Thursday, February 16, 2012

III.ii. The Mouse-Trap

The next sequence contains both the play-within-the-play and the conversations held by the audience during its presentation. I wonder if it's a mirror of how audiences behaved in Elizabethan times, perhaps special presentations for the Court in particular. Hamlet's behavior is especially appalling and disrespectful to the Players. Are noisy audiences supposed to see themselves in this mirror? The staging may reveal each director's opinion on the subject. It is not their only challenge however. Though large parts of the play are often cut for time, it must still convincingly reveal the King's guilt. Directors and actors must juggle time and emotional impact, the Players' drama and Hamlet's cruel comedy, and Players and Audience to create an effective whole. No small order. Let's first look at the text itself (in italics) and see what resonates, staging unseen.


KING CLAUDIUS: How fares our cousin Hamlet?
HAMLET: Excellent, i' faith; of the chameleon's dish: I eat the air, promise-crammed: you cannot feed capons so.

Words well chosen. Hamlet eats of the chameleon's dish because he is in fact a chameleon, changing in this very scene from director to sincere friend to actor to madman before our very eyes.

KING CLAUDIUS: I have nothing with this answer, Hamlet; these words are not mine.
HAMLET: No, nor mine now.
[To POLONIUS] My lord, you played once i' the university, you say?
LORD POLONIUS: That did I, my lord; and was accounted a good actor.
HAMLET: What did you enact?
LORD POLONIUS: I did enact Julius Caesar: I was killed i' the Capitol; Brutus killed me.
HAMLET: It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there. Be the players ready?

An inside joke, since Shakespeare himself has a play called Julius Caesar. It also presages Polonius' own stabbing. Hamlet jokes about Hamlet's "brute part", much he will later sincerely apologize to Laertes for killing his father, claiming that his madness was guilty, but he was not, divorcing the murderer from the part of himself that committed the murder.

ROSENCRANTZ: Ay, my lord; they stay upon your patience.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: Come hither, my dear Hamlet, sit by me.
HAMLET: No, good mother, here's metal more attractive.
LORD POLONIUS: [To KING CLAUDIUS] O, ho! do you mark that?
HAMLET: Lady, shall I lie in your lap? [Lying down at OPHELIA's feet]
OPHELIA: No, my lord.
HAMLET: I mean, my head upon your lap?
OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?

My pocket edition, obviously meant for the classroom, omits this lascivious exchange.

OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
HAMLET: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
OPHELIA: What is, my lord?
HAMLET: Nothing.
OPHELIA: You are merry, my lord.
OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: 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.
OPHELIA: Nay, 'tis twice two months, my lord.
HAMLET: So long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for I'll have a suit of sables. O heavens! die two months ago, and not forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's memory may outlive his life half a year: but, by'r lady, he must build churches, then; or else shall he suffer not thinking on, with the hobby-horse, whose epitaph is 'For, O, for, O,the hobby-horse is forgot.'

The "hobby-horse" was a traditional pantomime in which two men dressed as a horse danced to a tune, died a "magical death", and rose again when the music changed. As a metaphor for the revenant Hamlet Sr., it is appropriate, as it is for the context of the dumb-show we are about to see. The contraction of time ("out of joint" as it is) is a theme that repeats throughout the play.

Hautboys play. The dumb-show enters
Enter a King and a Queen very lovingly; the Queen embracing him, and he her. She kneels, and makes show of protestation unto him. He takes her up, and declines his head upon her neck: lays him down upon a bank of flowers: she, seeing him asleep, leaves him. Anon comes in a fellow, takes off his crown, kisses it, and pours poison in the King's ears, and exit. The Queen returns; finds the King dead, and makes passionate action. The Poisoner, with some two or three Mutes, comes in again, seeming to lament with her. The dead body is carried away. The Poisoner wooes the Queen with gifts: she seems loath and unwilling awhile, but in the end accepts his love

OPHELIA: What means this, my lord?
HAMLET: Marry, this is miching mallecho; it means mischief.
OPHELIA: Belike this show imports the argument of the play.

