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TOPIC: What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene)

What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 4 months ago #668

We need to talk about what happens in the play, because it's so often done wrong, and for some things, it's always done wrong.

So, beginning at the Mousetrap play, when Claudius leaves.....

We know where Claudius goes, because Guildenstern tells us: "is in his retirement." That means the place Claudius retires for the night. It's his private room.

(In a real palace or castle, the King and Queen would both have luxury multi-room apartments. In the play it's simplified to a single room for each. There's the King's Room, for Claudius, and then there's Gertrude's Closet, which is her parlor.)

The King's Room and the Queen's Room are the Royal Suite. The rooms are side by side, of course. This is an important fact to keep in mind. The rooms are connected by a short hallway.

So, Claudius leaves the 'Mousetrap' and goes to his King's Room. Polonius, R & G, and Gertrude go with him.

Claudius is mad, and threatening to have Hamlet locked up. We know this because Rosencrantz reveals the fact later in the dialogue.

Polonius suggests going ahead with the plan for Gertrude to talk to Hamlet while he hides and listens. We know this because it's what actually happens in the play.

Gertrude agrees to try it. The fact is obvious.

Claudius sends R & G, and Polonius, to ask Hamlet to talk to Gertrude. We know this because they actually do that.

Before they leave, Gertrude says she'll wait in her room for the answer, in the expectation Hamlet will agree to talk to her. We know this because we later see she factually is in her room.

R & G and Polonius leave to go back to Hamlet, and ask him to talk to Gertrude, as we soon see. R & G get back to where Hamlet is first, because they're young and can walk faster than old Polonius.

Also, R & G cut across the castle courtyard, but Polonius doesn't. This is based on common sense, and on something earlier in the dialogue. Polonius asked Hamlet if he would walk "out of the air." It was a "mad" thing for Polonius to say at the time, since he and Hamlet were already indoors. But it does reveal that Polonius has a health concern about being in the outdoor air. That would especially apply at night. So, the fact that Polonius arrives so much later than R & G, in getting back to Hamlet, is both because he's old and slow, and also he doesn't take the shortcut across the castle courtyard. Polonius takes the long way around, through the hallways.

R & G get back to Hamlet, and after babbling for a while, they finally manage to mention about Hamlet talking to Gertrude. Polonius shows up, and asks Hamlet the same thing. Hamlet tells them, yes, he'll talk to her.

R & G and Polonius leave to tell Gertrude, who's now waiting in her "closet." Again, R & G take the shortcut across the courtyard, but Polonius doesn't.

Hamlet makes his "witching time" soliloquy, then exits to go to the Royal Suite, where both Claudius's room and Gertrude's room are.

Hamlet, like R & G, cuts across the courtyard. By doing that, he gets ahead of old Polonius. Polonius, inside in the hallway, doesn't see Hamlet get ahead of him.

When R & G arrive at Gertrude's room, to tell her Hamlet agreed to talk to her, Claudius is there, too. He's there because he wants to hear Hamlet's answer, too. Of course.

R & G tell Gertrude, and Claudius, that Hamlet will talk to her. Claudius and R & G leave Gertrude in her room, and go to the King's room next door. And we find them there at the start of the "Prayer Scene," A3s3.

*** HOWEVER *** while R & G were in Gertrude's room, telling Claudius and Gertrude that Hamlet would talk to her, Hamlet, who was following not far behind R & G, slipped into Claudius's room and hid - behind an arras, presumably. So, in the Prayer Scene, Hamlet is in the room, hiding, from the beginning. He hears everything that's said.

(Hamlet's entry in A3s3 in Q2 is right, but it's deceptive to a modern eye. Shakespeare was working with an open stage, not an enclosed room. The Q2 entries are more "technical" than people have realized, and require extended discussion, which I won't go into here.)

Hamlet hears what Claudius says in his fourth line in the scene, which is how Hamlet knows that, to repeat it to Gertrude near the end of the Closet Scene, A3s4.

Hamlet hears R & G pledge loyalty to Claudius. Then they leave to pack for the trip to England, just as Polonius finally arrives and enters.

Polonius says he'll hide in Gertrude's room to listen. Hamlet hears that. Polonius leaves.

