Literature Foundation 2010

 

Week 3

 

KING CLAUDIUS
But now, my cousin Hamlet, and my son,--
HAMLET
A little more than kin, and less than kind.
KING CLAUDIUS
How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
HAMLET
Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun.
QUEEN GERTRUDE
Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off,
And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark.
Do not for ever with thy vailed lids
Seek for thy noble father in the dust:
Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.
HAMLET
Ay, madam, it is common.
QUEEN GERTRUDE
If it be,
Why seems it so particular with thee?
HAMLET
Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.2. Probably written about 1600.

Instead of a self-contained poem, you may be given a passage from a play. Here is a passage from the most famous play in the world. As well as analysing the passage, as you do in a poem, you need to analyse its place in the whole play.

1. Where does it occur in the play, and what is its significance is in that context?

2. What does each word, and each line, mean?

3. What is the significance is of any metrical substitutions? Scan it, look for significant irregularities, and think what their signficance is.

4. Plays present characters. What does this passage tell you about Gertrude and Hamlet?

5. And you need to have some idea of the critical debates around this play and its themes, as they manifest in this passage. For instance: a psychoanalytic reading of this passage would relate the way it presents the relationship between Hamlet and his mother to the Oedipal theme in the play. A contemporary rationales for writing approach would relate this passage to Jacobean drama: for instance themes of revenge, hypocrisy ('seeming'). A formalist reading would look at the way the verse form conveys character and emotion (see 3 above). A historicist reading would relate the passage to the contemporary historical situation; for instance, the dangerous power struggles in the Tudor court. And an authorship approach would talk about Shakespeare's famous invisibility: it is very hard to read intentions into anything Shakespeare wrote. He hides. But, he did have a son called Hamnet, who died early. Is this relevant? Oedipal?

I would like, please, you all to do all of this work individually, and then meet in small groups to discuss it. It's potentially a vast task, because Hamlet is a vast play, huge in its implications and complexity; but one of the things you need to learn is how to select from all of the things you could do in order to do enough work that is sufficient and interesting.

I would like each group to be able to give precise citations from two relevant works; either secondary material (criticism: God knows there's no shortage) or relevant primary works.

A possible scansion:

KING CLAUDIUS
But now, | my cous | in Ham | let, and | my son,--
HAMLET
A litt | le more | than kin, | and less | than kind.
KING CLAUDIUS
How is | it that | the clouds | still hang | on you?
HAMLET
Not so, | my lord; | I am too | much in | the sun.
QUEEN GERTRUDE
Good Ham | let, cast | thy night | ed col | our off,
And let | thine eye | look like | a friend | on Den | mark.
Do not | for ev | er with | thy vail | ed lids
Seek for | thy nob | le fath | er in | the dust:
Thou know'st | 'tis com | mon; all | that lives | must die,
Passing | through nat | ure to | etern | ity.
HAMLET
Ay, mad | am, it | is com | mon.
QUEEN GERTRUDE
.....................................................If | it be,
Why seems | it so | partic | ular | with thee?
HAMLET
Seems, mad | am! nay | it is; | I know | not 'seems.'
'Tis not | alone | my ink | y cloak, | good moth | er,
Nor cust | omar | y suits | of sol | emn black,
Nor win | dy sus | pirat | ion of | forced breath,
No, nor | the fruit | ful riv | er in | the eye,
Nor the | deject | ed 'hav | ior of | the vis | age,
Togeth | er with | all forms, | moods, shapes | of grief,
That can | denote | me trul | y: these | indeed | seem,
For they | are act | ions that | a man | might play:
But I | have that | within | which pas | seth show;
These but | the trap | pings and | the suits | of woe.

 

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