Hamlet fourth lecture: The thematics of mutability and mortality Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggets with them? Mine ache to think ont. (V, 1, 86-87) Hamlet and death Whatever else the play is about the morality of revenge, madness, theater and the world -its about death. The visual icon of the play is inevitably a man holding a skull and looking intently at it. And Hamlet seems intensely preoccupied with
death in all its aspects . . . . . . and with the instability of human existence. Hamlets shock at his mothers forgetting of his father The source of his dark vision of reality: a kind of moral entropy: First soliloquy expresses a longing for death, non-existence: I.2.129ff. Frailty, thy name is woman (I, 2, 146). And everything seems to follow from this. To R & G, the reversal of Renaissance celebration of man: What a piece of work is a man . . . II.4.274.
And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Nothing appears stable, lasting. Except Horatio? III, 2, 53ff. And death as the end to which everything tends Hamlets riff on the bodys decay after Polonius death, IV.3. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. (IV.3. 20ff) . . . a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar. Ophelias madness: ist possible a young maids
wits should be as mortal as an old mans life? (IV, 5, 159-60). Ophelia: Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may become. (IV, 5, 43) Her song: And will he not come again . . . (l 183) Hamlets addition to The Murder of Gonzago? Hamlet asks the player king if he could study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines which he would write and insert into the play. Knowing Hamlets mind, can we find those lines in the play as its performed (in III.2)?
What does obsess Hamlet? Hes certainly struck by his mothers falling off (as ghost calls it). Does he also generalize from this to a consciousness of the mutability of all human love? Finding Hamlets additions in III, 2 How long have king and queen in Murder of Gonzago been married? Could Hamlet have made additions to the player queens role? Player kings speech generalizes, makes a philosophical principle of the
mutability, mortality of human love. This world is not for aye, nor tis not strange/ That even our loves should with our fortunes change/ For tis a question left us let to prove/ Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love. The player queens vow, ll. 212ff. Claudius to Laertes Claudius interrupts himself at IV, 7, 105. I know love is begun by time . . . Time qualifies the spark and fire of it. There lives within the very flame of love/ A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it, And nothing is at a like goodness still . . .
Or will Laertes be constant in his desire for vengeance? As inciter to revenge, Claudius becomes for Laertes the equivalent of the ghost for Hamlet The gravediggers, V, 1 Who builds stronger than the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter? Maybe the gallowsmaker? But really the gravemaker The houses he makes lasts [sic] till doomsday. Has this fellow no feeling of his business? Should one sing while digging a grave?
Hamlets meditation on death That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once. A fine revolution, an we had the trick to seet. Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggets with them? Mine ache to think ont. Skulls, skulls, more skulls. Death as grimly comic: none of these skulls can prevent the gravediggers abuse. When did the gravedigger come into his profession? The very day of Hamlets birth!
How long will a body last you? Some eight year or nine year (especially tanners). Death comes closer and closer Heres a skull now hath lien you i th earth three and twenty years. Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio. All that he was is now reduced to this stinking skull. Clip from Branagh Hamlet: Billy Crystal as the gravedigger. To what base uses we may return. Alexander or Caesar the most powerful human beings have turned simply to dust. And death comes even closer: Enter King,
Queen, Laertes, and the Corpse. What, the fair Ophelia? Laertes curse of Hamlet, l. 236. The culmination of Hamlets madness I loved Ophelia. And yet his actions have driven her to madness and death. And does this drive Hamlet to madness? V.1.229ff. And what is his madness but a response to all he has seen, understood? And to his consciousness of moral
entropy, mortality. Hamlets eventual fatalism The return of his sanity, calm, V.2 There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. And l. 296: We defy augury . . . If it be now, tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. A seeming acceptance of the inevitability of death. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what ist to leave betimes? Let be.
The symmetries of the duel Laertes accomplishes vengeance against Hamlet. But ends up dying himself in the process. And Hamlet now accomplishes his vengeance against Claudius, who will go to damnation. Death wins? Simply entropy? Laertes: Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet./ Mine and my fathers death come not upon thee,/ Nor thine on me. And Horatio, the stoic, is entrusted with Hamlets story. Fortinbras? The rash, hotheaded non-entity in
control. The futility in the politics of the play. O proud Death . . . . . . What feast is toward in thine eternal cell/ That thou so many princes at a shot/ So bloodily hast struck. The final toll: Ophelia, Hamlet, Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius and finally R & G. Final scene is a funeral cortege, as all the bodies are solemnly taken off. And finally Hamlets body, borne like a soldier to the stage . . . For he was likely, had he been put on, To
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