief that God works through our actions and purposes, which we ourselves don't understand. • see Player King: "Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own" (3.2.219). • see the idea of Providence prefigured in the sea voyage: 5.2.1-55.
• What is expressed in “the readiness is all” is a new idea of responsible action in the form of a state of active passivity. • this a hard-earned position, earned through an arduous battle with all the complex possibilities and "sea of troubles" of life.
Professor Fumerton's Gravedigger Scene:
-? "The rest is silence."
But for The Simpson’s . . .