We should wonder, if all the details of the murder are in the dumb-show, why Claudius doesn't react right then and there. Directors may stage the scene so that he isn't paying attention in this moment, but that's hardly satisfying. What the text seems to indicate is that the text of The Mouse-Trap is an important component in making Claudius relate the play's events to those of his own life, or else that his conscience is "caught" less by the play's incidents than by Hamlet's rather clear accusation at the end of it.

Enter Prologue
HAMLET: We shall know by this fellow: the players cannot keep counsel; they'll tell all.
OPHELIA: Will he tell us what this show meant?
HAMLET: Ay, or any show that you'll show him: be not you ashamed to show, he'll not shame to tell you what it means.
OPHELIA: You are naught, you are naught: I'll mark the play.

Here, Hamlet accuses Ophelia of herself putting on a show, that her love was false, etc. though at the same time intimating that she is a whore unashamed to expose herself. Her retort sounds like a pun on "naughty" and "naught" to me. She returns the insult of being "nothing" by signifying his words are meaningless (or that she refuses to acknowledge their meaning).

PROLOGUE: For us, and for our tragedy,
Here stooping to your clemency,
We beg your hearing patiently.

Whereas Shakespeare's worlds already take place in a heightened, poetic reality, he gives the play-within-the-play some extra height by making the verses rhyme.

HAMLET: Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?
OPHELIA: 'Tis brief, my lord.
HAMLET: As woman's love.

Enter two Players, King and Queen

PLAYER KING: Full thirty times hath Phoebus' cart gone round
Neptune's salt wash and Tellus' orbed ground,
And thirty dozen moons with borrow'd sheen
About the world have times twelve thirties been,
Since love our hearts and Hymen did our hands
Unite commutual in most sacred bands.
PLAYER QUEEN: So many journeys may the sun and moon
Make us again count o'er ere love be done!
But, woe is me, you are so sick of late,
So far from cheer and from your former state,
That I distrust you. Yet, though I distrust,
Discomfort you, my lord, it nothing must:
For women's fear and love holds quantity;
In neither aught, or in extremity.
Now, what my love is, proof hath made you know;
And as my love is sized, my fear is so:
Where love is great, the littlest doubts are fear;
Where little fears grow great, great love grows there.
PLAYER KING: 'Faith, I must leave thee, love, and shortly too;
My operant powers their functions leave to do:
And thou shalt live in this fair world behind,
Honour'd, beloved; and haply one as kind
For husband shalt thou--

Whether or not this is part of Hamlet's addition to "The Murder of Gonzago" (and the Player Queen's lines that follow almost assuredly are), it draws an idealized picture of his parents' marriage and of the country of Denmark ("this fair world"). In the play, the family and national environments are the same, and we get a glimpse of how things were before Hamlet Sr.'s murder, if from a biased point of view.

PLAYER QUEEN: O, confound the rest!
Such love must needs be treason in my breast:
In second husband let me be accurst!
None wed the second but who kill'd the first.
HAMLET: [Aside] Wormwood, wormwood.

"Wormwood" has a double meaning we can almost certainly be sure is exploited by Shakespeare. On the one hand, it is a plant with emetic properties, and he is trying to use the words to force Claudius to vomit up his guilt. Wormwood is also the name of a star from the Book of Revelations related to the Apocalypse, which Hamlet might invoke (as a pun, his frequent idiom) as a metaphor for the end of his journey, the end of Claudius' kingship, the coming end of all their lives. Either way, it supports the notion that these lines in particular were inserted by the Prince.

PLAYER QUEEN: The instances that second marriage move
Are base respects of thrift, but none of love:
A second time I kill my husband dead,
When second husband kisses me in bed.
PLAYER KING: I do believe you think what now you speak;
But what we do determine oft we break.

Compare to Claudius' "wick or snuff" when he tries to ascertain if Laertes really has it in him to kill Hamlet even once he's cooled off.

Purpose is but the slave to memory,
Of violent birth, but poor validity;
Which now, like fruit unripe, sticks on the tree;
But fall, unshaken, when they mellow be.
Most necessary 'tis that we forget
To pay ourselves what to ourselves is debt:
What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures with themselves destroy:
Where joy most revels, grief doth most lament;
Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.
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 yet to prove,
Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.

Note how several stylistic figures create mirror effects in the play's text. "Grief joys, joy grieves" and "Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love", for example. Thematically, these support the idea that the play itself is a mirror of the Court. The rhyming scheme may also be part of the effect.

