12lectureHamlet - Hamlet 3: players and politics Lecture...

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Hamlet 3: players and politics Lecture structure: Play-within-a-play. Politics and borderlines How does the play-within-a-play work in Hamlet ? It is The players arrive at the end of Act 2. Remember Acts 1 and 2 usually unfold the play’s story and tell us about the characters. Act 3 is the turning point. Acts 4 and 5 move towards resolution. So: the players come out of Hamlet’s past. He knew them when he was a student in Wittenberg. We realise something about his character at this point. He has just been talking to the newly arrived Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who are fellow scholars and, one might think, more his equals. However, he is clearly more pleased to see the players and more friendly with them. We therefore see a prince who is happier with more common people (perhaps like Prince Hal in the Henry IV plays). Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream , the play-within-a-play takes place in Act 3, rather than at the end in Act 5. Act 3 is the turning point of a tragedy. Putting the play-within-a- play in Act 3 makes it very significant. Act 3 is the point where Hamlet rejects Ophelia in the “get thee to a nunnery scene”. Then there is the play-within-a-play where Hamlet tries to find out whether Claudius is guilty of his father’s murder. Then there is the point where Hamlet kills Polonius, Ophelia’s father. (Like Act 3 in Romeo and Juliet , this is the point where the main character commits a murder, and from then on the tragic conclusion of the play is assured.) So, if the play-within-a-play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is about the nature of illusion and acting, how does the play-within-a-play work here? 1. First of all, we aren’t sure whether Hamlet is actually mad, or whether he is acting mad – or both . .. Remember last time I said I thought Hamlet might be mad from the point he meets the ghost in Act 1. His language becomes unbalanced and finally Horatio says to him: “These are but wild and whirling words, my lord” (1.5.132), because he is worried about Hamlet’s insane speech. So it is possibly true that Hamlet becomes unhinged after seeing the ghost. However, there are other moments throughout the play where he tells us he is not really
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12lectureHamlet - Hamlet 3: players and politics Lecture...

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