Saturday, September 27, 2014

V.ii. The Readiness Is All

The Hamlet project has finally reached the play's last scene, though of course, there's so much material to cover, we'll be splitting it in two. The second will deal with the duel, everyone's tragic ending and Fortinbras' arrival. In this first sequence, we'll be covering Hamlet's tales of travel and treachery, Osric's comic relief, and the famous "readiness is all" speech. A sizable chunk, but many adaptations cut into the text mercilessly to save time, so size will vary. The pieces do matter, however, so we'll see over the next few weeks how our understanding of the play is changed when we lose key explanations or the comedy scene that bridges the intense melodrama of Ophelia's funeral and the action-filled, but tragic climax. For now, let us look at the text itself; Shakespeare, as usual, in italics; my observations, as they come to me, in plain text.

SCENE II. A hall in the castle.

HAMLET: So much for this, sir: now shall you see the other;
You do remember all the circumstance?
HORATIO: Remember it, my lord?
HAMLET: Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
That would not let me sleep: methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly,
And praised be rashness for it, let us know,

Hamlet is about to reveal his "rashness" was instrumental in saving his life from England's executioner, and this is key because rashness has not, to date, been his sin. Quite the opposite. It would be fair to say Hamlet was changed by his accidental murder of Polonius - he's been "blooded" - and he meant it when he said "my thoughts be bloody". His readiness - to kill, to revenge, to die - is the unifying theme of this sequence, though Shakespeare (and Hamlet itself, in a way) is rather critical of the stance. Is Hamlet becoming Macbeth?

Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
When our deep plots do pall: and that should teach us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,

Hamlet justifies his actions by citing God's will. Already, this makes them suspect.

Rough-hew them how we will,--
HORATIO: That is most certain.
HAMLET: Up from my cabin,
My sea-gown scarf'd about me, in the dark
Groped I to find out them; had my desire.
Finger'd their packet, and in fine withdrew
To mine own room again; making so bold,
My fears forgetting manners, to unseal
Their grand commission; where I found, Horatio,--
O royal knavery!--an exact command,
Larded with many several sorts of reasons
Importing Denmark's health and England's too,
With, ho! such bugs and goblins in my life,
That, on the supervise, no leisure bated,
No, not to stay the grinding of the axe,
My head should be struck off.
HORATIO: Is't possible?
HAMLET: Here's the commission: read it at more leisure.

Any adaptation that would seek to make Hamlet deluded and paranoid who need to excise this line, which provides proof of Claudius' murderous intent.

But wilt thou hear me how I did proceed?
HORATIO: I beseech you.
HAMLET: Being thus be-netted round with villanies,--
Ere I could make a prologue to my brains,
They had begun the play--I sat me down,
Devised a new commission, wrote it fair:
I once did hold it, as our statists do,
A baseness to write fair and labour'd much
How to forget that learning, but, sir, now
It did me yeoman's service: wilt thou know
The effect of what I wrote?
HORATIO: Ay, good my lord.
HAMLET: An earnest conjuration from the king,
As England was his faithful tributary,
As love between them like the palm might flourish,
As peace should stiff her wheaten garland wear
And stand a comma 'tween their amities,
And many such-like 'As'es of great charge,
That, on the view and knowing of these contents,
Without debatement further, more or less,
He should the bearers put to sudden death,
Not shriving-time allow'd.
HORATIO: How was this seal'd?
HAMLET: Why, even in that was heaven ordinant.
I had my father's signet in my purse,
Which was the model of that Danish seal;
Folded the writ up in form of the other,
Subscribed it, gave't the impression, placed it safely,
The changeling never known. Now, the next day
Was our sea-fight; and what to this was sequent
Thou know'st already.
HORATIO: So Guildenstern and Rosencrantz go to't.
HAMLET: Why, man, they did make love to this employment;
They are not near my conscience; their defeat
Does by their own insinuation grow:
'Tis dangerous when the baser nature comes
Between the pass and fell incensed points
Of mighty opposites.

This changed Hamlet, through his own agency and with symbolic support from the Ghost that spurred him to that action (the ring), becomes directly responsible for the deaths of two old friends, and what's more, shows no remorse for his actions. His justification is that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern were corrupted by their own ambition and how it served the corrupt king of a corrupt Denmark. This idea is also present in Osric and Hamlet's attitude towards the fawning sycophant, but has a corollary left unsaid: If Denmark's corruption spreads to its inhabitants, then Hamlet too has been corrupted, and that corruption is most highlighted when he leaves its shores, as if contrast can only exist out there. There is a sort of irony to the idea that the cleansing sea has actually had the opposite effect on him. Or perhaps we're supposed to understand his self-involvement and delayed action were the signs of his corruption, and he has shed them while away. Specific performances might reveal which path each production chose to take.