Hamlet doesn't immediately jump out of hiding and attack Claudius, he waits a while to make sure nobody else is coming in. As he waits, Hamlet hears Claudius talking to himself, and it's interesting. Hamlet keeps listening. Claudius confesses his crime, and worries about his soul and heaven.

Claudius kneels to pray. Hamlet emerges from hiding (technically "enters") and contemplates killing Claudius. Hamlet passes, and leaves, going straight to Gertrude's room. Claudius thinks his prayer didn't work -- even though it saved his life! -- and he goes to his desk to finish the paperwork for the trip to England.

Hamlet walks down the short hallway to Gertrude's room.

(continued, next post)
Last Edit: 8 years 3 months ago by Willedever.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 4 months ago #758

By the way, a good way to work out where the characters go during the play, is by using playing cards on a table or desk. A dinner table works well, with saucers to represent the different rooms. For the playing cards, make the king Claudius, the queen Gertrude, the joker Hamlet, the knight Laertes, etc. On a table, just move the cards from one saucer to another, as you go through the play events, and the characters go from one room to another. Put a couple napkins on the table to represent France and England. That kind of thing. The same can be done with computer graphics, but the cards and saucers are easier and more obvious.

It wouldn't be surprising if Shakespeare used something like the card & saucer method to keep track of his characters, and make sure they were all where they were supposed to be.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #782

Willedever, are you going to continue the walkthru from the first post? It's interesting stuff. It seems like you're arriving at the conclusion that when Hamlet killed Polonius behind the arras, he was perfectly aware that it was Polonius, meaning that his line "I took thee for thy better" is probably a lie. I find that interesting, because I have long suspected that to be the case. Looking forward to your continued thoughts.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #784

Yes, I'll continue the walkthrough, as time allows.

Hamlet does know Polonius is hiding in Gertrude's Closet - in the Second Quarto version! He hears Polonius say it. The Folio is somewhat different. The subject needs a long discussion. But I take Q2 as the authoritative version, since it was printed in the Bard's lifetime, and it's a "good" quarto.

In my view, the Folio version of Hamlet is valuable primarily for two things - filling in the long passages Q2 lacks (probably because of censorship); and checking for any touch-up by the author that might post-date the Q2 printing. Overall, the Folio is not reliable.

But when Hamlet says "I took thee for thy better" he means "rat." So no, Hamlet isn't lying, he's saying Polonius was worse than a rat. That's the 'plain reading' or literal reading of it, that Hamlet is comparing Polonius to a rat. Very insulting to the late Polonius, of course.

However, "take" can also be used in the sense of "take a life." In that undertone, Hamlet is only saying he's taken (killed) Polonius (by accident) instead of killing Claudius (on purpose.) As in so much of Hamlet, the Bard wrote the line with both a plain meaning, for simple reading, and then also with a rather different undertone.

Instead of Hamlet lying, it's Shakespeare's ingenious writing.

I'll try to find time this evening to continue the walkthrough into the Closet Scene.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #788

:-) All right, you succeeded in wow'ing me! So Hamlet's words to the dead Polonius are scoffing, and not sadness due to an accident. Still, he does exclaim "is it the king?" just before stabbing through the arras... but I guess I should check the different versions for this bit, too.

I do share your view, based on a somewhat loose and amateurish knowledge of the different versions, that Q2 mostly contains Shakespeare's authoritative text. But I need to look at the various versions much more closely before I can offer a good opinion.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #793

We left Hamlet walking down the hallway toward Gertrude's Closet.

In Gertrude's Closet, bossy old Polonius lectures Gertrude about how to talk to Hamlet, something about which Polonius doesn't really have a clue. They hear Hamlet's footsteps in the hallway. Polonius hides behind one of the arrases, of which there are several in Gertrude's room.

Hamlet enters. He is annoyed at himself for passing up the chance to kill Claudius. It affects his greeting to Gertrude.

She tries to warn Hamlet that Claudius was threatening to lock him up. (We already heard Rosencrantz mention that to Hamlet, after the 'Mousetrap.' Gertrude heard Claudius say it, too, and she doesn't want her son locked up. One must keep in mind, Claudius hasn't told anybody about his plan for Hamlet to be killed in England.)

