E316 Fall 2010 Students' Blog

Justine Jordan on Hamlet, Act 2

Published by admin_main on Sat 30 Oct, 2010

12. In Act 2, Scene 2, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell Hamlet that his favorite acting troupe is on the way to Elsinore. What connections does the Prince begin to make between drama and the rest of life? And how does his taste for speeches about the Trojan War reflect on his own situation and underlying motives? (Consider "Pyrrhus" as a possible point of comparison.)

Part 1:

Towards the middle of this pivotal and longest scene of the entire play; Hamlet's favorite players come to entertain the court of Denmark and this is when Hamlet first begins to draw the parallels between drama and real life. In lines 386 through 391after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern tell him of the debate going on about child players and that the public is now in complete support of it, Hamlet claims that this is not so farfetched considering a month ago the people made fun of his uncle and now they praise him. Hamlet seems to be indicating that while drama is supposed to be fictional and fake, but this also occurs in real life. We also see Hamlet hinting at this while talking to Polonius in lines 214 through 222, he tell Polonius that the words he is reading are all just lies, writers may write about their lives as their beards turn gray but it is nothing but lies. It appears just as drama is made up; real like can be just as made up.

Finally in Hamlet's biggest comparison of drama to real life I think is at the very end of scene 2 when Hamlet talks to himself about his plan and experience with the players. In lines beginning at 576;

O, What a rogue and peasant slave am I!<br> Is it not monstrous that this player here,<br> But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, <br> Could force his soul so to his own conceit<br> That from her working all (his) visage waned,<br> Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect, <br> A broken voice, and his whole function suiting<br>

With forms to his conceit-and all for nothing!

Hamlet is amazed at the way in which these actors can portray emotion over nothing, while he cannot display the same when he is in that situation. The actor seems to carry more passion in his act than Hamlet can in real life. I think this also plays in to Hamlet's tragic flaw his hubris, he must gather all the facts and he is so caught up in his own thoughts and trying to play everyone he misses all the opportunities he is presented with to take revenge in Claudius or expose him.

Part 2:

First this two part question can be answered first by quickly summarizing the story of the Trojan War. The war originated from a quarrel between the goddesses Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, after Eris, the goddess of strife and discord, gave them a golden apple, sometimes known as the Apple of Discord, marked "for the fairest". Zeus sent the goddesses to Paris, son of Priam the King of Troy, who judged that Aphrodite, as the "fairest", should receive the apple. In exchange, Aphrodite made Helen, the most beautiful of all women and wife of Menelaus the King of Sparta, who then fell in love with Paris, who took her to Troy. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and the brother of Helen's husband Menelaus, led an expedition of troops to Troy and besieged the city for ten years because of Paris' insult. After the deaths of many heroes, including the Achaeans Achilles and Ajax, and the Trojans Hector and Paris, the city fell to the ruse of the Trojan Horse.

When Achilles was killed in battle his son Pyrrhus was set on avenging his father's death. He first in his rage killed Priam and went on a savage killing spree. Thus begins the creation of the Trojan Hose. It was the device that allowed the Greeks finally to enter the city of Troy and end the conflict. In one version, after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of 30 men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greek army entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.

The audiences who would have certainly known the story of the Trojan War and would undoubtedly make a comparison between Hamlet and Pyrrhus. Both men lost their fathers and are set in their ways to avenge their deaths. While Pyrrhus acts brashly and violently however, Hamlet is set on gathering all the information he can and waiting for Claudius frame himself. I believe the reason that Hamlet is fascinated with this speech on the Trojan War is because it reflects the way in which he plans to trick Claudius to admitting his guilt. When the Greeks delivered the Trojan Horse they fouled the Trojans in to believing they had surrendered and gave the horse as a victory gift. Metaphorically a "Trojan Horse" has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space. Hamlet seems to plan to do the same; he plans to have the players act out "The Murder of Gonzago" and then insert his own speech.

Hamlet: Dost thou hear me, old friend? Can you play "The Murder of Gonzago"?

Player: Ay, my Lord

Hamlet: We'll ha't tomorrow night. You could, for a need, study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which I would set down and insert in 't, could you not?

I think that just like the Greeks, Hamlet plans to catch Claudius just as he lets his guard down while watching the play and hearing the speech Hamlet plans for the player to recite Claudius will not be able to hide his guilty face.

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