HORATIO: Why, what a king is this!
HAMLET: Does it not, think'st thee, stand me now upon--
He that hath kill'd my king and whored my mother,
Popp'd in between the election and my hopes,

A rare reference to Hamlet's right to the throne, and that this is just as good a motive (if not a better one) for deposing or murdering Claudius. Who IS this Hamlet?

Thrown out his angle for my proper life,
And with such cozenage--is't not perfect conscience,
To quit him with this arm? and is't not to be damn'd,
To let this canker of our nature come
In further evil?
HORATIO: It must be shortly known to him from England
What is the issue of the business there.
HAMLET: It will be short: the interim is mine;
And a man's life's no more than to say 'One.'
But I am very sorry, good Horatio,
That to Laertes I forgot myself;
For, by the image of my cause, I see
The portraiture of his: I'll court his favours.

Hamlet, at least after having calmed down, does recognize he did Laertes wrong by killing his father, something that seemed absent when they were fighting and arguing over or in Ophelia's grave.

But, sure, the bravery of his grief did put me
Into a towering passion.
HORATIO: Peace! who comes here?

A note on meter. Though Hamlet and Horatio are best friends and have spoken prosaically with one another, the scene began with more courtly verse. Only when Osric arrives to they switch to prose, and then stay in that mode in the final moments. It's surprising that such famous and poetically cadenced words were not written in verse, but this perhaps speaks to the moment's intimacy. But we're getting ahead of ourselves; back to Osric. Though a courtier, he is not of noble birth, and so speaks and is spoken to in prose. You'd think he'd make an attempt at (comically mangled) verse, but he is incapable even of that, which speaks volumes about his worthiness and the debasement of Claudius' court.

OSRIC: Your lordship is right welcome back to Denmark.
HAMLET: I humbly thank you, sir. Dost know this water-fly?
HORATIO: No, my good lord.
HAMLET: Thy state is the more gracious; for 'tis a vice to know him. He hath much land, and fertile: let a beast be lord of beasts, and his crib shall stand at the king's mess: 'tis a chough; but, as I say, spacious in the possession of dirt.

On Hamlet's sustained attack on the state and its corruption, he calls even knowing a corrupt individual like Osric a vice. Osric is not an insider by birth, but by money, as represented by land, which Hamlet calls dirt, taking away its value. We can compare this sycophant to R&G and wonder if Osric can survive the play. Indeed, some adaptations will see to it he is among the number killed. At the very least, he is the last uncreative soul Hamlet will run rhetorical circles around, joining R&G, Polonius and Claudius among those ranks (the Gravedigger won his particular match).

OSRIC: Sweet lord, if your lordship were at leisure, I should impart a thing to you from his majesty.
HAMLET: I will receive it, sir, with all diligence of spirit. Put your bonnet to his right use; 'tis for the head.
OSRIC: I thank your lordship, it is very hot.
HAMLET: No, believe me, 'tis very cold; the wind is northerly.
OSRIC: It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.
HAMLET: But yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my complexion.
OSRIC: Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry,--as 'twere,--I cannot tell how. But, my lord, his majesty bade me signify to you that he has laid a great wager on your head: sir, this is the matter,--
HAMLET: I beseech you, remember--

An amusing demonstration of sycophancy at its most absurd, accepting whatever temperature Hamlet claims on the basis of his royal birth. Osric is a living satire of Claudius' court filled with yes men.

HAMLET moves him to put on his hat

OSRIC: Nay, good my lord; for mine ease, in good faith. Sir, here is newly come to court Laertes; believe me, an absolute gentleman, full of most excellent differences, of very soft society and great showing: indeed, to speak feelingly of him, he is the card or calendar of gentry, for you shall find in him the continent of what part a gentleman would see.
HAMLET: Sir, his definement suffers no perdition in you; though, I know, to divide him inventorially would dizzy the arithmetic of memory, and yet but yaw neither, in respect of his quick sail. But, in the verity of extolment, I take him to be a soul of great article; and his infusion of such dearth and rareness, as, to make true diction of him, his semblable is his mirror; and who else would trace him, his umbrage, nothing more.
OSRIC: Your lordship speaks most infallibly of him.
HAMLET: The concernancy, sir? why do we wrap the gentleman in our more rawer breath?
HORATIO: Is't not possible to understand in another tongue? You will do't, sir, really.
HAMLET: What imports the nomination of this gentleman?
OSRIC: Of Laertes?
HORATIO: His purse is empty already; all's golden words are spent.
HAMLET: Of him, sir.
OSRIC: I know you are not ignorant--
HAMLET: I would you did, sir; yet, in faith, if you did, it would not much approve me. Well, sir?
OSRIC: You are not ignorant of what excellence Laertes is--
HAMLET: I dare not confess that, lest I should compare with him in excellence; but, to know a man well, were to know himself.
OSRIC: I mean, sir, for his weapon; but in the imputation laid on him by them, in his meed he's unfellowed.
HAMLET: What's his weapon?
OSRIC: Rapier and dagger.
HAMLET: That's two of his weapons: but, well.
OSRIC: The king, sir, hath wagered with him six Barbary horses: against the which he has imponed, as I take it, six French rapiers and poniards, with their assigns, as girdle, hangers, and so: three of the carriages, in faith, are very dear to fancy, very responsive to the hilts, most delicate carriages, and of very liberal conceit.
HAMLET: What call you the carriages?
HORATIO: I knew you must be edified by the margent ere you had done.
OSRIC: The carriages, sir, are the hangers.
HAMLET: The phrase would be more german to the matter, if we could carry cannon by our sides: I would it might be hangers till then. But, on: six Barbary horses against six French swords, their assigns, and three liberal-conceited carriages; that's the French bet against the Danish. Why is this 'imponed,' as you call it?
OSRIC: The king, sir, hath laid, that in a dozen passes between yourself and him, he shall not exceed you three hits: he hath laid on twelve for nine; and it would come to immediate trial, if your lordship would vouchsafe the answer.
HAMLET: How if I answer 'no'?
OSRIC: I mean, my lord, the opposition of your person in trial.
HAMLET: Sir, I will walk here in the hall: if it please his majesty, 'tis the breathing time of day with me; let the foils be brought, the gentleman willing, and the king hold his purpose, I will win for him an I can; if not, I will gain nothing but my shame and the odd hits.
OSRIC: Shall I re-deliver you e'en so?
HAMLET: To this effect, sir; after what flourish your nature will.
OSRIC: I commend my duty to your lordship.
HAMLET: Yours, yours.