But Gertrude calls Claudius Hamlet's "father." It annoys Hamlet even more.

He retorts that she has offended his "father." However, Hamlet does not inform Gertrude that he's switched meanings of "father." To Gertrude, his remark just sounds odd. She was talking about Claudius.

She tells Hamlet he answers with an "idle" (wild / meaningless) tongue.

Hamlet takes the opportunity for wordplay (which he loves) and says she "questions" with a "wicked tongue."

***** Hamlet draws his sword. *****

He draws his sword to poke at the arrases, to discover which one Polonius is hiding behind, and chase him out of the room, to have a truly private talk with Gertrude.

So, just after Hamlet says Gertrude questions with a "wicked tongue," he draws his sword. She does not know that he knows Polonius is in the room. To Gertrude, it looks like Hamlet has said she has a "wicked tongue" and has drawn his sword against her.

She asks him, "how now?" meaning, 'why have you drawn your sword?'

Hamlet intends no threat to Gertrude, and he doesn't see her concern. He simply asks, 'what's the matter now?' He doesn't relate his sword to any danger to her.

She asks, "have you forgot me?" meaning, 'you wouldn't stab your own mother, would you?'

The question annoys Hamlet. Of course he hasn't forgotten her. He holds the sword up at Gertrude, and swears on the "rood" (the cross) that he hasn't forgotten her. It's the identical symbolism as in the "swear" passage with the Ghost. Once again, Hamlet is using his sword to symbolize the Christian cross.

The word "rood" tells us with absolute certainty that Hamlet is holding his sword. He's "swearing on the cross" that he knows Gertrude is his mother, using his sword for symbolism.

However, as Hamlet holds his sword up in front of her face, he also says he doesn't like it that she's his mother. Gertrude sees that as a definite threat. She becomes worried about her safety, and she starts for the door. She says she'll get those 'who can speak' (the language of swords.) She wants to summon armed guards, to take his sword away and restrain him.

Hamlet takes her by the arm and stops her, makes her sit in a chair, and says she can't leave yet.

You go not, till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.

Hamlet means he's going to "paint her a picture in words," so to speak, describing the condition of her soul. He intends to talk so that, as she hears him, it'll be like she's looking at her own soul in the mirror, figuratively speaking. That's what Hamlet is trying to say.

Gertrude doesn't hear it that way. As Hamlet stands in front of her with his sword in his hand, she takes it literally. A Queen will have some nice mirrors, at her dressing table, and for her wardrobe. Gertrude thinks Hamlet has just said he's going to set one of her mirrors in front of her, slice her open with his sword, and make her look at her internal organs in the mirror. 'There, just look at your gall bladder! Tsk!' As Gertrude hears it, it sounds crazy as anything, and very frightening.

She exclaims, "WHAT will you do?" - "You will NOT murder me!"

She stands up and steps away from Hamlet, and screams for "HELP!" as loud as she can. (She doesn't run for the door because she's afraid he'd stab her in the back.)

Polonius, behind the arras, takes up the "Help" call. Now Hamlet knows which arras Polonius is hiding behind.

Hamlet yells "rat" to insult Polonius, and says "dead for a ducat!" to scare Polonius. Hamlet lunges and stabs through the arras, near the side of it, intending to frighten Polonius, and discourage him from ever trying that eavesdropping stunt again. Hamlet is intending to jab close to Polonius, beside him.

Hamlet steps back, and looks at the arras. He doesn't notice the blood on his sword. Gertrude looks at the arras.

Polonius comes tottering out from behind the arras, with a hand to his chest. He stumbles and totters out to center stage, with an odd expression on his face. He exclaims, "O, I am slain!" and falls.

There's Polonius, dead, face up, at center stage. (Don't worry about it. Everything is cool.)

(You do not hide Polonius behind the arras. It is mandatory to have him in plain sight. That's part of the >Madness< as the scene continues. Don't worry about it a bit.)

(Oh, make sure your Polonius actor has some padding for his back, under his coat. Also, a little padding in his hat. He's going to be there a while. Tell him it's okay if he goes to sleep - but if he snores Hamlet will kick him! :D )

Gertrude looks down at Polonius, then at Hamlet, and exclaims, "O me, what hast thou done?" She then looks down at Polonius, again.

