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TOPIC: the Nunnery Scene

the Nunnery Scene 6 years 11 months ago #882

Here's a walk-through of the "Nunnery Scene," which is Scene 8 in the play, traditionally Act 3 scene 1.

The Scene begins with Claudius talking to R & G about Hamlet. They report that they haven't found out anything in particular about Hamlet. They mention the arrival of the Players, who'll perform a play that night. Claudius dismsses R & G and they exit.

The preparation to eavesdrop on Hamlet then begins. Claudius says.....

... we have closely sent for Hamlet hither,

Claudius's word "closely" has a double meaning. First, it means "privately." The message to Hamlet said Claudius wanted a private meeting with him, just the two of them. Claudius expressed it that way to ensure Hamlet shows up alone. Hamlet's conversation with Ophelia would be inhibited with other people standing around, and Claudius knows that. So Claudius said it was to be a private meeting.

This idea of "close" is the same as for Gertrude's "Closet." A "close" meeting is a private meeting; Gertrude's Closet is her room for private conversation.

Second, "closely" means it's close to the time when Hamlet should be there. The Bard got double-duty out of "closely," as he did with many words and phrases in the play.

Going back just a tad.....

Sweet Gertrude, leave us two,

Claudius told Gertrude to leave, without even thinking about it. She's just going to walk out, while they stay and eavesdrop on what her son says? Dream on. Claudius should know better.

Gertrude will say.....

I shall obey you.

In a pig's eye. There's no time to argue the point, because Hamlet is due to arrive any minute. But she isn't leaving. There's another arras in the room, in the direction of the door.

Gertrude walks toward the door, looking back over her shoulder. When Claudius and Polonius turn to Ophelia, and Ophelia looks at them, Gertrude steps behind the other arras to hide. She's going to listen, too. The other characters never know she's there.

Polonius gives Ophelia an "acting lesson".....

Ophelia, walk you here; gracious, so please you;
We will bestow ourselves; read on this book,
That show of such an exercise may color
Your lowliness ...

He tells her to walk there, meaning to pace back and forth close to the arras. He tells her to be "gracious" as if she'd be anything else. She's a naturally gracious young lady. And Polonius gives her a book. And that's it.

Polonius's instructions to Ophelia contrast profoundly, and ironically, with his earlier, very detailed instructions to Reynaldo, and his long-winded instructions to Laertes. That's intentional from Shakespeare, of course. It's obvious Polonius doesn't take Ophelia, a girl, as seriously as he takes men. But while Ophelia may be "only a girl," she also happens to be the "star Player" for this important show with Hamlet, and it's extremely stupid of Polonius to treat her so carelessly, if he wants the show to be good.

The book is a conversation starter, if one is needed. Go back to the "fishmonger" passage, where Polonius asked Hamlet what he was reading. Also recall that Ophelia told Polonius that when Hamlet rushed into her room, he didn't say anything. Polonius is trying to handle the potential problem of Hamlet not saying anything, again, by providing the book as something for Hamlet to talk about. Polonius has it that if Hamlet can't think of anything to say, he'll ask Ophelia what she's reading, the same way Polonius asked Hamlet what he was reading, earlier.

You'll often see the book described as a prayer book, or perhaps even a Bible, which is a ridiculously foolish misinterpretation, oblivious to the facts of the play dialogue, but it's an interpretation which oddly persists. Polonius has, of course, provided a book that would interest a university scholar, which Polonius knows Hamlet is. As a conversation starter for a university student, the book will be something like Aristotle, or some other classic that a university student would recognize, and might want to talk about.

While talking to Ophelia, Polonius tosses in a saying, about deception, phrased in a way that's not very apt. He loves sayings, and tosses that one in as a matter of habit. Claudius, aside, reacts to the saying, and begins to reveal his guilt in his brother's death. The functional purpose in the play, for Polonius's saying and Claudius's reaction, is not immediate. Polonius has accidentally gotten to Claudius's conscience before Hamlet's 'Mousetrap' play. It's an intentional irony, that Polonius, by pure accident, gets to Claudius's conscience, before Hamlet has a chance to.

Hamlet enters, and speaks you-know-what.

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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 11 months ago #883

I was just about to suggest the nunnery scene! Good call!
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 11 months ago #889

Ham. To be, or not to be, that is the question:

As already mentioned, Claudius summoned Hamlet "closely," saying it would be a private meeting between Claudius and Hamlet. (The same as the meeting in Gertrude's "Closet" is to be private between Hamlet and Gertrude, as far as the others want Hamlet to know.) Claudius told Hamlet it would be only the two of them, to prevent Hamlet from bringing along anybody else, who would inhibit Hamlet's conversation with Ophelia.

From Hamlet's point of view, that means he's expecting Claudius to be there alone. Which also means no guards, and there won't be any witnesses there. Hm.

As Hamlet enters, he's thinking this should be a good opportunity to kill Claudius. No guards, no witnesses. Just the two of them.

