Sunday, November 22, 2009

I.ii. Ghost Stories

The final section of Scene 2 is Horatio's revelation to Hamlet about the ghost of his father. Because it treads over the same narrative ground as Act I Scene I and does so more dramatically (i.e. without speeches about historical context), this scene is often used to justify cutting Scene I. Consequently, many versions of the play will have us meet Horatio and the soldiers here. Either way, it's the scene where Hamlet and Horatio's friendship is first revealed and explored.Enter HORATIO, MARCELLUS, and BERNARDO
HORATIO: Hail to your lordship!
HAMLET: I am glad to see you well:
Horatio,--or I do forget myself.
HORATIO: The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.
HAMLET: Sir, my good friend; I'll change that name with you:
And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio? Marcellus?
MARCELLUS: My good lord--
HAMLET: I am very glad to see you. Good even, sir.
But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?
HORATIO: A truant disposition, good my lord.
HAMLET: I would not hear your enemy say so,
Nor shall you do mine ear that violence,
To make it truster of your own report
Against yourself: I know you are no truant.
But what is your affair in Elsinore?
We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.

The relationship as written makes Horatio the commoner and Hamlet the aristocrat, but despite the conventions of class that subjugate one to the other, there is also friendly camaraderie between them. Hamlet teases his fellow student and Horatio is self-deprecating (as per their respective hierarchical positions), but they are still able to share a private joke, equals on an academic level. Hamlet has much the same relationship with Rozencrantz and Guildenstern later, though the missing element there is love. They are false friends, while Horatio is a true friend. By doubling R&G, he also indirectly doubles Horatio's worth. If they characters are balanced against each other in the play, it takes two of Hamlet's treacherous friends to balance Horatio's loyalty.

HORATIO: My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.
HAMLET: I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow-student;
I think it was to see my mother's wedding.
HORATIO: Indeed, my lord, it follow'd hard upon.
HAMLET: Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven
Or ever I had seen that day, Horatio!

Though Hamlet has kept quiet about his opposition to his mother's hasty marriage to this point, he now opens up. Certainly, he's spoken of it to himself in the soliloque, but here makes Horatio his sounding board. Horatio is in many ways Hamlet's "control subject". He is Hamlet without the tragic experience (loss of a father/whoring of a mother) from the same school (of thought). When Hamlet speaks to Horatio, he might as well be talking to himself, and in Horation we might see what Hamlet was before his father died. As we'll see shortly, both men have the same open but skeptical mind vis-à-vis the supernatural.

What is perhaps stranger is that Hamlet opens up in front of Bernardo and Marcellus. Does he know these men to be loyal to his father rather than the new king? Or are soldiers, like servants, considered insignificant, mute and dumb?

My father!--methinks I see my father.
HORATIO: Where, my lord?
HAMLET: In my mind's eye, Horatio.
HORATIO: I saw him once; he was a goodly king.

It would be natural for Horatio to wonder here if the ghost hasn't already appeared to Hamlet.

HAMLET: He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
HORATIO: My lord, I think I saw him yesternight.
HAMLET: Saw? who?
HORATIO: My lord, the king your father.
HAMLET: The king my father!
HORATIO: Season your admiration for awhile
With an attent ear, till I may deliver,
Upon the witness of these gentlemen,
This marvel to you.
HAMLET: For God's love, let me hear.
HORATIO: Two nights together had these gentlemen,
Marcellus and Bernardo, on their watch,
In the dead vast and middle of the night,
Been thus encounter'd. A figure like your father,

More on the social class of the soldiers: Horatio tells THEIR bit of the story as if it were his own. As Hamlet's friend and a learned man, he may be better at telling it, but on a class level, perhaps he is closer to Hamlet's position than they are, and would never speak directly to him unless asked to. Hamlet can hear this and trust it from Horatio, but not from them alone.

Armed at point exactly, cap-a-pe,
Appears before them, and with solemn march
Goes slow and stately by them: thrice he walk'd
By their oppress'd and fear-surprised eyes,
Within his truncheon's length; whilst they, distilled
Almost to jelly with the act of fear,
Stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me

Nor to Hamlet, an echo of his dread father.

