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TOPIC: What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene)

What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 7 years 2 months ago #1071

About the "famous ape" that Hamlet mentions in the Closet Scene.....

Earlier in this thread, I mentioned this:

~~~~~
... and, like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
And break your own neck down.
~~~~~

And I wrote: "Hamlet's figure of the ape and basket is a subtle, abstruse allusion to Socrates, which takes a while to explain."

There is also a "famous ape" in English history, in a way. The English word "jackanapes" comes from the nickname Jac Napes, which was applied to William de la Pole, the first Duke of Suffolk. He got the nickname because of a heraldic device he used, showing the chain and clog (weight) of a tame ape. "Chain and clog" means a chain-and-ball that would be attached to an ankle.

William de la Pole was famous in his day. He served England as a soldier during the Hundred Years' War. He was the commander who had the honor, so to speak, of surrendering to Joan of Arc. His Duchess was a granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer.

De la Pole lost his popularity in England after the murder of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. He was suspected of complicity in the death of Gloucester, and although he declared his innocence, he was eventually beheaded.

Actors were called "apes" in Shakespeare's time, so William de la Pole's heraldry, having to do with an ape, would have been of interest to the author. Heraldry having to do with an ape is rare. Also, the name, Pole, obviously provides a little wordplay with Polonius, who's prominently dead in the Closet Scene. Also, Hamlet is trying to warn Gertrude that Claudius could be a threat to her life, and historically, William de la Pole was beheaded.

So, Hamlet's mention of the "famous ape" probably includes a mix of allusion to two things, both rather abstruse: Socrates, and William de la Pole.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 7 years 2 months ago #1072

akfarrar wrote:
Only just caught up with this thread and am horrified at the idea of "Shakespearian correctness"!

Sure, heaven forbid anybody should learn anything about Hamlet. It would interfere so dreadfully with the idle ramblings of those who don't know anything about Hamlet. That would be a tragedy.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 7 years 2 months ago #1159

Willedever wrote:
When Hamlet points with his bloody sword . . .
Perhaps a foolish question, but how is it that the sword withdrawn from Polonius, that passes back through his clothing and the arras still has blood on it?

Regards, Charles
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 7 years 2 months ago #1162

Because it cuts a rough hole in both the clothes and the arras?
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 7 years 2 months ago #1163

It's unlikely a simple pass through cloth would remove all the blood from a sword. Not that blood would be dripping. The amount of blood would depend on various factors: sharpness of the sword tip, type and weave of the cloth, the amount the sword is twisted by natural arm motion, etc. In stage performance, viewed only at a distance, the "blood" can be safely skipped. In video work, a quick closeup could be done of the sword tip, showing a streak of "blood" to demonstrate a stabbing occurred. Psychologically, Gertrude will see the sword as very bloody, although to a dispassionate observer, at the same distance, it might look clean.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 7 years 2 months ago #1165

One further note on the "famous ape." Most immediately, it can be read simply as reference to Polonius. Polonius said he "played at the university" and was accounted a good actor. That doesn't exactly make Polonius a "famous ape," but it's close, especially if "famous" is read as tinged with sarcasm. Viewed in that way, Hamlet would be trying to warn Gertrude that if she isn't careful around Claudius, she could end up dead like Polonius. For allusion to Polonius, Hamlet's word "basket" has to be read as "hiding place."

So, Shakespeare may have "madly" mixed three ideas in Hamlet's "famous ape" reference.

1. Polonius, for whom "ape" goes back to him playing at the U., and for whom "basket" is "a hiding place."

2. Socrates, who was "aped" in Aristophanes Clouds, where there was mischief, or farce, involving a basket.

3. William de la Pole, the "famous ape" in a way, in English history, via his "ape" heraldry, whose neck was broken by the executioner's blade.

As already mentioned, all that Hamlet, himself, is trying to say is, 'don't shout secrets from the house top.' For that, birds symbolize secrets, and shouting something from the house top is an old figure of speech. Hamlet simply means "don't tell."

Gertrude can't follow Hamlet's mangled figures of speech, and thinks that Hamlet, in his lunacy, has caught a basketful of birds and put them on the roof, and he's warning her to leave his birds alone.

There's even more. In religious depiction, the body is the "house" of the soul. The "house top" would be the head, which is a container like a basket. The brain is in the head. So, a basket of birds, on the "house" top = headful of birds = birdbrain.

In Hamlet's speech.....

~~~~~
No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
Unpeg the basket on the house's top,
Let the birds fly; and, like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
And break your own neck down.
~~~~~

Altogether, it gives.....

1. Where the "ape" reference came from: a tangled mix of reference to Polonius, Socrates, and William de la Pole.

2. What Hamlet actually means with his birds on the house top reference: simply, "don't tell." Then with the "ape" reference he means, "don't end up dead like Polonius or William de la Pole."

3. How Gertrude hears it: her crazy son has caught a basketful of birds, and put it on the roof. And she doesn't know any "famous ape," which sounds like mad babble to her.

4. From Shakespeare to the reader: Hamlet is being a "birdbrain" in how he's "acting" toward Gertrude. Hamlet is trying to put on a big show to impress Gertrude, and "catch her conscience," but his "aping" is lousy, and he's being a birdbrain.

It's one of the more complicated speeches in Hamlet, no doubt.

One way to produce a "mad" effect in writing, is to garble metaphors and allusions, and mix them together. Shakespeare could do that, oh yeah.
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