If Claudius had been telling the truth, about it really being a private meeting between him and Hamlet, Claudius would have set himself up to die - if Hamlet could bring himself to do it. But Claudius was lying in his message to Hamlet, we know.

When Hamlet enters, he looks around, and he doesn't see Claudius there yet. He thinks Claudius hasn't yet arrived. Hamlet does see Ophelia on the other side of the room. She's simply reading a book, as far as he can tell.

Hamlet doesn't approach Ophelia. He waits to see if she'll leave, before Claudius arrives. Hamlet wants no witnesses, if he decides to kill Claudius at this meeting. Hamlet certainly doesn't want Ophelia as a witness, if he kills Claudius. While Hamlet waits, for Claudius to arrive and for Ophelia to leave, he thinks aloud to the audience, and recites the soliloquy.

Hamlet's first thought in "to be or not to be" is whether Claudius is going to be, or not, when Claudius arrives alone. Hamlet is thinking about whether he should end Claudius's "being" at this opportunity.

Hamlet is not starting out thinking about suicide. That is a bad misinterpretation, which doesn't take the play events and dialogue properly into account. Based on Claudius's message, Hamlet is expecting an opportunity to kill Claudius. That's the first thought on Hamlet's mind, as he begins thinking out loud.

Hamlet asks himself if it would be noble to kill Claudius like this. Or is it "nobler" for him to accept the situation fate has dealt him? He thinks about death in general. If death is only a peaceful sleep, one should wish for that. But if there are "bad dreams" in the sleep of death, such as a person's soul going to hell, that's different. Hamlet would prefer not to go to hell for murder. But if death is a peaceful sleep, and that's all, it would make rational sense for a person to end his own life, and enjoy that sleep, with no more trouble and suffering. That's where the idea of suicide enters, later, in the middle of the soliloquy. Suicide is definitely not Hamlet's first thought as he recites. His first thought is about killing Claudius.

Hamlet glances toward Ophelia occasionally as he thinks out loud to the audience. She's still reading the book, still standing there as a potential witness against him. Hamlet also glances toward the door occasionally. Claudius hasn't arrived yet (from Hamlet's point of view.)

As the time goes by, Hamlet decides that Claudius just isn't going to show up. Also, Ophelia isn't going to leave. When Hamlet mentions enterprises turning awry, he's saying, 'well, so much for that.' Claudius isn't here, and Ophelia isn't leaving. So, no chance to kill Claudius.

From Ophelia's view, she sees Hamlet standing at a distance, just standing there. She notices he glances at her. Apparently he simply doesn't want to talk to her. She doesn't know what else is on his mind.

Having put his idea of killing Claudius aside, Hamlet then does decide to approach Ophelia, and talk to her. With his "orisons" line, Hamlet is saying to himself that he hopes she'll forgive him, because he's intending to break up with her intentionally, even though he loves her. Hamlet is plotting regicide, and he doesn't want Ophelia anywhere near him while that's going on. It isn't safe.

Also, Hamlet has suspicions about Gertrude, concerning the death of his father. Maybe she encouraged Claudius, or maybe she was involved even more than that. Hamlet doesn't know, but he suspects all kinds of possibilities. But Hamlet certainly doesn't want anybody to ever have such suspicions about Ophelia, that she may have encouraged Hamlet to kill the King, or perhaps even helped him somehow. That would absolutely not do, to allow any chance of such suspicion against Ophelia. Hamlet won't allow that possibility, if he can help it.

So, Hamlet is intending to break up with Ophelia intentionally, even though he loves her, to keep her safely out of the 'danger zone,' and also to avoid anybody thinking she was involved, when he does find a way to kill Claudius.

Having made that decision, Hamlet approachs Ophelia.....
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 11 months ago #890

I've read your comments thus far and hope you will take a moment to help me understand what you are doing. Are you providing a background for how you think the actors should understand their lines and actions, or are you outlining a book version of the play, or is there some other reason/explanation?

No offense is intended by this question, only some needed clarity for me.
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 11 months ago #891

I'm doing a walkthrough of the play, for informational purposes for those who want to know. Simple as that.
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 11 months ago #894

Thank you for responding, one other question - what is the source of your extra-textual material, e.g., Gertrude hiding behind an arras?
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 10 months ago #895

Gertrude hiding behind the arras is not "extra-textual." We know she hid because Q2 (corrected) shows Gertrude's exit at the end of Ophelia's "noble mind" soliloquy.
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 10 months ago #896

As Hamlet gets within a certain distance of Ophelia, and the arras, there is something she will do. Guaranteed. She will glance at the arras. Why? Because she knows Polonius and Claudius are supposed to be hidden there, of course. If Claudius's elbow is showing, or Polonius's foot, it's ridiculous. Ophelia knows that. She's not a trained, disciplined spy, or any such thing. She's a very natural, normal young lady. It's a normal impulse to take a quick look, and she will do that.

