Sunday, November 21, 2010

II.ii. New Arrivals

Scene 2 is huge, so I'll be dividing it into six discrete parts. New Arrivals covers the King & Queen's meetings with Rosencrantz & Guildenstern and Voltimand & Cornelius. Brevity will cover Polonius' revelations to them. Polonius Boards Hamlet will have their scene together. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern will be about their scene with Hamlet up to the mention of the players. The Players will take off from there and lead us to Hamlet's soliloquy, which will have its own section under "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I".

For now, we're concerned with the first of these sections, albeit one that is often cut for time in some way or other. Some versions of play do away with the Norway subplot, and so do not need Voltimand's report. Others have Rosencrantz & Guildenstern appear later, without this simpering introduction. By looking at the text itself (in italics), we'll get a better sense of what is lost when directors do so.

SCENE II. A room in the castle.
KING CLAUDIUS: Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!
Moreover that we much did long to see you,
The need we have to use you did provoke
Our hasty sending. Something have you heard
Of Hamlet's transformation; so call it,
Sith nor the exterior nor the inward man
Resembles that it was. What it should be,

The audience, of course, does not know Hamlet's original form was, though one might expect that he was more like Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - a career student with a certain measure of frivolity.

More than his father's death, that thus hath put him
So much from the understanding of himself,
I cannot dream of: I entreat you both,
That, being of so young days brought up with him,
And sith so neighbour'd to his youth and havior,
That you vouchsafe your rest here in our court
Some little time: so by your companies
To draw him on to pleasures, and to gather,
So much as from occasion you may glean,
Whether aught, to us unknown, afflicts him thus,
That, open'd, lies within our remedy.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Good gentlemen, he hath much talk'd of you;
And sure I am two men there are not living
To whom he more adheres. If it will please you

There's a question as to WHEN exactly Hamlet talked about the duo so much. Certainly, it has to be before his father's death, when he had a use for camaraderie. One wonder if he ever mentioned Horatio, or if his more serious bent kept him out of stories worthy of being told. By the time of the play, the latter has become a steady and loyal confidante, while the former cannot be so trusted. There are friends for having fun, and then there are friends who can keep your secrets. Another way to direct it is to have Hamlet talk much about Rosencrantz & Guildenstern AFTER the Ghost's visit, laying a trap for the King by overplaying his friendship to two knaves he can easily read and manipulate. I like this idea, though I don't think I've seen it inferred. If Hamlet is the mastermind that brought them to Elsinore, he would react differently to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's betrayal, of course.

To show us so much gentry and good will
As to expend your time with us awhile,
For the supply and profit of our hope,
Your visitation shall receive such thanks
As fits a king's remembrance.
ROSENCRANTZ: Both your majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.

Though Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are usually played as a foolish double act, there is evidence that they are smart enough. They share Hamlet's keen wordplay and presumably his education, and in the above exchange, recognize Claudius' diplomatic skill. Indeed, the King does not have to ask for a favor when he may just give orders, but we've seen before how he has had to convince and cajole to get his position.

GUILDENSTERN: But we both obey,
And here give up ourselves, in the full bent
To lay our service freely at your feet,
To be commanded.
KING CLAUDIUS: Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz:

Here is the root of all the jokes about Rosencrantz & Guildenstern's interchangeability - the King and Queen's switching names in their thanks - a joke that culminates in Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (which this series will look at eventually). Obviously, there's also the matter of having two characters where one would do, which may or may not have been influenced by Shakespeare's company at the time. Or he may have liked the dynamic of two fawning characters playing off each other, one trying to correct or add to the other's dialog to influence their shared fate. Symbolically, we have Hamlet's one versus two, or their flawed mirroring of Horatio, each false friend being half his worth. For directors, the duo offers a number of options. One can play on their similarity through casting, costuming or performance. In any case, it is true to say that while actors may perform them differently (and indeed, their dialog makes them different), the audience never quite knows which is which, nor does it matter.