Hamlet says, "Nay, I know not..."

It's true, Hamlet doesn't know how he stabbed Polonius. He didn't mean to. He intentionally stabbed toward the side of the arras, not the middle. However, he couldn't see Polonius, and Polonius wasn't standing still in the middle. Polonius was stepping to come out from behind the arras, to help Gertrude, and he walked right into it. But Hamlet couldn't see that.

It's a neat variation on the fight scene in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo gets in the way. Here, it's the arras in the way.

Hamlet then asks, " it the king?"

It's required to do a "wishful thinking" gesture with that. Hamlet crosses his fingers and holds them to his chest. He also closes his eyes, and turns his head slightly. Most people are probably familiar with the "wishful thinking" or "praying for a miracle" gesture. Hamlet knows it's Polonius, but is hoping against hope that when he opens his eyes it will be Claudius. But, no such luck. When he looks, it's still Polonius.

Gertrude is looking down at Polonius, however. She doesn't see Hamlet do the "wishful thinking" gesture. She only hears his words. It sounds to her like a serious question, and a very strange one. She looks sharply at Hamlet - can't he even tell the difference, between Polonius and Claudius?? Is he crazy?

She exclaims, "rash and bloody deed."

Although Hamlet didn't mean to kill Polonius, at least he now has Polonius not eavesdropping. So, Hamlet starts talking to Gertrude about what he wants to talk about.

Hamlet takes off again with his wordplay, which he absolutely loves. He can't help it. It isn't that he's crazy, or is pretending to be crazy. He just adores wordplay. For him, it's a normal part of his personality.

He says, "as bad, good mother, as kill a king, and marry with his brother."

However, Hamlet has once again failed to inform Gertrude that he's switched meanings of "king." The last "king" meant Claudius. Hamlet, tho, is now trying to talk about King Hamlet being killed by Claudius.

As Gertrude hears it, she still thinks "king" means Claudius. She thinks Hamlet is saying that he's killed Claudius, and also he doesn't like it that she married his father. (Hamlet already said he didn't like it that she was his mother.)

Gertrude tries to get clarification - "As kill a king??" Meaning - do you really think you've killed Claudius, here on the floor??

Hamlet replies, "Aye, lady, it was my word!" He's trying to say that, yes, Claudius killed King Hamlet. To Gertrude, however, it sounds like Hamlet is insisting that he's killed Claudius, even though it's Polonius there in plain sight on the floor. She used "king" to mean Claudius.

Hamlet knows it's Polonius, of course. But to Gertrude, it sounds like he's "madly" insisting that he's killed Claudius. She looks very sharply at Hamlet - is he crazy?

Then, as Gertrude watches, Hamlet scolds Polonius's body. It looks odd. What Hamlet is doing, he's saying the same thing, basically, that he intended to say to Polonius, alive, as he chased him out of the room - you wretched, rash, intruding fool, get out of here! Hamlet goes ahead and says it, to get it off his chest. To Gertrude, he looks nuts, scolding a dead body.

Hamlet then turns to Gertrude, and sees her wringing her hands. She's doing that in worry, about the death of Polonius, and her son who has apparently lost his mind, and thinks he's killed Claudius.

Hamlet takes off with his wordplay again, and tells her to stop wringing her hands, and sit down, and he'll wring her heart. Not comforting words.

(That's enough for one post. "To be continued.")
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #798

Very exciting - it's almost like being a witness to the actual events! :-) You're giving me an increased appreciation of the depth of the drama, revealing angles I never thought of before. Thanks!

Is it possible for you to back up a bit and supply your take on the "get thee to a nunnery" scene with Hamlet and Ophelia? I tend to think that's the most difficult scene in the entire play.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #802

Yes, I can go through the Nunnery Scene, after the Closet Scene.

Properly done, the Nunnery Scene is terrifying, and truly heartbreaking. It would be nice if somebody did it right, someday, for people to see the real thing.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #810

Yes indeed. I am especially interested in your thoughts on Ophelia's suddenly seeing "that noble and most sovereign reason" at the end of the scene.
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What happens in Hamlet (mostly Closet Scene) 8 years 3 months ago #813

If you want that, post a sincere note of thanks for my efforts, so far.

We're at the point where you need to.
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