Hamlet agrees to fight one duel, but has just one another, albeit against an unarmed opponent.

He does well to commend it himself; there are no tongues else for's turn.
HORATIO: This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head.
HAMLET: He did comply with his dug, before he sucked it. Thus has he--and many more of the same bevy that I know the dressy age dotes on--only got the tune of the time and outward habit of encounter; a kind of yesty collection, which carries them through and through the most fond and winnowed opinions; and do but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.

Enter a Lord
Lord: My lord, his majesty commended him to you by young Osric, who brings back to him that you attend him in the hall: he sends to know if your pleasure hold to play with Laertes, or that you will take longer time.
HAMLET: I am constant to my purpose; they follow the king's pleasure: if his fitness speaks, mine is ready; now or whensoever, provided I be so able as now.
Lord: The king and queen and all are coming down.
HAMLET: In happy time.
Lord: The queen desires you to use some gentle entertainment to Laertes before you fall to play.
HAMLET: She well instructs me.

Exit Lord

There's a certain redundancy in Osric being followed by an unnamed Lord about the same subject. On stage, it heralds the arrival of the King, the Queen and Laertes, and makes the climax seem to arrive sooner than in most film productions. No sooner does Hamlet say he is ever ready that this readiness is put to the test, perhaps a mirror to R&G's execution with "no shriving time allowed". Hamlet too goes to his execution.

HORATIO: You will lose this wager, my lord.
HAMLET: I do not think so: since he went into France, I have been in continual practise: I shall win at the odds. But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart: but it is no matter.
HORATIO: Nay, good my lord,--
HAMLET: It is but foolery; but it is such a kind of gain-giving, as would perhaps trouble a woman.
HORATIO: If your mind dislike any thing, obey it: I will forestall their repair hither, and say you are not fit.
HAMLET: Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. 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: since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?

It's clear Hamlet isn't happy about what's about to happen, what must happen and what could happen, but he is ready for it. Though he accepts responsibility for his existence and everything it may mean (to himself, to others, to the metaphysical universe), he remains the doomed existentialist we knew from the first four acts of the play. The potential meaninglessness of one's life cannot be escaped or hidden from. He means to face it with dignity and complete his arc as the character in a revenge tragedy (which I'll meta-textually claim he was always aware of) for in the end, that is all he can do. Hamlet will leave this world only after accepting the rules that govern it.


snell said...

I always found interesting Claudius and Hamlet's description of England as essential a vassal state, particularly during an era of nationalist triumphalism in England. Dramatically, of course, this show how far the power of Denmark has fallen after the events of the play. Still, certain audiences couldn't have been thrilled.

HORATIO: It must be shortly known to him from England
What is the issue of the business there.
HAMLET: It will be short: the interim is mine;
And a man's life's no more than to say 'One.'

With this, finally Hamlet has put himself "on the clock" for his revenge. When the messenger shows up from England, the sh*t will hit the fan, and who knows if/when he'll get his chance for revenge. His quest finally has a time limit.

So, of course, he takes time to verbally joust with Osric and for a fencing exhibition...

Siskoid said...

And as it turns out, the English Ambassador is right on his heels.

He accepts Horatio's distrust of the situation though, so he might already know the duel is suspect, and could be waiting for Claudius to make his move there before making his. At the very least, he knows he'll have access to weapons in the presence of the King.