The great man down, you mark his favourite flies;
The poor advanced makes friends of enemies.
And hitherto doth love on fortune tend;
For who not needs shall never lack a friend,
And who in want a hollow friend doth try,
Directly seasons him his enemy.
But, orderly to end where I begun,
Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown;
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own:
So think thou wilt no second husband wed;
But die thy thoughts when thy first lord is dead.
PLAYER QUEEN: Nor earth to me give food, nor heaven light!
Sport and repose lock from me day and night!
To desperation turn my trust and hope!
An anchor's cheer in prison be my scope!
Each opposite that blanks the face of joy
Meet what I would have well and it destroy!
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife,
If, once a widow, ever I be wife!
HAMLET: If she should break it now!
PLAYER KING:'Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here awhile;
My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile
The tedious day with sleep.
PLAYER QUEEN: Sleep rock thy brain,
And never come mischance between us twain!
HAMLET: Madam, how like you this play?
QUEEN GERTRUDE: The lady protests too much, methinks.

In other words, Gertrude did not protest as much and sees the performance as a flawed mirror of her own life. Consequently, her own guilt (for betraying a dead husband) is NOT revealed. She does not see herself in this. The promise made by the Player Queen is the fruit of Hamlet's imagination and Gertrude was never bound by it.

HAMLET: O, but she'll keep her word.
KING CLAUDIUS: Have you heard the argument? Is there no offence in 't?
HAMLET: No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i' the world.
KING CLAUDIUS: What do you call the play?
HAMLET: The Mouse-trap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna: Gonzago is the duke's name; his wife, Baptista: you shall see anon; 'tis a knavish piece of work: but what o'that? your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not: let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.

Hamlet seems to give the game away here, basically telling Claudius to confess if his soul be not free, or rather, NOT to confess if he doesn't want to get caught. Note also that the murder on stage is the image of a real murder in Vienna. Hamlet is skirting the truth. The play is actually based on two true stories.

[Enter LUCIANUS] This is one Lucianus, nephew to the king.
OPHELIA: You are as good as a chorus, my lord.
HAMLET: I could interpret between you and your love, if I could see the puppets dallying.
OPHELIA: You are keen, my lord, you are keen.
HAMLET: It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.

Another pair of lines censored in my pocket edition. The violent image of Hamlet's erection as a sword may prove fodder for other critics than I when we get to the sword fight between Hamlet and Laertes.

OPHELIA: Still better, and worse.
HAMLET: So you must take your husbands. Begin, murderer; pox, leave thy damnable faces, and begin. Come: 'the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.'
LUCIANUS: Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing;
Confederate season, else no creature seeing;
Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate's ban thrice blasted, thrice infected,
Thy natural magic and dire property,
On wholesome life usurp immediately. [Pours the poison into the sleeper's ears]
HAMLET: He poisons him i' the garden for's estate. His name's Gonzago: the story is extant, and writ in choice Italian: you shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife.
OPHELIA: The king rises.
HAMLET: What, frighted with false fire!
QUEEN GERTRUDE: How fares my lord?
LORD POLONIUS: Give o'er the play.
KING CLAUDIUS: Give me some light: away!
ALL: Lights, lights, lights!

Exeunt all but HAMLET and HORATIO

The play is interrupted by the King's exclamation, but it's up to each director and actor to decide what makes him rise, ask for light and leave. Is it his conscience playing a trick on him despite Hamlet's obvious goading? The light is for the darkness in his soul. Certainly, he would be surprised that Hamlet knew such specific details as the ear poison (a distinctive way to administer poison, surely). Or he might be outraged at the inferred accusation in open Court and want to remove himself from Hamlet's scandalous spectacle. The interpretation may differ from adaptation to adaptation, as we'll see in the coming weeks.


snell said...

I've always felt that Gertrude's "the lady protests too much, methinks" was more defensive, a somewhat guilty attempt to parry away thoughts that Baptista's vows resemble her own. Of course, this works best if the production has Gertrude hear, and visibly react to, Hamlet's "two hours/two months" lines. That would, no doubt, have her already feeling uncomfortable when she's shown the Baptista mirror...

Siskoid said...

It's a good interpretation. The staging and acting will make all the difference here.