Friday, February 28, 2014

Hamlet's Many Faces

Hamlet as the fool.

Hamlet takes on many different archetypes during the course of the play. He plays the moral judge, fool/jester, impulsive fighter, scholar, artist, philosopher, and coward. We see a different side of Hamlet every time he puts on a different mask. The scholar is witty. We see him play the scholar as he shows off his intellectual prowess. This is often seen in his exchanges with Polonius in which he makes Polonius seem ignorant and foolish. He keeps his cool and calm demeanor in these scenes. However, as the fool, Hamlet is at his most honest state (see what I did there?). He is able to speak his mind, though his sincerity is masked by his outlandish humor. It’s the only way he knows how to break out of his silence. In Act I, he speaks about his inability to express his emotions through a soliloquy, in which he says, “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” So playing “the fool” is the only way Hamlet knows how to break free of walls that conceal his emotions. With humor, there is truth. By being absurd, rude, and comical, Hamlet is able to get away with saying some pretty sharp comments. In Act III, he insults both his mother, Queen Gertrude, and his exgirlfriend (depending on how you interpreted the scene before), Ophelia, in front of the entire court. He makes some very crude jokes, and even remarks, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maidens’ legs” for the pure purpose of provoking her. Ophelia has no choice but to keep her anger hidden because Hamlet is much higher in rank, since he is the prince of Denmark, and because she is a woman and the time period expected her to take the insults. He also treats his mother in a similar way by bringing up the death of his father, King Hamlet, her disloyalty, and the “incest” that is taking place between the sheets since Gertrude is Claudius’ sister in law (since King Hamlet was Claudius’ brother). Still conversing with Ophelia, he points out his mother, “O God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do / but be merry? For, look you, how cheerfully my / mother looks, and my father died within these two hours.” Though his mother waited two months rather than two hours to get married to Claudius, Hamlet purposefully says, “two hours” in order to be humorous and sharp tongued at the same time. Hamlet also takes on the part of “the fool” when he acts mad (or actually is mad, depending on the interpretation). We see this as he speaks with his childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after the play. He acts slightly crazy, demanding them to play the pipe. Guildenstern refuses to try and play the pipe despite Hamlet’s demands, and Hamlet turns the situation around by revealing that he knows about their spying. While they planned and plotted behind his back, convinced that he was crazy, Hamlet knew exactly what was going on. By pretending to be mad and playing the fool, Hamlet gives himself the upper hand because he is able to feign ignorance. 

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