Also, Ophelia has an additional motivation to glance at the arras. She hates this business of trying to fool the man she loves. It goes totally against the grain. She looks at the arras hoping they're not completely hidden. If Hamlet can see that they're there, the whole thing is off, and she would like that.

And, she's nervous, about this show she's supposed to do. Nervous people glance at things that are significant to them in their situation. A trained, disciplined actor wouldn't look at the arras, but Ophelia has never tried to put on a "show" in her life.

However, when Ophelia looks, they are hidden. She does have to go through with it.

It's important to know what Polonius expects out of this. What he expects is quite obvious. He expects Hamlet to say that he loves Ophelia. Claudius will hear that. Polonius will then be justified in insisting Claudius get involved to have Hamlet marry Ophelia. Polonius thinks Hamlet's 'madness of love' will then be cured, and also, he'll have the Prince of the nation as his son in law, something Polonius didn't think was a realistic possibility earlier.

The book is a conversation starter, to try to keep Hamlet from remaining silent, as Ophelia said he did on the earlier occasion. Then, after Hamlet starts talking, Ophelia is supposed to offer to return the gifts. Only offer! Since Polonius is sure Hamlet loves Ophelia, he's sure Hamlet won't take the gifts back. Hamlet will say to Ophelia, "oh no, you must keep those things I gave you, because I love you." Something like that. Claudius will hear it, etc. First, the book will get Hamlet talking, then the gifts will motivate him to express his feelings. That's Polonius's plan. Polonius thinks it'll work as simply as that.

Hamlet is approaching Ophelia, and he notices Ophelia glance at the arras. It means nothing in particular to him at the moment, he just happens to notice it.

Ophelia looks nervous and upset, (which she is,) and she doesn't smile at Hamlet. It looks to him as though she isn't glad to see him. That isn't it, it's that Ophelia hates this situation, and it shows in her face. She's in no mood to smile. But from Hamlet's view, she doesn't give him that wonderful smile of hers.

Nor is he smiling. When Ophelia gets no smile from him, she thinks he's unhappy to see her. That isn't it. He's unhappy about his intention to break up with her, and it shows in his face. But she doesn't get that wonderful smile from him.

They're both unhappy about the situation, and they both show it. And they both think the other isn't happy to see them. And they're both wrong. Under happier circumstances, they'd hardly have time to smile at each other - they'd so quickly be in each other's arms.

When Hamlet gets within conversational distance, he starts to say "hi" to Ophelia. I don't suppose they said "hi" in those days, but he starts to give Ophelia a simple, casual greeting, as he normally would in private.

But before he can get the word out, she says.....

Good my Lord,
How does your honor for this many a day?

Impossible. Ridiculous. Absurd. Can't be. There's not a chance in the world.

Say that you're working in your office downtown, on a weekday afternoon. You notice you're out of paper clips. You decide to just walk to the store, a block away, and get some. You go to the store, walk in. It's a slow day, a quiet afternoon, not many people out. You go to the aisle where the paper clips are, and turn the corner - and you encounter your girlfriend, right there in front of you. She's out shopping. Nice! You start to say "hi." But before you can get the word out, she says, "How do you do, good sir, how have you been for these many days I have not seen you?"

What the hell?

In modern times, you would look around for where the tv camera is. Or something. Somebody is kidding somebody, somehow.

I don't care if you're the Czar of Russia, the Prince of Denmark, or the deputy assistant chimney sweep of Podunk - your girlfriend does not greet you like that, in private conversation. Not on planet earth. Not a chance. Ridiculous. Impossible.

Girlfriend and boyfriend, in private conversation, do not use formal greetings.

Shakespeare knew that. Anybody with any sense knows that.

Why did Ophelia say it? There's no chance whatsoever it's how she would normally greet Hamlet in private. She said it because she knows her father is listening, of course. She's sure it will sound alright to Polonius as a way to greet the Prince of the nation. It will, it'll sound excellent to Polonius. Very dignified, very respectful. It'll sound to Polonius as exactly how the Prince of the nation should properly be greeted.

But this is supposed to be a private conversation, between Hamlet and Ophelia. For that, she is not greeting the "Prince of the nation" as she would at a formal gathering. She's greeting her boyfriend (and, by the way, her fiancé, a fact which Polonius doesn't know. "Almost all the holy vows of heaven.")

Also, Ophelia is intelligent, much smarter than Polonius has given her credit for. She knows she'd never greet Hamlet like that in private, of course. She is attempting to inform Hamlet, the man she loves: this-is-not-private, and she's doing it in a way she can get by with. She's smart. Unfortunately, as we'll see, she's too smart.

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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 10 months ago #897

Willedever wrote:
Gertrude hiding behind the arras is not "extra-textual." We know she hid because Q2 (corrected) shows Gertrude's exit at the end of Ophelia's "noble mind" soliloquy.
But isn't that Exit a stage direction for Ophelia?
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the Nunnery Scene 6 years 10 months ago #898

It can't be an exit for Ophelia. Polonius speaks to Ophelia 17 lines later.
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