In dreadful secrecy impart they did;
And I with them the third night kept the watch;
Where, as they had deliver'd, both in time,
Form of the thing, each word made true and good,
The apparition comes: I knew your father;
These hands are not more like.
HAMLET: But where was this?
MARCELLUS: My lord, upon the platform where we watch'd.
HAMLET: Did you not speak to it?
HORATIO: My lord, I did;
But answer made it none: yet once methought
It lifted up its head and did address
Itself to motion, like as it would speak;
But even then the morning cock crew loud,
And at the sound it shrunk in haste away,
And vanish'd from our sight.
HAMLET: 'Tis very strange.
HORATIO: As I do live, my honour'd lord, 'tis true;
And we did think it writ down in our duty
To let you know of it.
HAMLET: Indeed, indeed, sirs, but this troubles me.
Hold you the watch to-night?
HAMLET: Arm'd, say you?
HAMLET: From top to toe?
MARCELLUS BERNARDO: My lord, from head to foot.

It'll be interesting to see how the various versions make the two characters speak the same line simultaneously and not make it seem artificial (if they do at all).

HAMLET: Then saw you not his face?
HORATIO: O, yes, my lord; he wore his beaver up.
HAMLET: What, look'd he frowningly?
HORATIO: A countenance more in sorrow than in anger.
HAMLET: Pale or red?
HORATIO: Nay, very pale.
HAMLET: And fix'd his eyes upon you?
HORATIO: Most constantly.
HAMLET: I would I had been there.
HORATIO: It would have much amazed you.
HAMLET: Very like, very like. Stay'd it long?
HORATIO: While one with moderate haste might tell a hundred.
HORATIO: Not when I saw't.
HAMLET: His beard was grizzled--no?
HORATIO: It was, as I have seen it in his life,
A sable silver'd.

This is all part of Hamlet's skepticism. He asks about specific details to see if the trio's story is coherent.

HAMLET: I will watch to-night;
Perchance 'twill walk again.
HORATIO: I warrant it will.
HAMLET: If it assume my noble father's person,
I'll speak to it, though hell itself should gape
And bid me hold my peace. I pray you all,
If you have hitherto conceal'd this sight,
Let it be tenable in your silence still;
And whatsoever else shall hap to-night,
Give it an understanding, but no tongue:
I will requite your loves. So, fare you well:
Upon the platform, 'twixt eleven and twelve,
I'll visit you.
ALL: Our duty to your honour.
HAMLET: Your loves, as mine to you: farewell.
Exeunt all but HAMLET
My father's spirit in arms! all is not well;
I doubt some foul play: would the night were come!
Till then sit still, my soul: foul deeds will rise,
Though all the earth o'erwhelm them, to men's eyes.

Hamlet gets a short aside once Horatio and co. are gone, in which he ponders just why his father's spirit has not been allowed to rest. He suspects something already (his "prophetic soul" later), since his own spirit cannot find rest in the world of the living.


snell said...

Nice thoughts upon Horatio. I'm been doing some thinking about him recently, when re-reading the intoduction of R & G made me think, "Hey, what's Horatio? Chopped liver?"

Why send away for old friends when you've already got one to talk to right in Elsinore? Did the royal couple perceive that Horatio was too loyal to "spy" on Hamlet for them? Was he too low a commoner for them to talk to? Did they even know he was in Elsinore?

It is interesting that (except for one brief, shouted line in V.i that's frequently cut or drowned out) Horatio never shares so much as a word with anybody else in the court--not Gertrude or Polonius or Ophelia or Laertes or...Even with the gravedigger and Osric, he directs his comments to Hamlet, rather than to them (dependent upon staging, of course). Then again, he does get rather chatty when Fortinbras shows up...

If it weren't for talking with Bernardo and Marcellus, Horatio doesn't speak to anyone but Hamlet...almost like a ghost himself. Obviously, the class reasons you cite make it historically accurate, but it's still dramtaically odd. Hell, with the right cuts, you could stage this like Fight Club, so the audience thinks Hamlet and Horatio are separate people until "the big reveal," and the saner Ed Norton portion of his personality, Horatio, is what survives at the end.

OK, I'm nuts.

Siskoid said...

No no, you got me to thinking the same way. But as there are a few instances where he speaks to or is spoken to by people other than Hamlet, we must reject the interpretation. Literally, that is. Dramatically, it's much the same as if he were just a part of Hamlet's psyche.