How long do you think, King Claudius?
I mean – how long COULD she have been thus? Didn’t you JUST see her at the play? Was she thus then?
Or has somehow a lot of time passed since the play and Polonius’ death? It always felt to me as if this scene was the next day – that no time had passed at all. Which would make this a stupid question.
But I can forgive him for it actually, if it is that long (which I can’t be sure it is) – it’s hard to know what to say or do around madness.
Just a note, for future reference. If I happen to go mad, the way to call me back is not with “pretty.” If you’re trying to get through to me the way Claudius is (theoretically) trying to get through to Ophelia, “pretty” is not going to do it. I think it will probably not be effective for most women. The one possible exception I can think of would be Blanche DuBois. She might respond to “pretty.” But even Blanche would need more than Pretty to call her back.
I very much want what Ophelia’s saying in the previous bit to NOT be a conceit upon her father. I want her to trying like hell to communicate something to Claudius and I want him to understand it fully and excuse his understanding with this line.
I’m not sure I have justification for this – but her lines are so oblique and Claudius is trying to hard to make everything about Polonius that it feels like there has to be some underlying message passing between them.
This is where I might really go deep in a rehearsal process – I might come up with some story about Claudius having approached Ophelia in the past. Like, maybe, before he killed the King and married Gertrude, he tried to seduce her or he proposed or somehow secretly had a relationship with her. And they never talked about it again..but Claudius is afraid that it will come out – so he is assiduously defending against any other interpretation. This is why he declares “it springs all from her father’s death” because it definitely doesn’t. And he has no reason to protect Hamlet.
Another possible research topic (probably already investigated):
“Pretty-ness in Shakespeare.”
Why is the king calling Ophelia “pretty lady”? Usually she’s called “Fair” and “fairness” appears a whole lot more in Shakespeare than “pretty.” Are there distinctions between “pretty,” “fair” and “beautiful” at this time?
“Pretty” has a kind of diminutive quality. Maria in West Side Story feels pretty – not beautiful – it has a youthful quality. Young girls are pretty. Women are beautiful. Men are never pretty in Shakespeare. But I suspect Adonis (at least) is beautiful. There is male and female beauty – but men who are pretty are feminine – so in a sense pretty men might as well be women as far as these distinctions go.
It does make me wonder if Claudius is speaking to Ophelia like a child.
I’d like to see Claudius at some self-help workshop where the leader asks everyone what they think will make them truly happy.
Some people say money, others say love.
Claudius, when it’s his turn says, “the death of Hamlet.”
And our unflappable workshop leader doesn’t even flinch – she just proceeds to demonstrate how the things we think we want won’t ACTUALLY provide us happiness. Most of her examples are about power and money and love and she struggles to find a way to fold in the murder of a nephew, but she does manage to include it in a list at some point.
It’s just occurred to me now that despite the formality of the king’s language in this bit at the beginning, he has been speaking to England in the informal “thee/thou” throughout. Is this because he’s speaking to a fellow king? Is there some turn of language that would have the king of Norway, say, calling the King of Scotland “Thou?” OR – is it that speaking to a collective – like the entire country of England suggests an informal speech? Like “thou America…thou shalt be forced to welcome me home before too long whether thou wilt or no.”
And of course the writer of this speech is English, speaking this in England – though the character is playing a foreign king – does it implicate the audience a bit more that way? To say “thou must cure me” – not just this abstract country but the one everyone happens to be standing in it at the time.
Like, If I were standing in America, pretending to be a Swedish king and then I said, “Thou, America, it is thy job to take care of my murdery business.”
There’s a lot to consider about this thou-ing here.
I’m in Ireland as I write this and having my first palpable experience of understanding imperialism. I’m from a country that was part of the Empire – but we shook it off – rather a lot sooner than this country managed it – so the effects in my country would seem to have pretty much worn off. We celebrate our independence while simultaneously expressing profound anglophilia. My people will wear their red white and blue while going mad for Downton Abbey. Meanwhile, closer to the bone – Ireland (well, a part of Ireland) is independent and celebrating this year the 100th anniversary of the uprising the made that possible. But the culture is so intertwined with English culture, it is hard for me, as an American outsider, to separate the two.
Here in Dublin, surrounded by Boots and Tesco and Marks & Spencer, I feel as much in England as I feel in London. And I find myself wrestling with conflicting feelings – a sense of solidarity with the people of Ireland and all their independence but also a confusion – due to my experience of Dublin as being very much just like a neighborhood of London I hadn’t visited before.
Has England left the Republic of Ireland only to re-invade economically? And if England is a corporate colonizer then America too is a corporate colonizer. There are as many American corporations here, I’d wager. Are England and America in an imperialist corporate competition for the soul of Dublin? I wonder who will win.
Even in his imagination, in his talking to himself, Claudius speaks like a politician. He winds his way around this political speech to get to the bullet in the gun – which is “the present death of Hamlet.”
It is really extraordinary the way this phrase winds and winds and winds and turns and winds until it finally turns the corner onto its purpose.
And again with Claudius, I have to wonder who this is FOR. I think of political speech as being obfuscation for an audience – but in this case, the only audience (besides the audience of the play, of course) is himself. Is Claudius hiding what he’s about to do to Hamlet even from himself?
He’s talking to “England” and sure, he has cause to obscure his case for England – but England is definitely not really listening at this point.
This speech has a really interesting trajectory…this beginning, full of tangential, obfuscating political speech that leads, matter-of-factly to “the present death of Hamlet” which is crystal clear. Then the speech loses the political tone entirely and honesty starts simplifying the language and filling it with emotion. The rage leaks out and it all shifts in this sentence.
So England is in debt to Denmark after Denmark whooped English butt in some kind of war situation. But I wonder if this was Claudius’ battle that was won over England. Because I don’t think he’s had time to defeat England since he took office. He’s preparing for war, for sure – but it would appear that England is already beat. So it’s really his brother’s favor he’s calling in here. Hamlet Sr. most likely beat England and got it indebted to Denmark…and here’s Claudius using the favor England owes Hamlet Sr., really, to get Hamlet Jr. killed. It’s a little bit funny.
But I suppose it might be possible that Claudius played some role in the English battles…maybe he passed some intelligence to them that kept some key personnel from getting slaughtered or whatever.. and then England would owe HIM, not just the Kingdom of Denmark.
I fear my love for England MAY be unrequited. Certainly England tolerates my occasional visits and my sporadic affections. But when I tried to stay, England very quickly swung its immigration laws into action and I had to return to the country of my birth – which, whether it wanted me or not, had to allow me to return.