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.
This is a little like how my friends talk to one another. I wonder when this started happening. When did we start calling one another lady?
It is entirely affectionate and yet somehow also ironic, in the sense that not one of us could be considered a lady in any of the traditional sense of the word. I mean, sure, we’re all ladies in that we are all women – but most of us aren’t particularly lady-like. Even the very femme-y ones who wear a lot of lipstick.
I wonder if previous generations had more to contend with in terms of their associations with being a lady. In fact, I’m fairly certain they did. But us? We grew up with Free to Be You and Me and that Ladies First story about the “real little lady” who always insists on Ladies First and then gets eaten by a tiger.
So…maybe it’s a little like when gay men call one another “Girl” – it’s a thing that might once have been loaded with one thing, then gets loaded with another.
Speak to her yourself, Ghost!
You clearly have the power of speech.
Why you getting’ all shy in your ethereal years? You’re not showing yourself either. Even if you have some weird clause in your death contract about only speaking to your son, you don’t seem to have a limitation on who you can show yourself to.
I mean, Barnardo gets to see you, for crying out loud. But you can’t make a ghostly appearance to your wife? Who you loved? Who is clearly thinking that her son has lost his mind?
The rules of being a ghost are very confusing.
It is inconceivable that women’s bodies were considered the weakest. It is clear that no one ever saw a woman deliver a baby. I guess the prohibition on men being around for such a thing was strong.
But damn. I’ve never had a baby or seen one delivered and yet I still understand very clearly how strong a woman’s body is to accomplish that feat.
But I guess some women couldn’t lift a boulder with the same ease as some men and so ended up labeled as weak.
However – Gertrude is clearly strong as hell. She delivered Hamlet, one would assume, survived the loss of her husband and puts up with a whole lot of nonsense with grace.
This ghost of her husband is an asshole calling her the weakest body. Screw him!
It sounds like the Ghost wants Hamlet to break up a fight between Gertrude and her struggling soul. Like there’s her soul on one side and Gertrude on the other and if her soul got a chance, it would take Gertie right out. So the Ghost is trying to save her.
But despite the Ghost’s supernatural origins, I’m not sure he’s assessing the situation correctly. Gertrude is likely not in the middle of soul struggle. She’s probably not trying to work on a moral problem. She’s probably not wondering if she should Be Or Not Be in this moment. She’s probably not examining her life’s choices, wondering if she did the right thing right about now. No. Right now, she’s watching her son talk to the wall as if it were listening. She’s watching her (only) son fly off his rocker.
I doubt there’s a fight about it all. She’s probably just concerned.
The Ghost may come from beyond but the still might have some trouble reading his wife. It’s impossible that this could have been a problem in their marriage.
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.
I feel like I could use a ghostly visitation like this occasionally. Sometimes in the day to day operations of life, I lose track of what the really important things to me are. I lose the big picture purpose in taking care of the details.
If I had my own personal ghost who would pop in and whet my almost blunted purpose, I feel sure I’d get a lot closer to my goals. I might need some help, though, knowing which purpose the ghost might mean. Which, of the many purposes that make up my basket of purposes, is the one that is blunted?
Hamlet’s lucky in that the purpose that this ghost means is pretty clear cut. It’s revenge. Which, you know, as purposes go – I’m very glad that this one isn’t in my basket.
There are so many things I thought I’d remember forever. Moments of romance or trauma. Teacher’s names, things they said to me. Faces. Even ones I’ve only seen once.
I used to remember everything. I loved this line from Allegra Maud Goldman – it went, “I have a terrible memory. I remember everything.” I identified with that. But I’ve discovered that when I go to retrieve details of a memory, if I go to tell a story from my past, for example, the details are gone. I’ve chunked the idea of the memory but I can’t quite place the order of events or the names or the people.
Or don’t say. Sometimes I think we may overdo our mandate for self expression. My client today overwhelmed me with an abundance of oversharing. Yesterday, we saw two performances that were clearly devised to express something very personal – but both were so sad, so close to the bone, so awkward and uncomfortable that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could experience them as empowering. Those things didn’t need to be said. I didn’t need to hear them. I rather wish I hadn’t.
It’s remarkable how so much criticism of this play can be summed up in this line. It’s as if the critics are all the ghost, they’re all Hamlet’s father, or who Hamlet thinks his father is, and they all think the principal issue of this play is Hamlet’s delay.
Why, if he’d just gone right in to the court and killed Claudius right away, that would be the right thing: If he’d just listened to his father. If he’d just been a more obedient son.
This tells us a lot more about the critics and their relationships with their fathers and sons than it does about Hamlet.