And I beseech you instantly to visit
My too much changed son. Go, some of you,
And bring these gentlemen where Hamlet is.
GUILDENSTERN: Heavens make our presence and our practises
Pleasant and helpful to him!
Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and some Attendants

The two arrivals are separated by Polonius' arrival, prefacing the second part of the scene:

LORD POLONIUS: The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,
Are joyfully return'd.
KING CLAUDIUS: Thou still hast been the father of good news.
LORD POLONIUS: Have I, my lord? I assure my good liege,
I hold my duty, as I hold my soul,
Both to my God and to my gracious king:
And I do think, or else this brain of mine
Hunts not the trail of policy so sure
As it hath used to do, that I have found
The very cause of Hamlet's lunacy.
KING CLAUDIUS: O, speak of that; that do I long to hear.
LORD POLONIUS: Give first admittance to the ambassadors;
My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.

If Claudius took the threat from Fortinbras lightly in the previous Act, here he would put personal matters before affairs of state. This is part of Shakespeare's continued undermining of Claudius' abilities as a King.

KING CLAUDIUS: Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.
He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found
The head and source of all your son's distemper.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: I doubt it is no other but the main;
His father's death, and our o'erhasty marriage.
KING CLAUDIUS: Well, we shall sift him.

Gertrude is mostly in the right here, but from here on out, the characters will only follow red herrings. Though Hamlet is unusual in the comparative weakness of its female characters, Shakespeare still uses them as engines for truth. Ophelia will do so through her madness, and in this case, only Gertrude really knows her son. The male characters, all shown to be foolish in one way or another, refuse to listen.

Welcome, my good friends!

Again, Claudius acts like a politician would. Though the ambassadors are under his command, he still feels the need to butter them up and call them friends.

Say, Voltimand, what from our brother Norway?
VOLTIMAND: Most fair return of greetings and desires.
Upon our first, he sent out to suppress
His nephew's levies; which to him appear'd
To be a preparation 'gainst the Polack;
But, better look'd into, he truly found
It was against your highness: whereat grieved,

The revelation that Fortinbras is arming himself against Denmark should be cause for concern, but Claudius is foolishly distracted by the madman in his midst. He takes the rest of the news at face value and never questions them again - this strand is forgotten until the last scene of Act V - this, in contrast with Hamlet, who takes nothing at face value, including the Ghost's accusations.

That so his sickness, age and impotence
Was falsely borne in hand, sends out arrests
On Fortinbras; which he, in brief, obeys;
Receives rebuke from Norway, and in fine
Makes vow before his uncle never more
To give the assay of arms against your majesty.
Whereon old Norway, overcome with joy,
Gives him three thousand crowns in annual fee,
And his commission to employ those soldiers,
So levied as before, against the Polack:
With an entreaty, herein further shown,

Giving a paper

That it might please you to give quiet pass
Through your dominions for this enterprise,
On such regards of safety and allowance
As therein are set down.
KING CLAUDIUS: It likes us well;
And at our more consider'd time well read,
Answer, and think upon this business.
Meantime we thank you for your well-took labour:
Go to your rest; at night we'll feast together:
Most welcome home!

Hamlet and Fortinbras are certainly mirrored in the play. Both have an uncle acting as father figure, which both disobey. Norway's weakness and foolishness, then, is an indication of Claudius' own. According to Voltimand's story, Norway was all too easy to convince, and ended up rewarding Fortinbras instead of punishing him, helping him invade Denmark rather than preventing him. Claudius' response is not to question it, and he in fact tables the matter and will read the documents later. Just like Norway, he believes anything he's told, as he will Polonius in the next section.

This business is well ended.

If Polonius is wrong about everything, then the audience should wonder if this business is ended at all. After all, it is structurally suspect that a subplot would end (and end off-stage) at the start of Act II. It is obvious that Polonius is wrong, and this prefaces a more crucial error.

1 comment:

snell said...

Of course, "he hath talked much of you" could just be gilding the lily, so to speak, as Claudius and Gertrude puff up R & G's egos to better encourage their help. "Two men there are not living to whom he more adheres?" A pretty clear case of blowing smoke up their arses, methinks.

And I know I brought this up earlier, but it's appropriate to mention again now: Why don't they go to Horatio? He's pretty clearly better situated to answer their questions about Hamlet. Do they not realize how close Hamlet is to him? Or is he perhaps too close, so they doubt he'd spy for them? Or is he too much a commoner for them to entreat?