And with incredible elegance, Shakespeare makes it clear that while Hamlet and the audience can see this ghost, Gertrude cannot. He doesn’t have to put in an explanatory stage direction like (The Ghost is not visible to Gertrude.) He just has her say this gorgeous line about what she sees instead. This is what someone talking to a ghost that you cannot see looks like. This is what an absence that feels like a presence to someone else looks like.
It does, too. And not just when she looks amazed at something she sees. No, no, not just before the ancient ruins or the wilds of Madagascar or a bear and her cub. Amazement sits on her for all the ways she is also amazing to the rest of us. A trailblazer, a champion, an explorer, a community builder, an advocate, a relentlessly good human.
Amazement sits on her from all angles.
It feels like, this whole time, this whole play, the Queen’s been pretty skeptical of this whole mad show Hamlet’s been putting on. She knows her son – knows the background and is generally pretty spot on about the general cause (aside from the murder of her husband part.)
But here, she sees her son suddenly start talking to angels and a ghostly figure and she stops resisting all of the voices that have been proclaiming his madness.
This is a surrender to what everyone has said. This is a bowing to the crowd. This is a resignation.
It feels like so many of the worlds ills could be resolved if we simply learned how to respect a woman’s request for no more. It is astonishingly rare for this sort of request to be heard.
We are trained from an early age to ignore women and encourage men.
We allow men to speak and consistently interrupt women. I say we – because as much as I could hope that I don’t personally have this bias, it is so ingrained in culture, I cannot see how it could have avoided being embedded in me too.
In its extreme, this tendency is what leads to rape. A woman’s request is ignored, just as in conversation, it extends out to where, of course, it is ignored in a context where sexual consent isn’t something men are encouraged to think about. They’re encouraged to push past boundaries – even just simple verbal ones like “No more.”
He is not being sweet right here, mama. No way. Not sweet at all. I know you’d like to remind him that he has the capacity to be sweet but right now…he’s not.
It’s funny how we do this, how we try to call forth someone’s better self like this in moments of distress. We try and remind a violent person that he’s not usually this way.
I think of Tony’s story about passing a man he knew who was in the process of threatening a crowd of people with, like, Molotov cocktails in hand (I can’t recall the weapon now) and Tony’s response, as he passed by, was not to try and stop the man or remind him that he was usually a very sweet man – but to try and be as ordinary as possible – to somehow shake him out of his state – which is a heightened, extraordinarily, at the edges place – and he just said, “Hey, (Whatever his name was) Good Morning!”
Like the mundane might be the way to bring someone back down to earth.
Sweetness almost never works but we almost always try it.
When I don’t want to hear something,
I feel it in my belly.
It feels more like getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly than like getting knifed – the ears.
I like the metaphor a lot – it would be fun to play the Queen and really viscerally feel like Hamlet’s words are daggers. It would, I think, actually help to play this scene. It’s not what he says, then, just the repeated image of daggers every time he speaks.
And probably it’s not what he’s saying but how he’s saying it.
If I were to play the Queen now, I could explore how she is different from me. She would feel this in her ears – what I could feel in my guts and on that we could hang our difference.
We could build out from there.
If I’m mad or upset enough to say this, it’s really time to stop talking – because the emotional train has left the station and it will only get worse from here. If you keep talking after I’ve asked you to stop, you’re going to get either a major meltdown or a fight that it will take months, maybe years to recover from.
I don’t generally ask people to shut up. I will listen for hours without complaint. If I ask you to stop, the content has pulled the trigger on an emotional gun and I will because a storm of one kind or another. I am slow to anger – but I can feel it build in my guts – I can sense the rise of the tide, the bile or the wind, whichever one is coming.
I’m not saying you’re required to stop speaking if I ask you to – but I am warning you of the consequences.
I’m not gonna lie. This line may have been the hardest one for me to say when I played this role. I just – couldn’t get my head around feeling convinced by that speech. Feel guilty for lusting? Sure, I can understand feeling guilty for loving the wrong dude. But I just couldn’t work out what about any of this sexist, ageist speech was the trigger for her seeing into her soul. Is this true for her?
I think, if I were to play this part again, I’d have to spend a lot of time trying to work out what gets her here.
I’m pretty sure I just responded to my Hamlet’s tone and energy and didn’t think too deeply about what he was saying before finally just saying this line as best as I could – as if I believed it. Which is really the job, I guess. But I can’t help wishing I could have made some sense of it, some internal logic of it, some trigger in it that would have really allowed me to feel as though I were feeling soul stained.
Really dude. You have been talking for 36 lines already. That is a LOT of speechifying. That’s fine when you’re talking to yourself – but if you’re doing that when talking to another person, it’s really not great conversation. I’ve been on the receiving end of many speeches, just as long and they are taxing and trying to the listener. Ask a question sometimes, Hamlet. Try listening on occasion.
And not just to your dad.
Normally a quiet document
Cataloging all manners of acts
A child picks a daisy
A child throws a rock
A man writes a love letter
A man murders his wife
A leader makes a speech
A leader bankrupts the nation
It all just ticks along
It doesn’t have time to judge
It takes too much time to catalogue everything
But occasionally something runs through shouting
It’s really no worse than half the other things in the index
But it makes more noise.