Well, I decided I wanted to be able to participate in “Project the Second” conversation over on the Facebook group, so I leapfrogged past a couple unread works* to jump into Hamlet with everyone else. Well not quite with everyone else. The schedule starts that play on April 19th, and I was still finishing up with King John.
(I may be willing to skip unread works, but I am not constitutionally able to jump out of a half-read play in order to catch up with the cool kids!)
So I started Hamlet on April 23rd, which should have let me stay mostly on track. Instead, I am once again behind. The group moved onto Lucrece yesterday, and I am still stuck between Acts 2 and 3. Exactly where I’ve been since Sunday night.**
Oh well. Whenever I read the remaining three acts,*** I’ll jump back into the schedule from that particular pier.
Alas, since I am less than halfway through the play, I don’t feel confident that I’ve been able to answer the question I came into the play with:
Hamlet Sr: jerk or not?
I’ve been noodling over this thread of curiosity for a while now. There’s a novelization—maybe it was just released as an audiobook? I’m not sure it ever went ink-to-paper—I listened to some years ago that created this whole psychological drama between the lines of the actual drama. Cruel, stoic, warrior Daddy Hamlet, having nothing in common with his sensitive readerly son, and so on.
And it’s an intriguing idea. Having that kind of ambivalence in the father-son relationship could even help provide some context for why Prince Hamlet has such a difficult time motivating himself to revenge his father’s murder.
But however intrigued I was by this line of characterization in the audiobook, I found myself wondering if the play itself would be able to support a similar dynamic. Everything I could remember from the text was straight-up encomium about how completely awesome Hamlet Sr. was. And yes, there’s a sociopolitical necessity for commoners to say nice things in public about the monarch they work for, but you’d think Marcellus and Barnardo might feel safe enough for a bit of gossip on the midnight shift, you know what I’m saying?
But thus far, Daddy Hamlet is mostly getting praise. Since I’m fine-tooth-combing this reading, I did notice that Horatio sets up his retelling of the duel between Hamlet and Fortinbras Srs by saying Hamlet Sr was “Thereto pricked on by a most emulate pride” (1.1.83). It’s a detail I hadn’t noticed before, and it reminds us that Hamlet Sr was human and flawed. So there’s a bit more clear-sightedness than I recall seeing.
Not from Prince Hamlet, though. In the “too too sullied flesh” soliloquy, he is all about how low and unworthy Claudius is in comparison to Hamlet paterfamilias (especially from 1.2.139-142 and 1.2.152-153). This is a moment of private reflection. No one else is around, so if there’s any ambivalence in Prince Hamlet’s feelings, it’d be a perfect time for that to leak out.
And I can totally imagine productions where that kind of ambivalence could be signalled through the actor’s interpretation and performance of the soliloquy.
But as far as I can tell—at least here at the end of Act 2—that’s a reading that’s pushing against the actual text on the page.
All line references to the Pelican Shakespeare paperback edition, copyright 2001.
*Richard II and Venus and Adonis. I’ll catch up on them when I can. (Which, at the rate I’m going, might be in 2021. *wink*)
***I’m making no predictions: busy work weekend ahead.