E316 Fall 2010 Students' Blog

Kim Molina on Hamlet, Act 3

Published by admin_main on Fri 29 Oct, 2010

16. In Act 3, Scene 2, why should there be a "dumb show" preceding the main play The Murder of Gonzago (or, in Hamlet's revision, The Mouse Trap)? Why would this representational doubling up be the most effective way to "catch the conscience of the king"? Why does Hamlet need this confirmation anyhow? (You may want to refer to the end of Act 2, scene 2 for Hamlet's explanation.)

In Act III, Scene ii, Hamlet insists on there being a "dumb show". A "dumb show" is a type of pantomime, which is in itself a silent play. Hamlet insists on the "dumb show" to precede the main play because he wants to ensure that the "deed" is made clear. In a sense, he is belittling the King's intelligence. Hamlet wants this silent version of the play to unfold in order for the King's conscience to be visually affected. Out of our five senses, our vision is the sense that has the biggest impression on us. Vision seems to have more of a daunting affect on us. In the "dumb show Hamlet hopes he can confront his uncle Claudius's awful and horrific action by having him see for himself. After the "dumb show" the players will execute the murder in its entirety in order to ensure that the King is fully affected. In the full version of the play the plot will reveal that Hamlet Sr. was murdered by his own nephew. Hamlet wants there to a double effect on the king's conscience. He wants this to ensure that there be no mistaking in this clever accusation of his uncle being the murderer of his father the King, as the ghost suggested. At the end of Act II, Scene ii, Hamlet reveals to us his plan aloud while he is alone. He comes up with a strategy for getting his uncle to confess through the idea of an "innocent" play. He has heard that when guilty people watch a play they have been so affected by it that they confess their guilt aloud. He wants the "players", or in a modern term "actors", to perform "The Murder of Gonzago," something very similar to his father's murder by his uncle, in hopes that this will probe his uncle's conscience and that he will in fact know that the ghost was telling him the truth.

The underlying investigation here I feel is the credibility of the ghost. Hamlet tells us at the end of Act II that the devil has its ways of making himself feel trusted and believable. At line 575, Hamlet says,

The spirit that I have seen<br> May be the devil, and the devil hath power<br> T'assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps<br> Out of my weakness and melancholy<br> As he is very potent with such spirits<br> Abuses meto damn me. I'll have grounds<br> More relativethan this. The play's the thing<br>

Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.

This play will be confirmation for Hamlet to continue believing that his father was indeed murdered by his own uncle. At the end of Act III, Scene ii, Hamlet gets his confirmation that the ghost in fact telling the truth about his deceased father. He essentially gets it in two ways. One being that in the midst of the play, on line 212, King Claudius makes the comment; "Have you heard the argument? Is there no/ offence in't?" this statement insinuates that the king is feeling uneasy about the plot, as if his conscience has already begun to be affected. Secondly, when the actors are performing, the nephew pouring the poison in the King's ear, Hamlet's uncle, King Claudius gets up and demands that the lights be turned on and wants out of there. Hamlet is pleased by the reactions of his uncle and is at peace with the ghost's accusations against the murderer.

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